Anxiety has become a common word in schools today and is greatly associated with examinations. Not only does it cause students worry, but it can negatively impact their ability to perform in examinations further increasing their examination anxiety.
Anxiety is another emotion in our emotional backpack that many students have become conditioned to feel when it comes to examinations. There are students who struggle with severe anxiety but for many students is it a response they have habituated around this important time in their school career.
As a parent you may worry about your child and sometimes unsure about how best to help them. In my experience in working with students over the past 10 years I have found that most suffer from a conditioned anxiety. This means that they can condition a new response for themselves and change the way they approach examination as well as the results they get.
Think about a professional swimmer for example. Their high-pressure events are races perhaps at the Olympics. We expect them to experience more intense emotions around these events because there is more at stake when compared to just training. For our students, examinations are their races. It is normal to experience more intense emotions because this is where they need to perform at their best to get the results they want.
We often hear about “big match temperament” in sport which is when an athlete has the ability to condition their minds so that when it comes to their performance they can perform at their best when it matters. This is why two athletes with the same level of talent and training can have indifferent results.
It comes down to how they perform when it matters and it comes down to how they have conditioned their mind to deal with “big match emotions”.
This is the same for students. They need to condition their minds to manage their emotions so that they can perform at their best when it matters.
So how can you help them?
Firstly, help them acknowledge that feeling anxious is normal because they care about the results. If they were not anxious it would mean they don’t care. Get your child to speak about how they feel. Share examples from your own life where you have felt anxious. Remind them that it is another emotion and not a ‘bad emotion’ they need to avoid.
Secondly, listen actively to how they describe their feelings and experience. Look for patterns they may have that actually leads them to feeling more anxious. Gently make them aware of these patterns. For example, “Have you noticed that when you start to think about failing you feel worse?”
Thirdly, help them find ways that they can use to break the pattern of thought then it does happen
- They could cause light pain on their arm by flicking an elastic band onto their skin – this will stop their current train of thought. (Just once to break the pattern – we do not want to encourage self-harm)
- Distraction – dance, run, swim, listen to music, speak with a friend, draw – any outlet that will distract their mind
- Keep practicing breaking the habit – this is how we condition our mind by reinforce a new behaviour (some days they will win and other days they won’t but as they have more wins they will condition their minds making it easier to think and feel in a new way)
Lastly, create reward them for positive behaviours and encourage them to keep practicing the new conditioning. Reframing examinations as something exciting like a “big game” could turn their feelings of anxiety (which can be viewed negatively) into excitement (which is seen more positively).
Mark Sham reminds us that we become who we practice to be.
Let your child know that not every thought they think is true and that managing their emotions is a lifelong habit. Some days they will do better than others but the more wins they get the easier it becomes. Think about places in your own life where you are still working on conditioning your emotions for better responses and share it with them, so they understand that it is normal.
Check out these additional resources that help conditioning the mind:
Just by reading this you are already being the best parent you can be as you aim to help your child become independent, successful and happy in their own lives. Parenting is an admirable role and one that does not need to be done alone. If you would like your child to get extra support when it comes to managing their anxiety, knowing how to learn and creating more opportunities for success in their future then reach out to us and let us help your child thrive. Let us know you heard about us here and you will receive 25% off any of our courses and coaching programmes throughout 2021.
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