The HSC is a stressful time for your child, and while you want to do whatever it takes to support them, it can be hard to know how best to help them deal with school stress.
To help you out with this, we’ve put together a guide to help you with helping your child manage their stress and anxiety during the HSC.
Their wellbeing is crucial to performing their best in exams, so keep reading to find out how you can support, encourage, and help your child through this stressful time.
Let’s get into it!
Part 1: Confidence is Key
While the academic aspect of school tends to be what students and parents focus on, confidence is often a driving factor of academic improvement. This means that low confidence can lead to low performance in exams, assessment tasks, and even day to day classroom engagement.
How to Build Confidence
Therefore, it is really important to help your child deal with a loss of confidence, and there are a number of great ways to do this.
Step 1: Make Friends with Your Amygdala
The amygdala in your brain is what triggers the fight or flight response. So when put in a nerve-racking situation such as a class presentation, the amygdala is what leads to stress, anxiety, shaking and an increased heartbeat.
So to help overcome this, you want to help your child become friends with their amygdala and say, “Hey Amigo, Thanks for protecting me — I appreciate it, but you’ve got it wrong! This isn’t a dangerous situation. I’m okay, and you can stand down.”
Step 2: Preparation is your best friend
Put simply, greater preparation leads to greater confidence. So by practising more, there is less uncertainty and confidence is being built. This is especially important if your child gets nervous presenting in front of an audience.
If your child has an important speech or presentation coming up, you want to assure them that the more they practise the more confident they will feel. Also giving them the opportunity to do practice runs with a family member is another great way to help.
Practising speaking in a safe environment is a great way for your child to try out different tones of voice and also body language, which is vital when presenting.
If you want to know more about this third and fourth step to help your child prepare for an upcoming presentation, have a read of 4 Ways You Can Help Your Child Develop Greater Confidence at School!
What can you do to encourage your child?
When it comes to helping your child feel ready and confident for upcoming assessments, you want them to achieve the best they can. However, there is a fine line between pushing them to get out of their comfort zone and grow, or pushing them too hard that they lose motivation and confidence.
There are a number of ways to support and encourage your child to do their best in the HSC, and more often than not, this is focussed on their mindset as opposed to their academic abilities.
Tip #1: Ask how they are going
As simple as this sounds, listening to your child can be all they need to take some weight off their shoulders and help them to deal with school stress.
Before telling your child that they need to buckle down and study more, check in and see how they’re going with the work. Even if you do not know much about what they are studying, it is just as valuable to show them that you are there for support.
Tip #2: Remind them of their goals
Now if you have no idea about your child’s goals, or if they even have some, this is your sign to sit down and help your child plan some goals. Academic goals are the perfect way to provide direction to studying and motivation to work harder.
As a parent you can also help your child stick to these goals by holding them accountable for it.
Goals are a way to track progress and improvement. Setting progressive goals that take it one step at a time are more meaningful than “getting a 90% in the next exam”.
This is because you want your child to be able to reach these goals for a sense of accomplishment and boosted confidence!
Tip #3: Ask if they need help to do things differently
After ironing out goals with your child, ask if there is anything they should do differently. It is worthwhile taking a step back and reassessing where you are at with reaching goals and making progress.
If your child is not reaching their goals, make it clear that you are there to help them improve, whether that be starting a new study routine or setting some different goals.
There are various ways to encourage your child to do their best without pushing them over the line. Providing advice and maintaining open conversation with your child are also central to this.
Dealing with Negative Self-Talk
You may find that when encouraging your child to improve and set goals, conversations circle back to, “it’s so hard I’ll never understand it”, or “it’s my fault I didn’t learn this before, I’m going to fail.”
This can be really hard to hear as a parent, and so it might be worth considering a different approach. Not only do you want to help pull your child out of this hole of negative self-talk, but you want to help them adopt a new mindset that can help them regain confidence.
Tip #1: Give your child perspective
Negative self-talk is largely irrational thinking and spiralling out of self-confidence. So help your child look at the bigger picture and provide some perspective- show that there are good things in the near future.
