Easter break, for many secondary school students, signals the beginning of exam preparation and study leave. But what can parents do to make this often busy and stressful time more effective and enjoyable? How can they help their child to manage their own time, and how much time should be spent relaxing and having fun?
Needs and priorities
If you want to empower your child to take ownership of their education, show you believe in them by asking what their needs and priorities are. Trust they have some insight into their own strengths and weaknesses. If this isn’t a dialogue you are used to having as a family, now is a great time to start. Giving your child a voice will demonstrate that you respect their needs and opinions and will teach them to listen to the needs of others.
Ask questions about school, how they are feeling about studying, exams, friends and overall work/life balance, and then really listen and be genuinely interested in their responses. This will help to build a bridge of communication with your child and to maintain a strong relationship. It will also help you to plan the holiday time together and take into consideration the needs of other
Follow their lead
This may sound obvious, but it’s so important. When they were younger, they generally followed your lead as a parent. However, as a teenager, it’s time for parents to begin following and respecting their child’s lead. If you’ve invited them to share their thoughts and feelings with you, and want to keep this dialogue open in the future, it’s imperative that you honour what they have shared – even if you don’t necessarily agree with it. Before you stop reading right here, that doesn’t mean you as a parent should not have a say in your children’s future plans, but the order of your words and actions do make a difference. Show them your support by following their lead.
For example, if your child says they hate chemistry and don’t plan to study for the exam because it’s a waste of time, it’s hard not to react to these words as a parent – whether it’s with disbelief, frustration, anxiety or even anger. But imagine if their words could be treated as a window into their world and less as a problem to be fixed. What would that look like?
As a parent, you can sit with your child and talk through their pain and frustration. Perhaps they don’t like their teacher, perhaps they feel ignored in class, perhaps they need some tutorial support, perhaps they feel embarrassed that they don’t understand the study material, or perhaps they are anxious or even terrified of failure. Be a good listener so that your child has space to reflect, understand and share the real reasons behind their frustration. This will help both you and your child to better define the real challenges at hand.
When your child feels you are making an effort to understand them without judgment, they will also be more inclined to discuss solutions. Asking questions instead of giving directives can help them take the lead, safe in the knowledge that you are offering solid support. For example, questions such as: “What would you like to do about that?”, “What kind of support do you think would be helpful?”, “Are there people at school, teachers or friends that you could chat with?” and “Would you like us to look into finding you a tutor?” will give them options to consider that they may not have thought about previously. This will provoke a very different response than saying something along the lines of: “Well, don’t be silly – what’s there to be afraid of? Just study harder.” If your child is struggling to understand the curriculum and is feeling scared or ashamed, these words create more hurt. Furthermore, dictating solutions such as: “I’ve signed you up for chemistry tuition three days a week to go over exam technique. You’ll thank me afterwards when you get good grades!” usually only serves to create overt or passive frustration and rebellion. Adopting a collaborative approach almost always yields long-term benefits, even though the process may take more time and energy.
Balance work and play
In Hong Kong, it’s not uncommon for many young people to feel completely stressed out about exams, which leads them to study for hours and hours on end without healthy breaks or time out with friends or family.
Help your child to be aware of the importance of taking care of their physical, mental/emotional and relational health. It may be helpful to have a chart with these different wellbeing factors listed out so that everyone can have a good balance of physical activity, rest and social interaction with friends and family, as well as exam preparation.
With teenagers, it is often useful to offer a range of choices while maintaining reasonable expectations. For example, if you want to plan a family holiday during Easter or over the exam prep period, ask for input from your child and discuss the different options: would it be better to stay in Hong Kong and take some short day trips around the city; to fly to a resort destination for a longer period of time and have a mix of rest, play and study; or book a short, action packed tour that will allow them to enjoy a few days without worrying about studying at all, so they can return to revision afterwards with renewed energy? For happy family dynamics, make sure that children get to have input in plans involving the whole family and are included in the decision-making process.
Finally, before trying to implement any of the above tips, take some time to reflect on your own process: What was your family like when you were a teenager? How would you like your family dynamics to be? Do you have lots of worries that drive your decision-making process? Do you like to control things and seek perfection? Or perhaps you feel you have no control over anything to do with your child? Being aware of your own strengths and weaknesses and being a grounded, calm and compassionate parent requires a lot of self-reflection and growth. It’s not easy but it can be a huge benefit to your child’s present and future wellbeing and growth during study leave and beyond.
Cindy Hah is Co-Founder of Aegis Advisors, an education consultancy that helps families planning the educational futures of their children. Cora Chan is a coach, speaker, trainer and parent of two teenagers. She is Family & Parent Coach at Aegis Advisors