In the lead-up to testing and admissions periods, there is much say about managing children’s stress and anxiety levels, with resources and articles focusing on the ways in which parents and guardians can approach revision and preparation in a holistic and responsible way. However, we know that as loving and conscientious parents, you can feel the impact of this anxious time on your own mental health and well-being.
We at ISEB have supported children and families in navigating exams, tests and admissions journeys for over 120 years, and we have picked up a tip or two along the way. Read on for our five key tips on navigating this challenging period.
Establish Realistic Expectations
We all have different skills. Just as not all of us are runners, swimmers, poets or scientists, your child will have their own interests and abilities, and their own specific strengths and weaknesses. Considered and ambitious but realistic goals can provide a healthy level of encouragement ahead of exams and tests while not reducing children and their parents to high levels of stress and anxiety, wondering how they might possibly achieve 100%.
Your child will take all manner of tests and exams during their school life, some more important than others, and some will go well, others not so. It is important to view all results within this wider educational journey and encourage your child not to be deflated by a lower grade than anticipated.
Maintain Open Communication
Maintaining open and frank communication may seem like an obvious suggestion; however, in the hubbub of family life, this can be harder to implement and maintain than expected, especially for parents or guardians with multiple children or those with complex needs.
The adage “a problem shared is a problem halved” holds a lot of truth. Knowing your child feels comfortable coming to you with any worries or wobbles can help to relieve your anxieties as much as theirs. Establishing open communication is all about finding the times and scenarios that work for your family, creating a supportive and understanding atmosphere so that our children know that if they need help or are facing challenges, or perhaps want to tell us something they are worried may upset us, they can do so in a safe space.
Encourage Healthy Habits
Healthy habits can apply to all manner of activities and will look different from one family to the next. Getting enough sleep and healthy nutrition is vital to a growing brain and body, as is maintaining hobbies and activities outside the classroom. Encourage your children to take up activities away from screens and monitors, as often our children use tablets or computers at school, spend time on their phones during the day and then watch TV or play games in the evening. Start small; five minutes of reading before bed can help our bodies begin the wind-down process naturally.
Healthy and moderate habits can also apply to test prep and revision. We all want our children to have the best chance of success, but while some practice and preparation can be very beneficial, insisting on excessive revision or placing undue stress on our children to practice for hours can have the opposite effect.
For adaptable admissions tests such as the ISEB Common Pre-Tests, excessive revision is not a guarantee of a high grade. The digital test platform has been designed to gauge the ability and potential of a given candidate and, as an adaptive test, will display questions that appropriately challenge the test taker without the answers being unobtainable and therefore knocking confidence.
We encourage families to incorporate revision into their routine through games, such as asking your child to teach you something, or through casual tasks, such as asking them to help you calculate prices during a shop. You can find more top tips for helping your children revise in the ISEB Parent Power Toolkit – Part 2: Revision.
Mindfulness, like most things, will not look the same for everyone. For busy families, mindfulness doesn’t have to mean committing to a yoga class; it can mean sticking to a routine to prepare for the next day, taking deep breaths in moments of stress, or taking active steps to be present in the current moment. Perhaps when you are playing with your children, cooking dinner or walking outside, you can start by noticing five things you can see, hear, touch, taste and smell, which can help you focus on where you are in the present.
Like all exercises, mindfulness may feel strange and uncomfortable at first, but through practice and repetition, you may find you come to enjoy the techniques and take a few minutes of your day to focus on your present.
Take Care of Yourself
Everything we mentioned before about ensuring your child sets healthy habits is applicable to us as parents, too. How we act, speak to ourselves and manage situations is often observed and absorbed by our children and reflected in their own behaviour. If our children regularly see us taking time for our own hobbies, going for a walk, spending time outside or meeting with friends, they may be inclined to imitate this behaviour and form their own habits. Of course, it is not possible to prescribe what ‘taking care of yourself’ looks like as this will differ from person to person, family to family; therefore, it is important to invest time and energy working out what this care looks like for you. If, as a parent, we embed healthy coping habits in advance of expectant stressful periods, our toolkit for managing ahead of exams and tests will be greater and may help reduce worry and anxiety in the household.
For resources, materials and tips on managing stress and embedding sustainable revision practices from the experts at Tooled Up Education, explore the four-part Parent Power Toolkit, available on the ISEB shop for families.