College Finals: Helping Your Child Through It

College final exam time is approaching and how a student gets through them is just as important as the outcome. As a parent, you may be concerned for your child as they face the stress of finals week. The last parts of the semester are filled with projects, presentations, papers, and even tests—all that right before the last week of school, which is always final exam week, or hell week. It is part of the college experience. The first time experiencing finals week can be overwhelming. Cramming, late nights, even all-nighters, and lack of sleep are common issues. You may even be noticing changes in how often you talk to your child or even their tone. It does not have to be a horrible experience for you or your child. A few easy-to-follow tips can help them make it through finals week in a better way without all the overwhelm and chaos.

College Finals and Stress

Help them understand stress and its effects.

Stress is a leading cause of mental health issues for college students. Anxiety is the older, more sinister sibling. Regardless of the severity, stress affects every primary bodily function. Common issues can include gastrointestinal upset, appetite changes, sleep problems, mood fluctuations, concentration, focus, and memory problems. It’s not hard to see how these effects can hinder studying and mastering course material. The bottom line is stress does not help a student be at their best.

Finals week is a stressful time. However, some minor stress has been shown to help with memory, so it’s not all bad. It does help motivate, improves memory recall, and reduces procrastination. It can be healthy. However, when there’s too much or stress becomes anxiety, that’s when it might be time to suggest doing something about it.

Be ok if your contact with them changes or happens after the test or the week is over.

Let’s be honest. Finals week isn’t called hell week for nothing. It’s easy to understand how the regular contact and even the type of contact would change under all the pressure that comes with finals. It can even happen the week before or two weeks before finals. Each class will have its last tests, projects, and papers. All that just before needing to prepare for finals. The preparation necessary for finals is tremendous. More if there is more than one test happening on any given day. It’s a lot of work and hours spent pouring over course material. Be understanding of that and try not to disrupt their routine.

What can be helpful is letting them know you are thinking about them and are there to support and encourage them. Changing phone calls to more frequent text messages can help. If classes are still online, think about having more minor conversations or check-ins. Make every contact encouraging, supportive, and even reminding them to take care of themselves.

Remind them of self-care (and care packages from home mean a lot).

  One of the most effective methods to deal with stress is self-care. There is an infinite number of ways to do self-care. Some are so easy they can be overlooked—things like eating. Skipping meals is a common occurrence. Most students will skip a meal when studying because they have so much to get through. However, if the brain isn’t fueled, it won’t work as well. A quick text to remind them to eat can make a big difference. The same can be said of any number of issues, such as showering, going to class, getting to bed, sleeping well, taking breaks, etc. A quick reminder can help and be appreciated. You get bonus points for giving them a care package, even if they are still home. Getting their favorite snacks, a book, making their favorite meal, and even a quick trip to get their favorite coffee can be enough to let them know you care and, more importantly, remind them to take care of themselves too.  

Listen, Listen, Listen, and then ask if they want your advice.

When you do get to talk with them (and they will want to vent) about final exams, listen first. It’s a good motto (and I’m not sure where it comes from), “listen to understand, speak to be understood.” When your child wants to vent about a class or numerous assignments, or a teacher, let them. Just listen. That may be hard to do as you may want to fix it for them, but they don’t need fixing because they aren’t broken. They may be trying to learn how to navigate something difficult. Let them. When they are done venting, ask them if they need help, or you can ask them what their plan is. Another way to address it is to tell them you have some feedback for them. Then, ask if they want to hear it. It will go a long way in showing them that they are not alone, respect their choices, and that you still are there and have their back.

Help them look ahead and prepare.

When the time comes to give your advice, avoid being directive. Making statements such as, ‘you should do X,’ or ‘you need to do it this way’ shut the conversation down. Few people will listen or even see the benefit of what you are saying. Young adults do not typically know what they don’t know until they realize they don’t know it. Being directive is just going to mess with that process.

The best way to help is to guide them by asking questions: What’s your plan for finals week? How are you fitting in downtime, eating, and good sleep? How do you structure your time every day to get studying done? Help them figure it out. Even what resources on campus can help them figure it out. Figuring it out can even happen after finals week when reviewing what went well and what did not. Proactive adjustments are ideal before finals week even starts.  However, remember that it is proactive when looking at the next semester and what to do differently.

The ends of semesters are always stressful. It does not have to be a horrible experience. With support, encouragement, active self-care, and a little problem solving your student can not only survive but thrive.

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