Last week in this column, I offered a few tips to all those preparing for exams. This week I’m offering a little moral support to parents because exam time can put parents under pressure too, especially when you are first in the firing line.
Teenager’s moods are as changeable as the weather at the best of times but preparing for dreaded exam can send the emotions into yo-yo mode. For the majority of young people the pressure is on to perform and achieve. Not only that, they have to make decisions, choices and transition to a brave new world. For many who are less able, their options are limited with the anxiety of being left behind while their peers move on without them—even if they want to do well, they may not have the emotional capacity for it yet—so there is a whole lot more going on besides exams and I haven’t even touched on the social side of things and grappling with individualisation.
Also, teenagers regardless what they do or say are still part child, struggling with the exciting but scary concept of going it alone. Psychologically around this time, children are in the latter stages of separation from parents, but not every child is ready for the independence and responsibility that transition from school/ college brings. Moodiness, tiredness and challenging behaviour are often the result of all this emotional adjustment. Unfortunately this is usually aimed at the parents and siblings and can flare up unpredictably, with no prior warning. When you try to talk to your son or daughter it’s usually through a wall of silence, resistance and anger. Don’t be fooled, deep down somewhere, your son or daughter is terrified of what lies ahead, just as you are. However, it can be extremely frustrating as parents to see them let opportunities slip away and not being able to do anything about it. So what can you do?
Remain Calm. Remember it’s not you, it’s them. The best way you can help your child is to remain calm yourself. Getting into lots of arguments about revision could lead to communication breakdown. Be clear with your child that you value education and want them to succeed because it will give them more options in life, not because you will love them more or want them to be the next Einstein.
Feed the Mind. Have plenty of healthy snacks in the fridge. Make sure everyone in the house starts the day on a good breakfast!
Be available to listen and give loads of praise, encouragement and support. We cannot do the exams for them but we can believe in them when maybe they lose faith in themselves. Let them know how proud you are of any efforts they seem to make.
Ask them how you can help. They might need help with organising their revision timetable or memorising information. Study time may be encouraged with regular breaks and treats to help with motivation.
Look and Listen. Observe how your child is coping and managing their stress. Sometimes it is just enough for your child to talk things through with you. Some young people might be over doing it and need help to take a break from studying.
Relax. Whilst it is important to be supportive and present for your child during this time, ‘time out’ for parents is as important as it is for the kids.
Keep an eye on the big picture. Your child will never be defined by any exam. There are many career options open to them and many avenues.