A few nights ago, I woke up in a cold sweat trying to remember the exact year in which the Civil Disobedience Movement during India’s freedom struggle started. I had just dreamt that I was in an old, black-and-white movie with Gandhiji and Lala Lajpat Rai as my co-stars. It didn’t take me long to realise that my son’s upcoming exams were playing havoc with my mind. My son, on the other hand, was having yet another blissful night, sleeping peacefully in the room next door.
While I am thankful that he is completely unperturbed by his upcoming exams, I struggle to grapple with my own inner demons. All those years as a student in our Indian Education System unfortunately left an indelible impression on my mind. The fact is that as the exams approach, one is either prepared or not and last-minute panic on our part is helping no one, least of all, our child.
The more stressed we get as a parent, the more stress we place on our child. And we may say all the right things, like the results don’t matter and we don’t need our child to come first in class but if we look closely, what does our body language say? What is our tone of voice? Are we irritable and snappy with each passing day as we get closer to the exam? If our child were to crack a joke in the midst of his studies to lighten the mood, are we able to appreciate his sense of humour like we would at any other point in time?
We are living proof that standardised testing does not determine a person’s intelligence or success in life. Research has shown us that each child is unique and has different interests, skills and capabilities, all of which contribute to his growth and development as an individual. We know that if we can’t remember which year the Battle of Plassey took place or what the ‘paryayvachi shabd’ of ‘badal’ is, it is not going to change our life dramatically in any way. We also know that a large part of what we had learnt in school, we memorised for the exam and never really used it again. Exams are, unfortunately, part and parcel of the system and though one cannot expect to completely revamp the system singlehandedly, one can take small steps to ease the stress that we and more importantly, our child goes through.
1. Cut your child some slack
Exams are hard enough as it is without having a fire-breathing dragon of a parent bearing down on you. Keep in mind that your child’s results will not matter 10 years from now and you will be hard-pressed to remember what grade he got in his exams. He will not remember his grade either but he will remember the tension in the house and how he felt.
2. Support your child
Be there for them in whatever way they need. As laid-back as a child may be, he does feel the pressure of an exam. Talk to your child about what he needs from you. Maybe he needs you to help him figure out a study timetable for him. Go through his syllabus and ask him the areas that he feels confident about and the areas that he feels he needs to practice more. Help him plan his time allocation accordingly. Let him take the lead in planning his study schedule and you play the role of facilitator. Work out a routine together that works for him and his way of functioning.
For one of his exams, my son was told in advance that he would have a choice between two chapters. My inner demon insisted that he learn both, but he felt that he should concentrate completely on one and do it thoroughly rather than doing a bit of both. Now, neither approach is wrong. It’s just different. What I needed to realise and after a bit of introspection, I did, was that this is his exam. Not mine. He’s in the class talking to the teacher. He’s the one writing out the answer. It’s his efforts and not mine that will eventually reap the fruits. I have to allow him to be able to figure it out for himself. It’s his learning process. My role is only to support him.
3. Allow him frequent breaks
Even at work, we need to take a break now and then. Stretch our legs, get a cup of coffee, do a little office chit-chat. It’s hard to concentrate for long periods of time. Frequent breaks will help him focus better and work in concentrated spurts for a more productive outcome. Keep snacks (preferably healthy) accessible as we all know studying makes one hungry. Let them get their regular dose of exercise. A little fresh air always helps to clear the mind and rejuvenates your spirit and body.
4. Let them know that it’s the effort that you care about and not the end result
Set clear expectations. We naturally want our children to do well but at what cost. If the child has worked hard, then that should be all that matters. If we truly believe that, the child will see it too. And he will put in the required effort without the additional pressure of what will happen if I don’t get the required grades.
So, this exam season, try it a little differently. Give them the space and support they need and every time you find yourself getting stressed about their exams, Take a deep breath. Chant a little mantra to yourself. Tell yourself that this too shall pass. They too shall pass and in 10 years time, none of this will matter. And now, exhale…