December 8, 2023
Galway based psychologist Dr Malie Coyne

Facing Exam Stress:

As the Junior and Leaving Certificate exams begin, the coming weeks can be particularly stressful, both for students and for those in a parental role. To help with this, Scene in Galway has reached out to top professional Dr Malie Coyne, who is a clinical psychologist and adjunct lecturer at NUI, Galway. In essence, she has dedicated her career to helping children and their families. 

Moreover, Dr Malie Coyne is the author of the best-selling book, Love In Love Out, A Compassionate Approach to Parenting an Anxious Child. Furthermore, she is so energised about promoting wellbeing and creating awareness around mental health that she shares her 20 years’ experience to parents on her website 

A Lust for Life:

In relation to this, she is a proud member of the A Lust For Life mental health advisory panel. In this regard, she is often called upon for public speaking and media events. Fundamentally, Dr Coyne believes the solid foundations for emotional and mental wellbeing begin in childhood.  Ultimately, she advocates that staying well involves looking after your mind every day. Understandably, this can be particularly challenging during this period.

Now More Than Ever:

“Although your children are the ones who have to sit the exams, as parents you will understandably experience a huge amount of worry at this time,” she says. “In essence, nothing can stop you from feeling that sense of protectiveness over them. Of course parents want the very best for their child. Firstly, we would do anything for our children. Secondly, we want them to be happy. Thirdly, we want them to feel satisfied with their exam performance. In consequence, they can progress with their next stage of life.

“Whilst teenagers can be very determined in striving for their independence, they need you now more than ever. Hence your role as your child’s support system is absolutely crucial.”

To help navigate exam stress, Dr Coyne has kindly shared her expertise with Scene in Galway readers and provides ten ways that parents (of all kinds) can constructively help:

Top Ten Survival Tips for Parents during Exam Time

Image of Dr Malie Coyne

“Here are a few survival tips on how you can best support your child over the coming weeks – Dr Malie Coyne:

1. Remain calm and keep your expectations out of it.

Don’t nag or add pressure to an already pressurised situation.

Critical comments will not produce better results, instead your child will be less likely to share their feelings with you.

2. If your teenager seems unhappy about how an exam has gone, it is important to meet them where they are at by acknowledging and reflecting their feelings back to them.

You could say something like “I notice that you aren’t so happy with your English paper today, how did you feel it went?”

3. Try to open up conversations on a walk or in the car as teenagers prefer casual shoulder-to-shoulder chats where they don’t feel too exposed.

They may not want to share how they feel immediately so don’t push them to share. At least you have opened up the conversation and let them know that you are there for them.

4. Once you have acknowledged their feelings and talked it through, encourage your teenager to ‘close the book’ on that exam and to focus on the next one as there is nothing they can do about it now.

Remind them of their successes. Ask them “Are any practical steps you could take to prepare for the next exam?”

5. If your teenager feels they have done well on the exam, explore the particular aspects they feel went well and in a genuine way encourage them about their strengths to build up their confidence for the next exam.

6. Make sure they are well fed and watered, and getting adequate breaks, exercise and sleep time. Stock up on nutritious brain foods.

Get a good fish oil supplement and Vitamin B complex.

Use words of encouragement like “I think you could use a break”; “You always feel better after a walk”; “Try this snack I rustled up”.

7. Encourage your teenager to seek help if their stress levels seem unmanageable.

8. Perspective is something you have which your child is unlikely to have right now. Remind them that this will be over in a short few weeks and to hang in there!

9. Let them know that you are proud of them no matter what. You are their everything, so continual words of encouragement will go such a long way!

10. Make sure you mind yourself as a parent, as you can’t pour from an empty cup and having a stressed parent won’t do anyone any good. Good luck!

This is part of a series where Dr Malie Coyne will share her expertise with Scene in Galway readers on different topics related to childhood anxiety and how best to hel