Sunday 18 August 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly on Leaving Cert coping tips: Parents, it's now all about the praise. Sing it sister!

Dr Ciara Kelly
Dr Ciara Kelly
The build-up to the exams is way worse than the actual exams themselves

Ciara Kelly

With only four weeks and three days to go, I thought I would continue to talk about stress and how best to manage our inescapable march towards the Leaving Cert and indeed the Junior Cert - although if you or your children are stressing about the JC you really do need to assess your stress levels, as it really is little more than a practice run for the LC despite what anyone tells you.

A month to go is an interesting stage because, in a way, it should be getting easier for the kids to apply themselves to study now. There is a something in lots of us that puts us off doing things until the last minute, when if we're going to do something we absolutely have to do it now. Half the country took out SSIAs on the closing date of the scheme and accountants will tell you they're killed with people filing their tax returns at the eleventh hour. And allegedly some people even do their Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve! So the heightened pressure of being in the end zone can actually be helpful at kick-starting the up-until-now 'relaxed' student.

This is a good thing and I would suggest that for those of you who have seen your usually unscholarly child start to do a bit of work - relentless praise should now be your adopted position. I would also offer all support possible by way of organisational stationery - such as flash cards, highlighters, folders and dividers etc, as when you are pinning your future hopes on a month of cramming ruthless efficiency is key.

* Relentless praise may be a change of gear for those of you who have been pulling your hair out for the last two years at their lack of effort and resistance to all interventions, but there is no point crying over spilt sulks. Like a hymn writer in years gone by, it's now all about the praise. Sing it sister!

There are those alas - and there will be quite a few - who were already at maximum stress levels and the heightened pressure of the final month will push them beyond optimum stress into just feeling panic and fear. These are often kids who've actually put in a good bit of work because they were already feeling the pressure and are at risk now of not performing to their best because they find the significant strain of the Leaving Cert just too much.

They need to be taken in hand now.

* Tiredness is the enemy so they need to be encouraged to sleep for eight or nine hours a night. Help them - take their phones at night! Explain it's for their own good!

* With the build-up of anxiety that they're experiencing they need to factor in a brisk walk for at least 30 minutes per day which has well proven benefits for your mental well-being. GO WITH THEM and make them walk if they aren't responsive to entreaties to walk themselves.

* Get them to practice breathing exercises; five minutes, three times a day of slow breathing - in for a count of seven, out for a count of 11 has a calming effect. Again, do it with them if that's what it takes.

* And if despite exercise, sleep, breathing and all that jazz, they're still balls of stress - go and see your GP. Every single year for the past 15 years in the run-up to the LC I have seen kids in surgery, in real distress, who need short-term medical interventions or counselling in that last few weeks leading to exams.

Going now means there is still time to make a difference - if that's where your child is at. And pulling them back from the brink of panic allows them to get the results they deserve for putting in the work up until now. Don't let them be cheated out of achieving their potential.

In some ways the build-up to the exams is way worse than the exams themselves. So getting through these last few tough weeks is the final hurdle. Harnessing stress to make it work for you, by making you work harder is a key way to improve performance. If, however, stress has climbed to toxic levels this is the week to act to fix that and you need to take action so that your child is feeling more in control come June 6.

* Stay calm - you're almost there!

@ciarakellydoc Ciara presents 'Lunchtime Live' on Newstalk weekdays from 12-2

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