You could get them to write a list of all the great things that have happened, or create a mind map to show positive links between different situations and outcomes.
Tip #2: Turn that thinking around!
There are always two sides to a coin. And so if your child is looking at a situation negatively, encourage them to look at the flip side, think optimistically and respond positively.
For instance, if your child receives some disappointing exam marks, instead of thinking, “I failed and will never be able to do well”, look at where their strengths lie, and look ahead at where improvements can be made.
Tip #3: Get out and have fun
It can be hard to recognise when to take breaks, especially during the HSC. However, if your child is burying themselves in negative self talk, make them take a break.
Go to the park, get some fresh air, maybe grab ice cream — this will help them to deal with some of the stress of school! Remember they are still teenagers, and sometimes a break from routine and hard work is all that’s needed to reset and rejuvenate.
Not only is this great for their mental health and wellbeing, but it also shows your child that you are there to help them through the HSC. Although you care that they do well in school, you also care that they are happy and healthy!
Part 2: Dealing with Mental Health
Helping your child control the stress and anxiety that comes with the HSC means helping them deal with mental health.
With COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, maintaining a positive outlook on school and having the motivation to study becomes even more difficult.
As mentioned with negative self-talk, managing mental health can be what boosts your child’s confidence and helps them achieve their best in the HSC. So here are some different approaches to supporting your child through mental health difficulties.
How to Deal With School Stress
Year 12 and the HSC is no doubt a stressful time in your child’s life, and in many cases it will be the most stress they’ve had to deal with in school. So can you help your child cope with these new levels of stress?
Tip #1: Help your child create a schedule
Getting overwhelmed by the workload of Year 12 is often a catalyst for stress. Facing an endless list of tasks creates stress, and having assessment deadlines creates additional pressure.
While you may not always be able to help explain assignments to your child, or help them with all their subjects, helping them create a schedule is just as effective. This will help them allocate time evenly to all their subjects, and have study time on top of homework and assignments.
If your child is also involved in a lot of extracurriculars, a study schedule is a great way for them to get on top of their school work — you may want to set up a digital planner like the one below.
Tip #2: Get in a sleep routine
Sleep is incredibly important to help your child not only improve their cognitive abilities but also keep their mind clear. The Sleep Health Foundation suggests that teenagers should be getting at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night.
It is common for students to stay up late after studying and receive very little sleep before having to wake up for school the next morning. So you can help your child receive enough sleep by suggesting a strict ‘lights out’ policy or go to bed and wake up at the same time as them!
Tip #3: Suggest regular exercise
Your child might be the type who loves going for a run or throwing a ball around. So it’s always great to encourage them to step out of the house and do some sports or exercise at least twice a week.
Even if your child doesn’t gravitate towards the idea of running laps, a simple 20 minute walk can be one helpful way to deal with the stress of school.
The Importance of Study Breaks
Just like going for a walk in the park, simple breaks can be all it takes to help your child maintain their wellbeing throughout Year 12.
Whether your child is always studying because they are studious and like to cover every single corner of the textbook, or they take study slowly because of procrastination… However your child likes to study, breaks are vital!
There are short-term breaks and longer breaks, each with their own benefits.
These breaks happen regularly throughout the day, giving your child a change to rewind. These short term breaks have a number of great benefits!
If you are not too sure what type of break your child should take, get them to take this quiz!
Breaks are crucial to reducing stress, and helping your child deal with school stress comes with effective breaks. These breaks reduce the cortisol levels in the bloodstream, bringing your child down to a calm temperament and alleviating study stress.
It is also just as important to take longer breaks, whether it be over a long weekend, in between assessment periods or school holidays.
It is important that you allow your child to have longer breaks because it allows them to have more control over their study and recognise that not studying for a couple days will not break them!
Longer break times are a great way to help your child shift their perspective, especially if they are dealing with a lot of HSC and school stress. It gives them a chance to see that there is life outside of Year 12 and the HSC is not the be all and end all.
