The end of the year is synonymous with exam time. Whether a child is in grade 4 or in grade 12, exam stress is very real and very common. Children are under great pressure to perform and do well – these expectations placed on them lead to extra stress.


All learning and thinking skills are functions of the cerebral cortex, our thinking brain. Our thinking brain functions as the CEO of the brain, and it is where all learning, problem solving, abstract thinking and memory recall happens. The ability of the thinking brain to function adequately is dependent on the adequate function of the sensory and emotional parts of the brain. If the sensory brain is overwhelmed and stressed, one has great difficulty maintaining emotions and anxiety takes over. When the sensory brain is overwhelmed, the ability to think in a rational and clear way is compromised.


The ability to self-regulate and stay calm is vital to being able to cope with the pressures of exams. The following strategies will go a long way to helping the children in our lives cope with exam stress:


  • When studying, take a break every 30 – 45 minutes. Breaks must be taken away from the desk.
  • Encourage your child to take a movement break, or to maintain regular sport participation.
  • Maintain a healthy eating plan. Provide healthy snacks during studying periods such as nuts, carrots, apples, popcorn and pretzels. Crunchy snacks will provide alerting sensory input while the child sits at the desk to study.
  • Avoid sugary eats and drinks.
  • Encourage your child to keep a bottle of cool/cold water at the desk.
  • Allow your child to decide where and how he or she works best – encourage them to keep their working area clutter free.
  • Ensure that there is enough natural light in the room.
  • Allow for them to make the sensory accommodations that they need to stay focused and alert, e.g. listening to music or wearing headphones to block out distracting sounds and having fidget tools to help focus.
  • Maintain a healthy and regular sleeping pattern. Get up and go to sleep at regular times. A minimum of 8 hours of sleep is recommended in order to give the brain and body time to rest. Sleeping is when the brain consolidates all the information that has been learnt.


Let’s make exam time easier for our children, and let’s help them realise just how capable and resilient they are.



Annabella Sequeira holds a BSc (Occupational Therapy) degree from the University of Cape Town, backed by 23 years’ experience in both the public and private sector. She has extensive practical experience in the area of Sensory Integrative Dysfunction in children and is passionate about empowering others to improve functionality and quality of life.

She is also part of our Gauteng-based Senses in Education team