Back off, mom – and 3 other things you need to hear right now as a parent of a matric student


Parents, brace yourselves – it’s that time of year again. And by that time we mean the most stressful period for matrics across the country.

Having already written English, Accounting and Maths, exams are in full swing and we can only imagine the pressure of having to do well on finals before transitioning from the sheltered environment of high school to the exciting new world of adulthood.

But while it may seem like now is the time to start pushing our kids to work harder and be independent, they may in fact need us now more than ever to support them during this challenging phase. So before letting our kids go completely to spread their wings and take advantage of a world full of opportunity, we suggest that parents consider these basic tips to make this period just a little easier on our understandably anxious matrics.

1. A pep talk goes a long way

There is nothing quite like the feeling of having someone believe in you, especially when you don’t really believe in yourself.

After hours and hours of studying, matrics often feel rundown, alone and have very little motivation to keep going. And this feeling worsens when they work so hard to do well, only to come home feeling defeated by a particularly challenging exam. So we suggest you begin by giving them a good pep talk to get going.

Research psychologist and academic programme developer at SACAP (The South African College of Applied Psychology) Claudia Raats suggests that in this situation parents should help their kids along after a bad paper:

“They may well come home despondent,” explains Claudia. “It is important for parents to be aware of not being reactive to this, and to rather normalize this feeling for them. It can help a lot if you engage in a motivational conversation where you help them accept the reality of their bad day and help them put this into perspective so that they can focus with confidence on their next exam challenge.”

2. Get the entire family to play their part

Drastic changes in the home aren’t necessary and probably won’t do any good in helping an already anxious teen having to deal with moving on.

However, Dr Jaclyn Lotter a counselling psychologist and head of academic programmes at SACAP suggests making the home a more conducive study environment and minimising chores and responsibilities for matrics, giving them more time to focus on studying will help.

3. Encourage them to take breaks

That being said, it’s important to make sure that students do not overwork themselves and burn out before they even write the exam they’ve been dreading.

Jaclyn explains, “They cannot spend all their time studying. Sitting non-stop in front of your books does not equate to better results.”

She continues, “They still need their time for exercise, sufficient sleep and healthy eating; as well as reasonable time for socialising, relaxation and the enjoyment of life that ensures their well-being."

4. Back off and trust that your kids know what’s best for them

While we can do all these things to be supportive and help our kids along, we can’t actually write the exam for them. Parents should therefore try to communicate with their teens and let them know that they are there to support them through this time.

Jaclyn explains that, “As much as we want the best for our children and will do just about anything to ensure this, these are their exams. It’s our children’s unique 2017 Matric experience and their performance is entirely in their own hands."

Claudia therefore suggests that instead of devising study plans for them and constantly checking up on them, we keep communication open and at the same let them start finding their independence:

"Trust that your child knows best how to prepare for the exams.  Have conversations about their study plans, content covered and the importance of study breaks as well as study sessions. You might be surprised and delighted by the sense of responsibility and autonomy that your child displays.”

Thus, it is important to not only ensure that our kids strike a balance, but to also strike a balance ourselves between encouraging them and letting them do their own thing.

Jaclyn therefore concludes, “As parents, we have to make sure that our stress doesn’t become their stress. While we are currently advising matric students to maintain balance and manage stress, exactly the same applies to parents. We also need to self-reflect, adjust our perspectives and focus on engaging in healthy activities and interventions that support our balance.”

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Are there any tips you'd like to share with parents of matric students on how to make this stressful period just a little easier? Tell us by emailing to and we may publish your comments. 

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