It is the time of the year when the results of major
exams are released. As a counsellor to a number of students taking these
papers, I sense a deep anxiety in their voices as I talk to them during our
counselling sessions. In fact, I’ve noticed that most of their issues get
exacerbated during this period, and most of my time is spent dealing with exam
stress and how it spills over into other aspects of their lives.
Given the anxiety caused by exams, it would be wise
for us to carefully consider how we respond to our kids should they do badly or
even fail their exams. One of my friends recently shared on Facebook his
concerns about the way adults talk to kids about exams. He said, “Over the past
few days I have heard some teachers and parents telling their children that
they are disappointed in them because of their results. I am concerned that in
our attempts to motivate our children via expressing our disappointment, we may
have given them a burden that is too heavy to bear.”
“I am concerned that in our
attempts to motivate our children via expressing our disappointment, we may
have given them a burden that is too heavy to bear.”
Indeed, there has been a wave of concern over
whether children are able to deal with the burden
of stress and anxiety. A group of four mothers recently launched the PleaseStay
Movement, which aims to raise awareness of suicide prevention. Having gone
through the pain of losing a child to suicide, the founders shared their experiences
of loss in the hope of shining the national spotlight on childhood anxiety and mental
How then can we help our children deal with
exam-related stress and anxiety, and manage these touchy issues so that they do
not cripple our kids? My friend's conversation with his daughter presents a
number of ideas:
Friend: X, do you know what it means when you failed
X: No…Not really.
Friend: It means that you do not yet know the
subject well enough. It also means the way you have been learning may not be
the best way for you. That's all. It doesn't mean you are a bad person. Don't
believe anyone who tells you that.
X: Ok Papa. (She walks off happily.)
My friend then asked himself these questions:
1. Do I wish that she had done better? Yes.
2. But I have seen her working hard and trying her
best. If she has done her best, what else could I ask for?
In essence, my friend has identified 6 pertinent aspects
about exams. The first two points relate to the nature of exams and learning,
the next two refer to the personhood of the child, and the last two relate
directly to him as a father.
You do not yet know the subject being tested well enough.
By this statement, my friend has identified the key
reason why his daughter failed the paper. This signals to his daughter that the
result of her paper had no bearing on her as a person, and that as long as she attempts
to improve her knowledge on the subject, she could possibly pass in the future.
2. The way you have been learning may not be
the best way for you.
This statement suggests to the child how she can possibly
improve in the future. She could try a different learning method or revise
for the exams in a different way. By saying this, my friend was essentially
instilling hope in his daughter.
It doesn't mean you are a bad person.
Children (and adults too) are often bogged down by
their exam results, believing erroneously that the results define who they are
as a person. This is completely not sure, and how you do in your exams has no
bearing on the type of person you are.
Don't believe anyone who tells you that.
Peer influence is one of the greatest pressures that
children face. As parents, we can help them learn that not everyone in the
world is on their side, and not everyone will use their words with care. By
doing so, they’ll hopefully be more careful regarding whose words they choose
to trust and accept.
Do I wish that she had done better? Yes.
This is at the heart of what we desire most for our
children. We clearly want the best for them, and this is reflected in how we
feel about their exam results. But we must realise that our expectations are
our own, and our children must be free to explore, learn from mistakes, and pursue
their dreams. Only then can they truly realise their fullest potential!
If she has done her best, what else could I ask for?
We need to accept the fact that like ourselves, our
children are not perfect, and that our expectations of them are often
idealised. The more important question we should ask ourselves is whether they
have done their best. This question helps us to focus on their effort, and on
building resilience and perseverance,
which are life skills that will set our children up for future successes.
Exams are intended to
assess our competence and knowledge, while at the same time teach us life
skills such as perseverance and resilience.
Why do we take exams in the first place? Is it a
perverse notion by the powers-that-be to torture us and deprive us of
Far from it. Exams are intended to assess our
competence and knowledge, while at the same time teach us life skills such as
perseverance and resilience. If we can understand assessments from this more
grounded perspective, it will help us make sense of the monster we, and our
children, are so fearful about.
Mark Lim is Consultant
& Counsellor at The Social Factor, a consultancy and counselling agency
which conducts training on life skills such as parenting, mentoring and special
needs. He and his wife Sue co-write a parenting blog Parenting on Purpose,
where they chronicle the life lessons from parenting two young boys aged 9 and
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