Playing a supporting role
guardians and adults, in a supporting role to students outside school
or college, can be bewildered about their role and the needs of
students during this time. Adults want to be supportive and encouraging
towards students, they want to be realistic about the student’s ability
and potential and above all they do not want to pressurise them beyond
their academic capacity and their psychological strength to cope.
Equally they do not want to neglect their duty in a way that would
affect the student’s performance or fail to bring out their full
potential. So it’s a question of striking a balance between being
over-involved and staying out of the way completely.
Thankfully there are some things that all parents and guardians can do to relieve the stress and anxiety that is part and parcel of exam time:
• Kindness, empathy and a listening ear
Mostparents nowadays have had the experience of sitting some type of formal exam so they can relate to the feelings of the student and empathise with them. What they need is someone who will listen to them without judging, this is not the time for: ‘If only… or ‘I told you so…’. Avoid trying to cheer them up or minimising their problems. Good active listening is all you can do; giving them your full attention and taking the time out to listen.
• Knowing your child and being aware of behavioural changes
This is the time to recognise signs of anxiety, apathy and even depression, watch out for changes in eating or sleeping patterns, mood changes ranging from being withdrawn and miserable to being angry and permanently irritable. These are signs of difficulty in coping which parents need to keep an eye on, especially if it is out of character or exaggerated.
• Assisting with planning and time management
Some students become so anxious that they behave like headless chickens switching from one task to another, unable to settle down to a period of study and unable to concentrate. They may need your help to re-focus. Try to get them to relax and maybe do some breathing exercise with them. Also remind them of their past successes and get them to focus on their strengths rather than weaknesses.
• Students need a healthy balanced diet
Parents can really support the student by providing regular, healthy meals during this time. A good breakfast is essential, providing healthy snacks which are low in fat and sugar during the day and making sure that they have a good dinner in the early evening. It is also a good idea to eat at least one meal a day with your child as it gives them an opportunity to share anxieties or to have a complete distraction from study.
• Exercise and relaxation are essential Developing a routine of 20 minutes regular exercise, whatever they enjoy, everyday should be high on a parent’s priority list. Relaxation, taking time out to talk to friends, enjoying a relaxing bath, doing breathing or other relaxation exercise should all be encouraged by parents. Also ensure they have a good night’s sleep.
Finally, exams like the Leaving Certificate are an important mile stone in a person’s life and we need to recognise the efforts, pain, sweat and tears which are expended in the process. However, parents and guardians need to remind those sitting exams that we live in an age of opportunity, with multiple career paths and many different ways to get to a satisfying career. So parents and guardians, for the next few weeks, stay in the right hand corner with the sponge and the towel to hand!
*Myra Beirne Walshe is the Mental Health Ireland Development Officer for Mayo/Roscommon and she works to promote the aims of the national organisation which are to promote positive mental health and to advocate for people with mental illness. Mental Health Ireland is the largest national body promoting positive mental health and advocating on behalf of people with mental health issues nationally, and locally through over 90 affiliated local Mental Health Associations throughout Ireland. MHI has a promotional programme for second level students, operated in 800 schools around Ireland. The Mental Health Association in Mayo can be contacted through Kathleen McHale, Secretary, at 094 9023350 or Myra Beirne Walshe at 0879671063. All the members of the local associations work on a voluntary basis.