WORDS: Madhavi Nawana Parker, Director, Positive Minds Australia.
Year 11 and 12 are big ones on the academic calendar. Think back to when you were there. Were you worried? Were you overwhelmed?
Our children have had an especially tough couple of years leading up. More reliance on devices, loads of uncertainty and now, as they start 2023, more unknowns lie ahead.
The next year or two are big ones for your family. The best thing you can do is love and look after yourselves and each other, stay connected and try to be the calm in the storm. This is not always easy, given emotions are contagious.
Here are ways to make the ride a little smoother.
Focus on their strengths
What is good and right about them? Develop their confidence by pointing out their strengths (teenagers are often so caught up in the comparison trap, they do not realise how well they are doing). Your confidence in them, builds their confidence in themselves. The more confident they are, the better they will cope with stress.
Remember the 5:1 ratio
For every piece of constructive feedback, make sure there are five doses of encouragement and optimism in their abilities.
Help them keep things in perspective – their whole life does not depend on their marks in year 11 and 12
There are many pathways to reach academic and work goals these days. There is also choice and opportunity to make changes along the way. When you are a teenager, you are vulnerable to catastrophising and globalising every challenge and year 11 and 12 are no exception.
Hear your child out, let them off load their worries, but try hard not to join the chaos and over reassure or lecture. Active and reflective listening is a powerful way to help them empty their heart and move forward. When parents get too involved in reassuring and problem-solving, this can increase teenager anxiety.
Understand what makes it harder and what would make it easier for them to cope with the challenges ahead
Depending on who they are, there will be plenty of things making it hard to handle stress. If they are struggling to keep up, ask if it will help to do a time audit to identify time wasters that are adding to their stress. I can tell you most of the time wasters will be on devices and this is always a sensitive topic for teenagers.
Make sure you start with Empathy and Compassion when you do approach this topic, so you are not coming down on them heavily. Try asking, ‘It must be tough keeping up with your friends on socials, while juggling your workload.’ Instead of ‘get off your phone, you’re wasting time.’ Keep communicating and ask what they think, instead of doing all the thinking. Questions like, ‘Do you think it would help to figure out what the time sinkers are to make it really hard to stay focused?’
Help them understand that sleep, exercise, drinking enough water, good nutrition and connection with friends and family are all ways to make it easier to manage stress.
Cut them some slack
A lot of cooped up time studying can bring out the worst in everyone.
It is important to move with grace through blow-ups
Don’t show up to every argument you are invited to, and to not hold grudges and continue disagreements. Everyone is doing the best they can to make it through and everyone will manage stress better when there is less conflict in the house.
Help them find something they can control, and let them control it
In moments of overwhelm, help them control their little corner of the world. Organising bookshelves, purging closets, rearranging bedroom furniture and decorate can help to anchor and ground them when they are feeling stressed.
Encourage pastimes to engage in a state of flow
Our emotional brain is very receptive to the creative arts, and it is a direct portal for release of feeling. Help them find something that is creative (sculpting, drawing, dancing, music, singing, playing).
Find lightness and humour in each day
Laugh, play, and read or watch funny things together. Send emails and text messages that are loving. Happy relationships provide the best foundation for coping with life’s challenges and laughter helps a lot too.
Remind them this is temporary
It seems during intense study that it will never end. It is terrifying to think of the road stretching ahead of us. Remind your child that although this is very challenging and difficult, it is a season of life and it will pass.
Soraya Nawana Parker, 17 suggests to parents:
Please remind us to take breaks. Knock on our door, say ‘hi.’ Ask us how we are.
Sometimes we think taking a break means we will fall behind. A drive, a walk, a favourite song, a board game with you, a cuddle, a visit from our pets, a snack, a hug, or a funny story can all help us feel less lonely while studying. Think of a break that is irresistible, so we will say yes to that break.
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