It’s quite understandable that in some households across Northern Ireland, nerves are rather frayed at the minute. Now that the AQE tests have started, I am hearing from so many parents about the difficulties they are facing whilst helping their children cope with the stress that these tests can bring.

Like it or not exams are a necessary evil of our education system, and they have the habit of upsetting the equilibrium within families. So as parents, it’s important to understand how we can guide our children through this process. Your child’s next step, will inevitably be determined by their performance in the tests – and for that reason alone, they are likely to feel weighed down by this pressure. Today, there are huge expectations to perform well, whether it’s in the classroom, on the sports field or in the workplace.

As much as we try to reassure our children that they can only do their best – they know full well that these tests are designed to judge them.

For many children they view ‘failure’ as evidence of their lack of intelligence and low self-worth. It reinforces the ‘fact’ that they are not as good as others; and, in the case of the AQE, if they don’t get the grade that they need for grammar school – there is the worry and the possibility that they are going to be left behind.

No wonder they feel stressed.

Experience tells us adults that there are a myriad of reasons why a child might not be reaching their full potential : different ways of learning and lack of self-belief, to name but two.

In NLP, we presuppose that each individual has all the resources within themselves to help them achieve the desired results.

The last hurdle is sometimes the hardest to jump, as naturally, at this stage, parents and children alike, are physically and emotionally drained.

Assuming that your child has prepared well for their exams – the question is how can we help them keep going with the end so nearly in sight? The encouragement that we should be offering right now is more of emotional support and wellbeing.

How we get our heads around the exam pressures can make a huge difference to the performance on the day. it’s all about having the right mindset.

“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t,

you’re probably right.” Henry Ford

As parents there are a number things that we can do to help :

Stop the Chaos : As we know – mornings and bedtimes can be hectic. Ensuring that the home is calm and that the routines maintained really can alleviate pressures. That said, sometimes making allowances really helps too. There is a saying – “busy means happy.” This is not always the case. When my son Jack went to ‘big’ school he ditched all his extracurricular activities – he just wanted some space. Sometimes we need to – not sweat the small stuff.

Relax : When we feel stressed our physical bodies react as well. Muscles tense and our breathing becomes shallow. Breathing exercises are a quick way to help calm the physical. Sleep is also hugely important as it helps them to keep their emotions in check.

Negative Mind Chatter : What our thoughts are telling us can have a huge impact on our behaviour. For example if a child goes into a test feeling unsure of themselves their performance will no doubt be affected.

Helping them to think more positively can really help : For example “I’m in trouble if I do badly” could be more positively phrased as “I am well prepared and ready to do my best.” Perhaps helping them to come up with their own positive phrases – affirmations – might also help.

Be Approachable : Discussing what’s on their minds can really help work through difficult issues. Very often kids just like being listened to and that their worries are acknowledged. We don’t always have to solve the problems.

Focus on Preparation, rather than Performance : I believe that preparation is key. We all perform better when we are prepared. Concentrating on regular homework assignments and completing practice papers will have helped build a firm foundation – not just academically – but also mentally.

Praising daily efforts and focusing on the little successes rather than the final results will boost your child’s self esteem and alleviate the pressures of the final outcome.

Have some fun : The day before each test paper should be calm and worry-free. My daughter Alice, created a routine where we watched a movie and she had hot chocolate and marshmallows. This little routine became her “exam tradition”.

Last minute cramming and quizzing is likely to build more pressure and do more harm than good. Light-hearted distractions can be reassuring.

Manage your Expectations : Again, language is so important. Sometimes what we say does not have the desired intention. Don’t think of a pink elephant. ( bet you did )

What would you rather hear as you settled down the night before your exam?

You must sleep well – you have a big day ahead tomorrow.”

“Sleep tight – I’m so proud of you.”

Understandably, children can misconstrue comments and they might believe that their value is dependent on their performance. They already know what is required of them – but just knowing that you’re there to support them is, very often all they really need to know.

Get Help : Sometimes your child may not want to open up and tell you what’s on their mind. Perhaps opening up to a grand-parent or another trusted adult might be all that’s required. If you feel that a professional might be able to help then consider your GP or maybe a counsellor. Even one session of talking to an impartial adult can work wonders.

These are all steps that, as parents, we can take to support our children through their exams.

But how can they help themselves?

What else might they be doing that could be blocking their success?

The mental blocks are the biggest culprit – those things that your child thinks that they cannot do.

Click the button below to download a practical exercise that you and your child can do to help build their confidence and self belief.

So if you are feeling in need of assistance, if you feel that learning some of these techniques can improve life for you and your children – give me a call – I can help.


Much Love 💕

Supporting Parents Build a Mentally Healthier and
Happier generation of Young People