The final year at school: a tip for parents /carers…

The final senior year at school can be stressful, not just for the child, but also for the family, and friends.  But does it have to be? I often speak to parents of senior year kids, and I receive so much stress and anxiety from the conversation…yet it is not the parent who is sitting for the final exams….and it is not the parent who is relying on this performance for a change or start in career.  

So I then wonder what gets transferred to their children.  Is this worry and anxiety contagious? Are we encouraging our kids in the healthiest way that we know?  Or not?  What if we don’t know the best way to support our kids?  Well, at-least let’s assume the right intention is there.  What I know for sure though is that mindset is a great contributor to any successful moment.  And in saying this, mindset is also a great contributor to any unsuccessful moment.  As parents, what is our attitude about the final year of schooling?  And where did we learn this attitude from?  Ever notice how there is an expectation of panic and stress?  Is this a choice? 

It’s not just about studying, till we burn out.  Yet some adults think this is normal for the senior year.  I see this a lot, and yet I know that these parents themselves did not do this during their senior year…so why do this to the kids?  When did encouragement stop being so important? 

Let’s not forget the difference between quality and quantity of work.  Let’s not forget how much better we feel after we have done some exercise.  I hope our kids are still getting some physical exercise in.  It only seems reasonable to suspect this will help them relax, unwind and focus /study better.  

Performance is whole: we need to eat well, sleep well, do some exercise, see some sunshine, have some fun, have good conversations, relaxation (whether its breathing exercises, visualisations, mindfulness practices, meditations, or whatever suits the individual), and regular breaks.  I bet there may be a few more things you could add to this list.

At my clinic I help kids in their final year be their best version of themselves, and when they are open to this, they become empowered.  I was a successful final year student myself, and I have done 3 degrees (and some diplomas) so let’s say I know how to be a good student and thus a successful student.  This is my interpersonal skill that I can offer kids who are seeking such techniques to get them through the year successfully.   I hope you enjoy my video clip; it’s a message to parents that I hope will make them reconsider their mindset about their child as they complete their final year at school.

Our kids need different things at different times of the school year.  Some need to get started, a routine perhaps, a schedule, a way of organising themselves.  Others discover they procrastinate and just can’t get started on tasks.  Others leave things till last minute, and so on.  This is why I allow kids the opportunity to reflect on their strengths first.  And you guessed it, most will say they have no strengths.  This is my favourite part, because it truly becomes an exercise of self discovery.  We all have strengths.  I help kids identify with them.  And they don’t need to take my word for it, for it actually becomes evidence based from a strengths based resource that I use for teens (and I even have one for younger kids too).  

My therapy is solution and strengthen based.  Why? Because once we discover our strengths, we can then use them for current or future problem solving skills.  I love this part of the session.  It really becomes a turning point.  Just imagine when kids come in and say they can’t concentrate, yet they concentrate on sports or gaming without a problem (aha!!! There’s a resource, or perhaps a skill that we can transfer to a new goal!!)

So this is the point also that I must mention that most of the issues kids bring in are disappointments that have been handed to them by their parents /or caregivers.  Did you ever experience a time where you tried your best, or not… and you were told “you should have done better”. Not a nice feeling.  Careful the language you use with your child, it tends to stick like dirt, and it may get wash off to the way they end up speaking to their own children one day.

When I look back to my final year at school, I was very ready, and I knew how to study and do my best.  I was very motivated.  Infact I rarely use “motivation” for anything these days (a have developed the skill of “just doing what needs to get done” and so things get done.  And if they don’t then I’ll get to them tomorrow.  Yes I allow for flexibility.   But back then, I was motivated and my parents did not push me.  Why would they, for they saw me studying enough.  And so when I look back, I can see how I did not burn out: I spent time in the sunshine, I often went on outings (before and after study – yes I made it part of my routine), I did plenty of exercise, and I was extremely organised,  I worked off a timetable (for study, resting, and playing).

But with saying all this, yes I was ready for the final year of school, yet on reflection I wasn’t ready for university.  I had friends that were not ready for the HSC but were ready for university.  See what I mean here?  Don’t judge your child too fast, for you don’t know what the year end will transform into.  When I say I wasn’t ready for university, there were a lot of factors such as finance, intellectual maturity.  Infact instead of starting my degree at 18 I wish I was 20, so that I could have been that little bit “smarter” and learned better.

The kids in my clinic come to get rid of stress.  What I end up teaching them is to change their perception to stress, perhaps a different mindset.  An acceptance of the pressure presented to them.  Believe it or not, this makes a huge difference as they find the opportunity to empower themselves.  Remember, there are no unresourceful people in my view.  But there are unresourceful states.  It is here where the work gets done, and I teach kids to lose the label!

My conversation with parents /carers is most useful.  It has taught me that quite often they think they know what the issue is.  But they only speak of the issue that’s bothering them (and I mean this in a good way.  We all want the best for our kids).  But at which point, are we adding unnecessary pressure to our kids.  Are we demanding unrealistic expectations.?  Do we really think the ATAR, or whatever measure /score it is for any given year, is a true indication of our child?  No….  Will our child be happy and successful if they get a certain result? (perhaps for the moment yes, and for the long term…who knows?).  How about you take a look back at your own senior year (and not everyone of us actually finished…and that’s OK) and did that years result determine your happiness or success?  No, infact many of us changed paths, and careers, and took up different opportunities and so on.  This is how we grow… we evolve into what we become.  

There are many pathways for our kids, so don’t be narrow-minded thinking there is only one path “your path”.  

I know someone who has a HSC boy right now.  And one coming up to the HSC next year.  The current boy is rather enjoying the fact that school is nearly finished.  He knows what he will do when he finishes.  And it doesn’t involve university at this stage.  His chosen path is an extension of his hobby since year 7. His parents will assist him to further pursue this career in hope that it takes off and is successful.  So this boy has not totally ruled out university, but he will not be going next year, that’s for sure.  There is no time to set up a business and work, and then study full time as an 18 year old.  

He risks the business being unsuccessful, but whilst as a family, words of caution are spoke, there are also words of encouragement.  I wonder what will pan out.  What I like best is that there is no fear coming from him.  He is aware of set up costs and determined not to lose out.  But every day, he spends time working behind the scenes on this business venture.  Ideally it would have served him better to have this extra work to do after the HSC exams, but unfortunately the ball got rolling fast.  I hope you are curious to see if this young boy is successful at what he has started.  I invite you to check in and follow up on it next year…. I will know the answer, as he is my son.  

I chose to support his passion.  I chose to support his business idea.  In my life, I have taken risks.  I have also lost opportunities.  I am happy to watch my son deal with decisions and watch him research for his new business.  This time next year we will see if he succeeded, and if he didn’t, what did he choose to do, and how did he cope with it all.

I shared my personal story with you because I am in the same boat as many HSC families, but I just choose to sail a different ocean.  If the perfect storm comes my way, we will need to abandon our ship.  But if the tide is in our favour, then we can say we found the right waters to where the sun is glistening upon us.  

Either way we are accepting of what comes our way, and we see no problems, we see only challenges.  We take each day as it comes, with new learning and new tasks.  There is no anxiety, on excitement.  Either way I am proud he is giving it a go.  

Good luck to all of you, and your families.  This year is a milestone.  Celebrate it.  Either way it’s an achievement.   And remember, some of the most successful people did not even finish school, or go to university, so let’s be less judging and more supportive.  

This mindset may just be what your child needs in order to feel free enough to do their best during their final year.  After all, this is all they need to do…their best.

Amanda Dounis

Positive Thinking Clinic

1/7 Magdalene Terrace

Wolli Creek, 2205

0458 850 850