How to help your child deal with exam stress and anxiety amid a pandemic


When uncertainties are fueling fears about the future and feelings of helplessness, there are things parents should avoid saying that make matters worse and only make children more anxious when it comes to exams


Four million students across Turkey have entered the home stretch before a series of high-stakes nationwide exams that will determine their educational careers.

With just a few days left for the high school placement exam (to be held this Saturday, June 20) and less than two weeks left for the two-stage university entrance exams (June 27-28), students are starting to feel the pressure and are nervously waiting to get it over with.

As if these exams weren’t stressful enough (after all, they will determine which schools they will go to and what they will study), this year exam-takers have also been presented a new challenge: taking a test during a pandemic.

The changes this extraordinary situation has caused in our daily lives and education system have also caused a spike in stress, anxiety and concern among students as well as parents.

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Child and adolescent psychiatrist professor Seher Akbaş from Liv Hospital offers some key advice to parents in dealing with their children’s exam anxiety.

What is exam anxiety?

Anxiety is the state of physical, emotional and mental hyperalertness experienced by a person in the face of a stimulus, which in this case is the exam and the coronavirus.

In the case of exam-induced anxiety, children may experience this state of emotional distress before, during and after the exam.

Contrary to popular belief, the exam itself does not cause stress; however, the way the exam is perceived by the exam-taker is what leads to anxiety. This is why we see some students being cool as cucumbers while taking exams and getting satisfactory results, while others are riddled with crippling anxiety which ultimately leads them to fail.

Children and adolescents have a tendency to exaggerate or interpret every negative development they encounter as a full-blown disaster, which is an unreasonable belief that a worrisome situation will turn out terrible, accompanied by high levels of anxiety. Such individuals then see the exam as a threat or dangerous situation, which causes anxiety. The mind is constantly occupied by negative thoughts such as post-exam disappointment and keeps creating scenarios about what will happen during and after the exam that this just leads to even more stress and anxiety.

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Why do some experience exam anxiety and others don’t?

  • Perfectionism
  • High expectations
  • Pessimism
  • Procrastination
  • Poor studying habits
  • Fear of failure and evaluation
  • Fatigue, insomnia and poor nutrition
Especially when the stakes are high and there is so much competition some stress is inevitable. (AA Photo)
Especially when the stakes are high and there is so much competition some stress is inevitable. (AA Photo)

Here are the tips Akbaş recommends to parents in coping with anxiety:

  • Establish a realistic balance between your own expectations and your children’s capacity-limits.
  • Avoid anxiety-inducing comments such as “You won’t pass with this little studying,” “There’s so little time left, don’t let us down” even if your only intention is to get your child to study more.
  • Listen to your children when they talk about the exam, don’t make any comments mid-talk, be understanding and show empathy. Show them that you accept them with all their achievements and failures.
  • Instead of complaining about them not studying, ask them how everything is going. “What have you been up to?” “Do you want to take a look at it together?” or “Is there anything you want from us?” are better questions to ask. Too much telling off and sermonizing can cause more anxiety.
  • Do not compare your children, especially with their friends or siblings. Don’t say “look, this and that is successful, why aren’t you?”
  • Your children will have different traits and personal characteristics that will change with age. Make peace with this.
  • Make sure that they do the activities they enjoy as well. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
  • Explain to your children that this exam is just an opportunity, and there will always be other opportunities in life. Create a peaceful family atmosphere.
  • Make time for them and do activities together. This is true for both parents.
  • Acknowledge their efforts, and at the end of the day give them the message that you are by their side regardless of the outcome.
  • Positive feedback triumphs all.
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