Creating a healthy exam mindset

Many kids dread their summer exams and it can be tough to know how best to support their mindset. Here are some ways to boost your child’s psychological stamina and morale during this draining time.


It’s the most natural feeling in the world to be protective of your child and concerned on their behalf! Even though they are the ones sitting the exams, it’s very understandable that you may feel a good bit of worry at this time. All any parent wants is to see their child succeed and be happy. This can often translate into stress around their exam performance – mainly because you want them to progress in their future lives. While this is absolutely normal, parents can sometimes inadvertently express these feelings in a way that puts a lot of pressure on their teen.

In terms of actually sitting the exam and doing as well as they can on the day, the best thing you can do for your child is to remain calm and encouraging, while keeping your expectations out of it. The situation is already hugely stressful for your child, and any nagging or projection may feel overwhelming for them. You probably just want to help, but critical comments will have the opposite effect on your child’s results. If anything, your teen may feel less inclined to share their feelings with you. What they need most during exam season is to know that they are supported and loved by you, no matter what happens on the day.


Exams are one of the first real challenges life brings, and for teenagers, they can be among the biggest pressures of their young lives. It’s wise to understand that exams are inherently stressful, but that this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Some stress is good.

It helps us to perform when we need to and is a biological state that is hardwired into our brains to protect us, giving us the ability to rise up to the challenge of demanding circumstances. Whilst we no longer need to run away from predators, a little stress can really help us to react to life’s challenges and can be good in small amounts. Your teen needs to feel a little stress – this is how their brain identifies important tasks!

Change the narrative

Sometimes coined as ‘optimal stress’, this perfect zone helps to activate concentration and motivation throughout study and tests. Research indicates that it is actually our belief that stress is harmful which does the most damage. If parents can help their child view stress more positively, rather than panic at the first sign of it, kids will learn to react to stressors with greater resilience and less fear.

It is well studied that the physical signs of stress are the exact same as the physical signs of excitement. These sensations (e.g. a raised heartbeat, butterflies in their stomach etc.) can therefore be reframed and embraced by teens as a message that their bodies and minds are getting ready to succeed at the challenge ahead – and maybe even that they’re looking forward to doing well!

Stress versus anxiety

As a parent, you must also be vigilant about recognising the nuance between healthy stress and a state of anxiety. When stress builds and builds and the person is not dealing with it in a normal manner, it gets out of hand and becomes anxiety. Anxiety is characterised by persistent worries, spiralling distress and physical symptoms that genuinely interfere with daily life.

If you suspect your child may be struggling with anxiety, or they feel the pressure is overwhelming their ability to cope, gently encourage your teen to lean on you, and perhaps to talk to a teacher or school counsellor, or even access age-appropriate services for support. It’s much better to look for help early, rather than let the issue get bigger. If you’re unsure, don’t be afraid to seek out professional advice.


Sometimes, if your teenager feels an exam went badly, it can seem like a good idea to brush over it, in an attempt to keep their morale up and make sure they stay focused on the next exam or task. However, it’s actually better to validate their experience and acknowledge their feelings before moving on. This helps them to feel reassured that you hear them and that it’s not too big of a deal, and certainly not something they should fixate on. Try to reflect your child’s feelings back to them with phrases like “I see you don’t seem so thrilled with today’s exam – how do you feel it went?”

Keep it casual

These kinds of conversations are best initiated when your child is either on a stroll, or sitting side by side with you, so they don’t feel too exposed or like they’re being interrogated. If your child seems reluctant to get into the details, it’s best not to push them to share with you – but it’s always beneficial to let them know that you are there for them if they want to talk.

Close the book

If they do discuss any unhappiness they feel about their performance that day, once you have talked it all through, encourage them to move on and draw a line under that exam, so they can free up their headspace to focus on the next one.

Finally, let your child know that you are proud of them unconditionally. These exams don’t define them as a person and have nothing to do with their worth in your eyes! Provide a steady stream of encouragement, using these ideas to positively influence their exam mindset and their success.


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