Assignments, exams and assessments are all part and parcel of school life, but for many children they can be a massive cause of stress and anxiety. And for those coming up to formal exams this month, in the wake of a highly unusual and disrupted 2020 school year, this stress may be even more acute.
Our second annual State of the Nation Parenting Survey found parents believe their children are experiencing some degree of stress and concern towards assessments at every stage of schooling, from primary right through to Year 13.
In fact, parents of high-schoolers ranked school assessments and tests as the top issue causing concern for their children – noted by 50% of respondents with junior high school kids (Years 9 and 10) and 55% with senior high school kids (Years 11 and above).
Survey findings also show that, since the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown ended, more parents of high school children are noticing decreased levels of motivation (23% of respondents, up from 12% pre-lockdown) and a sense of feeling overwhelmed (24%, from 14%) in their children.
As parents, it can be hard to know what to do to help your child navigate exam time stresses. So, what can you do to best support your child?
● Find little ways to alleviate other pressures on your child
When they’re already under the pump with study timetables, offering a little more flexibility on their household chores or state of their bedroom can make life that little bit easier – bearing in mind that it’s not forever, and the period will pass.
● Keep an open dialogue about how they’re feeling
This will help you to not only keep across their general wellbeing, but also identify where you can provide actionable solutions for their stress. For example, if there’s a particular subject they’re struggling in, hire a tutor, or ask family and friends whether they can help out.
Remind your child that it’s normal to feel nervous or anxious, encourage them to focus on what they already know and build their confidence from there.
● Maintain a balanced lifestyle and throw in something special
Children can often experience burn-out during this time, so ensure they’ve got a well-balanced diet, sleep routine (The Ministry of Health and Kids Health have some great tips on ways to improve your child’s sleep!) and enough free time built into their study schedule for those all-important “brain breaks”.
Throw in some rewards to keep them motivated - incentivise with some screen time or a midday outing. Rewards don’t have to be material or expensive, just something nice to break up their study schedule.
● Be a role model – you might need to de-stress together!
You are your child’s biggest role model – so when you come home after a tough day of work, tell your children why you might be stressed to help them understand the situation, and then share your tips on how to manage it.
If you haven’t mastered a low-stress life yourself, it might be time to invest in some collective destressing activities such as practicing yoga, meditation or deep breathing.
● Talk to teachers and other parents
Keep in touch with your child’s teachers and their friends’ parents so you can keep across how your child is managing in the school environment itself.
If they are struggling, have a chat with the school counsellor to see what support they’re able to provide.
● Get professional help
Your child’s wellbeing is of the utmost importance so if you need additional support then it’s important to reach out. There are a number of organisations in New Zealand that can provide further advice and support:
Careers NZ have a number of articles with advice for both students and parents around NCEA, including one with tips to relieve study stress.
YouthLine provides a number of free resources for youth and anyone supporting youth, as well as a confidential and non-judgemental telephone counselling service. Call 0800 37 66 33 anytime or text 234 between 8am and midnight.
The Mental Health Foundation has a dedicated section for depression in youth. The site contains a lot of information regarding symptoms, support groups, brochures and helplines you can access.
Lifeline’s helpline and textline offers confidential support from qualified counsellors and volunteers. Call 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357
Clearhead is a mental health and wellbeing app which helps users to understand their symptoms, where to get help, and provides personalised recommendations through an AI chatbot (also available in te reo).
Rainbow Youth provide non-judgemental and accessible support around gender, sexuality and mental health. Call (09) 376 4155.
For those living in rural regions of the country, the Rural Support Trust Helpline offers support from other locals, who understand some of the unique pressures of living rurally. Call 0800 787 254
The Ministry of Health offers advice and provide a list of services you can access to help with any situation.