Exams are a big part of life for our Secondary School students and particularly for our Year 12 girls as they prepare for their mock exams. What can parents do to help their daughters successfully negotiate these testing times at school? Secondary School Psychologist Jane Clarke offers her advice on supporting your daughter.
Reframing exam stress
How we talk about exams is important. Despite our best intentions, we often may actually encourage young people to be fearful of exams rather than see them as a challenge they can meet successfully. It can be helpful for your daughter to know that some stress is needed to enable her to perform at her best. If we can talk about those butterflies in the stomach and clammy hands as being normal and part of preparing for the challenge ahead it can put a very different perspective on those pre-exam nerves. Helping her believe she has the inner resources to meet the challenge ahead can be as important as all those hours studying.
The basics are important!
Good food, good sleep, time to study and time to rest are all so important in preparing for exams. It’s tempting for a young person to think that 24/7 study at their desk is needed and expected during exam time. Taking time out to recharge and replenish energy, concentration and motivation can actually help her work far more efficiently and effectively. Maybe remind her about the law of diminishing returns to make it worthwhile taking a break to recharge. What to do during a break? Something completely different from reading and writing, something active, something social, with minimal time checking social media is a good place to start.
Balance, balance, balance
Sometimes keeping a balanced perspective during exam periods can be challenging. During these times, here are some things Mum and Dad can do:
- help her recognise when she is ‘catastrophising’ (and we all do it), i.e. thinking a setback is the worst disaster that could possibly happen
- help her reality check and reframe the situation. Sometimes when we feel overwhelmed we can distort the reality of the situation and focus only on the negatives
- encourage her to treat herself kindly, “what would you say to a friend who was experiencing this?”
Help her problem solve
What about when things go wrong? Although we’d all rather things went well, sometimes preparing for exams doesn’t always go smoothly. As distressing as this can be, it certainly provides a good opportunity to exercise problem solving muscles. When things go wrong and she’s feeling overwhelmed, parents can help by:
- showing empathy for her difficulties without trying to fix the situation
- allow her to experience the difficult emotions that show up
- help her be clear about what the problem is (even if you have your own ideas)
- support her decisions, her actions and be part of her solution
- if needed, assist her with the parts she’s not able to do herself
Ultimately, we want our daughters to feel a sense of competence and self-efficacy in their lives, so helping her problem solve her way through a difficult situation successfully can be an important step towards this.
Mind, heart, body and spirit: help her take a long view
In ten years, will she remember these exams? Probably not. They will be just one event amongst so many in her life. Encourage her to take a long view and focus on her values, what she wants to achieve in her life both academically and not, the experiences she’d like to have, the whole person she’d like to become.
Perhaps the most important message that parents can give their daughters around exam time is that exams are only one component of their final results and that in the end, exam results will never define the person that she is and will become.