“My child does not understand the importance of exams.”
This might be one of the most common conclusions that parents draw from their children’s behaviour, and one of the hottest concerns raised during our workshops!
In this post, we’re not going to tell you “how to teach kids the importance of studying”. Instead, we’re exploring why you think your kids don’t prioritise their exams, and giving you practical tips to begin a conversation that develops mutual trust.
Let’s transform this assumption with inevitable consequences into a series of observations with open-ended solutions!
Every reaction you have to your child begins with something you observed that triggered you. Ask yourself: What specific, observable clues led me to believe that my child doesn’t understand the importance of exams?
Start by describing the behaviour, sticking to what you perceived through your 5 senses:
Resist the urge to assign any meaning or to draw conclusions yet! Avoid following up your observation with these phrases:
Reserve the meaning-making for your conversation with your child: we’ll ask them to help you interpret their actions, no assumptions needed.
Observation + “I know…” → Assumption or misunderstanding
Making an assumption about the motives behind your child’s behaviour without allowing them to share about how they feel is not stepping into their shoes! It’s more like putting words into their mouths. This could lead to misunderstandings or animosity.
Observation + “I wonder...” → Understanding and further conversation
Instead, ask your child open-ended questions about their thoughts and feelings, based on the behaviour you observed. Your goal here is to bring their otherwise invisible thoughts and feelings to the surface.
You could ask:
You might be surprised by what your child is capable of feeling and expressing when given the chance! Many kids do care about their studies and are feeling worried about their exams, and what you interpret as “slacking or procrastination” may actually be their way of coping with their stress.
Even as a grown-up who has important responsibilities and decades of life experience under your belt, you have to admit… Sometimes the items at the top of your to-do list aren’t your favourite things to do!
You can share this openly with your child to show them empathy! You can help them process their mixed and complex feelings towards studying and playing. After they share about how they feel about their studies or exams (“bored”, “discouraged”, “it’s tiring”, “it’s too hard”), name their mixed feelings.
You can say:
This may seem counter-intuitive, as all exams yield a grade or score, but in order to help your child achieve their goals, you need to pay attention to their journey – not just their final destination!
It’s one thing to understand the importance of exams. It’s another to run the race with confidence, navigating obstacles and overcoming barriers along the way!
Instead of threatening or incentivising your child with things far in the future (such as what school they will end up attending, or what job they will have down the road), direct your attention towards what is in your control here and now.
Instead of: “If you don’t practise your Maths now, you will fail your SA2.”
Try asking: “Let’s come up with a plan for what you can do if you get stuck on a Math question but I’m not home to help you.”
Instead of: “This exam will affect where you can make it to secondary school!”
Try saying: “I noticed you struggle with your English compo. Is there something in particular you find difficult, that we can work on first?”
It is tiring and frustrating to constantly nudge your child along, especially if you feel that they do not share your urgency or aspirations. The irony is that your exhaustion and exasperation can make you forget to consider your child’s perspective! These tips take time to get the hang of, and the results may not follow instantaneously. Try to apply just one at a time consistently, creating a safe space for your child to explore their goals with you.