So your teenager takes themselves off, unprompted, to revise on their own? Firstly, don’t brag! Secondly, don’t think your involvement is not needed or unwelcome (no matter what they say, shout, throw at the door...!). It can be incredibly hard to know what we can do to support them without interrupting, to help without getting in the way. A good start is to ask them! Now, I don’t mean ask them in the middle of a revision session or as soon as they have finished one. Pick a relaxed time (yes, Year 11s, I know you feel there’s no such thing right now) such as after dinner or on your way out at the weekend and just ask if they can think of anything you can do to support them. Personally I would avoid the word ‘help’ as this will almost inevitably bring a ‘no’ response. More often than not, the answer will be ‘no’ anyway, so read on for our tips on how you can help behind the scenes.
- Help them have small breaks. Now, this is not how it sounds. If you go into their room and start chatting, or insisting they stop for a while, things will most likely get ugly! One way you can do it is to simply take them in a drink or snack every hour or so and return later to collect their pots. Try saying “When you’ve got a minute,” or “When you’ve finished that paragraph,” and then waiting for them to look up, then just give them some innocuous information like ‘granny just called’ or ‘I’m off to the shops’ rather than asking them how it’s going or starting a long conversation.
- Tell them when they need to take a long break. “I need you to stop at four,” or “You need to be down for dinner at six,” is a stronger way to do this than, “When are you stopping?” Think non-negotiable! Make sure there is something to do in this break: dinner, soap opera, chat about the day, trip to the shops-rather than leaving them to it. The brain needs a distraction in order to switch off, it will not necessarily do so naturally. For example, I advise parents to request hot chocolate time, for example, every night before bed, just to force their brains to slow down, if only for five minutes.
- Try, as best you can, to track the progress being made. It is so easy for focussed students to isolate themselves to the point they do not appreciate what they have achieved so far. I remember clearly feeling that I had put loads of work in but didn’t feel I had made any headway, and this is a comment I still get from my students now. When they emerge from a revision session, try to find out what they’ve been revising - subject and topic - and write it, along with the date and perhaps am/pm on a post-it (other makes are available…). If you’re mega-organised you could even have different colours for different subjects! Then take the post-its and put them up somewhere prominent so your child can see the build-up of their work and start to feel they are achieving something.
- Do all the obvious things! I’m sure you’ve heard all this before. Make sure they take time out to relax (exercise and sleep are as important as revision). Make sure students maintain a social life and do not become reclusive. Healthy eating helps mind, body and spirit….the list probably seems endless, and duplicated ad nauseam. This is, however, because all these things are important!
- You may need to muster every ounce of patience and understanding you can. No matter whether a student struggles with work and exams, or is driven and ambitious, exams and revision will be stressful and you, as the closest person, may well have to bear the brunt. When talking to parents, I can’t help but hark back to my own teenage years. Despite me being a confident learner and already achieving a decent level of work, in the final few weeks before my maths GCSE exam, my mum (a very experienced and proficient teacher) tried to help me and had to endure me slamming doors, swearing, throwing things (no, I’m not proud of that and yes, I have apologised in the twenty years since) and she did so with grace and aplomb, never once rising to it and telling me throughout that she loved me. I realise now that I was both trying to release the stress and trying to get her to leave me alone, and I will forever be grateful that she stood firm with me.
No matter how useless you feel on the side lines, and no matter how far removed you feel from the situation, you can stay involved and supportive without being intrusive. Good luck!
By Emma Lomas, Principal, MagiKats Guildford, Cobham & Mytchett