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Alternative approach for children facing exam stress
Tuesday April 10, 2018 


Alternative approach for children facing exam stress

Children and teenagers face all kinds of stresses in modern society, despite their tender years. A common pressure experienced by all school-age kids is the dreaded exam – whether it’s primary school SATs or the crucial secondary school GCSEs and A-levels, few if any youngsters would say it’s a process they look forward to or enjoy. And now, as children return to school following their half-term break, the pressure is already starting to build as the exam period comes into sharper focus.

Last year, figures released by the NSPCC for 2016/17 showed an increasing number of young people were seeking help for exam-related stress, with the charity’s ChildLine service delivering more than 1,000 counselling sessions to youngsters worried about their exam results. Many mentioned anxiety and low mood, with some saying they were struggling to cope with the pressure to do well and achieve top grades. The figures reinforce concerns that young people are being put under increasing pressure to achieve good grades, as schools are held to account for each year group's performance.

Parents might struggle to know what they can do to support their offspring through these worrying times so they may well be glad – and possibly surprised – to hear about an alternative approach to coaching children using hypnotherapy techniques.

Internationally renowned clinical hypnotherapist Sheila Granger believes her methods, which are practised by a network of accredited therapists around the UK and beyond who have undertaken her training, can help young people cope with these fraught experiences in as little as three short sessions.

Focus on therapy

“There’s still a perception out there that hypnotherapy is just about entertainment or it’s some kind of quackery but the key part of the word is ‘therapy’,” said Sheila. “My methods are a million miles away from the ‘hypnotist’ stage shows of putting people in a trance and getting them to do silly things. I use safe, evidence-based clinical techniques that aim to help people change the way they think and give them strategies to manage challenging situations.”

And it’s not unusual now for children to benefit from this kind of therapy. “It’s definitely becoming more mainstream both for adults and children,” said Sheila. “The techniques are not dissimilar to ‘mindfulness’, with an emphasis on relaxation, self-awareness and promoting a feeling of calmness in body and mind. They are simple enough for children as young as five to comprehend and use.”

Sheila and her network of therapists, who practise in countries all across the globe, focus on teaching her clients of all ages how to use mind-management techniques to help the brain relax, reduce anxiety and focus on what can be achieved rather than what can’t. “We see things more clearly when we take a step back and relax, then it’s easier to turn any negative thoughts into positive ones where we focus on performing at our best and visualise a situation going exactly the way we want it to,” Sheila added.

Exam stress

For most youngsters, school tests and exams are their first encounter with pressure and stress, and it can sometimes feel overwhelming. Sheila said: “This is not something we are taught how to deal with and it can lead to young people focusing on the stress and negative self-talk. Hypnotherapy can help to quieten this inner voice and strengthen their mental images of success and its associated feelings.”

The practical and simple techniques Sheila advocates can be explored during one-to-one sessions between the hypnotherapist and client, who is then able to practise them at home, at school, and in the exam hall. Sheila has worked with many children and young people and has a high success rate, with most requiring no more than three one-hour sessions, each a week apart. She has also coached children in group sessions at a number of East Yorkshire schools. Ultimately the youngsters are being taught skills that they might not otherwise access which can be applied to many situations, not just exams. “They are learning coping mechanisms and ways of managing how they think and feel that they can use throughout life in almost any challenging or stressful circumstances,” added Sheila.

“Children’s mental health is something we are constantly reading or hearing about in the news. My approach is not a solution for serious mental health problems, which should involve the relevant children and adolescent mental health services, but it can help prevent low-level anxieties escalating into higher-level mental health issues.”


Case study – Holmer Lake Primary School, Telford, Shropshire

One of Sheila’s colleagues, former teacher and Army Major turned clinical hypnotherapist Clarissa Woodcock, has supported children in focussing on exam success rather than being blighted by anxiety and nerves at Holmer Lake Primary Schook in Telford, Shropshire.


The school’s forward-thinking and inspirational headteacher Mrs Sian Deane brought Clarissa in to run a ‘Calm Kids’ programme, which is based on Sheila Granger’s pioneering Educational Performance Practitioner programme. Sian recognised the need to try something different in order to improve her pupils’ performance both in the classroom and their SATs exams.

After three years of Clarissa’s support with focus and positive thinking, the pupils reported that they were able to manage the nerves of the test and complete the papers in a calm and successful way.

Clarissa said: “The staff could see that one of the biggest factors in their pupils’ results was self-confidence, and in some cases being able to shut out or control some of the less positive influences in their lives.

