Lifestyle / Family

Farrah Francis
Lifestyle Managing Editor
5 minute read
26 Oct 2021
12:17 pm

How to be supportive during your teen’s matric exams

Farrah Francis

Experts advise parents to manage their stress and emotions at this stressful time for their matric teens.

Picture: iStock

Government schools commence with the National Senior Certificate or matric examinations on Wednesday, 27 October.

Naturally, it is a stressful time for both teens and parents intensified by the fact that the futures of children are riding on these nation wide examinations.

Experts advise parents to be manage their stress and emotions at this time so that they can appropriately support their child in reaching their potential in a highly charged circumstance.

Stay calm when your kids write matric

Dr Jaclyn Lotter, academic dean at the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP), says: “It is really important for us, as parents to recognise that our children are highly reactive to our emotions. At this time of increased stress, we want to be as calm, confident and contained as possible; as a role model, and because they are very sensitive to our emotions. If we go into a state of high anxiety because of the exams, they will feed off that stress, which is counter-productive to the outcomes we want.”

Self reflect as parents

“As parents, we have to make sure that our stress doesn’t become their stress. While we are currently advising matric students to maintain balance and manage stress, exactly the same applies to parents. We also need to self-reflect, adjust our perspectives and focus on engaging in healthy activities and interventions that support our balance,” she adds.

ALSO READ: Matric exams kick off this week

Show your matric student support

As Jaclyn points out: “As much as we want the best for our children and will do just about anything to ensure this, these are their exams. It’s our children’s unique matric experience and their performance is entirely in their own hands. You cannot write these exams for them; you cannot secure any kind of pass for them and you cannot achieve any distinctions on their behalf.

“The critical role that you have to play is being their main supporter. The key to that is taking an interest, being available to them, keeping the lines of communication always open and being encouraging, rather than critical.  It is really important to give our children the space and responsibility to set their own goals for their matric exams, to achieve these for themselves and their future.”

Are you a motivational parent?

Having someone believe and champion you is a powerful, confidence-boosting and motivating force for good. While fear can effectively provoke short-term action to achieve a goal, it also evokes stress and anxiety which impact negatively on performance, especially over the long term.

On the other hand, motivation based on good sense and warm encouragement is a more sustainable way of getting through the inevitable good and bad days that matric exams present.

Claudia Raats, research psychologist and academic programme developer at SACAP says: “We need to be aware that our matric children are likely to have some ‘bad’ days over the course of the exams. It is likely that they will not always come home to report that they have written a good exam. They may well come home despondent.

“It is important for parents to be aware of not being reactive to this, and to rather normalise this feeling for them. It can help a lot if you engage in a motivational conversation where you help them accept the reality of their bad day and help them put this into perspective so that they can focus with confidence on their next exam challenge.”

Should home and family life change to support a child writing matric?

Lotter says: “Drastic changes probably won’t be helpful. As parents, we will want to maintain as much of our constructive routine and consistency as possible. It might be necessary to make some adjustments to ensure that the home is as conducive as possible to studying.

“We might want to find ways to keep noisy younger siblings at bay, or minimise the time our matric student is expected to spend on household chores and responsibilities so they can keep their focus on studying and well-being.

“And, that’s an important point. As their supporter-in-chief, you can really play an important role in helping your child maintain balance. They cannot spend all their time studying. Sitting non-stop in front of your books does not equate to better results. They still need their time for exercise, sufficient sleep and healthy eating; as well as reasonable time for socialising, relaxation and the enjoyment of life that ensures their wellbeing”.

Raats agrees. The home needs to temporarily adapt to being an environment conducive to focused study. This doesn’t have to be radical:

  • A quiet, private and comfortable space to study
  • Fewer chores and responsibilities may be necessary
  • Healthy meals and snacks

Let your child lead the way

“You you might well find that your child can devise the optimum study plan all by themselves, after all, they are young adults now,” adds Raats.

“From time to time, during the matric exam experience, you might find yourself gently encouraging your teen to resume studying after a break, but constant nagging and checking up on them is counter-productive. It only sends the message that we don’t have confidence they can do this for themselves.”

Raats adds: “Keep communication open and supportive. Trust that your child knows best how to prepare for the exams. Have conversations about their study plans, content covered and the importance of study breaks as well as study sessions. You might be surprised and delighted by the sense of responsibility and autonomy that your child displays.”

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Article updated 26 October 2021