child under microscope
It's fear that keeps parents on tenterhooks during exams and micro-managing kids' studies. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Exam fever can be quite contagious. In American expat Shereena Anwar’s home, when it’s test-taking time, it’s her mood that takes on an agitated edge. “I don’t know whatever they call themselves – Gen Z or whatever – they are very complacent. They are good, smart students but when it comes to the exams, it’s [their behaviour is] not like what we have experienced; it is a completely different ball game. They have a different way of addressing exams and that makes it more stressful [for me],” the Dubai-based 45-year-old tells Gulf News.

And while she coaches herself to employ a laid-back, teasing manner to prod her children – 18-year-old Faris Kakkodi and 16-year-old Abir Kakkodi – she admits to finding herself peeking into their room a tad more often, taking greater notice of what’s on their screens at this juncture.


This year, Faris faces his board, 13th year papers, and it’s making mum a little more anxious than a normal exam would, but she’s hoping for the best.

When it comes to the next generation teaching their parents something, the list of lessons is long. In the case of Indian expat Hina Pancholi Rao, her younger child, who is now 20, baffled her by his relaxed attitude. “I’ve never seen him get stressed about any exams. He’s gone literally whistling to his exam hall; it’s almost like he’s the examiner and not the examinee. I’ve always wondered and stressed about it, but he’s always managed and managed well,” she laughs.

“It’s only now that he’s in his fourth year of university, now that he has to face a jury, I see him a little more anxious. But nothing like the kids who are [straining to memorise things] or going through books even in the school bus – I’ve never seen Zohran doing any of that. Maybe he’s just a very happy kid,” she says.

Hina Pancholi Rao and her son, Zoran
Hina Pancholi Rao and her son, Zoran Image Credit: Supplied

The fact that he does well – over time, it’s put her at ease. “I just have to face it. I wait till he gets back and I ask him how it was, and he says, ‘As usual mum, I’m going to ace it’,” she adds.

Exam-related anxiety is quite common and most people find this short term, self-limiting and doesn’t impact too much on life.

- Dr Waleed Ahmed

So what exactly is this anxiety? And why are parents feeling the burn? It really boils down to projection, says Luz Maria Villagras S., a UAE-based Conscious Parenting Coach, Hypnosis Therapist and Neuro-Linguistic Programming Practitioner. As a parent who is invested their child’s future, one can’t help but hope the best for them and fear the worst. “We have fear of failure and we project sometimes, these fears … because we love them, we don’t want them to fail,” she explains, adding that sometimes it’s not about the child at all.

video game child parent
Is Generation Z complacent or just confident in their competence?

One grades their own success as a parent according to their child’s performance in key tasks and exams. “This is an illusion because part of being a good parent is to support the child and to tell them that when an exam is coming up, if they put the time and practice, they will be fine. The only thing they should worry about is they should have time practicing a task and that they should know that we are there for them, knowing and giving them the support they need,” she adds.

Exam anxiety versus anxiety disorder
“Anxiety is one of the most natural feelings a human can experience and it helps inform us of a potential threat and primes the body to react when required. These changes can happen in our minds or psychologically and in our bodies or physiologically. Some of these changes include – a sense of worry, nervousness, preoccupation of a thought, muscles tensing, being restless, etc. When these experiences become too severe, frequent or prolonged, and start impacting on one’s normal functioning, that’s when a ‘disorder’ may set in,” says Dr Waleed Ahmed, Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Wellbeing Centre Abu Dhabi. “However, exam-related anxiety is quite common and most people find this short term, self-limiting and doesn’t impact too much on life.”

Finding yourself on edge as exam-time approaches?

Villagras S. says that the first thing a parent must do is recognise and acknowledge that these responses are a projection of their own fears. “Recognise that exams are just a manifestations of the results of a time given to a task, so we need to be responsible as parents to own our own fears, to not project them,” she says.

“Ask yourself, ‘If my child doesn’t do well in this exam, will he fail in life?’ And the answer of course is no,” she says. “Involve yourself in helping the child with his or her work rather than expecting the exam to be successful.”

Recognise that exams are just a manifestations of the results of a time given to a task, so we need to be responsible as parents to own our own fears, to not project them.

- Luz Maria Villagras S.

“Come back to the present moment and have compassion for yourself and for the situation,” she adds.

Dr Ahmed suggests the following interventions to ease tension:

  • Parents can help organise themselves and their homes so as to reduce distractions, reduce any non-academic pressures on their child, and help assert previously agreed technology restrictions during exam times.
  • It’s crucial for parents to maintain an attitude of calm, recognising that it can be stressful for the child and conversations or arguments about ‘You should have started studying earlier…’ will not be helpful, close to exam dates. It may help to detach oneself – remember that your child is sitting their exams, not you! If you stress out, they will stress out even more.
  • Depending on how involved your child usually expects you to be during their exams, you may consider organising your work in a way that allows you to spend more time at home with them.
  • Ensure regular ‘check-ins’ with your child to see if they need anything.
  • Remind your child to take breaks and ensure they are adequately fed and hydrated.
  • For some children, exam preparation can be significantly anxiety provoking and therefore, offering to be present around them physically for some duration of time whilst they study can be reassuring and encouraging.

Anwar, who often coaches herself to relax around test-taking days, laughs: “The inside joke is that by the time the exams are over, I will need to be taken to the hospital while my son is waiting to head out with his friends. Needless to say, he assures me that he’ll swing an A or A+. As a parent, hope is something I hold on to.”

And so, as the exams roll on, we say to parents and kids alike: All the best.

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