One of the best ways to ensure your child's brain is healthy and nourished in the long term, is through their diet. Including 'brain foods' in their regular diet, such as fish rich in omega-3, will improve brain health by providing the essential fatty acids necessary for brain function. Other foods such as dark vegetables and fruits are rich in antioxidants, proven to promote brain health and offer protective benefits for cognition and memory. If your child likes to snack while studying, unsalted nuts and seeds like walnuts, hazelnuts and sunflower seeds are a much better alternative to processed snacks like chips. These are high in vitamin E, which have been linked to less cognitive decline with age.
For a boost in concentration, try green tea instead of coffee. Green tea not only increases attentiveness, but is a good source of antioxidants and helps with anxiety as well. Closer to the exam, make sure they eat complex carbs such as whole-wheat bread, instead of snacks high in sugar like candy bars.
Exam revision often means sitting at a desk for hours on end, poring over books or the computer screen, and this can often lead to body aches if your child does not take care of their posture. Poor posture can lead to headaches or pain in the back, neck and shoulder. Teaching your child good habits early on will greatly reduce the risk of such problems.
One of the first things you can do is to make sure the study desk and chair are ergonomic. Choose a chair that has a good backrest and is adjustable for height and tilt, and a table that is around your child's elbow level when sitting down. Secondly, get your child to practise sitting and standing with a correct posture. This will go a long way in reducing the risk of musculoskeletal injuries in the long run. Finally, allow them to take frequent rest breaks. Sitting for extended periods of time is never healthy, and taking breaks also allows them to refocus their minds. During these breaks, they can do simple stretching exercises to ease the tension or discomfort from sitting for a long time.
You may be tempted to keep your child from playing when exams are approaching, to make sure they don't get injured or fall sick. However, it is actually important that you encourage them to get up and exercise. Research has found that regular aerobic exercise helps to boost the region of the brain associated with verbal memory and learning. This is not to mention the numerous other benefits of exercises in reducing the risks of many other medical conditions.
Giving them some time to play their favourite sports and to get their blood pumping will also not only help them to relieve stress by providing a boost in endorphins, but can over time even improve their self-confidence. If you are worried that they may over-exert or injure themselves too close to the exams, exercises that are moderate in intensity, such as swimming or walking, will help too.
Studying for long periods of time may take a toll on your child's eyes, especially if they study using the computer. It can cause blurry vision, eye strain, headaches, as well as neck and back pain. Teach your child to follow the simple 20-20-20 rule – for every 20 minutes of reading or using the computer, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Also, make sure the computer screen is positioned at least 50cm away from the eyes, and books at least 30cm away.
Although many students – especially night owls, often stay up late revising, skipping sleep before a major exam will do more harm than good. Studies have found that the lack of sleep actually causes the regions of the brain associated with planning and evaluating decisions to shut down. The consolidation of long-term memories also occur during deep sleep, which means it is vital to catch enough sleep in order to retain what you studied in the long run. In all, adequate sleep of about 8 – 9 hours a day for those aged 12 – 18, will improve your child's mood, concentration, and overall productivity, and help to manage stress levels.
To make sure your child gets a good night's sleep, it is best to take half an hour or so to unwind before going to bed. Avoid using the computer or the phone before going to bed or in bed – the blue light from these devices have been known to affect sleep. Keeping a bedtime routine, such as putting away books and brushing the teeth before going to bed, can also help them to fall asleep easier.
Letting your child socialise or go out to play with other children may not be at the top of your list when exams are approaching, but it is certainly worthwhile to make sure they get enough time to maintain social relationships. Social relationships are intrinsically important to humans, and are known to have an impact on stress and mood levels. To understand the importance of social relationships for an individual's well-being, consider this: studies have found that the feeling of isolation from others may adversely affect your sleep, increase blood pressure, and increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol. During a stressful exam period in particular, your child may find it helpful to connect with peers who are going through the same thing.