As exam season looms, revision becomes a common topic of conversation in schools and households across the country. There are just a few weeks left to cram in the Shakespeare quotations, the chemical reactions and the maths solutions, to finish of the portfolios and plan the practicals. Young people are schooled in revision techniques and timetables. Parents are asked to lend their support by providing time and space to work and by putting boundaries in place. 

For young people with experience of early life trauma and their families, end of school exams can be a time when expectations, hopes, fears and anxieties collide. Not only is this hailed as “the most important year of your life” by some, it coincides with some seismic shifts around identity and adolescent brain development. It can feel like a perfect storm. 

So how can young people and their families navigate through these last few weeks before exams start without putting relationships, family stability and mental health at risk? We asked some young adults and some parents for their advice. 


1. Remember to put relationships first 

This well-worn mantra of therapeutic approaches to parenting comes into its own during exam time. Exams can seem like the most important focus, but for adoptive and kinship care families, relationships are the bedrock of wellbeing and stability and the foundation of the transition into adulthood. It may be necessary to make brave decisions about what your priorities are as a parent or carer to a child with a trauma history. 

2. Is it can’t or won’t? 

Care-experienced young people may be contending with far more than exams at the age of 15 and 16. What else is going on for them? Sometimes ‘won’t’ is ‘can’t’ especially where shame and fear of failure are factors. 

3. Who is this important to? 

It can be worth unravelling where the importance attached to academic achievement is coming from. Maybe it’s coming from a good place, but equally it can be about fulfilling adult ambitions by proxy. Whilst it is important to set out all the good reasons why academic achievement can set young people up for a successful and happy life, children with experience of trauma may be focused on meeting their immediate needs. This may shift as they mature and as any psychological support is received. 

4. Do home and school need to be separate? 

For some young people, it is important to keep a boundary between school (which can be a source of stress) and home. School revision clubs can provide some access to structured revision. Preserving home as a safe space, protected from the pressures of revision and exams can be a solid, approach which benefits young people in the longer term.  

5. It’s not the end of the world  

Exam results can seem like a crucial steppingstone into adult life, but there are many different routes into work and careers. For young people who find the classroom environment dysregulating and who don’t see the relevance of exam subjects, practical work experience and apprenticeships may suit them better. Some pick up training and studying later on in life. Although it feels like it at the time, school is not the be all and end all. 

6. Take the approach that is best for your family. 

All young people have strengths and talents that should be nurtured. When exam time comes around, it may be helpful to avoid hearing about the revision expectations and practice in other households and focus on what works best in yours. 

7. Unconditional support 

Showing consistent love, support and acceptance, irrespective of the hours put into revision and the eventual exam results, helps to strengthen relationships and demonstrate empathy in the long term. Trauma-informed approaches to parenting are all about the long term.