Advice for parents in exam year: There will be ups and downs

In the final part of our five day series on exams, ALAN WHITE shares some valuable advice and tips for parents, whose children are sitting the Junior Cert or Leaving Cert exams
Advice for parents in exam year: There will be ups and downs

"By fully listening, you are more likely to understand where they are coming from and therefore be able to help them." Picture: Stock

PARENTING is one of the most fulfilling experiences we can have in life, but it can also be one of the most challenging. This is particularly true when your child is facing into exams. It is important to remember that the whole house does the Junior and Leaving Certificate, so inevitably there will be ups and down over the coming months.

However when it’s all over the most important thing is that you feel you have been there and supported your child throughout the process. There are lots of things that you can do to help at this time.


When your child is preparing for their exams, it’s common that your old feelings about when you did your exams resurface. You might have some regrets or resentments around certain subjects, but recalling these to your child will only develop similar worries. Instead use your experiences, whether good or bad to guide your child over the coming months. For example, if you wish that you had been more organised around your exams, or had a quieter study space at home, help your child have these things.


When we are concerned about someone close to us, especially our children we often become critical of them.

“You’re not studying enough” or “you need to work harder” are well used phrases by parents at this time. In this context we all perceive the word “you” as being accusatory and blaming, we can then quickly become defensive and argumentative, which more often than not leads to conflict. This also confirms what the student probably already knows, that they aren’t working hard enough or studying enough, increasing there already high levels of stress.

To communicate your concerns in a more effective way, it’s a good idea to remove the “you” and begin with an “I”. For example, “I am worried that you aren’t doing enough”. This gets the same message across while also communicating that you are interested and supportive. It might be the case that you will initially be ignored, but the important thing is you have communicated your concern and in time it will have an effect.


It’s natural at this time that a lot of what you discuss with your child will be about school and exams. This is important as you can be a vital outlet for your child to vent their frustrations and be there to help them see things in a more positive light.

However it’s also important to take the time to discuss the ordinary things too, such as their favourite hobby, pastime or their friends. By communicating in this way they will be more likely to come to you with problems and concerns that they have.


As a parent there are simple things that you can do to show that you are there for them and support them. Making them their favourite meal after a stressful day, encouraging them to exercise regularly and making sure they are getting enough rest, are all simple little things that you can do to show you care.

At this time it can be easy for students and families to lose their sense of humour. It’s important to encourage some fun and laughter in the house also.

As adults we often have a perspective we gain from experience that young people don’t yet have. Remind your child that the exams are for a certain timeframe and that when they are over, life will change again and there will be new experiences for them to enjoy.


Perhaps the most important thing you can do for your child is believe in them unconditionally. We tend to focus solely on outcomes when it comes to exams. This exerts a lot of additional pressure in students. Instead praise the effort they are making rather than the outcome. Young people who see that their efforts are being noticed will persevere and improve. This is known as the Pygmalion effect, where young people will live up, or down, to the expectations that the important people in their lives have of them.


When we are having a conversation with someone, we are often not fully listening. Instead, we are thinking about what we are going to say next.

When young people communicate, they can often find it difficult to put into words what they really want to say.

We think in pictures and communicate in words. We have all felt the frustration of not being able to clearly communicate an important point. This can be even more frustrating for young people when trying to make sense of frustrating thoughts and emotions they are experiencing. By fully listening, you are more likely to understand where they are coming from and therefore be able to help them.


To be fully able to care for others we must first take care of ourselves. Parents often feel that it is selfish to take time for themselves and can become overwhelmed by the responsibilities they have to their children. To be there to support your child through this difficult time, you need the energy to do so. That’s why it’s important to take time for yourself to relax, have fun, exercise and catch up with friends. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup!

Alan White is a second level teacher at Bishopstown Community School and Wellbeing Author. He also facilitates wellbeing workshops for companies and organisations. For more information visit linkedin Alan White or facebook Changes Wellbeing.

You can catch up on Alan White’s entire five day series online at

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