4 Ways to Motivate a Child Who is Facing Exam Stresses

September 11, 2017

Practical tips on how we can help our children craft an effective revision schedule, how to set goals, achieve better time management and hone exam-taking techniques are a dime a dozen. While helpful, they might only serve to manage exam stresses superficially.

Our children need to believe certain truths about themselves before they can effectively manage stress. They have to perceive themselves positively before greater self-motivation and better stress management follow, going beyond helping them manage stress in school and allow them to manage life’s stresses well.

Here are four things we can say to give our children the confidence to face the challenges that exams bring, and to ultimately believe in themselves.

1. “Exam results do not define your identity.”

Children must be reminded that exam results do not define their worth. They need to know that they are valued for who they are, not what they are able to achieve. When we treat our children better or bring them out for a nice meal because of an excellent exam result, they will discover the correlation between their worth and their academic performances.

Our children need to know that they are valued for who they are, not what they are able to achieve.

However, if your child is consistently validated for displaying consideration when holding the lift doors open for an elderly neighbour, or showing self-control when a sibling breaks a prized possession, they will learn that we deeply value their positive character traits and wise choices.

2. “The process of preparing for exams matters more than the results.”

Our children should be encouraged to focus on the process and not give up in the face of difficulty — persevering to get a math problem correct, meticulously sieving out contextual clues in a written passage, being humble and asking for help. These are examples of qualities we must validate when we see them in our children.

If you and your child are going through their very first exam or major exam, consider making a pact — no matter what results are achieved. You can say something like “You did your best with the resources available”.

It will help to shift the focus away from all the “what-ifs”. It is pointless to worry about the unknown future but more constructive when we focus on making the best of the situation in the present.

Further reading: How to Survive a Year as a PSLE Parent

3. “Let’s have fun and do a physical activity you like together!”

We know that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Research shows that we all need rest to function optimally, and there are plenty of proven benefits that physical activity does for the human body and mind.

Let your child choose the activity or give each family member a chance to “promote” their favourite sport to the rest of the family by showing one another YouTube videos or giving a convincing three-minute speech on the virtues of their favourite sport. Then do the sport together.

The key is to never stop making time for physical exercise and fun. If the family is stopped from attending birthday and wedding celebrations because one child has important exams, imagine the amount of stress that places on the child. Such a move also insinuates that exams are more important than family relationships and friendships, and celebrating significant moments in the lives of people close to us is unimportant in the face of exams.

If the family’s social life ends when one child has important exams to take, just imagine the amount of stress that places on the child.

Everything should be done in moderation. Perhaps cut down on the number of birthday parties or family get-togethers to go to but not completely eradicate them from the family schedule. There must be a balance in all things.

4. “I love you no matter what.”

This last thing to say to your children is simply just that. Let them know your love for them is unconditional.


The way we approach our children and their exams will have some effect on how they eventually perceive themselves as adults. Showing and saying that we love them in spite of failure, or in their perseverance to eventual success, help them believe that they can indeed overcome many things, including exam stresses.

© 2017 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

Written by Elvira Tan