Exam Anxiety: Top 5 tips to turn frustration into excitement

nlp exam anxietyThe NLP and Hypnotherapy combo is often used very successfully at terminating exams anxiety for good. [Lashkarian & Sayadia 2015: 510-516 ] Although many practitioners might get your child to relax and feel confident and happy about the upcoming exams, my approach and point of view as an NLP practitioner and most importantly as a mother is very different. In fact, it is quite the opposite! And the reason is because those exam nerves might be caused by the legitimate fear of not being prepared well enough. In this case scenario having a professional therapist getting them to visualise stepping into a golden square feeling strong, feeling confident, feeling happy, feeling relaxed and joyful, bursting with unshakable confidence is a great mistake.

exam anxiety – a secondary effect of the current system?

What we currently find is that our schooling system leaves the sense of empowerment outside the pupils’ reach. The teacher, the parent or the tutor is the guardian of certainty and the child is left with the doubt. The teacher tells you that you are done and whether you are right or wrong. Again it is the teacher who asks you to read your book out loud to prove that you’ve read it at home. Inadvertently what we install in our children’s psyche is a willingness to please the figure of authority. [Bandler 2017:41] The exam nerves are only a secondary effect of placing the power elsewhere. The question we need to ask ourselves is:

Is learning fun for our kids?

Of course, I can almost hear your thoughts at this point saying “but if we were to give the answers to my children, they would probably just turn the page and copy the answer. They will never learn anything. If we never listened to them reading out loud how we would know they read anything at all?” And you were too right of course because, in the current scheme of things, the child’s focus isn’t in getting the right answer; the focus is in getting over the pain! The issue is not that the student is looking for the prize through a minimum effort. They want please the teacher rather than themselves. [Bandler 2017:45] That’s what they’ve been trained to do.

Moving the fun in getting the answer right

Teaching a child to add 5 and 7 and get the answer 12 is great. The issue is that there is a countless number of numbers! Teaching them every single combination is incredibly lucrative and pretty pointless when the authority figure leaves the building. We need to implement a learning strategy so that when seeing those numbers the children want to know the answer. The fun needs to be equated with feeling clever and smart. This will fire the interest in building those charts in their heads. [Bandler 2017:47] They will know that having a chart helps them get the answer faster. And guess what: the faster they get the answer, the more fun it is!

Why bothering to learn how to spell a word? Because it just feels great doing the right thing! If your child gets 10 words right today, the next time they will want to learn more new words. Because it is fun! And we all love to feel good and have fun.

Building in the desire to find the right answers for the pleasure they get is a much stronger foundation for their future. Let them grade their own mock tests so they know exactly how they’re doing. Retaking the same test from time to time so they see how many more answers they got right empowers them. When they’ve completed the test entirely they will feel the fun and the satisfaction of their own result.

This way we could reduce all the grading structure to simply an “A” or an “Incomplete”[Toffler 1970:52]


#1 remain in charge

When our children perceive us as steady and calm – regardless of their moods or behaviour – they can relax, knowing that they can rely on us to get them through the challenging moments of their lives. Susan Steiffleman

As Captains of the Ship, our role is to remain in charge no matter what the wind of change brings. Susan Steiffleman explains in her book Parenting without Power Struggles: control is an attempt to compensate for feeling powerless or afraid. Being in charge means that we’re keeping our cool even when the seas are rough – or our kids are pushing our buttons, defying our requests, or melting down. [Steiffleman 2012:8] The Work of Byron Katie is a great approach based on the understanding that it is never the events around us that trigger our upset, but our thoughts about those events. In the context of parenting, it’s our beliefs and stories about how our kids should behave that cause us to lose our cool.The work is about challenging these unless beliefs and reactions in order to rid ourselves of their negative influence on how we respond to the challenges of parenting.

#2 observe & pace

Once we’ve managed to calmly detach yourself from the “they shouldn’t behave like that” movie and relinquished the negative thinking, we are free to stay present with whatever arises: holding the space for our children and allowing them to manifest their feelings. We want to be able to match their feelings, showing compassion and empathy – so that they feel completely understood and supported in their feelings. That doesn’t mean that we are agreeing with their wants, but it does mean that we legitimate their feelings, because truth to be told feeling frustrated or angry when things don’t go your way is quite normal. By dropping the resistance we reinforce the futility of the rebellious action. [Beever 2009:63]

There are many very effective ways to create rapport in NLP. However, we are only going to focus on a few. Firstly we probably have to physically get down to their level and sit at an angle, or near them rather than facing them directly. We will actively listen to them and withhold our judgement. Subtly matching with their body position, breathing at a similar rate and tone of voice will begin to dispel the inner resistance which normally arises from “I want to play on my iPad! I don’t want to do any homework! I hate school! You are the worst mum in the world! etc”

#3 if~ don’t ~ but ~ try

“If” is the choice giver. “If you do your homework, you can play on your Xbox” leaves room for a potential “no, thanks, I’m good. I’d rather watch a movie instead.” Swap “if” with “when” and magic happens “When you do your homework, you can play on your XBox” drops the element of choice completely.

