Friday, 12 February 2016
I was invited by TeensIndia to do a session last month (Jan 2016) entitled “Keep Calm, Its only an Exam” for high school students. They wanted me to touch on how children should prepare for exams, how they should create the right conditions to study and so on to ensure top notch grades. In other words, how to cope with it all.
I had the year 10s and 12s sitting in on the session and I mean it literally. There they were, 150 of them on the floor, looking up at me ,restless before I had even begun. I have done these sessions a number of times and I know how ‘animated’ 15 to 18-year-old boys can get.
The children were participative albeit noisy as I am sure you might have guessed, but they were honest, they got what I was talking about and were eager to communicate their thoughts as well. I wanted to share some of that with you all as I think it might help us understand our children better.
The Indian Board Exams!! (Those of you familiar with this will know where I’m going with this). With the Board exams looming ahead, the anxiety was palpable. As I took them through many of the study skills that they could incorporate into their learning process, the tension was evident. I then made a decision to do away with what I had prepared for and changed tracks. Never a good idea when you are dealing with 150 children.(Boys) But after the initial bedlam ,when they understood that they could not get away with just making noise , things kind of settled.
We talked about Stress and how it manifests in each one of us. Some of them were really honest and I thought it was absolutely brave of them to voice their fears and opinions in front of their peers and teachers. Remember these are young boys and usually they are hard wired to carry themselves ‘like Men’. But they aren’t ,are they? Not at 16 or even 18 although their, at times cocky behavior, will have you to think that they are mature. For many of them , its all a façade , a façade that hides their fears, expectations and perhaps a lack of confidence.
Our children, the moment they get into high school, are in a full time job, juggling classes, assignments, assessments, balancing it all with co curricular and social activities as well. So much expected from them . How often have I heard during parent teachers conferences, statements along the lines of ‘ I am expecting top notch grades from you’ or He/she is just not doing his best. There’s something wrong, He’s very distracted these days.’ There are tons of other comments but I am not going down that road. Some of the comments are so negative it’s a wonder the child doesn’t break down, there and then. Rather than stating problems and challenges why cant teachers and parents collaborate along with the child to understand the problem accurately, brainstorm solutions that can help. In some cases there is a breakdown of communication between teacher and Student which leads to a lack of motivation from both. It could be a test taking skill or lack of , that may be the problem or failure to recognize that perhaps core concepts have not been grounded in earlier grades..
It is hard for me, sometimes, to listen to them and not be affected. Theres a lot of swallowing and deep breaths taken to try and relax those knots in my solar plexus . But I digress. Let me share with you, parents and teachers, what these young boys had to say about how Stress and how it impacts them, in kind of their own words
· I get headaches often and sometimes they don’t go away and there is a heavy ache for 3 to 4 days. I take Panadol. It goes away then comes back again.
· I feel like eating all the time . I buy chocolates and eat them.
· I get tummy aches and have to go the bathroom many times, During my exam also I feel like going and all the time I am thinking about that rather than what to write on my answer paper. No ma’am, I don’t tell my mother about this.
· I am rude to my parents and they get upset with me. Sometimes it leads to big fights and loud voices. So I just keep quiet when they scold me.
· My brain seems crowded. So many thoughts and at night I feel as if I have not slept even though I have. I wake up tired and sometimes in boring classes I sleep but I can sleep with my eyes open.(Bless this child)
· Relationships break up.(I didn’t ask further though I wanted to, I certainly did not want to put him in a spot there with his peers and teachers )
· I keep tripping and bumping into things.
· I am always thinking about the exams and although I sit alone for long hours in my room to study , I cant seem to concentrate.
· I feel anxious and at times I feel breathless and have to take deep breaths.
· I keep talking fast especially at home so that my parents wont ask me anything.
· I pick a fight with my younger brothers.
· I’m always sleepy.
· I get angry very quickly . I feel like my feet are getting hot and then my ears . There’s a pain around my heart .Sometimes I feel like pushing all the stuff on my table down like you see in movies.
Little cries of help. Parents and teachers out there, do look out for these red flags. Create opportunities for them to talk about whats happening in their lives. In most cases children are unable to understand why they behave in a certain manner and I’m sure many of you may have noticed some of the above in different intensities. I can certainty relate to the chocolates and sudden rudeness.
High school students are in a full time job, as stressed as you are. Help them. There are so many ways that you can. There are so many resources available. Use them. Talk to other parents, Meet with a counsellor, understand little things that you as a parent can do , change or tweak the way you communicate with your children if required. Most of all, listen carefully to your beautiful children. You may hear things that they don’t talk about.