For those of us with teenagers (or even pre-teens) GCSE’s have long loomed on the horizon. In our house, although the exams themselves begin in a little over 11 weeks, it still feels a little bit like “we’ve got ages yet”. Nope. We haven’t. In my typical parenting style I have swung between overly controlling “COME ON DO SOME REVISION” to relaxed and chilled “The most important thing is to focus on your well-being.” Let me tell you, neither one works by itself.
So at this incredibly important time, there must be a happy medium, surely? Well yes there is, but it’s not an easy one. The push and pull between allowing your child to dictate their own schedule and desperately wanting to help (or control) so that they don’t flounder is a delicate one. I am young enough to remember my own floundering and I want my daughter to feel completely supported throughout this process (and always).
The biggest way I’ve learnt to support my daughter is by going out of my way to show her I’m here. We go on a weekly ‘Date Night’ which can be anything from a McDonald’s sundae hastily eaten with grins on our faces and ice cream on our chins, to a trip to the theatre. We don’t plan anything major very often, but I always make time for this. Even if it’s half an hour. When I first suggested these date nights I was met with an eye-roll and a huff. But nevertheless, I persisted. So the first time we went out, we ate chips and drank mock-tails at a local cafe/bar. She spent most of the time snap-chatting. When I asked her about it, she huffed. And then she told me some juicy gossip. We laughed, the ice was broken and date nights became our thing.
So support of my child’s well-being is one aspect of this jigsaw puzzle of stress, but how about the academic side? Well. Being extraordinarily good at organising (I know, I know, but who doesn’t like to toot their own trumpet every once in a while?) I have taken it upon myself to be THE GO TO REVISION TIME-TABLER in the Cotswolds. Yes, yes it’s a self-appointed title but go with it for a moment. As parents we are constantly project managing everyone’s lives. Timetabling nutritious meals, after-school clubs, brownies, social lives and housework is no walk in the park. (Which reminds me, I must organise that walk in the park…) But we do it. Everyday. Exam revision is no different.
My daughter was given a calendar pad for Christmas by a well-meaning relative, it was promptly put on her desk with a pile of other paperwork on top of it. But last month we dug it out and sat down with an array of coloured pens and began the task of timetabling revision. We’ve gone for forty minutes per subject with two subjects per evening. This is as well as homework. Your child may want less, they may need more. We also scheduled in twenty minute breaks between each task.
The importance of reward is not a new concept to us is it? We reward ourselves for hard work all the time. Revision is no different. Rewards differ from person to person though. I love a good cup of tea and a piece of dark chocolate after I’ve done the hoovering (WHAT? IT’S THE WORST HO– USEHOLD TASK), but you may hate tea and dark chocolate, so that would be rubbish for you.
In the twenty minute breaks in between revision tasks my daughter has a little menu of rewards she can go to. I have stocked up on her favourite chocolate treats which no one else is allowed (apart from in chocolate emergencies, come on we all have them). But it could be listening to loud rap music or taking a short walk. Anything really that creates space and feels good.
For us, screen-time is limited in these revision periods. My daughter has a phone which appears to be fused to her hand and seemingly gives her life-sustaining gossip, information and images. But after a big discussion (read, argument) we agreed that during revision sessions her phone would remain downstairs. It’s not that I don’t trust her (in fact we’ve both forgotten this rule on occasion and it’s not been an issue), it’s more about the temptation of it being there. I’ll be honest, when I have work to do I have a similar rule with myself. I sometimes get distracted away from the task in hand. I’m human, it happens.
I can’t say that we didn’t bicker a little bit during this timetabling process, because we did. But we did it and afterwards we had a clear schedule of what was going to happen. It felt good. Secure. Safe. Because we weren’t specific about exact timings of the sessions it gave us some flexibility. But the eighty minutes per evening was the rule. And one my daughter feels comfortable sticking to.
Everyone is different in their approach to stress. Some bury their heads in the sand and pretend it isn’t happening. Some people shout. Some cry in Tesco’s. Some do all of those (yes, ok I’m referring to myself). But some people some into their own by channelling the stress into action and become composed, efficient and calm. If I can help my daughter become one of thosepeople (even if it’s just after having a little melt-down in a supermarket) then I’m winning at this parenting stuff and she’s winning at life.
A Guest Blog from Kate Montgomery
Kate is a writer, blogger and creative who lives in Stroud with her husband and two daughters. She writes a lifestyle blog called Clever Monty which her sisters read and say is great. She enjoys doing anything a bit crafty and spends too much time comparing herself to others on social media.