Being a parent of a child taking GCSE exams and looking after wellbeing: Guest Post by David Welham

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(image: http://thesprout.co.uk)

Millions of parents would have experienced the stress and anxiety this summer in the UK with their children taking GCSE’s.

As a parent I was no different and wanted to share my experience. Exams are so different from when I took them. There are more, they take place over just a weeks and in my opinion changes to GCSE’s have been rushed without thinking about the effect on our children’s mental health. 

It seems that they were changed because employers were feeling that they were too easy.

As if my son didn’t have enough to occupy his mind, his future, should he do an apprenticeship, or should he go to college and not to mention the intense revision and preparation for exams.

I remember talking to other parents who also felt the same and expressed real concerns that their children would struggle to cope. They all said what happens if he or see is struggling I am not sure where to go or to talk to. We agreed that if I as a parent appear anxious how can I expect my child to cope.

Its fine just saying things will be OK and not to worry but I did worry, and I secretly just wanted the three weeks to pass as quickly as possible. 

My son decided that Xbox would be too much of a distraction and that it can be put away. I thought that this was mature and the right decision. He worked out a revision plan and we thought about his downtime, but I could still see anxiety and worry.

So I made a plan to make sure that he looked after his wellbeing. Checking in that he was alright and that he looked after his physical health and mental health. I was aware that it was important to take time out from the revision and as advised by school not to stop doing what he likes and change his routine. 

He went to the gym and out with his friends to maintain his relationships. We also planned things as a family as well in-between revision. This broke up the daily grind but there were still periods when I was concerned that he wouldn’t get through it.

I read articles in the news and spoke to school but talking to my son there were children who really struggled. He said that they were really not coping with their mental health. I worried when I heard about children crying, running out of the exam room and parents being called to take them home.

This can’t be right and is something that more research should be undertaken into the effects during exams as I can’t help thinking that we are setting them up for serious problems with their mental health further down the line.

I have suggestions on how to lessen the stress and anxiety during exam time.

Spread the exams over a longer period to give teenagers a bit of breathing space and allow them to take a break. If the exams were spread out there would be less intensity and time to do other things in their lives. I would also suggest there is less focus on the results and outcome and that children can just be children, without such a great amount of stress.

David Welham is a mental health writer from the UK

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