All the Junior and Leaving Cert students who trudged off to their opening exam this morning were weighted down by lots of things, most especially stress, expectation – theirs and their parents – and enough advice to raise the Titanic and sink it again.
So, leaving the students out of it for a moment, I have advice for the mammies, daddies and even well-intentioned grannies instead.
And you might not like all of it. But these exams aren’t about you.
1 When they fall in the door after today’s exam, throw their gear on the ground and shuffle off to their room, resist the temptation to follow. Leave it.
2 When they do eventually emerge, give them space.
3 If you have to ask a question make it a general one rather than launching a propping inquisition. Again, this is about them and not you.
4 Make them something they like and find comforting for dinner and not something that is simply virtuous. If they want frozen pizza, which is about as flavoursome and nutritious as the box it comes in, so be it.
5 Encourage them to prepare for tomorrow’s exam, but not cram. An hour or two prepping is all very fine, but an all-nighter trying to make up for what should have been studied last autumn won’t work.
6 A few hours escapism tuned into their Ipod, or couch-potatoing with an escapist DVD, to round off the evening is a good way for the brain to switch off.
7 Gently encourage an early night but Leaving Certers have to call that for themselves. Tossing and turning in a bed you don’t want to be in is not a place of rest and respite.
8 But if there is still a crack of light seeping out from under the bedroom door into the early hours, a gentle tap and whispered suggestion that it’s time for lights out would not be remiss.
9 Don’t allow them an extra quarter of an hour in bed the following morning, because the last thing they need to do is to have to rush out the door in a blind panic trailing notes and folders.
10 A decent breakfast is the best start to the day, but nerves may not allow. So compromise and use all your guile and parenting nous to make sure they don’t trudge off hungry. Coffee and banana? So be it.
11 And tell them you love them. They might not return the compliment there and then ... but they will some day.
Sam Day is a father of three, two of whom survived the Junior and Leaving Cert and a third who is a year off the Junior.