The leaving cert: A test for the whole family

THE Leaving Cert has always had the capacity to send stress levels soaring, but more so today, says Naoise Kavanagh, of Reach Out, an online service to help young people get through tough times.

“A lot of negativity is being projected onto young people. They’re hearing 30% of under-25s are unemployed, emigration is a huge issue, and parents are losing jobs when they’re putting kids through college. There’s a bit of ‘what’s the point?’ It’s quite bleak for students.”

In the run-up to exams, parents need to be stress-busters for the family. Remain calm and avoid ‘infecting’ your child with worries you may have about the exam or their future. “A big cause of conflict is the amount of time the student puts into study. Telling your child ‘it might be a bit late now’ or ‘take it easy’ isn’t very helpful,” says Kavanagh.

Encourage your child to be organised about study. Help them manage expectations. Get them to think about their previous performance, to acknowledge strengths and weaknesses, and to focus on strengths.

“If they’re weak in a subject, they shouldn’t put all their energies into that area. With the Leaving Cert, there can be a feeling of anonymity — it’s not my teacher correcting this. The student thinks, ‘Maybe, I can pull some gems out of the bag’. It can be hard to acknowledge weaknesses,” says Kavanagh.

Parents need to maintain a normal household — keeping noise down during study supports your child, but take into account the needs of your children not sitting exams. Siblings may act out because they perceive ‘it’s all about the one doing the Leaving Cert’ — spend time with your other kids.

Ensure your child takes regular breaks. “We can’t absorb, store, and retrieve information in four weeks’ time without breaks. Students shouldn’t put themselves in a bubble — breaks can be about phoning a friend,” says Kavanagh.

Dissuade your child from pulling all-nighters. Sleep’s vital for retaining and recalling information. Insist on a good breakfast — as well as releasing energy slowly, porridge is calming. Ensure a fruit-and-vegetable rich diet.

Help your child get some perspective. “If you don’t do as well as you’d hoped, there are always alternatives. It’s not going to dictate whether you’re a good or bad person, whether you’re a success or failure.”


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