This week in her regular column, The NSPCC's campaign manager Emma Motherwell talks about exam stress.

“BEFORE Sophie’s second day of exams she was upstairs in her bedroom and I got a text from her 20 minutes before the exam started. It said ‘I can’t go, I’m shaking too much’.

"My instinct was to get her to the exam but I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do. It feels horrible as a mother doing something that upsets your daughter, but I knew she’d regret not taking it.

"I had to force her to go, she was in floods of tears. I had to put her shoes and socks on her and physically support her to the exam hall. Watching her wobble off was awful, she looked like Bambi.”

These are the words of Debbie, a mother from Oxfordshire whose daughter Sophie suffered awful stress and anxiety ahead of her GCSEs and A-Levels. Sophie is now at university enjoying studying creative writing, but her story is one all too familiar among young people this time of year.

In 2018/19 Childline delivered 2,795 counselling sessions relating to exam stress, with around a third taking place in April and May.

Young people told us how they were worried about disappointing their parents; trying their best and still failing; having excessive workloads and feeling unmotivated to revise.

Some spoke about how the stress was affecting their mental health leading to self-harm and even suicidal thoughts. That’s why it’s important that children and parents talk about exams and the stress they may cause, whether that’s serious anxiety or nervousness.

So what can parents and carers do to support young people taking exams? It’s really important not to compare their situation with yourself historically or even siblings. Placing pressure on children to gain certain grades is often counter-productive and will only intensify any anxiousness they have.

Help them revise by giving them space and time while encouraging them, to take regular breaks, eat snacks and get out and exercise.

Importantly, be there to talk about their exams positively, praise their hard work and ask how they’re feeling and reassure children that unexpected exam results are not the end of the world.

Prior to exams, encourage them to go to bed at a reasonable time and not stay up all night revising and reassure them that everyone’s different and it’s not necessary to compare themselves to friends.

Teachers can also help by holding discussions in the classroom about stress and encouraging students to take regular breaks and talk about exam stress with their parents, peers or teachers.

If you’re worried your child’s suffering, perhaps talk to their teacher with them about what steps can be taken to help them through this period and what is being done at school to support students.

Meanwhile, there’s loads of advice on the Childline website, including tips for coping, staying healthy, getting enough sleep and how to release stress. Exams are an intense period but it doesn’t last forever.

If young people need further support they can call Childline and talk things through with a counsellor on 0800 1111 or via the website using the 1-2-1 chat at