How parents can give exam students a helping hand

1. Show interest. Be involved in a practical way by knowing what exams they have on particular days, the times these take place, their favourite subjects and the ones with which they struggle. Give plenty of support and be available if they want to talk about their concerns or fears.

2. Be positive. You may be worried sick about how they will perform in the Junior or Leaving Certificate but if you are, keep it to yourself. Maintaining a positive attitude will help exam students think positively about themselves and perform to the best of their ability. Challenge negative thinking if your son/daughter is feeling dispirited or low and remember to focus on their strengths and talents, not any perceived shortcomings.

3. Offer encouragement. Avoid the temptation to nag or scold because this is counter productive. Losing your temper is even less effective. Dwelling on the past (especially the hours spent on their XBox or iPad! ) is not a good idea also. Point out the benefits of study and how education increases one’s options after leaving school. Then, be on hand to offer tea and sympathy or a gentle nudge for those who are putting revision on the long finger. Just being a warm, kind, loving presence in the background is often enough.

Eileen Kelly, a psychologist and co-ordinator of parenting programmes at the Galway Diocesan Pastoral Centre, says the power of encouragement cannot be overstated. “When we catch our teen doing something right it is important to notice and affirm them thus increasing the possibility or these actions occurring again. Unwittingly, too often we only draw attention to the undesirable behaviour thus increasing the potential for more of that.”

4. Avoid fussing. Do not increase the pressure on them by making demands they cannot meet.

5. Create a calm atmosphere at home which is conducive to study. Start by being calm yourself. Have meals at regular times and keep to a routine. If you have other children in the family, ask them to co-operate. Explain that it will be just for a few weeks and ask them to keep noise levels down and to be understanding. Help them organise themselves by clearing any clutter in their study area. Keep all necessary items, such as reference books, notes, text books, pens and pencils, etc on the desk. This will reduce time wasting and distracting trips around the house, searching for various things.

6. Have realistic expectations for them. Some children are A students, many are not. Do not compare your son or daughter to relations’ children or older siblings who were high achievers. Accept and appreciate them for who they are and for doing their best and stress this is all you expect from them.

7. Be understanding. This is a difficult time for exam students (and for parents! ). Offer lots of tender, loving care. Spoil your children in the run-up to the exams by giving them treats and their favourite foods. Listen and understand, boost their egos and keep household distractions minimal. Remember a loving family is one of the greatest assets an exam student can have.

8. Ensure your child has adequate rest and relaxation breaks. Studying for long periods can take its toll so it is important that they have regular breaks from their schedule. It is essential too that study and relaxation are clearly defined, that when they are having a break well meaning parents do not mention the S (study ) word or remind them of all they have left to do.

9. Be tolerant. Make allowances for changes in mood or a short fuse. The exams will be over soon and your household will return to normal again.

10. Advise them to follow a routine at home. As the exam draws nearer and students are studying at home it may be a good idea to maintain the school-like routine they have observed all year. Get up early in the morning, have breakfast, do a few hours study, take a break for lunch, then do some more study. Afterwards try to fit in an hour’s physical activity, such as running, cycling, walking or playing football. Aim to relax after that and take it easy.

11. Avoid rows, if at all possible. Exam students already feel tense and stressed so do not make things worse. Of course, this is easier said than done! When you feel like exploding because they have abandoned cups, plates and dinner plates bearing half eaten chicken chasseur on the living room floor or refuse to revise hold your breath or count to 10. Fleeing to the next room could be a solution too. Any action that will remove you from the scene of the upset is to be recommended. Remember rows will not only stress the student but can double your risk of dying when you are middle- aged. According to recent Danish research frequent rows are associated with mortality risk among middle-aged men and women. So, that may be a good enough reason to bite your lip when you feel like yelling.

12. Be vigilant. Keep an eye on students and be aware of mood changes, how much sleep they are getting, if they are particularly concerned about something, if they are eating properly, etc. The more aware you are the quicker you will spot any emerging difficulties.

13. Keep the lines of communication open. The exams will be over next month but your relationship with your teenager will continue so be careful not to do or say anything that will damage this in the long term. Do your best to stay connected with them and take time to inform yourselves about what is important to them.

14. Walk in their shoes. Cast your mind back to when you were studying for exams and recall how it felt, the anxiety, concern, pressure, perhaps feeling overwhelmed and lost. Keep this thought to the forefront of your mind and it will influence your attitude and reaction to them. Make sure you do not pile any further pressure on them by having a negative attitude. Your job is to talk them up, not down. Offer unconditional love and support.

15. Retain a sense of balance. There is more to life than exams. Use this testing time to give your children a clear message that they have limitless capacity. The psychologist Tony Humphreys says that evidence indicates that children and adults live up or down to the labels they are given as children. Effort is what counts, not performance. Criticism seriously weakens children’s belief in their capacity and either closes the door to behavioural development or drives them into unhappy perfectionism, he maintains.

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