It is a real test of parenting when there is an exam student in the house - the date of the WACE exams can evoke feelings of rising anxiety – in students and in their parents! It can be very difficult to stay detached from all the talk about ATAR, what course your child is hoping to do and at which university.
Unfortunately, parents often unintentionally add to this stress by allowing themselves to become consumed with the whole process – or on the other end of the scale by being too laid back which may come across as not caring. What’s needed here is a balance and realistic expectations.
When the WACE exams are just around the corner all parents can do is to support their children, reinforce our confidence in them and make it very clear that we do not think they are defined by their exam results.
o Easier said than done..... however parents have the ability to create a calm environment in which to study which include being comfortable, well lit and quiet. If possible don’t arrange ‘playdates’ for younger (or older siblings) during this couple of weeks pre and during exams.
o It is exceptionally important that we reiterate with our children that we will love them no matter what and that unexpected exam results will not change that. There are many many ways in which they can achieve their goals and WACE exams are only one of those ways.
o Keeping to a normal routine is important for both parents and children. Parents who take time off work to ‘be there’ can actually add to the anxiety by placing an added layer of angst. As for your child, he/she will still enjoy the bus-trip home from school, catching up with friends and taking their mind of studying for a short period.
o Having said all this, parents being available to provide some additional practical support at this time such as a lift somewhere or a comforting word will do no harm.
o It is also a good idea to encourage your child to continue to attend school until exam time. They may use excuses like ‘it’s easier to study at home’ but realistically they are probably better to be at school where they will have the support network of their peers and teachers.
o As is common with most most people who experience periodic times of stress, your child will be more likely to let off steam by venting on those closest to them, often their parents. This should not be taken personally so try to be the parent who walks away, takes a deep breath and lets it slide. It will all be over sooner than you think!
o Keep an eye out on how your child deals with the ‘mock’ exams. This may provide some indications on how they will deal with the WACE exams. Most children will deal with stress of exams even though some will do it better than others. It is worth being aware however that problems may arise if your child has had additional trauma in the year leading up to the exam. Stresses such as loss, relationship breakdown or difficulties with friends can add to the levels of anxiety around exam time. Mock exams will alert you on how to approach the WACE exams. Reaffirm that exam results do not define who you are.
o A good life balance where your child continues with their sport and seeing their friends will contribute to their wellbeing and help alleviate the stress. Exercise as with all of us is vital . It is important to try and reduce your child’s stress levels and not add to them. Too much stress can stop them from reaching their potential by affecting they way their brain recalls and applies information.
o A good night’s sleep is paramount (and not just at exam time). Even if your child normally has a device such as a phone in their room at night (never a good idea for anyone) suggest that it is left in another room during this time. The distraction of technology at night is not conducive to a good night’s sleep. Suggest some ways for your child to wind down before bed such as having a warm bath, reading a few pages of a book (other than a text book) meditation or prayer.
o A balanced diet is essential for all our children, all the time but absolutely vital at exam time. Diets including lots of brain food like nuts, seeds and oily fish are particularly beneficial at this time. As parents we can prepare in advance by ensuring that there are healthy snacks available within seconds (!!) as this will stop the constant trek to and from the biscuit barrel.
And remember that although exams may be a necessary evil, they do not and never will define who your child is – please make sure your child knows this.