“Don’t!” gets it done. Tell your children what you would like them to do rather than what you would like them to stop doing – our subconscious understands that something needs to exist first before it can rid of it. [Bandler, 2008:54] If I asked you “don’t think of a pink elephant on a blue blanket” you would notice that you just thought of a pink elephant on a blue blanket.

“But” is the eraser. Have you ever been chatting to someone and said something you hold to be true and they’ve started to respond “but…”? You know, don’t you that they are disagreeing in some way. The word “but” jars and it breaks rapport. It almost doesn’t matter what they say, you are expecting some disagreement. Whereas had they said “and….” you are expecting them to be adding to what you’ve just said. So this way, even if they are actually disagreeing you still see it as being friendly and supportive. “You’ve run really well in the race today but I think you could beat your best time soon.” turns into “You’ve run really well in the race today and I think you could beat your best time soon.” which is much more empowering. [Bandler 2010:32]

“Try” is very trying.  When we only “try” to do something we almost automatically imply failure. If I would turn to you saying “I’m trying to open this door!” what I’m conveying is that I cannot open it. It’s the same with the kids – when you’re asking them to try and do their homework you’re automatically disempowering them. Ask them to “just do it” is much more effective. If I pointed to a box on the floor and said to you “try and pick this box up” wouldn’t you expect it to be quite heavy? By using the word “try” we are confirming their suspicion that it may be difficult. [Bandler 2010:33]

#4 “yes” x3 = a free pass to Leading

Once rapport has reached and we feel that we are now in synch with our child, a great step is to test and reinforce this stage. What I do in my practice is begin to look for 3 yes-s.

I would start by repeating what they just said, so they know I listened to them “so you would love to play games instead of doing your homework, is that right?” (yes number 1) “well, I don’t blame you. Computer games seem so much fun. And you probably want to get to next level in this new game you started during the weekend, don’t you?” (yes number 2) “hmm… I can see what the dilemma is here: you think that if you begin to play now, you can do your homework later, but I asked you to do the homework first. Is that right?” (yes number 3)

Once I got my 3yes-s I can safely assume that the barriers of resistance lowered enough for my message to cross over – so I’ll go ahead and safely plant my first affirmation “OK, hon. I hear (see, feel) what you’re saying. And I also know that there is something else that will make you (stop for 2 seconds) feel really good. ”

Now that I’ve got their attention I can go and plant my second affirmation “Would you like to know what it is? Getting to the next level of the game when you’ve finished your homework. You will feel like an absolute double winner!” Don’t stop here. The trick is to top your offering up to a 4th yes is a no-brainer. “And to top it up, I’ll have your favourite pudding on the table tonight. Just do your homework RIGHT NOW. The sooner that’s done, the more time you will have for everything else.”

#5 BREAKing free from exam anxiety & FRUSTRATION

Sometimes, we find that during any project the path we are on doesn’t give us the result we are after. We get stuck. The feeling that arises is very often frustration which is completely natural – trying to banish frustration is self-defeating and dis-empowering. Telling your child “there is no need to get mad. well, kicking your feet won’t help. Throwing your pen is not going to solve this problem” are extremely good ways to increase and intensify resistance. Frustration needs to manifest, so let it arise with non-resistance. “Nonresistance doesn’t necessarily mean doing nothing. All it means is that any “doing” becomes nonreactive.” [Tolle 2005:215-216]

Furthermore, a great strategy when being stuck would be taking a step back and being in a new direction.  [Bandler 2016:47] I’ve put together a little game to help you to enable your children pushing through frustration instead of giving up. This little activity fun sheet is specifically designed to help with going from frustration to desire every time someone needs a little motivating.

Where should I email your
Free NLP activity fun sheet?

Switch from exam nerves to exam excitement with these practical & easy to follow activies

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Dr Bander R (2010) Make your life great. London: Harper Element
Dr Bandler R & Benson K (2016) Teaching Excellence: the definite guide to NLP for teaching and learning. USA: Bandler Benson Publications
Beever, Sue (2009) Happy Kids, Happy You: using NLP to bring out the best in ourselves and the children we care for
Lashkarian A, Sayadian S (2015) – The Effect of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) Techniques on Young EFL Learners’ Motivation, Learning Improvement, and on Teacher’s Success. Procedia: Social and Behavioral Sciences 199 (3) 510-516
Toffler A (1970) Future Stock. USA: Bantam Books
Tolle E (2015) The Power of Now. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Steiffleman S (2012) Parenting without Power Struggles: Raising Happy, Resilient Kids while Staying Cool, Calm and Connected

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