Surviving Exams: 13 Practical Tips for Parents
If you have a child who is starting their final exams in the next couple of weeks, you might be feeling a bit stressed. You have supported your child through their whole school life and now they have to pull it all together and jump the final hurdle. Alone. There is nothing you can do. Well, that’s not quite true. There are a few things you can do to help.
1. Keep them fed
I’m never going to advocate comfort eating as a life-style choice, but this is one of those times when it doesn’t hurt to put some love on a plate. If nothing else, cooking favourite meals will make you feel better. It’s a tangible way of saying, “I love you and I support you”. Eat as a family. It’s good for discussions and keeping perspective, it will keep your child in touch with their siblings and parents.
2. Try not to nag
This one is tough, especially if they take up a Home and Away or Neighbours habit just to escape studying. If they are showing avoidance behaviour, help them with their study timetable. Build in breaks and social time (and Home and Away if absolutely necessary). That way they don’t feel as though monitoring their time and application is your job. They have agreed to a plan.
3. Help them to keep perspective
It’s a good time for some mindfulness. Try to make sure your child doesn’t start living in the future; worrying and catastrophising. Discourage conversations that focus on ‘What if I fail?’ or ‘What if my mark isn’t good enough?’ Focus them on what is happening now and what they can achieve now. Guided meditation can work wonders in terms of relaxation and refocusing. There are plenty available on iTunes, YouTube and from retailers. Laughter is important too. Never underestimate the power of a funny movie or a joke with friends and family.
4. Encourage exercise
Exercise is brilliant at providing fresh perspective. The natural endorphins will lift mood and the break away from the books and fresh air will revitalise. A long walk, yoga, a swim or a run can make the world of difference.
5. Reduce traffic
Households can be very busy with family and friends constantly coming and going. Perhaps put the word out that the home needs to be calm and quiet for a couple of weeks.
Your child will be tempted to be up late and studying into the early hours of the morning. Ensure that they are getting enough sleep. Fatigue has a detrimental effect on brain processes, particularly memory. We want them to be bright and alert for their exams, so stress the importance of a regular bed time.
7. Make yourself available to help
It might be quizzing them on Biology concepts or having them tell you the story of the Russian Revolution. It might be timing them while they do practice exams. It all helps.
8. Drive them to exams
If you can, drive kids to their exams and get them there in plenty of time. I don’t really love the idea of students driving themselves to exams. Some would argue that if they drive themselves to school, you don’t want to break that routine. Fair enough. I just think that you don’t want young people driving when they are possibly stressed and have their mind on the exam ahead. Also, if something does go wrong on the journey, you want a clear-headed adult to deal with it, not a stressed teenager.
9. Reduce work hours
Many kids have part-time jobs at this age. If necessary, get them to cut down the hours they work for a few weeks. They have a lifetime to go to work, they will only sit these exams once.
10. Be the parent
With school finishing and study breaks beginning, Year 12s experience a variety of emotions, including excitement and anticipation. Some kids may not cope well with the freedom of self-directed study time at home. They will need you to continue to set realistic boundaries regarding socialising and the like.
Just because your child is 18 doesn’t mean that they always know what’s in their best interests. Young adults benefit from clear and realistic parental expectations. We need to try to remember to be parents, rather than best friends, with our children…hopefully they will thank us in a decade or so!
11. Enlist ‘sparents’
It is not unusual for mum and dad to become the enemy at this stressful time. It’s a good time to enlist ‘sparents’, those caring adults outside of the home who love and support your child. Be careful who you enlist, you don’t want anyone who is going to constantly express their concern by asking about school, exams and, “What are you going to do for the rest of your life?”
12. Cut them some slack
Exams are stressful. Tempers may get short; theirs and yours. Try not to take offence to monosyllabic language, answering back, messy bedrooms, bickering with siblings and the myriad of other annoyances. Whilst on one level it’s not okay, it will soon be over!
13. Finally, look after yourself too. This is a big deal and it’s stressful. It might help to remember that you’ve done an amazing job so far. There hasn’t been a single difficult day of parenting that you haven’t survived. When all else fails, ignore the negatives and just shower your child with love…..whilst the pain of exams will fade, they will always remember how you guided them from a place of love.
To compile this list of survival tips I joined forces with a couple of fabulous Santa Maria College mums. Both have lived through this experience before and are going through it again this year. They are eminently qualified to give advice and they are both wonderfully sensible. Although they prefer not to be named, I am very grateful for their assistance.
Linda Stade has worked in various teaching and management roles in education for twenty-five years. She has worked in government and private schools, country and city, single-sex and co-ed. Currently, she is the Research Officer at Santa Maria College, Western Australia. She has a Facebook page here.
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