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Children…and Exams: Physical Support from Parents

by Carmen Andrews - Physiotherapist

Exam times are stressful…for both children and parents! Here are a few questions and answers that will show you how you can better support your child through the studying process.

Q: Where is your child studying? Ask them “why there”? Is their desk and chair the right height to support their body and enable them to focus on their work?

A: Long periods of sitting are harmful, especially to growing bodies! Dynamic posture, or moving around, keeps the body loose and alert. While it’s great for your child to move around at their desk, you need to ensure that they aren’t sitting slouched most of the time. Here are basic tips to setting up their study-zone well:

Check that the area has clear lighting, without glare. Ideally, the chair and desk should be adaptable to your child’s physical requirements. Set the chair first by setting the seat height level with the crease behind their knees. When sitting, their feet should be flat on floor and their trunk-thigh angle +/-100%. Their hips should be at the back of the seat with their back supported by the back rest. Ideally there should be a 4-finger-wide gap between their calf muscles and the edge of the seat. Then check the desk height. Sitting with their forearms resting on the table their elbow angle should be slightly more than 90%, and their forearms should rest on the desk surface when they are working.

Remember that even if you set the study-zone up well, your child should take frequent breaks to relax and move around. You can even bring a little more movement into the study-zone by considering having different things for your child to sit on for short periods while studying, like a Pilates ball or saddle chair. Some children will also study better if the environment isn’t too quiet, for example with quiet music in the background. Just make sure that they are focusing on their work, not on learning the latest song’s lyrics!

In summary, dynamic posture, without excessive slouching, is good. And a certain amount of fidgeting can be a good thing…when it is done unconsciously it can even help concentration and development.

Ask your child:
Why do you study there? Does your body feel comfortable where you are studying?
Is the light too bright where you are studying? Is it bright enough at night?
Do you concentrate better when there is music on?

Q: Is your child constantly fidgeting and struggling to concentrate? Ask them if they are sitting comfortably or if their back or neck and shoulders feel uncomfortable?

A: While a certain amount of fidgeting is healthy and aids concentration, fidgeting as a result of discomfort is a sign that something is wrong.

Sitting for large amounts of time can irritate the back or neck, and ultimately cause discomfort and/or headache. This can be because your child’s body isn’t accustomed to sitting for so many hours, because they aren’t taking frequent enough breaks to relax and move around, or it could be secondary to a pattern of muscle weakness of stiffness.

You might be able to ease the discomfort by correcting your child’s desk set-up (see above) and scheduling regular movement breaks (see below). If this doesn’t work, it may be helpful to have persistent discomfort or headaches assessed and treated by a physiotherapist.

Physiotherapy will take care of the niggles and provide relevant tips to your child to help prevent the areas from getting sore. Addressing the pain is an excellent experience that teaches your child how to listen to their body and respond by taking care of it. This is a particularly valuable lesson if your child isn’t very sporty.

DIET considerations can also be helpful for headaches:
1. Drink water
2. Have low GI ‘brain food’ snacks that are filling
This helps to prevent insulin spikes and dips. Spike and dips are guaranteed to play on mood, energy and ability to focus.

Ask your child:
Do you struggle to sit still on a chair?
Do your eyes feel tired?
Does your head hurt?
Do you have to move around to make your neck/shoulder/back feel comfortable?

Q: Is your child moving enough during study breaks?

A: Insist on some physical activity in study breaks – getting movement is the best rest for the brain and the best reliever of body tension. There are many fun ways to get effective movement in the breaks. You could have a 5-minute cricket match in the garden, do a gentle yoga session, go for a swim, pop into the gym, or even walk the dog around the block…

Not only does exercise give you a good break from studying, it also improves your overall brain function. Health guidelines suggest that children and adolescents should have about 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Here is a fun rap video that explains the brain-exercise

And don’t forget the importance of sleep to allow the brain to rest and for memory pathways to be cemented! Ages 5-13yrs should have 9-11hrs uninterrupted sleep each night, and ages 14-17 8-10hrs uninterrupted sleep.

Ask your teen (or yourself for your younger children):
Are you doing 60mins of physical activity each day?
How long are you sleeping each night? Do you sleep through?

Remember that your physio can help you and your child by:
1. Advising regarding set-up of study zone
2. Relieving persistent back discomfort or headaches caused from the neck
3. Suggesting fun ways to get effective movement in study breaks, whether your child is sporty and outdoorsy or not!

Resources for parents:
Book: Spark, by Dr. John Ratey
YouTube video:
Children / adolescents’ daily activity guide:

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About the author: Carmen A is mom to a very busy toddler, she has a love for the outdoor life and has competed at a high level in endurance adventure sports (particularly in running and mountain bike stage races). She is passionate about supporting children through all stages of their development. You can make a booking HERE for your child to see her to treat persistent ‘study aches’.