But how do you know if your child needs a study break, and how can you encourage it? It could be as simple as a chat or starting a new hobby together.
To find out more, have a read of Why Study Breaks are Critical to Helping Your Child Maintain Their Wellbeing During the HSC.
Working Through Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are two words we often hear together, and while stress can often lead to anxiety, there are different ways to help your child deal with it. But first, you need to know some of the different signs that could suggest your child is feeling anxious.
Stomach aches, dizziness or teeth grinding are some common physical symptoms that could suggest your child has anxiety. Changes in your child’s behaviour may become noticeable as they try to deal with the anxiety. This could include spending less time with their friends or avoiding social situations.
If you think your child seems to be suffering from anxiety, there are a number of things you can do to help.
Tip #1: Encourage a healthy diet and sleep routine
A healthy diet balanced out with enough sleep ensures that their body and brain are being powered to meet all the demands of Year 12. 8-10 hours of sleep a night can help reduce anxiety, and a healthy diet will help with concentration and maintain energy levels.
Tip #2: Schedule breaks from the books
Breaks are important! Encourage your child to see their friends, or go for a run together. Physical activity is a great way to balance out the hours spent sitting and working at the computer.
Tip #3: Help them set goals
Goals are a great way to provide direction and a sense of purpose in a stressful and demanding time. Help your child set realistic goals and instil confidence and satisfaction in them when they reach their goals.
If you want to know more on how you can help your child deal with anxiety, or are looking for some additional resources, read our article here!
Supporting Your Child Through Depression
Managing the HSC alongside other aspects of life makes Year 12 a demanding year for all students. At times the workload with other commitments can become overwhelming and discouraging, and you might see your child wanting to skip school more often, or have numerous ‘off days’.
Dealing with depression is a heavy topic, so if you have any serious concerns or urgent questions, look to contact Lifeline or headspace. It is also worth considering contacting the school for a counsellor.
As a parent, you naturally want what is best for your child. Depression is a very difficult thing to deal with, and you want to support your child through this however you can, but remember to also look after yourself. For the mental health of your child, it is important that you also take care of yourself.
There are 4 steps you can take to look after your child:
Recognise that your child is having a tough time and show them that you understand. Work backwards from the issue to help your child figure out the centre of the issue and find out what they need to move forwards.
Contact the school, have a talk with their year advisor, the principal or school counsellor to create a plan that can help your child work through the issue and maintain their schooling.
Professional help is also important, because dealing with mental health is a complex and confusing process. Work with your child through these difficult times and make it clear that you are there to help them.
If you would like to gain a more detailed understanding of dealing with depression and ways to help your child, have a read of our article here which goes into detail of some different techniques you could try.
Part 3: Balancing Fun and Focus
When it comes to dealing with school stress and anxiety, balancing the focus out with fun is a must! Of course Year 12 requires more academic dedication and focus, however as we’ve established, breaks are key to maintaining productivity levels.
As a parent, you might feel that your child is doing a lot of things other than study — whether it be sport, a casual job or a birthday party. It is natural to be concerned that they may not be spending enough time studying, however, there is value in letting your child socialise during Year 12!
Year 12 is often the year where your child will make memories with their closest friends, as they bond over the stress before an exam or, say, a birthday party. Letting your child go to social events is great for their emotional wellbeing, as they get to spend time with their friends outside of an academic environment.
Giving your child a bit of freedom is also a great way for them to develop skills from empathy to dealing with emotions. Further, having all the stress from studying for the HSC, friendships will be an important support network for your child, and social events strengthen these relationships.
Still not sure if you should let your child go to the movies this weekend? Have a read of Why You Should Let Your Child Go to Social Events During the HSC to dive a little deeper!
Getting Enough Sleep
Sleep is important! It gives your body power and your brain power and is one solid way to deal with the stress of school. So when your child is studying for the HSC, brain power is essential, and so is a healthy sleep schedule!
However, trying to complete three assignments all due in the same week is probably when you will find your child going to bed 4 hours before they have to leave for school the next morning. So, how do you help your child maintain a healthy sleep schedule?
