There is a lot of pressure put on families for success in the 11+; the results of the exam will often determine a child’s future educational path, including their university placement and ultimately their careers. That’s quite a lot for one test! With so much resting on the 11+, it comes as no surprise that it generates a lot of anxiety and stress for both parents and children.
It is important to keep in mind your child’s ability to manage this stress around their entrance exams. This is not always easy, for both child and parent, though it is crucial to their wellbeing and their ultimate success in their exams.
The main causes of 11+ exam stress can include:
- Fear of failure and uncertainty
- Pessimism or negative self-talk
- Unrealistic expectations (either from the student or from parents)
- Lack of preparation and a feeling of not knowing what to expect
Most of these triggers for anxiety can be solved through slow and steady preparation for the 11+ to help build your child’s confidence in their knowledge and readiness for the exam. However, it is important to be mindful of burnout and your child’s ability to focus and work when they are worrying about the outcome of their test.
Here are five things to keep in mind to help your child manage and reduce their 11+ related anxiety.
Take regular breaks.
Breaks are important to ensure physical and mental health. Breaks can help to improve concentration and avoid burnout. Regular physical exercise can release endorphins which can lift our mood and help regulate levels of cortisol (a stress hormone).
A simple run or a walk in the park can really help with managing stress and anxiety levels.
Spending time in nature can also help children to feel calmer, more collected and more centred. This can involve revising outside in the garden or at the park or even listening to natural sounds while studying (such as rain or rainforest ambience).
Encourage activities outside the 11+ – like painting, writing, cycling, etc.
Physical activities and creative hobbies can really help with making sure 11+ stress does bleed into any other aspects of your child’s life.
Self-expression may not come naturally to all of us – and may be as difficult for parents as it is for children. Being able to express who we are and how we see the world can help us to feel better about ourselves, as it allows us to share our identity and individuality with others. It is easy to be influenced by how we believe we should act and think and to feel negative because of the comparisons we make between ourselves and others. Creative self-expression (through art, reading, music or acting, for example) can allow children to articulate their own feelings and anxieties in a way they may not otherwise have the terminology for.
Actively smiling and laughing as much as possible is also a great way for a child to lift their own mood and reduce stress levels. This can involve making a phone call and engaging in lighthearted conversation with a close friend or watching a comedy with family. The act of laughing and smiling itself can help to boost mood!
Journaling is likewise an excellent way for children to manage their own worries and concerns. Children can jot down their anxious thoughts to help get them off of their chests and to externalise them – helping them to work through these feelings and identify exactly what is causing them concern or distress. A journal can also be used to write gratitude affirmations; this means writing down things that you are thankful for. It can include very simple things such as being grateful for a warm family meal or spending time with a pet. Writing down these positive thoughts can help to shift a mindset into one that is settled and calm as opposed to fretting and worried.
Practise breathing techniques, meditation or yoga to help encourage relaxation.
Stretching, deep breathing, yoga and mindfulness activities can be incredibly beneficial for stress management.
Mindfulness is the act of being aware of what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment. When we practice mindfulness we are paying attention to everything that is happening in the present moment. This can help us set aside our worries and anxious thoughts and feel calmer and more grounded.
A simple breathing exercise such as square breathing, the 5-4-3-2-1 method or a guided meditation can help children to focus on the current moment by focussing on the flow of air in and out of their body. It can also help with calming down and decreasing stress.
Make sure they are eating and sleeping well.
A healthy body = a healthy mind.
When our basic physical needs are met we are better equipped to take care of our mental needs. Plenty of exercise, sleep, nutritious food and water is a must to keep brains in good working order.
Do not add extra pressure!
Most children taking the 11+ will experience some stress during the process. Even if you are the most laid-back parent for miles around, they will hear playground chatter about the 11+ and hear friends expressing their anxieties about their future schooling. Nerves can really compromise a child’s performance in an exam setting and negatively impact their mental health. Try not to pile on the pressure for your child; reassure them you will be proud of them no matter what happens, because of their hard work at school, for their work in preparing for the test and for their courage in taking it.