You’ve almost seen your child through 12 or so years of school; and now, over the next weeks, it’s going to be time for them prepare for, and write those final Matric exams. Matric is that bridge linking the closing of the protected child chapter of their life and their beginning as a young adult of the world. It’s a particular milestone that can heighten and intensify a parent’s hopes and fears; and impel that natural urge to want the very best for our children into overdrive.
However, experts advise that parents need to be aware of, and also manage their stress and strong emotions at this time so that they can appropriately support their child in reaching their potential in a highly charged circumstance.
Dr Jaclyn Lotter, Counselling Psychologist and Head of Academic Programmes at SACAP (The South African College of Applied Psychology) says, “It is really important for us, as parents to recognize 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. 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.”
Actually, what is your role as the parent of a Matric student?
This is an important question for parents to consider. 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 2017 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 in you, encourage you and even, 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 normalize 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?
Jaclyn 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 minimize 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 well-being.
Claudia 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, comfortable space to study
- Perhaps, less chores and responsibilities may be necessary
- Healthy meals and snacks
Your study plan for them, or theirs?
“We’re not going to be able to sit in the exam venue with our children when they write their exams. Our support is different. It needs to foster a sense of independence, confidence and self-reliance in our child. If you draw up the study plan, they don’t have ownership of it. By all means offer interest, support, gentle guidance and encouragement if that’s what your child wants from you. But you might well find that your child can devise the optimum study plan all by themselves, after all, they are young adults now. 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.”
Claudia 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.”
Of course, not all the tensions and stresses about the Matric exams are going to be about the rigours of studying and being put to the test. Parents also need to keep the lines of communication open to their children about the issue of what is next for them. This year, SACAP has launched a ‘You have the power to create change’ campaign to encourage this year’s matriculants to think about the value that they have to offer as change-makers in South Africa.
For any matriculant who is interested in the field of psychology and counselling, SACAP offers a wide range of qualifications including (Higher Certificate, Diploma, BAppSocSci, BPsych, BsocSci Honours and BPsych Equivalent) and a one-of-a-kind approach to learning: academic rigour and applied skills. Graduating confident “work ready” practitioners is key, which is why SACAP combines an academically rigorous curriculum with a strong emphasis on the ability to apply knowledge through the training of relevant skills. Registration for 2018 term one, closes at the end of January 2018. For further information, visit: www.sacap.edu.za