Headmaster's Blog

Five Ways to Help Students Stress Less (Part 1)

The HSC Exams commenced this week with more than 76,000 students sitting the exams in NSW. It can be a time of stress and anxiety for Year 12 students and these emotions can be amplified with
the COVID-19 situation.

Despite a semblance of normality beginning to resurface, many students continue to struggle with nerves and anxieties that pre-date COVID-19 and worry that they might not be as prepared as their peers to sit, and succeed in, their exams.

In a recent article published by three University academics, they shared five ways parents and carers can support Year 12 students. Many of these tips are helpful for all secondary students.

1. Check-in and listen
It is important to remember teenagers are often more resilient than we think. In most cases, they can cope well with challenges. But some students find exams more stressful than others, and some may also be worried about the influence of COVID on their future.

Research consistently shows parental monitoring that supports the autonomy of the young people is linked with their better psychological adjustment and performance during difficult times. This means checking-in with your teen, seeing how they are going and empowering them to use whatever coping skills they need.

Unfortunately, in times of stress, many parents use a high-monitoring low-autonomy style. Parents may still monitor their teen’s coping but also take over, hurry to suggest solutions, and criticise the strategies their child is trying. This is a low-autonomy style, which may signal to the young person their parent doesn’t believe in their ability to

So, to not come across as controlling or undermining their autonomy:

  • ask your teen, “How are you coping?”
  • listen to their answers
  • check you have understood and ask if they need your support.

Let your actions be guided by their response. If they say “I’m very stressed”, ask if there is something you can do. You could say: “Tell me what you need to do and we’ll work it out together”.

If they do the famous “I dunno”, say something like “OK, think about it, I’ll come back in a bit, and we can chat”. Follow through and let them know you will check in more regularly over the coming weeks.

2. Encourage them to take care of their physical and mental health
Support your teen to get exercise, downtime and sleep. Exercise helps produce endorphins – a feel-good chemical that can improve concentration and mental health.

Downtime that is relaxing and enjoyable such as reading, sport, hanging out with friends or video games, can also help young people recharge physically and mentally. If you see your Year 12 child studying for numerous hours without a break, encourage them to do something more fun for a while.

A change of scene can help avoid burnout and helps students maintain focus over longer periods of time. Good sleep is important for alertness, and teenagers should aim for eight to ten hours per day. Sleep also helps memory consolidation: a neural process in which the brain beds down what has been learnt that day. Even short-term sleep deprivation, such as five hours across a week of study, can have a negative impact on teens’ mood, attention and memory.

To ensure your child prioritises self-care, help them put together a routine. This may involve scheduling specific times for exercise, meals and downtime each day, and breaking up blocks of study time with short breaks. Also negotiate a nominated time for them to turn their phone off at night. Stopping phone use one hour before bedtime can increase sleep.


(Mackenzie, Van Bergen, Parada – The Educator 13 Oct 2020)


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