Friday 24 November 2017

Testing times - Exam stress

Parenting expert Sheila O’Malley explains how she is helping her daughters through the Junior and Leaving Cert, and offers tips to other parents during this stressful period

At the moment thousands of students around the country are gearing up for the Junior and Leaving Cert and every one of them needs support from their parents.

How do we as parents keep calm and ensure the home environment is good for our students? I have daughters sitting both the Leaving and Junior Cert and find the following works for me.

If I think about what I need prior to a major challenge, the answer is: someone to encourage, support, and praise my efforts. It helps if they believe in me. I also need an absence of criticism.

Therefore, I try to encourage, support and see the effort my daughters are making and communicate my belief in them and their capability. However, I can only do this if I am already doing it for myself. In other words, what you put out comes back to you, every single time. If I am in bad form, I tend to be critical (of myself and others) and radiate negativity, and negativity comes back from others to me.

If you keep parenting like you always have, you will keep getting what you always have. Therefore, for the sake of your children, remember that the more you take care of yourself, the more you can take care of your exam student.

If your son/daughter is working and under stress, ensure you put no extra pressure on him/her and instead ask ‘what can I do for you?’ Maybe treat them to a take-out bagel or the occasional ice cream to acknowledge their effort.

Our expectations need to be realistic, and centred on the person’s present level of knowledge. Our young person’s primary need is to feel loved and that they are ‘good enough’. Too often, parents focus on results and children become perfectionists and feel they are only ‘seen’ for academic effort. It is not an exam result that makes your child wonderful. Alternatively, a child goes into ‘avoidance’, as learning has become threatening. As long as we see our child’s efforts, learning will continue.

What does our teenager need at this time?

Stock up on the food they will eat in the home (preferably healthy). Remind them of the importance of adequate sleep and a good breakfast before the exam. Ensure in advance that they have what they need for each exam. Encourage regular study breaks for fresh air or a short walk with a friend. Avoid arguments; this is not the time for conflict. Post-mortems (of more than five minutes) are a waste of time, focus on the next exam. Remember the students are under pressure from all corners, so do not add to it. The most important ‘A’ is in emotional health. The exam is a measure of their knowledge of a set of questions, not a measure of their intellect. The exam is their responsibility and failure (if it happens) sets the next challenge. Say: “Just do your best and remember, you please me very much.”

Finally, your relationship with your child should never be jeopardised by an exam. Put a 1000-watt bulb on them of love and approval and see what happens!

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