A parent's story about exam stress

over the shoulder of girl studying

This can help if:

  • your child is struggling with exam stress

  • you want to know how other parents have coped.

Communication has always helped us

My daughter’s final year of school was really difficult for her and for me. Her mother and I are divorced and we decided she should come and live with me for her final year of school. We get along really well. Communication is a really big part of this:

  • I always say what's on my mind and I expect my children to do the same to me.

  • I've always set clear boundaries for them - they know what is okay and what's not acceptable in my house.

  • When I talk to them I try to be honest. For example, if they ask me something and I don't know the answer then we'll look it up together.

How I helped Annie deal with her stress

About halfway through Year 12, when she was doing her mid-year exams, Annie started to feel the pressure. She’d come home from school and have a meltdown. I helped her organise her study routine by being patient and sometimes just by giving her a big hug if she felt overwhelmed. These tips in particular helped:

  • If Annie came home from school in a bad mood I’d give her about 15 minutes in her room to calm down, then I’d go in there and ask about it.

  • We set up a study plan above her desk in her room, with blocks of time for each subject. She found that helpful because she felt more in control.

  • Every night we’d have dinner together with no TV, no phones, no gadgets or gizmos on the table. That was always a good chance to talk.

Stress is harder for her because she has Asperger's

Annie was diagnosed with Asperger’s when she was really young. She’s quite outgoing, but does have trouble with socialising and also with calming herself when she is stressed.

For Annie that means crying, yelling and screaming and retreating to her room. She also has a couple of repetitive physical behaviours – I call them tics. One is that she flaps her arm up and down; often hitting her leg so hard she’ll bruise it. That gets very intense when Annie is under stress.

The best help for stress was our study strategies

Annie takes some medication to help with her symptoms of Asperger’s and we thought maybe tweaking the meds might help her. But after talking with the paediatrician we decided not to go down that path, as ordinarily her medication works quite well. So it was up to Annie and me.

Some days were harder than others, but she came through the mid-year exams and it was choppy but we sailed through until the end-of-year exams. She found these difficult again stress wise, but with the same strategies and a bit of patience we got through those as well. Now she’s at uni and I couldn’t be prouder of her.

What Annie and I have learned

I asked Annie what she learned from her difficult final year of school and she told me she’s got more confidence in herself. She doesn’t stress as much about study because she knows she’s capable of getting through it. And having Asperger's means she needs to take a bit more time.

The biggest thing I’ve learned is not to yell back when she gets angry. It only ever makes things worse. When I stay calm, she eventually comes back to my level. When you treat your children with respect, saying please and thank you and being there for them when they need you, that’s the best way of weathering the tough times.