Coping with exam stress

My 14-year-old son gets sweaty palms before an exam. The condition became so intense before a recent exam that he soaked through ten tissue papers. How can I help him?
— Riyanna Kapoor, Mumbai

Medically, the condition of excessively sweaty palms is known as palmar hyperhidrosis. It can be caused by emotional stress and/or the body trying to control its temperature (thermoregulation). When excited, scared, or nervous, a specific type of sweat gland from our fight or flight (sympathetic) nervous system is stimulated. The stress your son experiences before an exam makes him sweat profusely. Here are some useful tips to alleviate this condition:

• Make sure he has a well-balanced diet. This is vital for your child’s good health during the exams period.
• Ensure he gets adequate sleep. A good night’s rest improves thinking and concentration. Adolescents need an average eight-ten hours of sleep every night.
• Be flexible during exams. When he is studying and revising lessons, don’t fuss about undone chores such as untidy bedrooms and wardrobes.
• Reassure your son. Let him know that you love him unconditionally, regardless of his exam scores. Remind him that it’s normal to feel anxious before an exam.
• Listen to your son, support him and avoid criticism. Let him know that failure is not the end of the world and exams can be written again.
• Encourage him to drink plenty of water throughout the day and remain hydrated.
• On exam day, wash hands in cold water, avoiding soap, as it dries skin and induces sweat.
• Give him a cotton handkerchief to wipe his hands when he feels sweaty during the day.

My 15-year-old daughter who is at home for the study holidays to prepare for her class X board exams, has suddenly put on considerable weight. Now she is embarrassed about her weight. Please advise.
— Sreepa Nair, Kozhikode

Pre-pubertal weight gain and pudgy physical appearance is part and parcel of adolescent development. It’s not unusual for teenage girls to put on up to 7 kg during puberty. Boys could more than double that weight during puberty.

However, your daughter’s sudden weight gain could be linked to a sedentary lifestyle during the study holidays. Therefore…
• Encourage her to exercise — take a 20-minute walk, jog or run.
• Appreciate her special attributes and build up her self-esteem.
• Discuss the benefits of healthy eating, drinking adequate water and physical exercise.
• Encourage her to maintain a food diary to record diet changes.
• Exams are stressful so help her relax and unwind in ways that don’t involve bingeing — such as listening to music and playing sports and games.

My three-year-old son hates preschool. I feel guilty about leaving a crying child in playschool. Please advise.
— Vineeta Kumar, Bangalore

Your child’s anxiety is the perfectly normal reaction of preschoolers as they have absolutely no idea what to expect in a new environment outside of home. Please…
• Focus on telling him about the enjoyable activities of preschool — the new games he will play and the new friends he will make.
• It will take several weeks before he eases into his new environment. So give him time to adjust gently and slowly.
• Reassure him that you will be there to pick him after school and ensure you are on time to avoid unnecessary anxiety.
• Visit the preschool and meet/talk with his teacher.
• Set up play dates with some of his classmates.

(Sue Atkins is a UK-based internationally recognised parenting expert, broadcaster, speaker and author of Parenting Made Easy — How to Raise Happy Children (2012))

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