We are quickly hurtling towards that time of year again when our young people will be tearing their hair out at the thought of impending exams, stomping around because they haven’t got a single spare hour to possibly help out with anything else due to their schoolwork and sobbing uncontrollably when they feel they haven’t covered enough revision. Yes, GCSE exams. It’s a heart-wrenching time. You want to hug your children tight and tell them it’s all going to be ok if only they would let you. You want to reassure them that even if they don’t get those 7’s, 8’s and 9’s you will still love them unconditionally and that regardless of what they think, their life is NOT going to spiral downhill out of control and that they will not end up homeless and hungry on the streets!
It is vital for us as parents to stay calm and collected, be the rock children need at this emotionally turbulent stage of life.
A survey commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation found that 60% of young people have felt so stressed by the pressure to succeed that they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. Children face immense pressure from different directions and the very last thing they need is even more pressure from their own parents.
Children look to us for strength and comfort, they are searching for loving words of support, and tender gazes of admiration telling them they ARE good enough.
Even when they’re sulking and slamming doors, never underestimate the powerful effect of a few kind words or a hug. Watch your child soften after an angry outburst when you smile warmly and tell them everything will be fine. The turmoil they are experiencing within is something they will not always be able to express, especially when they are faced with something as burdensome as exams.
Our young people have this innate desire to please their parents, to work hard and make them proud.
As parents, at the very least we can show them how much we love and admire their efforts, our role as parents is a blessing. Islam gives us the beautiful balance and grounding we need to get us through difficulties like exam stress…both for parents as well as for children.
In addition to remaining calm and working hard, here are some additional pointers we are trying to utilise in our own household;
First and foremost, always remembering that our destiny is written, our Rizq (sustenance) in this life comes from Allah.
‘Umar RA said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, say, ‘If you were to rely on Allah as He should be relied on, He would provide for you as He provides for the birds. They go out early in the morning hungry and return in the evening full.’ (Tirmidhi)
Ultimately He is in control of what we achieve, become and earn in this world. The amount of time and effort we put into shaping this is within our hands, but accepting that He is in control of all our affairs brings a certain peace of mind and tranquility into the equation when dealing with exams and the associated stress.
“Say: He is the Beneficent. In Him we believe and in Him we put our trust. And ye will soon know who it is that is in error manifest.” (Surah Al Mulk 67:29)
Relying on Him alone for success both in this world and in the hereafter, trusting that He has His own beautiful plan for each and every one of us. We cannot be arrogant or deluded into believing that we have earned our successes and victories in life by our own hand. It is vital for our young people to learn from an early age that success comes from Allah alone and that we must put our faith in Him at all times for whatever we set out to do in life. A deep sense of trust in Allah will hold a young person in good stead for life. Accepting with certainty that all successes to date have come from Allah and Him alone, as they will continue to do so.
Trusting in and relying upon Allah also means putting in effort on one’s own part alongside.
Anas ibn Malik reported: A man said, “O Messenger of Allah, should I tie my camel and trust in Allah, or should I leave her untied and trust in Allah?” The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Tie her and trust in Allah.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhī)
Islam teaches us to use our own common sense and the faculties Allah has blessed us with to achieve our goals. We should always take precautionary measures, do as much as we can within our own capabilities and then leave the rest up to Allah.
Turning to the One who is in control of all affairs; the all-hearing, the all-knowing and applying His many names to maximise the powerful effect of dua.
Making dua in abundance, begging Allah to guide us towards true success in our tests both within this life and the next. Dua is the most powerful tool we possess, and one of the most valuable treasures a young person can hold firm to and embed within their toolkit of life. Prayer and the remembrance of Allah are a lifeline in times of distress and worry. Seeking comfort in prayer will help us and our young people get through not just exam stress but all of life’s struggles.
“Oh you who believe! Seek help with patient perseverance and prayer, for God is with those who patiently persevere.” (2:153)
Holding fast to truthfulness and honesty no matter how tempting it may be to cheat due to the fear or pressure they may feel in an exam, or feeling pressured into using little tricks friends might have joked about. Honesty is always the best policy, as they say.
“And whosoever fears Allah and keeps his duty to Him, He will make a way for him to get out (from every difficulty). And He will provide for him from sources he never could imagine. And whosoever puts his trust in Allah, then He will suffice him. Verily, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Indeed Allah has set a measure for all things.” (Surah At-Talaq 65:2-3)
Reminding our children of the praiseworthy characteristics of truth and honesty within our beloved prophet Muhammad SA. That if we hold on to honesty and carry out all of our tasks with integrity then Allah will place an abundance of goodness and prosperity in our livelihood.
In addition have open conversations with children. Allow them to express their worry about a particular struggle they may be having or a subject they are finding difficult. Helping them to develop a strategy or coping mechanism can make all the difference. They will feel supported and empowered instead of feeling like they need to resort to underhanded tactics to pass an exam.
This applies both to praising children for their efforts as well as praising and being grateful to Allah for His mercy and blessings.
Duly praising a child for their performance and achievements has been proven to be highly effective at boosting confidence levels and raising self-esteem. This, in turn, will help ensure children are feeling much more ready and able to sit their exams.
Knowing also that there is immense benefit in praising and being grateful to Allah in all situations no matter how tough the going gets. Allah tells us in the Quran;
“If you are grateful, I will surely give you more and more” (14:7)
In addition to this Allah has told us that His pleasure may be attained through gratitude.
“If you are grateful, He is pleased with you…” (Az-Zumar 39:7)
Everything that happens to us, whether we consider the event good or bad – is from Allah. Therefore, even in times of calamity and distress, there will be good within the situation for us, provided we respond appropriately.
Our beloved Prophet Muhammad SA said:
“How wonderful is the case of a Believer! There is good for him in whatever happens to him, and none, apart from him, enjoys this blessing. If he receives some bounty, he is grateful to Allah and this bounty brings good to him. And if some adversity befalls him, he is patient, and this affliction, too, brings good to him” (Muslim)
When our young people are faced with exams we cannot take away their worry and stress but we can shape their outlook and attitude. We can help instill in them firm faith, we can ourselves display devotion to Allah and make dua that our children follow the example we set. Above all, we pray to Allah to ease all worries and to guide our young people to true success in this world and in the hereafter. Ameen.
Safura Houghton is Co-founder of The Lantern Initiative, through which she raises awareness of mental health issues in the Muslim community. Safura is a Muslim Chaplain, and a community radio presenter. She is a mother of four, and has homeschooled her children for five years. She is passionate about travelling and reading.