In “normal” circumstances, parenting is a rollercoaster ride and Year 12 is a pretty stressful year for most students across Australia, especially at this time of the year. The pressure to perform, the fear of failure, a mountainous study load and waves of future uncertainty represent some of the stressors ordinarily experienced.But 2020 has been far from normal with Covid-19, remote learning, lockdown, public health fears, uncertainty around the calculation of ATAR, and the gut wrenching restrictions on the graduation and the school formal. (formal restrictions now eased in NSW), collectively creating an extraordinary year.
Stress is a normal part of life and essential for building resilience. It cannot be avoided, only managed. What can be avoided is distress.
So with less than 2 months to go till the finish line, what can you do as a parent to help your child manage stress and avoid distress heading into their final Year 12 exams?
Here are my top 5 tenacity tips for parents:
1. Tune in
Keep a constant eye out for signs of distress by monitoring your child’s day to day behaviour. Your child is likely to be distressed if they are constantly panicking, agitated, nervous, fatigued, nauseous, keeping distant, forgetting to eat, and losing sleep. Is your child feeling hopeful and confident, or dreadful and wanting to escape?
When speaking to teens, I use the analogy of the “5 Monkeys” to build their self awareness to the root causes of distress, anxiety and feeling down and depressed.
If your child has a meltdown, the best thing you can do in the moment is to just empathise with them. Acknowledge their stress and avoid attacking them. They might attack you, and if they do, just let them and don’t take it personally, because in fact, it’s not your child that’s attacking you. It’s stress that’s attacking you, and this has been caused by a variety of factors. Extreme stress on anyone leads to ugly manifestations, let alone with what teens are going through, so empathy and patience are pertinent.
By tuning in as a parent, you can use your observations as a segway into an open and honest conversation with your child to identify the root causes of their distress and potential meltdown.
2. Encourage & Empower
Behaviours that a distressed child manifests are a product of thoughts.
Open “non-confrontational” dialogue, to identify the root cause for your child’s distress (the monkey(s) on their back), providing a safe outlet for your child to express. Ask open-ended questions to facilitate meaningful conversation to cut to the core, just like peeling an opinion, and in turn, avoid being brushed off with one word responses.
Enzo, the emotional monkey, is renowned for causing major torment for Year 12 students at this time of the year by feeding fear – fear of failure, the unknown, rejection and missing out – and preventing students from becoming the leader of their life.
“Listen with ears of tolerance. See through eyes of compassion. Speak with the language of love”
Seek first to listen and understand, rather than to give advice. Make them feel heard and supported. The act of expression by your child is anxiety alleviating, because it allows them to get out of their own head and allows you to empower them by shifting their focus onto the things they can control and what’s possible.
What thoughts is your child carrying?
Perhaps it’s one of the following:
- There’s no way I can achieve that ATAR
- I don’t want to let my parents down.
- I have no idea what I want to do when I finish school and it’s freaking me out
- So what’s the point of trying? It’s not going to change anything. This year has already been messed up.
- I feel like giving up.
- I’m feeling so overwhelmed – too much work.
- It’s not fair – missing out of graduation, school formal.
These are just thoughts that foster a sense of powerlessness. Acknowledge and validate their concerns, but always have that transition in your response phrase that instills tenacity, optimism and calls for positive action, embedding words of affirmation and encouragement to show that you believe in them. For example: “I understand you might not believe you can achieve that ATAR, BUT if you try your best, you’ve got a much better chance than if you didn’t, and that’s all I expect from you. I’m proud of you regardless of your ATAR because you persevered and stayed the course.” This empowers them to adopt a champion’s mindset – encouraging them to be solution focussed and to turn their pain into gain – in strength, appreciation, perspective and resilience.
3. Focus on the Fruit
As a parent, your joy comes from seeing your child succeed and happy, but ask yourself, what does success look like?
It’s really important to establish a healthy definition of success, for the sake of your child’s wellbeing. Success is more than just an exam score, contrary to unhealthy societal and cultural messages projected toward young people over the years. An exam score should not and can never define a person’s worth.
Whilst exceptional test scores, trophies, ribbons, and recognition are all important motivating milestones to have when striving to be “successful”, true success is never about the result or destination, but more about growth gained along the journey. The fruit is in the pursuit, and the person your child becomes in striving for success, regardless of the result. It’s about learning how to dance in the current pandemic storm and develop skills and lessons that will last a lifetime
“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”
To focus on the fruits as a parent and alleviate any fears of failure your child might have, close the expectation gap by mutually agreeing on what’s realistic and achievable. Throw out the ‘ATAR’ expectation and replace it with the ‘personal best’ expectation.
Regardless of the final score attained, you will be proud of them for taking personal responsibility and becoming the leader of their life. It’s about maintaining personal integrity to finish what was started and sign off their schooling journey with personal pride.
A practical and powerful exercise to encourage your child to complete so they can taste the “fruit of success” in advance is to write a short letter of congratulations to themselves, as if they were a friend, dated in December 2020. In the letter, encourage them to express the feelings they’d like to have at that point in time, and also, to personally acknowledge the effort they put in to finish strong. It could be written, typed, or even voice recorded.
4. Support the Basics
Here are 5 super quick suggestions for you to help your child to keep a healthy mind and body to alleviate pressure and allow for optimal performance over the coming weeks for their final exams.
- Support healthy eating, adequate rest and exercise for boosting brain power and memory, as well as igniting those important happy chemicals such as endorphins and dopamine to feel good, because when we feel good, we usually do good.
- Encourage regular study breaks for your child to sustain energy and focus and avoid burnout.
- Encourage time-out for family fun and connectedness
- Help out in the background like cooking favourite meal or keeping the noise down at home
- Deliver daily doses of encouragement, reminding them that you will love and support them, no matter what.
5. Gift Perspective
Life is like a game of football. Some games you win, some games you lose. These are just events. Year 12 exams and corresponding results are just an event, a moment in time, and one of many tests and challenges that life will throw at your child, but as stated earlier, it’s the fruit gained in the pursuit that matters most.
As parents, it’s vital while your child is perhaps in the midst of pressure, overwhelm, uncertainty and insecurity, to give them the gift of perspective.
“It’s not what you look at that matters. It’s what you see.”
(Henry David Thoreau)
Here’s are three suggestions of things to say:
- Reinforce the fact that ATAR is not the be-all and end-all and there are pathways galore post-Year 12 to move confidentially and optimistically in the direction of their dreams.
- Whether your child needs a certain ATAR to get into their desired university course or not, remind them that educational institutions and employers will be looking at more than just academic results when it comes to choosing candidates. In recent times, some Australian universities have been admitting students without an ATAR. Universities, training providers and employers want to see someone who has successfully completed their final year, demonstrating commitment and character, especially amid a global pandemic, and can provide a CV that shows a track record of leadership, service and character.
- If your child does not get the score they need to get straight into university, let me know that universities do consider other factors, but also, TAFE, bridging courses and deferring to become a mature aged student are all options.
To conclude, while the ATAR might be an entry point to university, no ATAR will ever be as valuable as the tenacity muscle built by your child to finish what they started and maintain personal integrity. By staying the course and finishing strong now, they can leave feeling proud and accomplished and can count on that tenacity muscle in their future endeavours. Short term pain for long term gain. Continually remind your child that you will love them no matter what result they get, that they are a success in your eyes for applying themselves to the very end, and that there are abundant opportunities in life for them to live the life of their dreams, regardless of what final result they get.
Tenacity wins all races.