You want your child to enjoy life and achieve their potential, but what’s the best way to make that happen? Exams are underway and in homes across the country, families are on an emotional roller coaster. Supported and happy children are more likely to succeed and believe that they can. Children put under the wrong kind of pressure will be less resilient. So, how do we get the right balance between being positive and being too pushy?
My daughter is in the middle of taking GCSEs and my son took A-Levels last year so just like you, I know how stressful the exam season can be. For children and for parents. Managing stress and handling pressure and disappointment is tough. The exam season brings lots of challenges, but also opportunities. By being a positive role model, supporting our children and helping them to manage painful emotions with actions inside their control – we’re equipping them with tools for life.
I wanted to share my top tips with you. I work at these myself on a daily basis. These tips are not just for the exam season, but for daily family life – so keep them going even when the exams are over.
Make Your Home A Sanctuary
Students work hard at school. They are under pressure to perform. The last thing they want when they come home is a parent putting them under more pressure. So, turn your home into a sanctuary.
Put Your Child In The Driving Seat
Take a deep breath and a step back. Let them know that you are there and love them. That you want to support them. But avoid telling them what you think they should be doing. Ask them, instead, how you can help them. Avoid ‘nagging’ at all costs. It doesn’t work. Put them in the driving seat. Every child is different. Listen to what they have to say.
Understanding their ‘Upstairs’ and ‘Downstairs’ Brain
Help children understand that there is a neurological reason why they find some feelings so challenging. Their emotional voice (downstairs brain) is very well developed from an early age and is loud. Their rational voice (upstairs brain) only develops fully in their mid-twenties. It is much quieter. That’s why feelings like stress, anger and sadness can seem so intense and overwhelming. Understanding this is the first step to helping us manage our feelings.
Practise Family Relaxing
In today’s busy world, children and parents rarely relax so build it into your family schedule. Practising regularly will make it easier for them to do this when they are tense. Our bodies cannot feel stressed and tense at the same time. If relaxing is something children and parents do daily, they will be able to use it as a tool when they are feeling tense. Offer to run your teenager a warm bath. Light candles for them. Give them a foot massage. Play relaxing music. Build in regular breaks and be on hand to make cups of tea and mop brows!
Buy An Alarm Clock And Get A Good Night’s Sleep
When we are connected to technology, our lives have no on/off switch. Establish a routine which gives you all ‘screen-free’ time. Involve your children in setting screen boundaries. This is particularly important in the hour before you sleep. Leaving devices at a ‘family charging station , eg, rather than in the bedroom can have a significant impact on the quality of sleep. Buy an alarm clock!
Develop Their ‘Growth Mindset’
Giving ‘evidence-based’ feedback that recognises ACE (attitude, commitment and effort) nurtures a ‘growth mindset’ and children are more likely to be motivated to succeed and believe that they can. Focus more on attitude than outcome and process more than result. Children who have parents who do this are more likely to be positive, enthusiastic learners who thrive on challenges and achievie their potential.
Be An ‘Imperfect’ Role Model
Perfectionist parents often have perfectionist children. Seize opportunities to ‘celebrate’ when things don’t go to plan, reflecting on what you learn and how you might do things differently next time. This encourages problem-solving, patience and determination. Demonstrate that it’s a strength to ask for help. Many children think it’s a sign of weakness if they can’t do everything for themselves. Show them that you ask for support.
Build On Strengths and Weaken Weaknesses
Focus more on what children can do than can’t as this gives them a sense of perspective. Focus on their skills, strengths and qualities. It reduces pressure and builds confidence, making them more likely to succeed in weaker areas.
‘Connection’ not ‘Perfection’
You can’t be 100% mum, dad or carer all the time. But you can be some of the time. These times have a significant impact. So press the pause button and have fun together – even in exam season. Strong, positive connections will always help children feel valued and secure. Do something that will make them smile every day.
Take Results In Your Stride – Whatever They Are
There are always things that happen that are outside our control. But there are always choices about how we respond to situations. Many of the happiest children and parents I meet are those who didn’t get top grades or to the university that they wanted. Where exams didn’t turn out as planned. There is no one right or wrong path through life for any of us. There are many different paths. Walk with your child on their journey and remember that every day is an opportunity to make a difference in their lives.
Lorraine Thomas is author of ‘Super Coach Arty Vs. The Shadow – Taking the Fear out of Failure’ (Jessica Kingsley Publishers), Chief Executive of The Parent Coaching Academy(www.theparentcoachingacademy.com) and international conference speaker on resilience, delivering seminars to education leaders, parents and children.