Exam season is well underway – and if you’re a parent you may have noticed your child showing signs of stress and anxiety.

Our recent public survey1 revealed a third of parents worry about the impact of exam stress on their child’s mental health.

So, what can parents do help teenagers cope during this challenging time of year? Our members have some tips to share.

Lead by example

Katie Rose, a therapist and a parent of a teenager who’s currently taking GCSEs, says managing your own stress is paramount.

She adds: “Take time to ground yourself, speak calmly to them. Your child is relying on you to be strong and resilient right now, to help them to regulate their own emotions.”

Rachel Vora, a school counsellor and psychotherapist agrees: “Talk to your child honestly about your stress and how you manage it. Offer learning opportunities such as "I have a big deadline at work this week and I feel nervous about meeting it. I will get to bed early each night, so I’m well rested to tackle what I need to at work. Talk through healthy coping skills you employ to help your child develop some of their own.”

Create a calm environment

“It’s important home is a place where they can relax, unwind and prepare themselves mentally for the challenges ahead,” says Katie.

“Try to keep them away from any stresses you might be experiencing, away from squabbles with siblings, and give them a space where they can relax and study uninterrupted.”

Ayo Adesioye, a therapist who works with young people, says try to minimise any conflict in the home during this time.

“Stress may be caused by or exacerbated by the wider home environment, relationship difficulties or life changes. If there are issues with friends or partners that they’re not able to resolve quickly, it might be worth suggesting that they reduce or stop contact until the exams are over. The less upheaval, the better.”

Speak their language and listen

“Give them a space to talk,” says Katie. “As parents, we often think that it's helpful to 'talk to' our children. We try to comfort them with stories of how exams were for us or try to reassure them. Instead of talking, try listening. Take the time to understand how they feel and what help they need, and then respond accordingly.”

Nicola agrees: “It's important to validate how teenagers are feeling, even if we don’t fully understand.

“You may say something like, ‘I can see that you’re worried right now, and that’s ok, normal and understandable. I’m here to talk or help whenever you need me to.’”

Rachel recommends not downplaying their emotions.

“Children will stop communicating if they feel judged or lectured about the "right way" to handle a situation. Phrases that better engage them include "Wow, that sounds like a really tough spot to be in. I’m sorry you are going through that." Instead of automatically offering advice, ask for permission, such as "What do you need from me to help you right now?" or "I would like to support you. How can I be helpful?"

“When your child speaks to you, ensure you give them 100% of your attention, stop what you’re doing, and repeat what they say. Refrain from interjecting your opinion or advice too quickly.”

Pick the right time to chat

Nicola Saunders, a therapist who works with children and families, says:

“Try and make yourself available when your teenager is ready to talk. I learned that speaking to my son first thing in the morning rarely ended well. I am a lark, and he is an owl. Initially, I saw this as disrespectful, but when I learned that I could ask him the same question after school and get a perfectly pleasant answer, I respected that mornings were not his best time. Therefore, I leaned into his needs rather than my wants.”

Exam stress is normal

Katie says to remember that a certain level of anxiety around exams is normal.

“The unknown is always scarier than what we know, and anxiety is the thing that helps us to remember to study and revise, to work hard and prepare more. In the moment, the adrenalin of the exam can keep your child focused and gives them the drive and energy to do the work needed.”

Nicola recommends helping your child identify what helps them relax.

“When anxiety hits, it stops our brains from working efficiently, and we slip into survival mode. So, knowing what works for us is essential.”

She says that learning breathing techniques may help calm them in a few minutes.

“If they have learned the concept of breathing to calm their mind, then they can take this anywhere, even into the exam room.”

Keep them well fed and well rested

Ensure your teenager stays on top of self-care, and is eating, sleeping and exercising well.

Ayo says: “These are often the first activities to be neglected when in fact they’re the very things that keep stress at bay. The relaxation aspect is particularly important as well as any self-soothing activities that can be used to help them manage stress during the exam period and beyond, e.g. stretching, breathing, meditation, mindfulness.”

Be organised

Parents can help by being on top with the everyday organisation, says Katie.

“Have a copy of their exam timetable, and a list of things that they need to take to school. Make sure they know where they're supposed to be and what they need to be preparing for next. Wake them up, so they have plenty of time in the morning.”

Get more support

“When your child's worry seems excessive and persistent, it may be time to seek additional support and guidance” says Rachel. “An excellent first step is to lean on your child's natural support system, including teachers or school counsellors.

“These offer a network that can provide additional perspectives and valuable resources. Additionally, schools often have dedicated resources to assist students grappling with stress.

“If more help is needed, paediatricians, child psychologists, or counsellors possess the expertise to provide specialised strategies tailored to address stress that appears unmanageable, as it may be a sign of anxiety.”

To find a registered BACP therapist to help with stress, please visit our Therapists Directory.


1 About the Public Perceptions Survey

Since 2019, the BACP has conducted an annual survey to measure the opinions and attitudes of the British public towards mental health.  The survey data was collected using a self-complete, online methodology. A nationally representative sample of 5,249 adults (aged 16+) was taken from YouGov’s online research panel and results were weighted to provide a nationally representative dataset. Fieldwork for the 2024 survey was conducted between the 16 and 28 February 2024.