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”
Daniel Merza is a student wellbeing and leadership specialist, award-winning international speaker, and author.