There has been a lot in the news about SATs testing, exams and other stresses put on young children these days – but in fact we can use these experiences to help our children learn valuable life skills.

Practitioners at children’s health and wellbeing charity the Sunflower Trust offer some advice on how we can help our children use exams and other stressful situations to their advantage to:

  • Recognise their own feelings of stress
  • Learn about how their body reacts to stress
  • Learn how to manage and cope with stress
  • Discover how some stress can be positive
  • Learn not to be frightened by their stress

Sheree McGregor, an ex-teacher and Sunflower’s Alton-based practitioner, says: “Firstly, it’s important to note that there are two types of stress: positive stress called eustress, which stimulates individuals to do and achieve things in life, and negative stress, known as distress.

“Stress itself is not good or bad, it is simply the body’s response to stimuli - it is our reaction to it that determines whether it is positive stress or not. Helping your child to understand that stress isn’t ‘bad’ and that they can use it to their advantage puts them in the driving seat.

“Ask your child to think of a time their heart was racing but there was no immediate threat or fear, perhaps on a fairground ride or the day before Christmas. That feeling is good stress, which will help them focus and improve their performance and decision making.”

Help your child unlock the benefits of stress

Gemma Ware, one of Sunflower’s Guildford-based practitioners, adds: “One of the simplest yet most powerful ways to use stress to your advantage is to start with the right mind-set. Attempting to get rid of stress can make it worse, it’s much better to embrace it and see it as a positive reaction that will help you rise to the challenge.

“For example, during exam time, a pounding heart and sweaty palms can be reframed by saying, “Wow, a little stress is going to help me on this test – my body’s giving me a little burst of energy and extra focus to get through this.

“Instil confidence in your child that they can manage stress and needn’t be afraid of it!”

Make sure your child is as physically resilient as possible

Tim, Sunflower’s Chiswick-based practitioner says: “Feeling physically good improves a person’s confidence and provides them with the stamina they need to complete a mental or physical challenge. Give your child the best possible start by getting their body-basics right first!”

Here’s his top tips:

  • Sleep! Good sleep is crucial for thinking and concentration. Most teenagers need between eight and 10 hours’ sleep a night but pay attention to your teenager because it’s possible they may need more. Research has shown that more sleep alone increases exam results by 10%.
  • Posture - At Sunflower, we advocate addressing any imbalances in the musculoskeletal system. Correcting imbalances affects the way a child stands, sits, walks and presents him or herself, plus improves how the body is functioning on the inside - digestion works better, breathing is improved and blood flow to the brain increases. In a recent Sunflower research sample of 100 children, only ONE child was within normal range musculoskeletally – are you sure your child is aligned?
  • Encourage exercise - Exercise can help boost energy levels, clear the mind and relieve stress. It doesn’t matter what it is - walking, cycling, swimming, football and dancing are all effective. Activities that involve other people can be particularly helpful.
  • A varied diet with lots of lean protein, slow-release carbs, leafy greens, good fats such as oily fish and nuts, and quality probiotics to settle the gut with help your child feel alert and think more clearly … and don’t forget whole milk, which is fortified with Vitamin D, a vitamin essential for happiness!

As a parent it can be hard to watch your child go through the range of emotions as they approach exams or other stressful situations, but stress is an emotion they will periodically face throughout their lives. The best thing a parent can do is try to equip them with the tools to manage it!