Being your child's ally, not enemy
Having a child go through final year exams is stressful for everyone. Here’s how to make sure you’re on their side.Like
Every single presenter could cite key things that their parents did to support them through the year. Not one presenter responded by saying “Nothing. I did it all myself.” Furthermore, each presenter highlighted that their parents’ involvement wasn’t merely trivial. At first glance some of the tips may appear to be minor, but presenters highlighted the fact that small things have a big impact.
The second thing that the presenters’ tips demonstrated is that there is no “one-size fits all” approach to supporting your child across the year. Some presenters valued having their parents remind them that they had one shot at getting exams right, whilst others appreciated the exact opposite message. Some presenters preferred space, whilst other presenters preferred higher levels of parental involvement. As such, part of the trick to helping your child through these senior school years is knowing your child’s personality and what they respond to, and then adapting to their personality.
Finally, and perhaps without surprise, guys and girls tended to value very different things, highlighting the importance of tailoring or adapting your support strategies to the gender of your child.
Not surprisingly, almost all the responses from male presenters highlighted the importance of being given freedom across the year. The most common tip in this regards was giving male students the freedom to maintain sporting, social and extra-curricular commitments. Every single presenter commented that the ability to play sport, or spend time with friends, without having a sense of guilt hanging over them was critical to helping them manage their stress levels across the year.
Similarly, an equally common response was that male presenters greatly appreciated receiving a “get out of jail free card” when it came to chores or duties around the house (hardly a surprise!!!). A number of male presenters appreciated that this allowed them to partition their lives so that study time, was dedicated exclusively to study, whilst relaxation time could be dedicated to unwinding so that they could jump into the study again.
Girls on the other hand seemed to value a greater level of involvement from their parents. This isn’t to say that they didn’t also appreciate being given the space to make decisions about time commitments, but rather, they responded positively to intermittent interventions from parents. One of the common responses from female presenters was that they appreciated having parents ensure that they took regular breaks. Often this involved parents making plans with their daughters to go for a walk or coffee during their study break time. Larger picture, many female presenters appreciated having planned breaks from study such as holidays to get away from the work, or a weekend away with their mum!
One important thing to note is that whilst male presenters valued space, it doesn’t mean that they wanted apathy. All appreciated the support they were given, but instead, they were more likely to seek support, rather than expecting parents to step in and give it.
From our presenters’ responses, it was possible to discern 5 roles that most parents played during their final year. The role that you play and the extent to which you play it will obviously depend on your child, their personality, their goals and your family situation. But all provide food for thought:
The freedom giver
As discussed above, the main thing that male students appreciated was the freedom to continue sport, socialise with their friends and maintain their extra-curricular commitments. Equally, freedom to avoid or have a break from chores, especially around high stress periods was equally valued. However, it is possible to give freedom and stay involved at the same time. The best analogy or way to think about it is that parents in this case always floated around the periphery and were accessible when their children needed them. In most cases, and especially in the case of male students, students wouldn’t necessarily confront their parents with a “I need…”. Instead, students would go to their parents with a complaint or a problem. In this case, students were looking more for positive support and affirmation than a solution per-se. So if you are going to give your child freedom, don’t disconnect but instead float at the periphery and intervene with words of support and encouragement when needed.
One of the common comments from presenters was that their parents played an important role as guardians who, much like a gate keeper, maintained and protected their study environment to ensure tranquility and prevent distractions.
Whether it was ensuring that TV wasn’t on at full volume, or that siblings weren’t fighting or mucking around during exam time, the provision of a quiet place and space to work allowed students to focus and reduce stress. This was especially important in families that didn’t have an abundance of space, or where students couldn’t find a quiet corner to work in. One presenter commented that they used to work at the dining room table and while they were studying their parents ensured that the TV was off and distractions were minimized. Similarly, tolerance of the mess that tended to build up around the table was also appreciated.
The Passive Supporter
In many cases the smallest gestures were highly appreciated by students. A common response was regular, cooked, healthy dinners. The fact that students didn’t need to provide for themselves, and could build their timetable around consistent meals was highly appreciated. Similarly, a fridge stocked with healthy food, was an important retreat for many presenters. As one presenter commented, “As an 18 year old boy, food was always on my mind and studying without it was terribly difficult”. Equally valued, was the seemingly simple act of parents bringing in cups of tea or the occasional bowl of ice cream. In these cases, it seems to have been less about the food itself, and more about the simple act of showing support and care that students seemed to respond to.
The context creator
A very important role that parents play, especially valued by female students, is that of the context creator. By creating context, we mean creating or defining the expectation of what can be considered a good year or a good result. Most students have a fear of not measuring up to the expectations of their family, school or peer group. As such, parents play a crucial role in terms of framing these expectations in a way that allows students to win. For some students this meant being reassured that they wouldn’t be compared to their siblings that had gone before them. For other students it meant having their parents let them know that they were aware that their child was doing everything within their power to do well and that this was enough for them. For others, it meant letting them know that even if they didn’t get into their goal of choice it didn’t mean that the door would be forever closed to them (although there is an art to doing this without undermining your child’s confidence. We will examine this issue in future articles).
Finally, for some students it meant having their parents remind them that it would be all be over soon, and that any sacrifices wouldn’t go on forever.
The Active Support Crew
Finally, there were the students who appreciated much more active involvement from their parents. Interestingly, these responses were almost exclusively from female students. Examples of being actively involved included driving students to exams or on days that they were tired; actively stepping in to see if there was any way for the parent to help out; making plans with children to use study breaks together by going for walks or coffees together. One of the forms of active support that was appreciated by both male and female presenters was having their parents quiz them before exams in order to help them memorise their notes.
At the end of the day, each student or child is different and it is necessary to adapt your approach. One of the easiest ways to begin to think about what role you should play as your child works through the final years is to simply ask them, “How would you like me to support you through the next 12 months?” Often, simply getting dialogue flowing is the best place to start.