Keep Calm and Carry on...A survival guide to parenting during exam season

January 2019

NW London, United Kingdom

Event information

Date: 15 Jan

Time: 7:45-9:45pm

Location: NW London, United Kingdom

Ticket: Suggested voluntary donation £20.00


Myisrael were delighted to once again partner with Emparenting to bring parents of children sitting exams a survival guide.

The room was filled with parents of GCSE and A level students, all looking for hints and tips as to how to make it through exam season in one piece.  

Myisrael were raising funds for The Garage, which provides an amazing opportunity and support system for talented art students who struggle to function in a regular educational environment. The Garage gives them the tools and support to be able to do just that. Myisrael screened a short film and then handed over to Lisa and Catherine from Emparenting introduced the panel, psychologist Susie Herman, Amanda Dewinter (founder of Student Success Code) and Karen Cowan (teacher, educational consultant and SEN advisor). 

Susie began by telling guests that what we hear year-on-year from Childline is there's an increase in calls from children about exam stress, and specifically, if you go on their website a lot of it coming from parental pressure.

Susie spoke about how to manage our loss of control and our children's increasing control of their own lives, and that what is left is relationship.   Relationship being the key to influencing our kids.  To mirroring to them that we value them enough to tell them that perhaps it might be time to focus on something other than the TV.  Relationship is the place that we begin to honour and show our kids that they are worthwhile, that their choices are important and are valued and that that is the one place where perhaps as they grow and they build their autonomy that they can see that their choices are worthwhile."

"it is our job to model how to be in the world.  So by taking care of our needs and keeping a balance in our lives and within our beings, we will have more energy and resources to meet the challenges of our stressed, aggressive, sometimes dismissive, sullen, rude, GORGEOUS kids which can really trigger us and trigger some quite old feelings."

Susie's advised eating with your kids - "People who eat on their own are more likely to get depressed...there's something really important about having family time.  You don't have to talk to each other, but sitting together, no devices at the table if possible, sitting together can be really helpful.  So can sitting in a car.  Kids don't like making eye contact, fine.  Sit in the car."

"Kids need to feel like they are right. So where possible, get out of their way.  If they want to be right, you don't have be right, you're the parent.  You know where the lines are - be firm, be clear and try and figure out what it is that they're really trying to get done here because their needs will always be valid - the way they go about it, not so much, but their needs are valid.  And being present and being available as a parent is more important than being right.  You might know that they need to study, or get on with it, you might know that they need to get some more sleep - they also know it.  Being available and having that conversation with them about what's getting in the way, might be more helpful."

After Susie, Karen Cowan took to the floor and discussed how parents should look out for behavioural changes in their children that go beyond regular exam stress.  She talked about support systems that are in place for students that have learning issues, and how the school can help with that.  Karen also talked about the danger of students comparing themselves to others:

"I know that you will already be aware of the dangers of comparing with peers, with friends' children, with siblings, but let's not forget students already compare themselves so they are naturally inclined, many of them, to be comparing themselves with others' grades and expectations and that's a danger in itself. It's really important to bring home the realisation that it's about personal goals and a wiggly line nowadays rather than a straight line which is harder to achieve in terms of destination and outcomes."

Karen showed a slide with this wonderful quote on it from Glad to be Me, edited by Don Peretz Elkins, 1976.  

For when it all seems just a little too hard:

"You've got to help me.  You've got to hold out your hand even when that's the last thing I seem to want or need...Each time you are kind and gentle and encouraging, each time you try to understand because you really care, my heart begins to grow wings, very small wings, very feeble wings, - but wings."

Karen handed over to Amanda Dewinter who talked about her book the "Student Success Code" which she has nearly finished writing.  She started it when her youngest was taking GCSEs, another child was taking A levels, her eldest was doing first year university exams and she was doing a law degree!  She was frustrated at her children's frustration at having to learn.  She figured out that they needed to embrace the learning, because learning leads to happiness.  She talked about her four steps:

1. Spark your ambition

2. Prioritise well-being

3. Supercharge learning

4. Prepare for action

Amanda's top tip is to have a back-up plan:

"Your back-up plan is to take the pressure off, actually go through with your child what the back-up plan is.  Yes this is what they want to do, you've set goals, you've visualised this is where you want to be.  What's plan B, what happens if they don't get the grades?  And life is long remember, it doesn't matter at this stage if they don't get the grades because there's another year, there's another six months, there's another route...there is another way to do everything if they want to do it."

There was a short break for tea and cupcakes, before resuming for Q&A.  Parents voiced their concerns ranging from a child who spends the day in her pyjamas to another whose child is frantic about her exams which are still 18 months away.  The panel responded with sensible advice to either pick your battles or to approach your school to discuss issues that are apparent at home and not school.

During Q&A, one mum pleaded for help as her son refuses to work for his exams and says that the more he's told to, the less likely he is to do it.  Karen Cowan responded with some very sensible advice, reminding us that teenagers do not always like eye contact.  So she suggested going somewhere together to talk, have a walk and be side-by-side...the mum's response?  "We're going to the dentist together."  Everyone enjoyed a bit of light-hearted relief at that point!

At the end of Q&A the raffle was drawn, and the evening ended with parents leaving a little lighter than when they had arrived.  We are delighted to have raised around £1,400 for the Garage.

Huge thanks to Lisa and Catherine from Emparenting, to Susie, Karen and Amanda and to all those who supported the event.