The psychologist: 'Parents need to manage their own stresses and strains too'
You’ve made it to the end of May. You are just days away from the start of the exams and weeks from the end. You, and your son or daughter are, hopefully, feeling like you are on the last leg.
I’ve no doubt that your kids are feeling stressed in this final run-up to the state exams. Many older teenagers may feel like their futures depend on their performance in the next few weeks. But I think the stresses on parents, at this time, are somewhat forgotten.
But I would be willing to guess that many of us, who have students sitting the Leaving or Junior Cert, feel like we have done the hard hours too. Many of us have nudged, pushed, cajoled, nagged and bribed our teens to this point.
Others of us may have highly motivated students, students with their eyes on some particular college course or career choice. These parents may snigger at those who have to bolster the internal motivation of their teens with a bit (or a lot) of external motivation.
The good news is that our work, in getting them ready for the exams, is also nearly over. The next few weeks are no longer about pushing them or nagging them to work, they are just about minding them and nurturing them as they actually sit the exams.
I have, of course, got what I hope are a few really useful tips and thoughts for surviving the month of June, if you have an exam student in the family.
The most important thing is that for the next four weeks or so you mind yourself. You will be much better able to mind your son or daughter when you are meeting your own needs too.
All too often, we neglect our own needs, feeling run ragged, trying to facilitate grinds, extra study, tutorial weeks and the like while also holding down full time jobs, running the house and caring for the rest of the children. It is okay to think about yourself too.
Parents need to manage and regulate our own stresses. Your stress, if it is building, could, in fact, add to the stress your child feels about the exams.
So regulate your stress and anxiety by prioritising your own exercise, sleep, good food, hobbies and social life. You will be amazed at how much more energy you have to mind your tired or crabby student when you feel recharged by minding yourself.
If you haven’t already done so, then do go through your student’s exam timetable with them. Make sure you note the days and times of all of their exams. This is not to take away their responsibility, but it is to ensure there is a fall-back for them if they sleep in or get the dates wrong.
If you know when, and for what exam, they need to be in school, you can still ensure they are ready on the day, rather than it being a last-minute panic.
In much the same way, if you have the opportunity to be around the house more during the exams, by taking some time off work or scheduling to work from home, to just be available for any last minute jitters, it might be a great support. Don’t underestimate the power of a parent’s hug to reassure and calm some fractured nerves.
It might also give you a chance to cook up a few extra dinners for the freezer. A healthy and balanced diet for your teenager in these last few weeks will help to sustain their energy.
Tensions may be high in your house right now, so see if you can limit the extra demands or expectations you have. Rowing over an overflowing dishwasher, or a pile of washing on the floor of their room may be an unnecessary complication.
Be careful not to interrogate them about the actual exams. Do show interest in how they got on, but only for the purpose of support. Post-mortems of papers or their deficiencies in preparation won’t help. Warmth and understanding are all they need from us.
During the exams, it is possible that a bad performance on an exam may lead to a panic or a meltdown. Try not to panic yourself. Just listen, be understanding about the distress your son or daughter feels and then offer the reassurance that there are always options, no matter what they eventually achieve in their results.
Mostly though, the next few weeks are just about showing our teenagers that we are on their side and that we love them, no matter what.