A Leaving Cert. Student’s Guide (for Parents) on Dealing with Leaving Cert Students.
A Leaving Cert Student’s Guide to Dealing with Leaving Cert Students–Parents’ Edition
When They’re Sleeping, Let Them Sleep.
This seems like a pretty easy thing to do but I feel that there are a few points that must be clarified around this topic. When it’s finally the weekend and it’s hit 11 o’clock and your child has not yet arisen, leave them.
Amongst my generation, there is a mountain of sleep issues and a large number of us go to school every day with 7 hours sleep, if we’re lucky. This is more than 2 hours below what we scientifically need especially in a year which is exhausting in every single way whether it be mentally, physically or emotionally.
So when they finally do have the time to sleep and of course, they don’t have anywhere else to be; just leave them be. You’ll think you’ve got a whole new kid afterwards.
Don’t rant on at your child for staying up on their phone. Chances are, they didn’t get home until 5, and started homework at 6, only to then start study at 8 and not finish up until 10. They then only have about 1-2 hours to themselves that day and it’s often spent showering or doing something else that needs to be done. In my experience, it’s not the phone that keeps people up; it’s the desire to have more hours to the day.
Practise What You Preach.
Nowadays, it seems like a rite of passage to get the infamous “it’s your Leaving Cert” speech from every single person in your life once you hit exam year. I’m not saying that talking about the Leaving Cert and encouraging self-management is wrong; in fact, that’s not what I’m saying at all. What I’m trying to explain (and brace yourselves, Irish mammies) is that it is their Leaving Cert and it is their life. It is your job to encourage and care for your child and sometimes to bring them back down to earth but in the end, how they deal with this year is their choice and the course of action they wish to take hereafter is the exact same.
As a teenager, everyone strives to please their parents but this would be made easier by a more accepting attitude towards their desire to be responsible for themselves. They’re young enough to need guidance but old enough to be able to have the right to make up their own mind. Don’t take that away from them.
Consider Everything that They’re Dealing with.
Yet again, this is a case where your child will know that you ultimately mean well but where you may very well lower their confidence/moral; whether you know it or not. A prime example of this is the “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed” talk. Avoid this. Avoid it at all costs.
If your child has done poorly on an exam, don’t guilt them about it. I know that this may be hard to resist when you know that they didn’t study but chances are, they’ve already gotten this talk from their teacher and they’ve already had to relive this exam one hundred times with their friends who all did well and that’s before they’ve even had a chance to think over it themselves.
It’s likely that nobody will be more disappointed than they are with a bad grade and their bad day should not be made into a very bad day by constant reminders of how they did. I promise you that they’re feeling the pressure as much as anyone, even if they don’t act like it. Allow them to have a bad day. Allow them to have a bad exam. Support them instead of criticising them; they’ll be far more likely to listen.
Stop the Constant Reminders; They Already Know.
This is something to bear in mind especially at different functions such as family meals or parties. They will not thank you for making their name synonymous with the words “Leaving Cert”. They understand that older generations, in particular,are just trying to find a conversation topic but most leaving cert students would much rather talk about Great Aunt Bríd’s walk to the shop than about the exams.
They’ve finally made it away from school and study and the confines of their desk only to walk straight back into questions so intense that it may as well be another oral exam.
This also applies at home. Your child is very aware of the impending doom and more than likely, they’d really appreciate a day out sometime without the mention of exams unless they choose to speak about it. Allow them the space to speak about it on their own terms. They’ll thank you for it when all is done.
Do not compare them to their brother or their sister or their friend or their cousin or even to your friend’s niece. They are in constant comparison already with their friends as well as with a classroom full of people, never mind their entire year and god forbid, the entire group of leaving cert students in Ireland.
Everyone is different and everyone has different capabilities. Accept that and pleasantly move on.
Listen; Even When They’re Not Saying Anything.
Listen to your child and what they’re saying but listen also to their silent words in the way they move or how they’re sleeping or even just the way in which they’ve started biting their nails again like they did as a young child.
The body has a funny way of dealing with stress and an even funnier way of making the stressed feel lonely. In sixth year in particular, your child will likely find it harder than ever before to identify that they have a problem. The constant weight of stress and the similar pessimistic view of their fellow students gives rise to countless issues and as a parent, I urge you to not add to them. You should ask your child how they are at least twice a week but that doesn’t mean that you should push them to talk to you. They may simply not be ready to talk or may find it easier to talk to someone else. Open these branches of communication early on and do your best to maintain them.
If you find yourself constantly meeting a dead end when it comes to communication, simply try to improve their day. Tell them to go out with their friends or to take a night off or even just make them their favourite dinner and tell them that they deserve it. Much like everything else in the world, it really is the small things that make a difference.
Your child understands that you’ve had a long day so try to understand that they have to and don’t add to their stresses. They’re putting in long hours in school, probably giving up at least one break a week for extra classes; only to then come home to put in long hours of homework and study.
If your child tells you that they’re feeling anxious, don’t jump in with a resolution or an “everybody deals with it”, do your best to just listen and then ask them what they would like to be done to help them. They’ll appreciate being given the choice instead of being pushed into a situation they may not be comfortable with.
If they’re feeling too tired to function, one day off school won’t hurt them. The benefit to them of feeling rested will be far greater than what they’ll miss in one day.
Hazel Doyle, 6U.