A test of composure

EARLY each morning before departing to sit his Leaving Certificate exams, Jackie O’Callaghan’s son would take out his electric guitar.

Cue a cascade of ear-splitting shrieks at the family’s rural West Cork home.

For a change, he sometimes went out to the garage and played the drums. Loudly. “I often wondered what the neighbours thought and whether it put the cows off their milk. But this was how he got rid of the stress,” says Jackie.

When he came home following an exam, her son would wind down with a similarly noisy session: “You just have to put up and shut up. It’s only a couple of weeks and you have to stand back and put yourself in their shoes,” says the mother-of-four and spokesperson for the National Parents’ Council, Post Primary.

It’s only a week to the 2012 Junior and Leaving Certificate exams and in homes across the country there are mood swings, sleepless nights, and an unrelenting anxiety.

That’s just the parents.

But this is not the time for parents to wear their worries on their sleeve, says Betty McLaughlin, spokesperson for the Institute of Guidance Counsellors.

“Stay calm and detached. Keep your anxieties to yourself and hold back the flood rather than add to the general stress,” says McLaughlin, a guidance counsellor at Colaiste Mhuire CBS Mullingar, which has 220 students sitting the Leaving Certificate and 120 taking the Junior Certificate.

Ms McLaughlin says parents play a crucial role in keeping the atmosphere calm and in supporting the child.

“The parents’ role is to support the child and to be there for them. Their attitude, and the atmosphere in the home, can affect a student’s performance,” she says.

Exam time is often difficult for parents, she says — particularly for those with children sitting a State examination for the first time.

“We regularly have parents ringing the school, asking for advice on what they should do — sometimes they forget that it’s their child’s exam, not theirs,” she says. The way a parent handles the period before the exams, and those rough first days, is crucial, says Jackie.

“In the days off before the exams start, it’s important to stay calm because the students can be quite anxious.”

The beginning of the exams can increase stress levels, but don’t get drawn in, she says: “Throughout the first few days of the exams, students can be quite stressed and volatile. As a parent, you need to step back from the plate and observe.”

Maintain positivity in the face of all mood swings, worry and general crankiness, says Ms O’Callaghan, whose youngest child sits the Leaving Certificate this year — her children range between the ages of 18 and 28.

“Keep everything as normal as possible,” she says — and don’t give in to the hype.


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