The final weeks of school for Year 12 kids, and especially their HSC (or other final exams, depending on where you are), feel like a particularly cruel form of torture. It’s a daunting time for kids and their families, to say the least. Life becomes all about surviving the HSC weeks in the healthiest, least-stressful, calmest possible way.
These next few weeks are the culmination of all their years at school. It’s a pressure cooker of emotions for the kids, and their parents too. Will I see my friends anymore? What’s life like outside of school? What will the HSC exams be like? What if I don’t get the marks I need? What do I want to do with my life anyway?
Surviving the HSC is stressful for everyone
I’m the mum, and it feels very overwhelming, so I can only imagine how my boy is feeling. I know many of his friends feel quite smothered by the immediate future of their exams and what comes next for them. We are certainly noticing this in our house, there are so many options and so many decisions to be made in what suddenly feels like a very short space of time.
I made my mistakes and it is time to let go and let my boy make his own choices.
I also need to remember that this is actually not happening to me. It’s his life, not mine. I finished high school a long time ago now (cough, cough, 31 years, cough, cough). I made my mistakes and it is time to let go and let my boy make his own choices.
A dear friend said to me recently that her grandmother used to say, “Worry once! Then it happens and you can’t worry because you are in it, so you simply have to deal with whatever life has handed you.” This is an amazing piece of advice and something I am trying to mindfully live by at the moment. Though I am finding the transition from participant parent to observer parent a difficult one.
There are many pathways these days
Surviving the HSC seems both much harder (so much pressure from so many sources), yet in some ways easier these days. For instance, in NSW at least, early entry applications are available at many universities (note, these have closed for this year). This gives the school leavers the opportunity to apply for up to two courses and be assessed on marks from the preliminary courses of their subjects.
Sometimes, just letting our kids know that there are different ways of doing things can take the pressure off.
Students then get the opportunity to have an interview with the university, to sell themselves as a student and why they want to attend this particular uni. In most cases, unis that offer early entrance will also send out the offer of a place prior to the commencement of the actual final HSC exams. This really helps take a little bit of the pressure off those final exams.
Doing the HSC part-time via the TAFE system, is also an option. Sometimes, just letting our kids know that there are different ways of doing things can take the pressure off. If the HSC exams go belly-up this year, there are avenues to explore next year.
Tips for surviving the HSC for families
Here are some tips I used to give my students and parents when I was a Year 12 coordinator (though, trust me, it feels very different now it’s my child!). This is not an easy time in any family’s life, but it doesn’t need to break you. Start here, and remember, this, too, shall pass.
1. Debrief with your mates
Get together with other parents to remind each other that it will all be okay. You’ve managed to raise your kid this far and weathered many storms, so you know they will get through this one. If you a partial to a prosecco, a cider or a beer then maybe get together with other mums to have a drink or two at the end of the exam week. For me, it will be lots of chocolate.
2. Keep up the self-care
Parents, make sure you take time out for yourself. You cannot do the exams for them, you cannot do the study for them, so don’t take this on. When your kid is screaming because it is all so unfair, remember that this is their battle, not yours.
3. Be open to their mistakes
We parents need to remember that we can’t put an old head on young shoulders. No amount of advice, nagging, cajoling, threatening or begging will change that. Our kids need to make all the mistakes for themselves. I’m reliably told that it doesn’t matter how much I tell my son why he shouldn’t do something (and there are many, many times), he needs to learn things for himself.
4. Create a calm environment at home
Try to give your child the space to study with as much quiet as they need. This might mean changing the family routine to accommodate the times they want to study. Vacuuming a little later in the day or when they are not home, keeping the TV low, limiting social activities at home for other kids. Also, remind siblings that now is not the time to pick a fight about who ate the last chocolate biscuit.
You’ve managed to raise your kid this far and weathered many storms, so you know they will get through this one.
5. Help create a study timetable
Create a plan that includes time for exercise, rest, friends and fun. All work will make Johnny a dull boy, or a very bored boy in my house. My son is far more effective if he has downtime. He is part of a team sport, so encouraging him to continue that is really important to break up the study.
6. Make sure they are well fed
As much as our teenagers would love to live on junk food (well, mine certainly would), it isn’t great brain food and is particularly bad for memory. Surviving the HSC means having plenty of yummy, healthy treats available for them to snack on while studying. Encourage them to limit, or even give up, the coffee. While a little coffee may help them feel more alert, excess caffeine can leave them feeling jittery and even more stressed.
If they are drinkers, encourage them to give up alcohol while they are studying and doing their exams. While they may think it gives them an escape, it isn’t great for their brains while they are trying to study or do exams. And absolutely nobody needs to be facing an English exam with a hangover…
This crispy date is perfect for healthy snacking. Grab the recipe here.
7. Get plenty of sleep
We all know this is important, but getting our kids to agree is another story. While they are studying in the lead up to their exams, having a daytime nap might help. Studying into the wee small hours cramming everything the night before the exam isn’t the most effective form of study, but it’s going to happen. We can only gently suggest they put the books down and get some rest, and one day in the distant future, they might agree with us.
8. Pick your battles
With emotions heightened across the entire family (and siblings possibly feeling hard done by as they are not the centre of attention), it’s time to go easy on everyone and everything. Make sure something is really worth the stress of the fight before heading down that path. Accept that their room is going to be a bomb site, their manners basically AWOL and their focus even less on being a pleasant family member than ever before. Let it go, and let them get on with it.
Absolutely nobody needs to be facing an English exam with a hangover…
9. Remember you’re the more adulty adult
Though many of our 18-year-old school leavers will already be considered an ‘adult’ in the eyes of the law, in reality mums know they are just toddlers in bigger bodies. A lot of their crazy emotions right now are all because they are scared, frustrated, overwhelmed and exhausted. So try to keep a level head when dealing with teen tantrums.
++ This one will definitely help: A strategy to stop a teen meltdown in its tracks ++
Try to be extra tolerant of their crappy teenage behaviour. Just like when they were little it isn’t really about you. Right now, they just aren’t really in control of their emotions.
10. Make sure they keep balance
Now is not the time for them to give up all their activities in favour of study. Though picking up a new activity or romance is not a great idea at this time either. Just keep doing what they have always done, with no big changes is really the big key.
11. A milestone, not a definition
Most importantly remind them – whatever happens, it doesn’t define them.
It is just a short period of time in their lives and whatever happens, these results do not define them. There are so many pathways to future careers these days. It will all be okay in the end. . Remind your kids that you are proud of them and love them regardless of their results. I know for me if my son tries his hardest (which if I am honest would be doing slightly more work than he is at the moment!), then he will do us proud. I know that as long as he is happy, enjoying life, and kind, then that is going to take him further than great exam marks.
Try to have something exciting planned for the end of it all, so the whole family can let out a collective exhale: They did it! And we survived!
Godspeed, year 12 families everywhere!
What’s your best tip for surviving the HSC for our mums and students?