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Handy hints to help kids hit the books

SUMMER IS AROUND THE CORNER. Everyone is smiling and contemplating the lovely warm days coming for the next few months. Everyone, that is, except for students who are facing final exams.


Everyone is smiling and contemplating the lovely warm days coming for the next few months. Everyone, that is, except for students who are facing final exams.

Before our kids can think about summer, they need to go through this annual ritual that causes panic and anxiety. In many cases it's as stressful for parents as for the students themselves.

What is our role and how can we reduce their stress?

Reducing their stress will incidentally probably reduce ours as well.

What are the issues? Why are exams so stressful? Ideally, exams are a way of determining how much a child has learned and whether he or she is ready to move to the next level. But they also have become a method of measuring achievement. A student with high marks is perceived to be better than the rest. Even if a child has raised her ability significantly throughout the year and has worked hard, for too many children and parents the mark is the only thing.

Many students believe that acceptance or rejection by both teachers and parents is determined by the marks they receive.

In some cases that's true, but not for most parents.

However, the kids aren't getting the message. Parents need to accept a child no matter how low her marks and let her know that she is not a failure. Children need to know that poor marks mean they have a poor understanding of the topic, not that poor marks equal a poor person. If they have poor marks because they chose not to study, that is a realistic consequence but should not be tied to the love and acceptance of their parents. It simply means that the child has, by her behaviour, chosen to either go to summer school or repeat the topic next year.

Competition for marks is stronger than ever, so high school students are under tremendous pressure to not only pass but to excel. The reality is that many of them can't. Parents ask yourselves this: what's the worst that can happen?

They can go to different universities or colleges. They may re-take some courses next year or in the summer to raise their marks. They may choose a trade school or may want to find a job. It is not the end of the world if your child does not achieve an A or B standing in the Grade 12 finals. Life is not over at 18.

That being said, they need to study to do their very best, and we can help. Here are some things you can do to make exam time less stressful and more productive for your kids.

Kids get to take a break from other responsibilities. That includes part-time jobs. High school students with part-time jobs should take the month of June off.

Parents can help by insisting on this when they first take the job. Remind your children that school and their education is their most important responsibility. Therefore, during exam time all their energy goes to preparation for finals.

On the home front, reduce or eliminate the household chores during exams. And while they need some social life to break the grind, they need to cut back on their social activities.

A great way to support them is to prepare favourite meals. Often students get into trouble by not eating properly, so when they're studying, quietly slip in with a cold drink and cookies (but don't talk!).

While putting the emphasis on study, understand that there is a value to some leisure to reduce the stress. It's not a bad thing to take the occasional break.

Watching a favorite TV show, going for a run, or chatting with a friend on the phone are positive, and not wasting time. If you're worried that she is going to watch TV all night, a simple comment such as, "Taking a short break, eh? Well, you need it," is helpful. When parents are on their children to study every second of the day, they will often go into their rooms and goof off. Many will study far more hours if they are allowed some breaks.

Studying is hard work. Understand when they are tired and encourage them to get enough sleep. All-night study sessions are not very healthy or productive.

Finally, remember you are there to support them but only they can decide to study. It's their education and their exams so if they choose to goof off despite your support, they will have to deal with the outcome.

With your support they will do their best and then can enjoy the summer and look forward to the fall with energy and excitement.

Kathy Lynn is a professional speaker and author of Who's In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I'd Ever Have to Leave Home. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at