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Joe’s Jotter: Are you helping or hindering your child at Exam Time?

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Joe’s Jotter: Are you helping or hindering your child at Exam Time?


Joe’s Jotter: Are you helping or hindering your child at Exam Time?
Positive reinforcement is a super way to motivate your child as exams approach.  I would be of the school of thought that a child has to do something good before being praised and wouldn’t be a massive fan of the ‘everyone gets a medal’ mentality i.e. Praise for the sake of praise. However, I have seen the confidence of many students’ flourish after the smallest remark from an adult and I am a firm believer in positively reinforcing a person after they do something good; you then see them using this confidence to take on new challenges and further educational and developmental successes often follow. Reinforcing your child’s confidence as a reward is an excellent way of boosting their self-belief.

Encourage their strengths by looking at school reports and notes sent home. Give them praise for the subjects they have excelled in recently, making this the focus of your attention, rather than their shortcomings. Remind them of past skills enhanced and achievements obtained from specific subjects.  If there is a subject that they show a skill or interest in, encourage and praise them on it, as it might end up being their career path. Approaching the months prior to the exams is not the time to hound them about studying, even if they haven’t been doing enough up to that point. Do remember that the strengths you used to navigate the exams all those years ago could be different to what your child draws on now.

Encourage learning in terms of their weaker subjects. If you encourage your child’s love of learning, their grades should start to pick up. If you are concerned about their performance in a certain area, you could gently try to work at home with them on it. This doesn’t mean forcing them to do extra work, but rather, guide them during homework to help them learn more about the subject. Practical steps like introducing the subject into everyday life can really enrich your child’s education and development. If you are unable to help them, encourage them to either collaborate with their friends or seek advice from their teacher. Always remember that if they understand the basics of any topic, they usually can build on this knowledge themselves. You, as their parent, need to believe that you can convey these basics to them.

Encourage ownership will allow your child to have a positive association with education. It is better to educate your child to be happy than successful, so sometimes letting them make their own decisions can be a positive. If their education is motivated by adults pressuring them or a fear of failure, it creates an unhealthy, negative vibe around learning, which may lead to long term problems. I believe that a parent needs to let their secondary school child make many of their own choices. For example, this might be choosing whether to do Transition Year or selecting their own subjects prior to commencing both first and fifth year.

Parenting on Exam Days

Your first job as a parent around exam time is to maintain normality, so try to preserve the habits and timings that you have developed at home during term time, right up until the end of the exams. This will help your child maintain their own habits and patterns; something teenagers crave. Daily patterns we engage in include rising, eating, leisure time, and sleeping. Routine, pattern, and consistency will help maintain balance for your child on exam days and allow them to flourish.

You should keep perspective and be realistic for your child, advising them to do so also. I have seen some situations where students lock themselves in their rooms on an almost twenty-hour study buzz. If you are a parent in that situation, I strongly advocate that you encourage your child to build breaks into a balanced lifestyle study timetable. You are the expert on your own child and will know if the volume of study they are taking on is affecting them personally. Above all, ensure they are getting at least eight hours sleep a night on exam days. If they are struggling to sleep, you may consider a magnesium supplement from the health store, which helps calm the nervous system.

Many teenagers have issues contextualising situations and struggle to see the bigger picture, so emphasis on them doing their best at any given moment will go a long way. You may feel helpless if they don’t open up to you but try and understand their motivation and what’s in it for them to work really hard. Ask them what they want out of it and speak with them about their hopes and goals, in order to get a better understanding of the situation.

Parenting during exam time can be as stressful for a parent as the student themselves. I hope some of the advice in this article will help you get through this tough period. Your main job as a parent around exam time is to maintain normality.

I would advise you to keep the habits and timings that your child has developed during term time. An exam student finishes school earlier than other students and this can throw them off a bit, as suddenly they are at home all the time and have to plan their day there. A student who makes this transition well will settle into good study and revision habits quickly.

You can help your child maintain their own little habits and patterns that teenagers crave. Patterns of the day include rising, meals, leisure, and sleep times. Sleeping in or staying up late tends to mess up the body clock a little and affect a student’s ability to retain Information. Day by day during the exams, your child will need renewed encouragement from you, which they can draw strength from. It is important to keep perspective and be realistic for your child, advising them to do so also.

Practical Support You Can Offer

Many teenagers have issues with contextualising situations and not being able to see the bigger picture. Emphasis on them doing their best will go a long way.  Here are some practical elements that you might consider near exam time:
  • Offer support and encouragement
  • You may feel helpless as your child may not open up to you:
    • Understand your child’s motivation and what’s in it for them to work really hard
    • Ask them what they want out of it
    • Speak with them about their goals and motivation to do well
  • Try and be more of a coach than a parent
  • Get them to tell you what help and support they need, not the other way around
  • Sit down with them and see what their plan is. Ask them can you help in any way
  • Set up a quiet comfortable environment for study
    • If possible, setup a study area outside their bedroom so that the anxiety and stress of studying is not associated with sleep etc
    • Ensure the study and relaxation areas are clearly demarked
  • Try and ensure that all distractions and noise in the home are kept to a minimum especially when your son/daughter is revising or sleeping
  • Making your child their favourite dinner and dessert is a brilliant way of keeping spirits high and supporting them around exam time
  • Encourage your child to take breaks from their study timetable and bring them to their friends or to some leisure activity if you can
  • Do one fun thing with them the weekend after their first set of exams. Week two of the exams tends to be quite long and tiring and any little stress relief at that point is very welcome
  • Tell them regularly “I’m so proud of you” and “you are working so well”
  • Give them belief in themselves
  • Keep your expectations realistic
  • Look out for effort and find a way to give them some praise, either direct or indirect
  • Encourage exercise and plenty of sleep
  • Remind them that this exam will not determine their life
  • Help them to get the study-leisure balance correct 
  • Contact me via the below channels if I can help you in any way. Joe
‘A lot can happen in school in a week.’
More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for Sept 2024 for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Higher Students) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students can be found via the below links:
Learn more about...ACE Maths Tuition 2024
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Joe McCormack
85 Canterbrook, Trim Road,
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Navan, Co. Meath C15AK0D

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