A Calm Exam
If your child is sitting an important exam this year like the Leaving Certificate, it’s very easy to get caught up in panic mode. Many people panic about exams on behalf of their teenager. They worry there isn’t enough work being done, that motivation isn’t high enough, or that their child won’t secure the course they desire most.
There’s a lot of talk and emphasis on revision, study, points and courses and your student child is hearing it all day at school from different teachers. That’s already pressure enough.
Your child’s anxiety and stress about the exams and what happens afterwards can actually be quite high and you may not even be aware of it. This is a brand new experience for them, they may not realise how organised they should be for best results, or how quickly those study weekends can fly by. There may also be an element of overwhelm or panic when it comes to revision that your child keeps to themselves. A lot of their anxiety can be concealed. So how can you help keep motivation high but stress low and understand what’s going on in their minds?
Know your focus
One way to remain unshakeable when it comes to the lead up to exams is to focus solely on your child’s requirements. There’s no need to compare your student’s progress or study plan with what anyone else is doing. Just ensure your teen has a study plan that they’re happy to commit to, plenty of fresh air and breaks, regular meals and snacks. It’s a choice to remain calm at this time and refuse to get flustered. Keep talking with your teen about how they think they’re doing and remind them that you know how this feels and that there’s always a solution if a difficulty rises. It’s also important for your teenager to know that when it gets too much, in any way, there’s always someone to talk to, whether it’s parents or teachers.
If your child is revealing signs of stress or anxiety, concentration can be the first thing to go. Keep reminding your child of the ‘bigger picture’ – yes, the exams are important and it’s approaching the end of two years of study at the senior cycle, so it’s worth giving it your best shot ever, but equally, the exams are a stepping stone in life, a step into new and wonderful options. They’re not the be all and above and certainly not worth damaging your child’s mental health over. Keep reminding your child of the life after exams and be mindful that different people have different stressors – while one child can sail through exams seemingly without a care, another child may find it hard to cope. Similarly some children may find it difficult to articulate how they are feeling and may be very worried while putting on an exterior of coping.
Procrastination can occur when there is just too much to do and the mind cannot cope. It can also occur when a plan is set that’s unrealistic. Both can contribute to a cycle of stress. So your teenager may ‘plan’ to get up at 6am to study, but when the alarm goes off, it’s a much better idea to go back to sleep. When your teen is making a study plan, ask him or her to examine if it’s realistic in the first place, or they may fall at the first hurdle and then begin to get demotivated. Breaking work down into manageable amounts (like three chapters on Saturday morning and three on Sunday evening) may be much more realistic than say, half the book across the weekend. They feel they have achieved something and are spurred on for the next bit.
Don’t fret about diet
In an ideal world they’d be consuming a healthy menu of delights each day, but sometimes it’s not practical and they’d rather enjoy a takeaway than a plate of carrots and hummus. Let your teenager dictate what they’d love to munch on to get through those study sessions. If it’s fruit, that’s fabulous. If it’s chocolate, go for it. Give them whatever it is they want to keep up the momentum of concentration for those study blocks but try to ensure that main meals are not skipped and are not wolfed down in a stressful way and that plenty of fluids (like water and herbals teas) are consumed. Keep a jug of water with sliced lemons and mint topped on the study desk. It makes sense to avoid drinks with caffeine, like coffee and energy drinks, particularly in the evenings.
Your teen may think it’s a great idea to do non-stop study, but it’s not as productive as planning in advance, sticking to the plan and taking plenty of good breaks. Going out for a walk or a jog, keeping up involvement in a group sport, meeting with friends for a chat or a trip to the cinema, or chatting on social media, are all ways your child may prefer to unwind. So regular breaks from the books should be encouraged. Should your child need breaks that are more relaxing, massage and reiki and Indian head massage are all worth looking into.
Make the home a stress free zone
Create a healthy study zone, away from the hub of family life, where they can concentrate without distraction. If at all possible, make sure this is their exclusive space, where they can spread out books and paperwork and know it won’t be disturbed. Turn off the white noise like radios and TVs and encourage your teen to put the phone or other devices out of reach during study.