Parents' Guide to the Exam Season #1 - Be Chilled

What can you do to help your teens and tweens through the stressful exam season?

Mirror neurons never lie … relax and your children will too.

What neuroscience confirms, and you already know, is that young adults are vulnerable to stress and anxiety. However independent they seem, they need your support, love and consistency during this challenging time. Yet sometimes it’s hard to know how best to help them.

In my previous blog I mentioned that frontal lobes – the centres for executive function, reasoning and restraint – are not fully formed until our late twenties. That fact alone may help you understand just why your teens need your help so much. However much they resist it.

I am a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist, Solution Focused Brief Therapist, NLP Practitioner and a qualified KS2/3 teacher. These tips are based on the neuroscience of learning and anxiety management. My aim is to add to your already substantial arsenal of parenting skills

Tip 1: Be Chilled and Look After Yourself First

It sounds counter-intuitive, but being a little selfish maybe the best thing you can do for your teens and tweens. The most important thing you can do to help your teenage son or daughter deal with stress and anxiety during the exam season, is to be as relaxed as you can. If you are wired, stressed and anxious that will impact on your teen.

Marco Iacoboni is a neuroscientist best known for his work on mirror neurons. He discovered these mirror neurons - small circuits of cells in the brain activated when we perform actions such as smiling, laughing or even picking up a pen. Surprisingly, mirror neurons are also activated when we observe someone else performing that same action.

In other words, the brain experiences little distinction between seeing and doing.; between observing and directly experiencing. We are wired to internalize the movements and mental states of others from childhood. It’s how we learn.

Adolescents, with their superbly plastic minds, will absorb your moods, behaviours and stresses.

Looking after your physical and mental wellbeing will give you the stamina and resilience to help cope with your teenagers moods, anxieties and demands during this challenging time. Do the obvious stuff. Make sure you get enough sleep, nourishment, and exercise. Eat well: choose fruit, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains for long-term energy (reducing sugar and caffeine). Exercise moderately to send oxygen to every cell in your body so that your brain and body can function well.

Teens and tweens are now taught a lot about nutrition, health and exercise so why not ask them their advice? It may be a great way to start a constructive conversation about work and study balance.

We know teenagers in particular are wired to move away from parental patterns of behaviour. They may ridicule your dress sense, your taste in music and your habits but they will still pick up your moods and emotions.

Modelling the behaviour you want is by far and away the most powerful way to influence the behaviour of others. Telling people, particularly teenagers, what to do is probably the least successful. I will discuss more of that when I explore Solution Focused language later in this blog series.

In the end, you are still the greatest influence on your children, and modelling good mental health is important. When things go awry for them or they make a mistake, and they have time to think and reflect, they will return to the stable and secure patterns you create for them.

I recognise that this is challenging for those with mental health issues themselves, so in this instance, it is important to explain to your child what your own health issues are, and how you cope with them in the most sensitive and clear way that you can. Make sure they understand that any issues you may have are in no way their fault or responsibility. Adolescents do need to know that life isn’t perfect and that mental health issues are a normal part of being flawed and human. That also signals that they can talk about their own fears and anxieties openly if they need to.

Remember mirror neurons make it impossible to mask what you are feeling, Your teenagers have the adult capacity to understand anything that is explained to them but, if what they are experiencing and what you are telling them do not tally, that may increase their anxiety. Honesty is the best policy.

If you need external help, either through your doctor, through complementary therapies or the support of friends and family, do go and seek it. ,

It’s not selfish to look after yourself; having the energy and capacity to give to others is founded on good self-care.

Next Week, Tip 2 focuses on planning together with your teen.


I am practising Solution Focused Hypnotherapy from The Wellbeing Clinic, Headington, Oxford. My first consultation is free so if you think I can help you manage your own stress and anxiety, or help your child manage their stress and anxiety during the exam season, do get in touch.

Subscribe to my Sense-Ability blog for 8 tips for parents and carers supporting teens during the stressful exam season.

photo (c) Nathan Anderson was good