The matric exams are just around the corner, and this is, as often as not, an equally stressful time for parents. As they bear witness to their child navigating through this challenging finale to school life, parents can feel uncertain of their role and ambivalent about whether they should lean in or back off. Over the coming weeks, parents can be triggered by memories of their past exam experiences or consumed by their hopes and fears for their child.
Counselling Psychologist and Head of Student Service at SACAP (the South African College of Applied Psychology), Jogini Packery says, “Parents have a pivotal role to play, but that may not be what you think it is. What is crucial to keep in mind is that your role is to empower and enable their best possible performance. You are not the driver, but the support team. As parents we often feel like we always need to have the answers and are responsible for directing the action. When it comes to matric exams though, we have to find our ways to let our children own their process, even if they approach it very differently from how we would do it. While matric exams are the end of school days, this transition represents the beginning of a new phase in your child’s life. Matric exams are a trial of life, and your child can get through it with increased self-awareness and confidence that they can bring to bear as they forge on to become a young adult.”
Effective communication wins the day
At the root of surviving the matric experience, and hopefully giving it wings, is open communication. It works best if parents can ask how their child wants to be supported, instead of assuming and deciding for them. Aim to do more listening than talking and try asking coaching questions instead of dispensing advice.
Parents of this digital-native generation can expect that the way their child approaches their studies may be quite different to how they tackled their own exam preparation. Sometimes, parents can be too quick to jump in with advice drawn from their own experiences when this may not be relevant. Parents need to be aware of their impact and know when to pull back so that they don’t contribute to their child’s stress.
Setting the scene
Jogini says, “There’s actually a lot that parents can do to promote conducive conditions for their child to study well and perform optimally in the exams. They can champion their child’s self-care by facilitating home life so that they can eat healthily, keep physically active and get sufficient sleep. They can make it clear that they are there for support, open to talking through anxieties and roadblocks – or helping their child access professional support if that’s necessary.”
Promoting agility and resilience
Having a positive attitude towards matric studies and exams is not about pretending it’s all going to easy. There are inevitably going to be some rough times, no matter how thoughtfully parents are maintaining a conducive environment and good communications. Jogini explains that we all have innate coping strategies that help us feel better in tough moments, but not all coping strategies return us quickly to a balanced state. Some coping strategies can lead us to being distracted or avoidant at a time when your child needs to get back on track as quickly as possible.
Jogini says, “Parents can provide essential support in helping their child to constantly reevaluate what is working for them and what is not. Mental agility and flexibility are at the core of resilience. If something that your child is doing is not serving their purpose, then you can encourage them to set healthy boundaries and rewards. For instance, taking a break to watch a favourite programme can help reset emotionally, but binge-watching a whole series can lead them into deeper stress. The reward is important, and so is the boundary.”
Parents also have an important role to play in taking action if their child experiences distress, anxiety, burn-out or depression that require more help than they alone can provide. Reaching out to a support system or getting professional help is an important step to take if the stress has tipped over into too much stress.
Jogini concludes, “There’s always a knife-edge atmosphere to the matric exams. It’s important to manage the expectations, our own and our child’s. Getting through the next weeks doesn’t have to be hell. The challenge itself is a valuable learning and developing experience. Agility, thoughtfulness, kindness and care will help to strengthen both parent and child.”
For more tips and support around mental health, studying, diet and exercise, view the recent Study Student Hacks and Parents’ Guide to Matric Support 2021 webinars here: www.youtube.com/user/TheSACAP
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