Tuesday 18 December 2018

Going to College: My advice to parents is keep the food coming and don’t engage in post-mortems

Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh
Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh

Aoife Walsh

Today, the Leaving Cert and Junior Cert written exams kick off. It is certain that in every home where you will find students sitting the state exams, you will also find a high level of nerves and anxiety. However, it still surprises me how quickly students adapt and settle into the routine of heading off each morning, as if it is something they do every day.

Perhaps it is the adaptability of youth, but parents do not seem to find it as easy to adjust. Here is some advice to help parents - and their children - through the days and weeks ahead.

Don't let your stress increase theirs

Stress is contagious. All parents are worried about how their young person will perform and how they will manage. At this point in the process, there is little you can do but feed them, support them and help them to stay calm.

It is impossible for parents to control this part of a child's experience and trying to will only add to their stress. What you can do is keep the house quiet, keep the food coming, remind them to have balance in their life and ask them what they need.

If your young person tends to worry, reassurance is your best tool. Remind them of all they have achieved, explain why you think they will achieve again and try to focus on the present.

The Leaving Cert has been a marathon and you are near the end, but focus on each task one step at a time and one thing at a time.

Most Leaving Cert students will have some breaks in the first couple of days, although Junior Certs will have a heavier start. Support them to be fully present in their revision and in the breaks. Balance is key and difficult to achieve.

Avoid post-mortems

We teachers and guidance counsellors constantly tell students not to engage in post-mortems and to avoid those who they feel will want to have these conversations. This is difficult to do when that person is your parent.

Yes, you want to know how it went and you might be trying to be helpful, but your child retelling the exam to you in minute detail on the way home in the car will not change how it went.

They are more likely to recall the answers they did not know or the things they forgot to write than what went well. Post-mortems will increase everyone's stress and concerns and will have absolutely no impact on the result.

When you ask how the exam went, accept their answer and try not to probe, even if that answer is the all-too-familiar 'fine'. Yes, it is frustrating and may increase your stress, but after 18 years most parents are good at hiding this. Encourage them to forget about it if they feel it went badly, have a small reward if it went well and move on to the next.

Congratulations to you for getting them this far and congratulations to the class of 2018: "You are off to great places! Today is your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!"

Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin

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