Across South African households, hundreds of thousands of school and university students are studying for their mid-year assessments. Most parents will agree that this is a very challenging time, not only for the students but also for the parents and guardians themselves, who want to support their child as best they can to perform optimally, but who don’t always know how best to do so without erring on the helicoptering side of the equation.
“Given our current circumstances in South Africa, households are already under immense pressure, which means parents and guardians have even less bandwidth than before when assisting their children. A casual glance at parenting groups on social media platforms attests to the various challenges parents face regarding providing the proper support and motivation without risking increased tensions,” says Dr Linda Meyer, MD of The Independent Institute of Education’s Rosebank College.
She says the first – and most important – thing for parents to do, is to ensure they manage their emotions and expectations before stepping in to provide support.
“Parents should ensure that they are calm and positioned to be a pillar of support rather than presenting as another challenge for the child to overcome. One way to achieve a more even emotional keel is to keep the educational journey in perspective. Because while the heat is on at the moment, a child’s education is indeed a journey, and there is always room to grow, develop and improve.
“Cultivate an understanding that even though the stakes are high, particularly for students in senior high school, there will always be avenues open for moving forward. Achieving this more balanced understanding will help parents not to catastrophise and pre-empt outcomes or worst-case scenarios, but to rather assist their child calmly with both the logistical and holistic support they need at this time,” Dr Meyer says.
She says parents can help create the optimal study experience in the following weeks by way of the next:
- Time Management
Be on top of the student’s assessment schedule and help them devise a realistic study plan. If everyone is on the same page regarding what needs to be revised by when both student and parent are less likely to get anxious about the passing of time. It is not helpful to keep reminding the student to study if there isn’t a solid plan in place.
- Mock Papers
Assist children by sourcing mock papers and replicating an exam environment at home for paper writing practice. Emphasise that the exercise aims to practise the art of writing under specific circumstances and that reviewing the results of the mock home exam provides an opportunity to identify areas that need further attention. Take away the pressure that the aim is to achieve top marks at home.
- Be available for assistance
Offer support when your child needs help understanding a concept, reviewing material, or organising their study plan. However, encourage independent problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
- Limit excessive screen time
Recognise that screen time is often an avoidance mechanism that gives rise to prolonged procrastination. Set clear boundaries to ensure technology is used as a helpful tool or reward rather than a distraction and does not negatively impact the agreed-upon study schedule.
Create, as far as possible, a peaceful and supportive environment. Given the demands, challenges and high stakes associated with exams, that is not always easy, but it remains a goal worth striving for. Students can focus and apply themselves better when additional anxiety and stress are reduced, and they know they are supported.
- Encourage a Balanced Routine
Help your child establish a balanced routine that includes sufficient time for studying breaks, physical activity, and rest. A well-planned schedule can reduce stress and improve productivity.
- The Fundamentals
Parents should ensure their children get enough sleep, outside time and exercise, and opt for healthy foods as far as possible. Try to steer them away from a strategy of late-night or early-morning cram sessions fuelled by energy drinks and other stimulants.
- Foster Open Communication
Create an atmosphere where your child feels comfortable discussing their concerns, challenges, and progress. Please encourage them to ask for help when needed and be an empathetic listener. Be willing to listen without judgment or jumping in to solve the problem when a child wants to talk about their fears, concerns, and anxiety. If the student shows signs of frustration, remind them to take a break and join them to sit outside or go for a walk.
- Offer Positive Reinforcement
Recognise and appreciate your child’s efforts, progress, and achievements. Positive reinforcement can boost their motivation and self-confidence.
“Parents should remember that every child is unique and that adapting the above guidelines to suit their child’s needs and learning style is essential. Supporting them emotionally and creating a positive environment will help them navigate exam time more effectively,” says Dr Meyer.
“While it’s important to emphasise the significance of exams, avoid putting undue pressure on your child, as unrealistic expectations and sustained criticism and conflict around studies can lead to increased anxiety and decreased performance. And instead of focusing only on outcomes and achievements, emphasise the value of learning, personal growth, and resilience.”