Exam stress among children can manifest itself in many ways. In some, it may also be linked to possible indicators of suicidal feelings. The symptoms vary from child to child, and many are associated with other difficulties as well. So, it is vital for parents to know their kids well and keep a close watch on their daily moods, activities and routines. Potential signs of suicidal feelings and thoughts may include difficulty in concentrating; sleeping too much or too little; changes in appetite and/or weight; neglecting personal appearance and hygiene; loss of interest or participation in school life (both academic work and social activities) and/or withdrawal from family and friends; and deflecting challenges or not responding to compliments and praise.
It’s important to note that many of these signs are also symptoms of depression. If you think your child is depressed or suicidal, you should seek immediate treatment. You must be careful if there are sudden reports of trouble at school, either in the classroom (declining grades) or with peers. Watch out for signs such as running away from home; taking to alcohol or drugs; unnecessary risk-taking (for example, driving too fast or without a seat belt); posting worrisome messages on the internet; giving away prized personal items or preoccupation with self harm or suicidal thoughts.
To be a friend and guide, parents can adopt strategies such as avoiding a stressful situation for children. Parents must ensure that the environment at home is conducive for them. At times, when children are unable to cope with stress, parents should guide them in planning, organising and setting a timetable. It’s important for parents to spend light moments with their children and keep the home atmosphere light and well-humoured. They must ensure that their child is eating well and getting adequate rest.
Parents must focus on the child’s nutrition, feed him/her lots of salads, juices, vitamin and protein-rich food. Giving him/her space and breaks to relax is necessary. Children should also be given advice regarding social interactions to help ease pressure. Developing self-discipline, confidence and inculcating a sense of achievement also helps.
Remember the 7 A’s
Everyone goes through some form of stress or the other. How you choose to deal with it is crucial. Here are seven steps to addressing it effectively
# Acknowledging stress and strain: Recognise that stress is inevitable and one needs to learn how to handle it. Examination is just a
stepping stone in the staircase of life
# Appreciate what causes stress: Instead of blaming yourself or failing to cope, you should enumerate and arrive at pinpointing the source. Do not set unrealistic expectations from self or compare yourself with others.
# Alleviating pressures is all about resorting to simple stress-busting techniques. You could have a calming vision to look at when you need a mental escape from your surroundings. Or you may relax your muscles before you go to sleep
# Allow only positive thoughts to enter. Whenever a negative thought enters your head, replace it with a positive one. Also, practise deep breathing. This will get more air into your lungs and will help you relax
# Altering your lifestyle is the next step towards dealing with exam stress. Once you’ve seen the benefits of relaxation, it will encourage you to develop more permanent ways of reducing stress in life. It will also help you focus on your long-term goals
# Avoid stress-inducing habits: Try and keep away from habits that may lead to burnouts. Do not use sleeping pills, memory pills, etc. Also, abstain from smoking. Avoid irregular eating, sleeping and sedentary habits which may compound your stress levels during exam preparation
# Adhere to a strict routine or schedule. This will not only make you more disciplined, but it will also reduce your chances of getting into stressful situations while you are preparing for your board exams
The author is a senior psychiatrist and incharge, Institute of Life Skills & Mental Health Promotion, Moolchand Medcity, New Delhi