Q My son was due to do his Leaving Cert this year and, with all of the uncertainty until now, he found it difficult to stay focused. He is really worried too about the system that is now proposed and how the grades will actually be awarded, as there are a couple of teachers he has always had issues with. He wants to go to college, but fears that their dislike of him might go against him. How can I stop his anxiety from spiralling?
David replies: It has been so difficult for any student doing their Leaving Certificate (LC) this year. The lack of clarity about how the LC was due to run, when it would run, and how it would have been marked in time for college applications was leaving students with huge additional stress. At least the current plan for assignment of calculated grades means there is a clear end point and takes the stress of some future exam away. Students can also take a break from their books.
There is no benefit to being anxious about things we can't control. Indeed, sometimes our lack of control can increase our anxiety, since we often try to maintain multiple points of readiness, requiring us to feel always "switched on" just in case we have to act, but never quite knowing how, when or even if, we may need to act. This kind of worry is exhausting. Anxiety about things we can control can be more helpful as it can focus or motivate us to do things.
Your son can no longer influence the decisions that his teachers make about the marks they believe are fair for him. Indeed it is important that neither you nor he try to influence those grades. He has to trust that they will take any personal animosity away from their decision-making about his attainments in the subjects they teach him. For your son, then, the best thing he can do is to focus on those areas of his life where he can exert control.
So now might be a good time to concentrate on his own daily routine, now that study can be removed, to make sure he gets back to some kind of balance that includes rest, exercise, hobbies, healthy food and some socialising (remotely of course). He may also want to learn and practice some mindfulness or meditation exercises, to be able to give his brain a break from worries about how the whole LC process will pan out. Your son may find that it helps him to stay connected to his classmates since they are a community of people that are most likely to understand his stress and worry about the fairness of the new grading system.
Offering him the opportunity to continue to talk to you will also help, on the basis that a problem shared is a problem halved. So even though you can't "fix" any problem with those teachers for him, nor offer him blanket reassurance, it will still be helpful for you to listen.
In truth, there may have been no perfect solution to the LC issue, but perhaps there is reassurance to be found in the presumption of fairness, where every student is entitled to the benefit of doubt about their performance.
There are checks and balances built into the current system all along the way.
If all else fails, your son, like all other students, will be able to rely on an appeals process if it seems like his calculated grade is very different to what he may have expected.