Experts offer parents advice on how to approach this difficult time of year with as little stress as possible.
The end-of-year exams are looming and while it’s your children who’ll be writing them, this can be quite a stressful time for parents too.
You might be dealing with a child who’s easily distracted or one who’s so anxious about tests they feel completely overwhelmed.
You might have one of those kids who has zero motivation to study or is so relaxed about writing an exam they see no point in hitting the books at all. We asked experts about the most common issues parents face at exam time and tips on how to deal with them.
SCENARIO 1 MY CHILD ISN’T MOTIVATED TO STUDY
Don’t get mad – get practical, says Cape Town-based psychologist Debbie Lopes.
It’s possible your child just doesn’t know where to start. “Try to help them find practical solutions rather than get angry,” she advises.
Help them draw up a timetable. “This is an especially good idea if kids have a tendency to procrastinate,” she says. “If you have a timetable showing all the work to be covered over a number of days before the exams begin, then suddenly the exams aren’t so far off and perhaps there’ll be a greater sense of urgency to start working.”
You should also ask your child if they need help so you can understand what it is they’re struggling with, says Cape Town-based educational psychologist Simona Maraschin. “If they’re struggling to find ways to study effectively, investigate various study methods or look for study skills courses in your area.”
Nagging is a no-no. “This is often a result of the parent’s anxiety but it’s not helpful to the child,” says Cape Townbased social worker Talya Ressel. “It only puts more pressure on them or makes them more resistant.
Once you’ve given them the support they need you should take a step back and let them fly.” Also keep in mind some kids who are labelled unmotivated or lazy might have an undiagnosed problem such as ADHD, depression or a learning difficulty. If you think this might be the case, get help from a relevant professional.
SCENARIO 2 MY CHILD IS COMPLETELY STRESSED OUT BY EXAMS
For some kids the pressure to perform can leave them feeling overwhelmed and anxious. They might even avoid studying because of it. What you need to do is help your child manage their stress and anxiety.
“You’ll be helping them master important coping tools for life, and that’s far more valuable than any mathematics equation or history date,” Ressel says.
When kids are anxious it’s easy for them to get stuck in a negative pattern of thinking such as ‘I’ll never pass this exam’ or ‘I haven’t studied enough’.” It’s not helpful to dismiss their concerns by saying everything will be fine – simply listen to them and acknowledge how difficult things might feel at that moment.
“Then remind them it won’t always feel like this and you’re there for them no matter what,” she says. “It can also help reduce your anxiety to remember your child’s life isn’t solely defined by these exams.
While exams are important, they’re not the be all and end all and your child’s results aren’t the only reflection of their abilities,” she adds.
“Let them know you love them no matter what their results are and that you can see they’re doing their best,” Maraschin says.
For those anxious about achieving top marks, ask them what’s the worst that could happen if they don’t get that mark, Lopes says. “Try to reduce the fear. Ask them what mark they’d be satisfied with – this makes it more real than a vague ‘top’ mark.” Remind them to take breaks and if you can, take breaks with them.
“Go for a walk with them or take them to do something active or fun,” Maraschin says. “And don’t allow them to study late into the night. They need to get enough sleep.” Don’t overreact if your child doesn’t know their work, Lopes adds. Remember, stress and anxiety can affect memory and retention.
“Calmly encourage them to keep going and help them with concepts they don’t understand.” A simple hug can go a long way to reassure them.
Of course a healthy diet is vital if you want your child’s brain firing on all cylinders, so ensure they’re getting what they need and avoid heavily processed and refined food.
If your child’s diet is unbalanced for whatever reason, consider a multivitamin and an omega 3-fatty acid supplement. For maximum brain power, stock up on the following foods, which have been shown to help with memory, focus and mood.
- Oily fish – sardines, mackerel, kippers and salmon – are rich in omega-3 and -6 fatty acids
- Eggs – they’re a complete source of protein S Nuts – all kinds, but especially walnuts
- Green leafy vegetables
- Seeds, especially pumpkin seeds
- Peanut butter
- Fruit – all fresh fruit but especially bananas and blueberries
- Complex carbohydrates such as oats
SCENARIO 3 MY CHILD IS EASILY DISTRACTED
Some kids are simply more easily distracted than others, but where your child studies and what’s around them is of vital importance.
Cellphones, TV and computers are all distractions that should be discouraged. “Some kids find they’re more distracted at home because of the TV or games there and prefer to work in a library,” Maraschin says.
“Some schools keep their libraries open during exams and children can use these facilities.” “It’s important that wherever your child chooses to study, it’s a place that’s comfortable but also one that allows for maximum focus and attention,” Lopes says.
A desk is always a good option. “Sitting at a desk keeps their core muscles engaged and this helps keep them awake,” Maraschin says.
Kids shouldn’t study on their bed as it can make them sleepy. Some children work well with background music or white noise but these forms of additional stimuli should be used only by children who aren’t easily distracted.
“As a parent you need to monitor how your child studies,” she adds. “Some might spend hours in a quiet room but have done very little while another child might play music and take frequent breaks but is able to accomplish more.”
SCENARIO 4 MY CHILD WANTS TO HAVE ‘STUDY DATES’
When it comes to kids studying together, experts agree – it all depends on the child and on having the right study partner. “Some kids are motivated when working with a study buddy,” says educational psychologist Debbie Lopes.
“They set goals together about what they want to cover, test each other, explain concepts and share ideas. But for others it can be a distraction if it’s more about the social aspect than the studying.”
Whether study dates work is very much about your child’s personality and level of motivation and how well they can work with the friend in question. When your child has a study date ensure they set goals together, such as how much work they want to cover, how often study breaks will be taken and what these will entail.
“They also need to be able to help each other,” Lopes says. “It doesn’t work if one child is always tutoring the other. They both need to be challenged.”
This type of studying might work best with auditory learners – those who take in and retain information best when it’s presented through sound and speech – as they “can have a discussion about the work as opposed to just writing notes”, adds educational psychologist Simona Maraschin.