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Practical tips for parenting your exam student
Leaving Certificate students are getting ready to start their exams 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 Certificate and I find this works for me. If I ask myself what do I need prior to a major challenge, the answer would be: I need someone to encourage, support, and praise my efforts and it helps if they believe in me. I also need an absence of criticism.
Therefore, I try encouragement, support and see the effort my daughters are making and communicate my belief in them and their capability. I can only do this if I am already doing this for myself however. Therefore, 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 a takeout bagel or occasional ice cream treat to acknowledge their effort.
Our expectations need to be realistic, centered 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, parent’s focus on results and children become perfectionist and they feel 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?
Top tips to keep your cool!
Many parents are at odds as to how best they can help their children manage stress and do their best in exams. It can seem an overwhelming and daunting time for everyone involved. Here are some tips that will help you navigate the next couple of months.
- Remain Calm - Remember it’s not you, it’s them!! It’s perfectly normal for Parents to become anxious and worry for your kids in the lead upto exams - especially if it’s the first time a major exam, such as the Leaving or Junior Cert is ‘in the household’. The best way you can help your child is to remain calm yourself! It’s very important not to transfer any additional anxiety onto your kids. This can happen unintentionally, especially if you’ve had mixed experience of exams yourself. Don’t let your experience colour your expectations for your child. Many parents can feel like they are the ones doing the exams! Be calm and supportive.
- Get out yourself & relax. Whilst it is important to be supportive and present for your child during this time, experience suggests that some ‘time out’ for parents is as important as it is for students.
- Try to keep a normal household. Exams can bring stress that can have a ripple effect on everyone in the house. Being practical - keeping noise and distractions to a minimum during study time is very useful. Keeping regular sleep patterns is essential during this period. .
- Feed the Mind - Have plenty of healthy snacks in the fridge – fruit! Make sure everyone in the house starts the day on a good breakfast! Ideally a slow releasing energy cereal eg brown bread with an egg or porridge / muesli. Minimise high sugar snacks (chocolate, fizzy drinks) - have plenty of healthy alternatives. Provide alternatives to caffeine drinks – have decaff alternatives on tap!! Also, if you don’t have them already, get a fish oil supplement to help your child’s concentration.
- Be Supportive & offer unconditional love. Let your child know you are there for them unconditionally.
- Look & Listen. Observe how your child is coping and managing their stress. If you notice they are behaving ‘out of character’ or seem to be finding the whole process difficult, ask how you can help them or suggest taking a walk, or have a bath to relax. Sometimes it is just enough for your child to talk things through with you, they may not be asking for directive actions. By listening and supporting your child you are helping them.
- Keep perspective. Remember the Junior and/or Leaving Cert is not the Be All & End All. Your child is not defined by these results. There are many career options open to them and many avenues. Helping your child stay positive is part of your job – for this to happen – you too must be positive. Recognise the strengths and weaknesses of your child. Keep the encouragement going! Encourage. Encourage. Encourage.
- Keep a steady pace. If your child is burning the midnight oil, there is a good chance they will run out of steam, become over tired or peak too soon. Encourage healthy sleeping patterns! We all perform better on a good night’s sleep. We retain more information and can recall 50% better if we have slept well. Your child is less likely to go blank or make comprehension mistakes too.