Nail those ex­ams!

Ex­perts of­fer par­ents ad­vice on how to ap­proach this dif­fi­cult time of year with as lit­tle stress as pos­si­ble

YOU (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - BY NICI DE WET

THE end-of-year ex­ams are loom­ing and while it’s your chil­dren who’ll be writ­ing them, this can be quite a stress­ful time for par­ents too. You might be deal­ing with a child who’s eas­ily dis­tracted or one who’s so anx­ious about tests they feel com­pletely over­whelmed.

You might have one of those kids who has zero mo­ti­va­tion to study or is so re­laxed about writ­ing an exam they see no point in hit­ting the books at all.

We asked ex­perts about the most com­mon is­sues par­ents face at exam time and tips on how to deal with them.


Don’t get mad – get prac­ti­cal, says Cape Town-based psy­chol­o­gist Deb­bie Lopes. It’s pos­si­ble your child just doesn’t know where to start.

“Try to help them find prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions rather than get an­gry,” she ad­vises. Help them draw up a timetable.

“This is an es­pe­cially good idea if kids have a ten­dency to pro­cras­ti­nate,” she says. “If you have a timetable show­ing all the work to be cov­ered over a num­ber of days be­fore the ex­ams be­gin, then sud­denly the ex­ams aren’t so far off and per­haps there’ll be a greater sense of ur­gency to start work­ing.”

You should also ask your child if they need help so you can un­der­stand what it is they’re strug­gling with, says Cape Town-based ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­o­gist Si­mona Maraschin.

“If they’re strug­gling to find ways to study ef­fec­tively, in­ves­ti­gate var­i­ous study meth­ods or look for study skills cour­ses in your area.”

Nag­ging is a no-no. “This is of­ten a re­sult of the par­ent’s anx­i­ety but it’s not help­ful to the child,” says Cape Town­based so­cial worker Talya Res­sel.

“It only puts more pres­sure on them or makes them more re­sis­tant. Once you’ve given them the sup­port they need you should take a step back and let them fly.”

Also keep in mind some kids who are la­belled un­mo­ti­vated or lazy might have an un­di­ag­nosed prob­lem such as ADHD, de­pres­sion or a learn­ing dif­fi­culty. If you think this might be the case, get help from a rel­e­vant pro­fes­sional.


For some kids the pres­sure to per­form can leave them feel­ing over­whelmed and anx­ious. They might even avoid study­ing be­cause of it.

What you need to do is help your child man­age their stress and anx­i­ety. “You’ll be help­ing them mas­ter im­por­tant cop­ing tools for life, and that’s far more valu­able than any math­e­mat­ics equa­tion or his­tory date,” Res­sel says.

“When kids are anx­ious it’s easy for them to get stuck in a neg­a­tive pat­tern of think­ing such as ‘I’ll never pass this exam’ or ‘I haven’t stud­ied enough’.”

It’s not help­ful to dis­miss their con­cerns by say­ing ev­ery­thing will be fine – sim­ply lis­ten to them and ac­knowl­edge how dif­fi­cult things might feel at that mo­ment.

“Then re­mind them it won’t al­ways feel like this and you’re there for them no mat­ter what,” she says.

“It can also help re­duce your anx­i­ety to re­mem­ber your child’s life isn’t solely de­fined by these ex­ams. While ex­ams are im­por­tant, they’re not the be all and end all and your child’s re­sults aren’t the only re­flec­tion of their abil­i­ties,” she adds.

“Let them know you love them no mat­ter what their re­sults are and that you can see they’re do­ing their best,” Maraschin says.

For those anx­ious about achiev­ing top marks, ask them what’s the worst that could hap­pen if they don’t get that mark, Lopes says. “Try to re­duce the fear. Ask them what mark they’d be sat­is­fied with – this makes it more real than a vague ‘top’ mark.”

Re­mind them to take breaks and if you can, take breaks with them. “Go for a walk with them or take them to do some­thing ac­tive or fun,” Maraschin says.

“And don’t al­low them to study late into the night. They need to get enough sleep.”

Don’t over­re­act if your child doesn’t know their work, Lopes adds. Re­mem­ber, stress and anx­i­ety can af­fect memo- ry and re­ten­tion. “Calmly en­cour­age them to keep go­ing and help them with con­cepts they don’t un­der­stand.” A sim­ple hug can go a long way to re­as­sure them.


Some kids are sim­ply more eas­ily dis­tracted than oth­ers, but where your child stud­ies and what’s around them is of vi­tal im­por­tance.

Cell­phones, TV and com­put­ers are all dis­trac­tions that should be dis­cour­aged. “Some kids find they’re more dis­tracted at home be­cause of the TV or games there and pre­fer to work in a li­brary,” Maraschin says. “Some schools keep their li­braries open dur­ing ex­ams and chil­dren can use these fa­cil­i­ties.”

“It’s im­por­tant that wher­ever your child chooses to study, it’s a place that’s com­fort­able but also one that al­lows for max­i­mum fo­cus and at­ten­tion,” Lopes says.

A desk is al­ways a good op­tion. “Sit­ting at a desk keeps their core mus­cles en­gaged and this helps keep them awake,” Maraschin says.

Kids shouldn’t study on their bed as it can make them sleepy.

Some chil­dren work well with back­ground mu­sic or white noise but these forms of ad­di­tional stim­uli should be used only by chil­dren who aren’t eas­ily dis­tracted.

“As a par­ent you need to mon­i­tor how your child stud­ies,” she adds.

“Some might spend hours in a quiet room but have done very lit­tle while an­other child might play mu­sic and take fre­quent breaks but is able to ac­com­plish more.”


When it comes to kids study­ing to­gether, ex­perts agree – it all de­pends on the child and on hav­ing the right study part­ner.

“Some kids are mo­ti­vated when work­ing with a study buddy,” says ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­o­gist Deb­bie Lopes. “They set goals to­gether about what they want to cover, test each other, ex­plain con­cepts and share ideas. But for oth­ers it can be a dis­trac­tion if it’s more about the so­cial as­pect than the study­ing.”

Whether study dates work is very much about your child’s per­son­al­ity and level of mo­ti­va­tion and how well they can work with the friend in ques­tion.

When your child has a study date en­sure they set goals to­gether, such as how much work they want to cover, how of­ten study breaks will be taken and what these will en­tail.

“They also need to be able to help each other,” Lopes says. “It doesn’t work if one child is al­ways tu­tor­ing the other. They both need to be chal­lenged.”

This type of study­ing might work best with au­di­tory learn­ers – those who take in and re­tain in­for­ma­tion best when it’s pre­sented through sound and speech – as they “can have a dis­cus­sion about the work as op­posed to just writ­ing notes”, adds ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­o­gist Si­mona Maraschin.

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