How can parents help their teenage children to cope better in the build up to the end of year exams?
In my psychology practice I am seeing a number of teenagers at the moment who are starting to feel the pressure of looming end of year exams. One of my clients, who is in Grade 12, routinely stays up till 2.30 in the morning so that she can feel adequately prepared for the next day of school! Her parents are at their wits’ end because they feel their efforts to help their daughter have fallen on deaf ears.
Relationships between parents and their teenagers can come under serious strain during exam preparation time, especially for those with kids in Grade 11 and 12. Schools and teachers tend to place a great deal of pressure and high expectations of their learners to do well, and in teenagers who are already internally driven to do well, the stress can become overwhelming and debilitating.
How can parents be of help to their children during this time?
1. Don’t get triggered by your teenager’s behaviour and attitude.
Teenagers are at a developmental stage where their brains are not yet fully developed and they are subject to hormonal surges and changes. They are thus often irrational, selfish, and idealistic – add to this the considerable stress of the upcoming exams and you have an extremely volatile personality to deal with! Try to be understanding and empathic, even though this may be extremely difficult! (You will probably need to find ways of dealing positively with your own stress levels – perhaps through exercise, talking to friends, yoga or meditation – and maybe all of these!).
2. Use your child as a consultant – listen to what your child has to say in terms of how you can be of help.
You may feel you are trying your best to help your teenager, but perhaps they may have their own ideas of how you can be of help. If you are tending to nag them about certain things, like getting to bed on time, your child may be perceiving this as adding to his/her stress. Your child may, in fact, come up with novel ways in which you can be a significant support.
3. Think strategically!
If your efforts in the past have not been met with a positive response by your teen, try something new. Advertising companies are very aware that if their campaigns don’t bear fruit, they will need to find another angle. As parents, we are also in the business of persuasion – and parenting to teenagers is definitely an example of a tough sell!
4. Listen to yourself speak.
We need to be constantly aware of how we say things and the vocabulary we use as emtionally loaded words are easily able to trigger our unconscious. Words and phrases such as “must”, “should”, “have-to”, “always” and “never” can cause instant feelings of anxiety, stress, and panic in ourselves and also in the person we are speaking to (see more about this in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, CBT).
As our unconcious minds do not process negatives, for example “don’t panic”, it is better to state ideas as a positive such as “remain calm” and suggest that your teenager “take things one step at a time”.
In future posts, I will return to this discussion.
Please contact me with any comments or queries.