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Practical tips for parenting your exam student

Leaving Certificate & Junior Certificate 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 had daughters sitting both the Leaving and Junior Certificate and found 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, centred 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?

Have the food they will eat in the home (preferably healthy). Remind them of the importance of adequate sleep and a good breakfast before the exam. Ensure in advance that they have what they need for each exam. Encourage regular study breaks for fresh air or a short walk with a friend. Avoid arguments; this is not the time for conflict. Post mortems (of more than five minutes) are a waste of time, focus on the next exam.

Remember the students are under pressure from all corners, so do not add to it. The most important ‘A’ is in Emotional Health, there’s a lot going on for our teens. The exam is a measure of their knowledge of a set of questions, not a measure of their intellect. The exam is their responsibility and failure (if it happens) sets the next challenge. “Just do your best and remember, you please me very much”. Finally, your relationship with your child should never be jeopardised by an Exam. Put a 1000 watt bulb on them of love and approval and see what happens!

Top tips to keep your cool!
  • It is counterproductive to criticise them
  • Get up earlier ensures that you are relaxed
  • Your calmness creates a calm home
  • Treat them & have the food they like (healthy)
  • Ask them ‘is there anything I can do for you?’
  • Notice effort & you will get more
  • Encourage, support, praise & affirm
  • It is their exam and their responsibility
  • Encourage adequate sleep & fresh air
  • Preparation (following a study plan) and active relaxation are key to coping with exam stress
  • Most teens take exams seriously and get quite anxious so do not add to the pressure they feel already
  • The most important ‘A’ is an ‘A’ in emotional health!

This article was written by Sheila O Malley. Sheila owns Practical Parenting and offers courses, 1 to 1 support and School Talks as well as Company talks on Parenting and wellbeing. See for details. Book a One Day Saturday course from 10-4pm with a friend or partner and get the tips to need to support you in the hardest job you ever do! 

Click here for lots more resources to help with Parenting your Exam student

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