How to help your teen get through end of semester exams

Teen studyingThe last week before holidays is exam period for many kids in high school, middle school, CEGEP and junior college. And since your teen is probably already worn out by all the end of semester assignments, holidays concerts, parties and family commitments, there’s a good chance they are heading into their exam rooms a bit frazzled and stressed out.

All the residual stress and anxiety can put them at an academic disadvantage when the exam booklets are handed out, potentially lowering their test scores. It also means your teens may be more likely to get into arguments with family members, experience random emotional blowouts or isolate themselves in their rooms, earphones on, doors shut.

But sometimes, when all their physical cues shout “Stay away!” they are actually calling out for thoughtful and considerate input. Here are some things you can do to help them (and everyone else) survive the exam week crunch.

Get tough on sleep. Now, more than ever, they need to unplug their devices (computers, iPads, phones) and get them out of their rooms at bedtime. All-night study sessions are almost always a waste of time and energy. This is not the time for group sleepover study sessions with friends or late nights cramming at the library. Help them establish a sleep routine that guarantees they show up for their exams well-rested.

Limit other commitments. Try to control the amount of non-studying related events around this time of year. The office holiday party that includes families, the neighbourhood carolling, Great Aunt Selma’s tree-trimming, Bubby’s annual latka fry-up — whatever the things that get your family out the door in mid-December– can all add up to a lot of time away from the books. And while your teen will benefit from breaks and a change of scenery, all of this forced socializing can be painful to your average 14 or 16-year-old. In terms of relaxing and recharging, they’d be better off taking the dog for a run, reading a novel or practicing guitar. Try and find a reasonable balance for them.

Feed their bodies, feed their brains. On the mornings before exams, I always get up 10 minutes early to cook my daughters a hot breakfast. They have almost no appetite at 7 a.m. (and who can blame them?), but I know from personal experience what it’s like to write a two-hour exam with nothing in your system. So I make eggs and hash browns, oatmeal pancakes or fruit and yogurt smoothies so that they have a bit of protein and carbs before they head out the door.

I try to extend this philosophy to their study sessions as well. My work requires me to do a lot of writing and research, and I know all too well how snacking can function as a procrastination tool or distraction. Instead of fattening and salty processed convenience foods, I try to have a ready supply of cut up fruit and veggies, cheese sticks, popcorn or homemade mini muffins around.

Offer the kind of support they need. This will almost certainly not sound like a lecture on study skills. It will not be a series of frustrated comments about their messy rooms, disorganized backpacks or crumpled, incomplete course notes. You’re kind of too late for this now, and it’s not going to help matters or lessen anxiety levels. Pick your battles.

This is the time to hang out quietly. A quick jam session on Guitar Hero. A cuddle before bedtime. Twenty minutes hanging out together in front of the TV. A quick run out together to get hot chocolate. Listen when they talk. If they ask for help getting organized, then step in. If they don’t, well, they will quickly learn on their own what they need. During exam period, you will be a far more helpful and calming force if you can help keep their stress down and offer a sympathetic ear.

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