I don’t know about you but way back in the day when I was doing exams, life was very different. I am not necessarily saying that this was a good thing. My parents, loving and supportive though they were, believed a little too much in the benign neglect school of thought when it came to education. Whether we did well or not, was left very much up to ourselves and exam time came and went in our house without any special treatment at all. There were no dispensations from household chores so that we could ‘revise’ and nobody ever offered us money to get good grades. My parents would have thought this idea simultaneously hilarious and tragic.
Amongst my own peer group today however, it is a wholly different kettle of fish. Mothers I know, who are otherwise sensible, down-to-earth women are reduced to quivering wrecks during the build up to exam time. Now, to a degree I get this. I understand that when you see your child under pressure or upset it affects you as well and you want to do everything possible to make it better. But really, does it need to be such a big deal? Surely, young adults need to be taught that certain times in life are stressful and showing them how to cope with it rather than fussing and molly coddling them seems like a much better approach. Importantly, ask yourself why you are stressed? Living vicariously through your children or using their successes to validate your existence is not a likable trait. Think hard and if you feel you are doing this then back off and get your own life!
In my house, we have tried to point out the advantages of doing well through a bit of effort V’s the disadvantages of not doing well because you can’t be arsed. I chivvy and chide and hope someone listens, but I definitely do not coax, bribe or make excuses for bad behaviour or rudeness during exam time (although how one decides what normal behaviour is in teenage boys always stumps me in the end !)
However, a clever mum will have a few tricks up her sleeve to make for a less bumpy ride so here are some tips to help:
- Stay positive. Encourage them to work and do their best but also let them know that it’s not the end of the world if the don’t get the grades. They can often re-sit or even try something different. They have their whole lives ahead of them to try again.
- Resist putting pressure on them to achieve certain grades. If they don’t get them, they will feel like a failure (because of your expectation).
- Be available if they want to talk about their worries.
- Expect moodiness, untidiness, bare cupboards and an empty fridge (but then again what’s new).
- Try to get them to eat healthily and to take some exercise. This does not include an exercise break on the Xbox! See if you can drag them out for a walk if they are not the sporty type.
- Bribery is not a good idea. Offering cash for grades is counterproductive. Psychologists say that this implies that the only meaningful reward for hard work is money. It also says that you don’t trust your child. Negative messages like these will affect your child’s sense of self worth.
- See if you can get them to go to bed. Good luck with this one. Teenagers are notorious late birds and may even feel they get their best work done at night. Try to ensure they get a good night’s sleep though. The human brain works much better when fully rested.
- Be aware you might be part of the problem. Support group Childline says that lots of the children who call them to talk about exam stress feel that the greatest pressure comes from family. So keep things in perspective and remember this is your child’s life and this is their success or failure. Either way they will learn from it.
- Before they go off to the exam be encouraging and positive. However, also let them know that the world will not fall down around them if it does not go well and they can try again or explore a different route.
- When the exam is finished, let them talk about it if they want, then draw a line under it, especially if it went badly. What’s done is done. Dwelling on it will make your child more anxious. Move on – either to the next exam, a new job or for the lucky ones, the long summer holidays.
- If your child is really struggling and shows signs that the stress is getting to him or her seek professional advice or discuss it with the teachers at school. This is more difficult for university students, as they are adults but if they exhibit signs of severs stress, anxiety or depression, do try and seek medical advice.
P.S – Top Tip for Mum’s experiencing kid’s exam stress:
- Bottle of wine, straw, oblivion