“I’ve delivered a mixture of one-to-one, bespoke and small group sessions, suitable for children battling everything from special educational needs to selective eating, and psychological issues like fear and anger.”

Clarissa helped the children learn how to relax and to control their fears and overcome any nerves and other barriers to success they were experiencing.

“This included breathing exercises, such as encouraging them to inhale positive thoughts and exhale negative ones linked to emotions like uncertainty and anger,” said Clarissa.

“Visualisation was also part of the programme, such as encouraging them to focus their minds’ eyes on colours they associate with positive things, or imagine writing their worries on stones and throwing them away into a lake.”

She added: “Some of the issues these children were experiencing were linked to the distractions of modern life, too, like computer games, TV and iPads. We see a lot of anger among schoolchildren, particularly boys, and I think a lot of that is a result of the things they are exposed to.

“The hypnotherapy techniques I use can also help them to distance themselves from some of these influences and feelings.”

So what inspired the headteacher to choose such pioneering techniques? “Sometimes, if you want to meet everyone’s needs you just have to think outside the box,” Mrs Deane explained. “Clarissa had approached us and suggested we pilot the programme. She has a background in child protection and emotional health and wellbeing, and I have knowledge of neurolinguistic programming (NLP) methods which are similar, and there is a lot of research to back up this kind of approach.”

Parents could be forgiven for feeling sceptical, so Mrs Deane made sure everything was explained and they had the opportunity to ask any questions they wished. She added: “We gave parents the chance to meet Clarissa and discuss the programme, so there were no surprises and they knew exactly what to expect. The children reacted so positively, they would go home and tell their families all about it, which also helped.”

Ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and the programme’s positive results gave Mrs Deane a clear justification for continuing to run it with successive Year 6 pupils.

She said: “Clarissa’s bespoke programme has proved extremely successful for a number of children with a variety of needs, including our Year 6 pupils, who receive several sessions to support positivity prior to their Year 6 SATs. After a series of sessions children appear calmer, happier and have far more self-confidence.

“During the sessions children are given time to identify and discuss their worries and how best to manage a range of emotions. They enjoy having the time to talk and reflect. They are then given a range of strategies to use when they recognise one of their difficult to manage emotions. A supporting booklet is created for each child to use at home or in school to remind them of the strategies when they need them.”

The Calm Kids programme has become a winning strategy for the school, and Mrs Deane is confident she will continue to implement it for years to come. “Clarissa is now going to train some of our school’s staff in mindfulness techniques to enable them to support the programme and the pupils in general. It’s not just about exams, these are skills for life, that as adults we all use to manage the pressures of everyday life,” Mrs Deane added.


Inspirational hypnotherapist

Clarissa was inspired to re-train as a hypnotherapist several years ago after witnessing as a teacher how much it helped one of her pupils who had been buckling under exam pressure. She now runs her own practice specialising in stress management therapies, called Shropshire Hypnotherapy: Calm Kids & Stress Solutions, in her hometown of Shrewsbury.

Thanks to her successes, Clarissa has won an ‘inspirational hypnotherapist’ award for the exam success programme and her evidence-based practice write-up has gained a Higher Distinction award from the Stress Management Institution. Clarissa is offering her transformational services to other schools that feel their pupils could benefit from her techniques.

She is passionate about providing young people with an escape from the extreme pressure they face from the modern exam system. An estimated 300,000 young people in the UK have an anxiety disorder and these numbers are growing, peaking at exam time.

“The kids I work with need help there and then, and the waiting time for traditional support services can be anything up to 12 months. At my practice I’ve been working quite a lot with children who are having trouble sleeping, and have been seeing children as young as six for anxiety,” added Clarissa.

“I truly believe hypnotherapy offers a better alternative for coping with anxiety than medication.”


Parents and schools are welcome to contact Sheila by ringing her on 01482 638198 or emailing

To contact Clarissa, ring 07762 259128 or email  

For more information about the team of practitioners who have trained under Sheila and to see if there is one available in your area, visit her website


Photos: Sheila Granger; Holmer Lake Primary School pupils with Clarissa – back from left Max Bell, Alex Gapper, Jacob Williams'Ali, Riley Preece, Connor Vizor, Mark Hindley; front from left Zac Fisher, Clarissa Woodcock (holding her dog, Millie, who is the ‘school dog’), Kai Clinton-Elson.


For more information about this media release or to arrange interviews and photographs, please contact Tracy Fletcher of By Tracy Fletcher Limited PR on 07983 633385.