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It’s that time of the year when we feel the first flush of sunshine and the blossom springs forth on the trees. But exams are also galloping towards us. How can you help your children through this stressful time while juggling your own work demands as well?
The calendar brings the approaching exams nearer and nearer. We desperately want to be a full hands-on parent at this crucial stage in our offspring’s life, but work gets in the way and we’re limited in what we can do to help our children during revision and exam time.
A shocking new poll shows nine out of 10 parents don’t know how long their children should spend revising. The survey by Omega-3 supplement specialists Equazen eye q also showed nearly half of parents expect their child to seek help from them when it comes to revision. It’s a time when parents need to step up to the mark as well as encourage their youngsters.
But don’t feel guilty – there are many ways to ensure you give your child the best help possible even if you can’t get time off work.
Valerie Outram, from Parentline Plus, says: "A lot of working mothers feel guilty and anxious that they aren’t around more when exam time comes around – worrying that they can’t ensure that their children are doing the necessary revision. But they need to remember that they are actually setting the best example they could. Their children will have an understanding of the reality of the outside world where rewards don’t come without effort and hard work."
How to help
Plan a study timetable
"You can make a big difference by helping children plan their work because they have probably not yet developed any time management skills," says Outram. "They can get into a huge state of anxiety with the approaching deadlines, but you can help them plan a timetable where they can see that they are able to allocate a certain amount of time to each subject."
Ask them to be honest when it comes to acknowledging which are their weaker subjects and where the gaps need to be plugged. Have they got a full set of notes on each topic? If not, when can they factor in the best time to catch up?
Construct a revision timetable for each day and decide what type of revision it should be – note-taking, reading, brainstorming. Put it on the wall. But make sure the timetable is realistic – too much will lead to over-tiredness and nothing will sink into their brain.
Make yourself available
Now’s the time to call in some favours from family and friends. If you have a grandparent living nearby, ask them to come over a couple of times a week to make the evening meal for you all. Agree times beforehand and while the grandparent is beavering away in the kitchen, this gives you the chance to go over any subjects with your child and to check how they’re feeling and getting on. Use this time to spot if they’re getting too tense or being too laid-back.
How do you know they’re knuckling down?
You don’t want to appear heavy-handed by demanding to see what they’ve done every day. Don’t make it the first thing you mention when you get in the door. Have a general chit-chat first and then ask more detailed questions later. Offer to drive them to the library if they need more books or round to a friend’s if they need to borrow notes.
Keep their study zone quiet
This is also the time to ask relatives to take care of younger children, so that the student cramming in last-minute revision isn’t annoyed by kiddie noise and a telly blaring out. If you can’t arrange a play date for a younger child, explain why it’s important that their older sibling is given lots of space and peace and quiet. Find out where your child works best – a comfy armchair, or do they prefer to commandeer the kitchen table? Make that space available, well-lit and tidy all the time.
Do the basics
This may seem obvious, but make sure they have several pencils already sharpened, pens, rulers, protractors, etc. Old exam papers and sample questions are also necessary to note topics which come up frequently - try to anticipate possible questions.
Best revision know-how
Impress upon them they shouldn’t revise for more than 45 minutes in one go. After that, it’s time to take a break, have a snack and rest before taking up the cudgels again. Some children claim they revise best with music in the background. This may be a time when you have to be firm if you are thinking they’re taking in too much of the beat instead of equivalent fractions. And don’t be afraid to use the off button on the telly.
Take time to relax
Don’t give up on your child’s sporting activities or other interests. They need to have something to look forward to, and exercise is essential to their ability to do their academic work. A scheduled time spent with friends to relax will benefit them.
Ignore the state of their bedroom floor. It really doesn’t matter. Let them off their household chores. But do make sure they get enough sleep and eat well. A good breakfast is important.
Reassure them they can always take an exam again if they fail it. In the morning, send them off with a reminder that you love and support them whatever the result of the exam. When they arrive home, let them talk about it if they want to, but then encourage them to let it go. Let the odd temper tantrum go – acknowledge that everyone’s feeling a bit tetchy.
"As much as you’d like to sometimes, you can’t do it for them," says Outram. "You help them more when you stay calm, quietly reassuring them that they can do it, trusting them to do their best."
Treats when it’s all over?
Don’t offer presents or money as an incentive. You should encourage your children to work hard to pass exams for their own satisfaction. But do mark the end of exams with a celebration – a meal out or a bowling outing. Tell them you’re proud of them for all the effort and application they have displayed, and that you value them because you know they’ve done their best.