Ask them questions
Communicate openly with your child as it promotes a positive conversation. Ask them how they feel the next morning, and are they managing to get through a 6 hour (or longer) day of school?
Provide them with solutions
After listening to your child and understanding how they are feeling, work towards a healthy sleep schedule with them. Aim for 7-10 hours of sleep a night with consistent wake and sleep times. Resetting a body clock can be hard, but setting a good night routine can help, alongside a couple of ground rules you could consider.
Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle
Managing a healthy sleep schedule is important, and it is just one part of a healthy lifestyle. When it comes to the HSC it can be easy for your child to fall out of balance, spending hours at their desk studying and forgetting to engage in physical activity and eat proper meals.
Teach your child how to take care of their own health, whether it be making food decisions or when to go for a walk. They need to learn to figure out what works for them, and the best thing for you to do is support them in making decisions that will foster a healthy lifestyle.
When it comes to food, a healthy diet has the right balance of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and legumes. Further, evidence has shown that a daily intake of 5 portions of fruit and veg is strongly associated with heightened cognitive abilities.
Healthy snacks are also something you can provide your child with while they’re studying hard, as it can help them maintain focus for longer.
Encouraging your child to exercise is also part of a healthy lifestyle. Whether it be a simple walk, or a game of tennis, anything to get your child out of the house for a break is perfect!
To find out more about creating a healthy and balanced lifestyle check out: How to Help Your Child Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle During the HSC!
Part 4: Working with Learning Disabilities
When a student is going through the HSC with a learning disability, it can be really hard to see your child struggling. Even more so, it can be difficult for you as the parent to know what is best to help your child through these learning difficulties.
However, know that there are many ways to work through this as a parent, with your child, and with additional support.
Tip #1: Talk to teachers (and do it early)
Even if you don’t have a formal diagnosis for your child’s learning difficulties, teachers can help you create a formal plan for your child’s education, especially managing the stress and anxiety that comes with the HSC.
Teachers can also get you in contact with the school counsellor and provide your child with an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) which will provide your child with the necessary adjustments that can help them learn and achieve their best.
Tip #2: Apply for special provisions
NESA, the NSW Education Standards Authority, can have special provisions applied for your child throughout Year 12 and when it comes time for HSC examination. These provisions are designed to make sure that any learning disabilities do not disadvantage your child from receiving fair marks in their schooling.
Tip #3: Get a tutor or outside support
Often, having an additional tutor to help your child study or understand content can be a great way to support their learning. One-on-one tutors can help break down concepts your child might find difficult, and give them the opportunity to receive guidance on specific areas they struggle with.
There are a number of other things a parent of a child with learning difficulties can consider. From looking at alternative career paths and receiving external support, you can find out more here: How to Support Your Child Struggling with Learning Difficulties During the HSC.
So there you have it!
There is so much information out there around how to deal with school stress and anxiety that it can be overwhelming for you as a parent, just as it is for your child sitting the HSC this year.
However, we hope that having put together some of our greatest tips and guidance, we’ve helped you help your child manage stress and anxiety.
Are you looking for some extra help for your child to deal with school stress?
We have an incredible team of HSC tutors and mentors!
We can help your child master their HSC subjects and ace their upcoming HSC assessments with personalised lessons conducted one-on-one in your home or at our state of the art campus in Hornsby or the Hills!
We’ve supported over 8,000 students over the last 11 years, and on average our students score mark improvements of over 20%!
To find out more and get started with an inspirational HSC tutor and mentor, get in touch today or give us a ring on 1300 267 888!
Nandini Dhir is a Content Writer at Art of Smart and is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts (majoring in Marketing) and a Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Media and Communications), as a Dalyell Scholar, at Sydney University. She enjoys covering local issues in her area and writing about current events in the media. Nandini has had one of her pieces published in an article with the Sydney Morning Herald. In her free time, Nandini loves doing calligraphy, ballet, and sewing, or is otherwise found coddling her cats.