Parents get counselling over exam

Parents
are suffering so much stress over their children’s exams that Relate, the
relationship counselling body, is offering families guidance on how to cope.

The
UK charity suggests that parents learn to tolerate bad behaviour in the run-up
to exams. “Tell yourself it is the stress talking!” it declares. In an advice
pamphlet it warns against “extravagant gifts or big amounts of money” as a
reward for good marks because it can add to the pressure. And it highlights the
impact on siblings, who might become jealous at exam time because of a lack of
attention.

Exams
can disrupt family life

The
advice comes as millions of young people prepare to sit mocks, modules, GCSEs,
A-levels, or university finals. “The anxiety of exams cannot only be hard on
the student, but also on the rest of the family too,” it says.

Lin
Griffiths, a counsellor at Relate for Parents – the part of the charity releasing
the advice – argued that exam stress could make young people irritable. “They
may storm out, slam doors, be disagreeable,” she said. “Normally you would have
a go at them. But at exam time, maybe back off. When they shout, try to imagine
it is not them but the stress talking.”

But
she also warned parents to be aware of younger siblings: “If they see their
eldest brother or sister getting away with murder when they can’t, then that
can create a ripple effect. The younger child might give you a really bad
time.”

Griffiths
explained why mothers and fathers become so anxious: “Exams are the one thing
as a parent that you can’t do for them.”

One parent’s story

One
mother, Fiona MacLellan, has written an account for the charity about her
stress. It begins: “The May sun streaming through the assembly hall windows,
the cherry tree blossom still heavy on the trees, the smell of freshly-mown
grass, the sound of bees buzzing and birds singing. It can only mean one thing.
Exam time! But it’s not just the kids that are suffering. It’s us!”

MacLellan
talks about the “dread” of leaving her “better half” to wake their 16-year-old
for revision. “No amount of texts or helpful advice is going to get him started
before noon,” she writes. “I seek advice from my mum. How on earth did she
cope? Of course! There was no policing. There was no nagging. We had
independence and trust.”

Exam obsessed

Roy
Shuttleworth, a clinical psychologist, agreed that times had changed, with some
people becoming “exam obsessed” because of the number of tests. “When I think
back to my own childhood, we were under far less stress and expectation than
children are today. They start much earlier, with lots going to extra study
classes.”

Parents
take worries to the Web

As
exam season is now under way, the issue has become the focus of online chat
rooms aimed at parents. Rather than limiting their worries to within their
immediate friendship circle, parents are now looking further afield for those
all-important life lessons that might give their child the competitive edge
when it comes to doing well in their upcoming exams. Mothers swapping tips on
the Mumsnet website suggested: “Lots of water… Also daily exercise – a bit
like a puppy… An ability to tiptoe round a stroppy teenager.”

Justine
Roberts, co-founder of the site, said: “For many parents marshalling their kids
through exams is as stressful as doing the things themselves. Mumsnetters
advise taking a deep breath, remembering that your offspring may revise differently
to you, are liable to be at their most unreasonable during exam time and that
all you can do is to ease the process and offer gentle encouragement. You can
lead a horse to water…”

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