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With mock exams around the corner for our Years 11 and 13s, and the real things feeling more real than ever, Mr Joe Hillier, Head of Sixth Form at Embley, talks about the importance of recognising stress in our children and what we can do to help them cope with it…

For adults and young people alike, Christmas can be a stressful time of year. This may appear a little counterintuitive if you think of the holiday period as joyous and relaxing. However, with presents to wrap, families to host, visit or simply to try and get on with during the holiday season, plus the added anxiety of mock exams to prepare for, conflict and stress may raise their ugly heads a little more than usual at this time of year.

Regaining control
Often stress occurs because a person feels that a situation is out of control and these feelings become difficult to manage, but as I recently said to a student, “You can only control the controllable.” Our students can take control in preparation for their forthcoming exams: there is a finite time between now and each particular exam, so they can plan a revision timetable that factors in their busy Christmas calendar. If they see on paper, or on screen, that between now and their exam there is sufficient time to cover a good number of the topics needed, they can breathe a little more easily.

Differentiating a challenge from stress
Sometimes a challenge is muddled with stress. Challenges are very important for us to experience as without a challenge we can’t have the feelings of satisfaction associated with achievement; challenges are normal and healthy. Not knowing how to respond to a challenge or solve a problem can cause stress or anxiety, however, they are not stressful in their own right. Stress can be caused by not recognising the root of the cause, ways to overcome a perceived insurmountable challenge or feeling that a problem has no solution.  

Talking about it
It is essential for young people to talk to trustworthy, open-minded adults and, we as adults should actively listen and encourage young people to talk about what is causing them anxiety or upset, or what might potentially cause them problems. If your son or daughter can pre-empt possible hurdles and recognise how this might make them feel, then they are one step ahead and already naturally preparing to cope with these uncomfortable feelings. This position is an ideal, yet being emotionally aware and articulate is something we can all work on.

Finding the root of the cause
There isn’t a quick fix to combating stress in what is, after all, a complex period in our children’s lives. Help your child to search for and find the cause of stress for him or herself, ask open-ended questions such as “What do you think would make you feel better about that?” or paraphrase what they have told you: “From what your telling me, you think that….”. Do this rather than simply offering advice and ready-made solutions.

Introducing practical strategies
There are a number of practical strategies to help relieve the symptoms of stress and anxiety. It might be simply going out for a run between revision sessions, doing something intellectually stimulating other than exam work. For example, a game of Sudoku, chess or writing a story; setting a mini challenge in the form of writing a Christmas quiz for the family; sitting down to re-plan a revision timetable; or members of the family providing support by way of testing the student using flashcards or other interactive techniques.  

Getting to grips with feelings
Being aware of what we are feeling and why we’re feeling is a highly overlooked, yet fundamental, routine, so spending some time helping your son or daughter learn to navigate how they are feeling and the causes for their feelings can help provide a number of solutions. Like with revision, doing this a little and often, helps keeps matters in check.

For further practical strategies on managing stress and anxiety, please click here:


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