picture of teenagers playing video games

I'm a psychologist: Kids should play video games in exam season

Children should be allowed to play video games during the run-up to exam season, according to experts, as they urge parents to foster a balanced lifestyle.

Worries about exams have risen significantly for young people over recent years, with NSPCC reporting a 10% increase in counselling sessions directly related to exam stress. Leading tuition experts at Explore Learning have teamed up with clinical professionals to offer advice on how to support children through exam stress. The key, they explain, is a balanced lifestyle.

"During exam season, it's still very important that young people maintain a balanced lifestyle, blending study sessions with activities they enjoy. This balance is not just about academic success; it's about keeping stress levels manageable and mental health in check", Mary Lawrence, LCSW, Clinical Director at Acera Health, explains.

Here are four expert-recommend ways to support children in the lead-up to exams:

  1. Ensure children are keeping up with hobbies they enjoy

While some parents may be tempted to 'ban' certain hobbies that aren't deemed productive, experts warn that hobbies – even casual gaming – offer much-needed stress relief. Clinical Director Mary Lawrence says, "Engaging in hobbies can offer a much-needed break from the rigours of studying, helping students to unwind and recharge. It fosters a sense of normalcy amidst the chaos of exams, ensuring that students can return to their studies feeling refreshed and focused."

Mary explains, "Exams can take a toll on students' social lives, often isolating them from friends and leisure activities as they dedicate their time to studying. However, hobbies serve as an important lifeline during these times. Whether it's sports, music, art, or gaming, hobbies can help mitigate the sense of isolation, offering a supportive community and a reminder that there's life beyond the books."

Charlotte Gater, Head of Education at Explore Learning, adds that hobbies are vital for future prospects. She explains, “ Bear in mind that colleges, universities and employees are looking for well-rounded people, not just those with great exam results. When interviewing at Explore Learning, we love to hear how people have built great teamwork through playing in a netball team or problem-solving and resilience in their local Dungeons and Dragons group. Hobbies won’t just help during the exam period, but for their future prospects, too.”

2.  Plan in quality time with your children

Dr Danielle Grey emphasises the importance of parents and caregivers spending quality time with children, explaining this is vital during exam season. Try to dedicate quality time to discuss exam pressures together.

"Children flourish within the nurturing embrace of genuine relationships," Dr Grey explains. "Setting aside life's distractions and giving undivided attention to your child is crucial. When children feel that unwavering support, they are more inclined to reach out for guidance, share their fears, and confidently navigate the maze of life's challenges. Such positive connections not only help them to vocalise their feelings but also to understand and process them, paving the way for emotional maturity and resilience."

picture of teenagers playing video games

3. Don't let children be scared of mistakes

Children with a perfectionist mindset are more likely to get stressed throughout exam season – especially when they perceive themselves unable to make mistakes. To counteract this, caregivers should encourage children to embrace challenges through their education. 

Dr Grey says, "Fearing mistakes can negatively impact resilience and often correlates with heightened anxiety in children. When achievement is the sole focus, children become ensnared in a binary mindset of success or failure, pushing them to sidestep any risks."

Continuous learning is key not just for exam season, but beyond, Dr Grey explains. She says, "Recognising and embracing mistakes, not just in your children but as adults and guardians, fosters a culture of continuous learning and encourages a growth-oriented mindset. Encourage your child to have another go when things don't work out the first time and see what lessons you can learn."

4. Break the 'more is more' mindset and encourage breaks

One of the best ways to tackle stress is through solid time management skills. "Teaching children how to effectively manage their time – with schedules that allocate time for studying, breaks and activities they enjoy – can reduce stress. It helps them feel in control and ensures they cover all necessary material without last-minute cramming", Dr Grey says.

Overstudying or 'cramming' can actually be detrimental to the learning process. Dr Grey says, "It can be difficult to take regular breaks since we can become caught by the belief that 'more is more'. Breaks are an important part of the learning process and will allow our brains to process information rather than becoming overwhelmed."

Charlotte Gater, Head of Education at Explore Learning, echoes this statement, explaining that in her experience in education, breaks are vital. “Putting too much pressure on yourself, cancelling everything else that you normally do, and not taking any breaks will not result in better exam results,” Charlotte says. “Some students cancel all their extracurricular activities, quit their part-time jobs, and stop seeing their friends in the run-up to exams. Yes, you do need to carve out time to focus on exam preparation, but it’s also really important to have some downtime away from studying.”


Parents and guardians looking to support their children during exam season can learn more about Explore Learning, including their 11 Plus, SATs and GCSE maths tuition, at https://www.explorelearning.co.uk 

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