Parents who keep a lid on their own anxieties will make a huge difference to how Year 12 students cope, say relationships and education specialists.

Relationships WA senior education manager Fiona McDonald said those who were mindful of their own expectations and did not live through their children were most likely to maintain a sense of calm in their households.

“There are many young people out there at 17 and 18 who don’t really know what they want to do with their lives, ” she said.

“A parent should not be adding to the pressure they are feeling by projecting their own values on to their children.

“Sometimes children are capable of achieving great scores, and there is this belief they should ‘spend’ those scores wisely by choosing the ‘right’ course — but the student’s interests sometimes lie elsewhere.

“A parent’s role is to explore the possibilities with their child and to be encouraging and supportive, rather than directive.”

Clinical psychologist and Murdoch University honorary research fellow Pia Broderick said parents should take the emphasis off the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank result, and help their teenagers see the WA Certificate of Education exams as just another set of tests.

“Parents should be reassuring their students that it’s just one number, and though it’s pretty important, it doesn’t define them forever, ” she said.

“Parents need to be educated about what an ATAR means, about what TAFEs and universities are offering and about the different ways courses can be accessed.”

Ms Broderick said stress over academic performance was a big issue for more than a third of the families she saw every year, particularly throughout the second semester of Year 12. It started in Year 11, and had the capacity to upset family dynamics for two years or more.

Parents who were able to keep a “business as usual” approach to the children’s final school years would help them weather storms more easily, she said.

“Students should be encouraged to keep up their part-time jobs, to socialise and to stay active — the whole year should not be reduced to that one core task of getting the right ATAR for the right course, ” Ms Broderick said.

“There needs to be balance in their lives and parents need to watch the tendency to interrogate their children when they detect changes in them. Encourage good sleep and study habits, and provide good nutritious meal options. Don’t impose conditions.

“Parents should remember that students will soon move out of their sphere of influence and insisting or nagging them will only speed up that process.”

Tips for parents

• Never tell a child they will fail if they don’t study.

• Knowledge is power — stay informed about your child’s education and training options.

• Work on helping students identify their long-term goals.

• Avoid too much emphasis on ATAR scores as a marker of success.

• Encourage students to study in 45-minute blocks, with a 15-minute break.

• Provide healthy meal options.

• Encourage regular physical activity.

• Part-time jobs are helpful, as long as they are not adding to stress levels.

• Talk to teachers about workloads and study tips.

• Help students avoid fixed mindsets — with good habits, results can be turned around.

• Avoid pushing your child into a field of study that doesn’t suit them.

• Encourage no study after 10pm — sleep is the best way to consolidate learning.


Sources: Mike Honiball of Elevate Education, clinical psychologist Pia Broderick and Relationships WA’s Fiona McDonald.


© The West Australian

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