Is your home turning into a battleground as the exams draw near? Are you feeling increasingly frustrated by your children’s procrastination habits, their inability to map out revision plans, or their general resistance towards work?
Parents can help their children to change their negative work attitudes, by employing conversation strategies that involve questioning and careful listening, says Diana Petrov, an educator and aspiring life coach. However, she cautions that although the strategies may seem deceptively simple, much thought and effort is required to put them into practice.
Below, Diana highlights a common exam-preparation scenario that can lead to stress and unhappiness, and demonstrates how parents can help to turn the situation around.
Deal With Resistance
Scenario: A child is making excuses to delay getting started on revision.
Begin by asking your child, “On a scale of 1 to 10, ‘1’ being ‘not ready to start revision’ and ‘10’ being ‘ready to start anytime,’ where do you think you are right now?”
If your child names a number higher than one, you can reply, “What makes you say ‘2’ and not ‘1’?” This is a chance for children to notice any small detail that might indicate that they are actually on the right track.
To make this more concrete for younger children, you can draw a scale, and use an object or favourite small toy to signal moving up the scale.
If, however, your child says he or she is at the bottom of the scale in terms of work readiness, ask your child why this is so. It is likely that your child will give a negative response, such as, “I flipped through my revision books, but it looks so difficult and boring.”
If this should happen, the onus is on you to find something positive to acknowledge. For instance, you could say, “Wow, it’s great that you took the time to flip through your books. Sounds like a good start.”
This is also your chance to dig deeper, by asking questions such as, “How did you manage to make yourself flip through the books, even though you felt they were difficult?”
After highlighting the positive efforts that your child has made, you can continue the process with questions such as:
“I wonder what would be one small thing you could do to move up the scale?”
“What would be helpful to do, to get to a 2.5 or 3 and feel more ready?”
“Is there anything I can do to help you move up the scale and feel more ready?”
Take your children’s suggestions seriously, as these will cue you in to the support that you need to provide. Other questions that you can ask include:
“What was useful when you prepared for your exams last year? How did you achieve that? Is that something that could work this year too?”
“Imagine that your best friend is giving you ideas for revision: what do you think he/she would say?”
To further motivate your child, you can also try this visualisation activity: ask your child to draw a picture of how he or she would feel, and what he or she would do, after completing the exams. Give positive feedback about your child’s picture, such as, “Wow, look at that! You look so happy!”
Next, ask your child, “What’s a small thing that you can do to start preparing for your exams, so that when it’s over, you can feel and do what’s in your drawing?”
Move Into Action
To get your children to commit to actionable steps for their revision, these are some questions you can ask:
“What is one small step that would be easy to start your exam prep with? Let’s write it down.”
“Let’s make a list of revision tasks, and add one easy step every day.”
“What would be a good day to start your exam prep? Let’s mark the calendar.”
“When I’m busy or not home, how will you remind yourself to do your revision?”
“How are your friends doing their revision? Is there anything that you can apply too?”
“What works for you? Let’s do more of that!”
When you are facing resistance from your child, try to listen more. Just like adults, children respond negatively to stress, and sometimes all they need you to do is to hear them out without judgement or expectations.
When children are venting or grumbling, you can support them by gently looking at them and holding space for them to release their emotions. This involves nodding or using conversation fillers (such as “mmmm” or “um-hmm”) to let your child know that you are listening. Keep your words short if you wish to reply (“I see,” “yes,” or “hmmm”), and resist giving lengthy replies or preaching.
This restraint on your part will allow your child to process his or her thoughts, and you can observe if it helps to improve both of your moods.
Reflect & Paraphrase
When children are sharing their feelings, you can help them to reflect on their thought processes by restating or paraphrasing their words. You may find this exercise to be slightly unnatural when you first carry it out, but it can help your child to develop greater self-awareness, as they consider their statements and assess if what they said makes sense, and if their ideas are feasible.
Here are some common statements made by children regarding work, and how you can respond to them:
“I wish I didn’t have to do this.” “You wish things were different.”
“I hate this!” “I can tell you really don’t like this. Shall we take a break?”
“I don’t feel like doing any worksheets.” “You don’t feel up to it now. When would be a good time?”
“I’m just so tired right now.” “Hmm, you’re tired. When would be a better time to do this?”
Affirm & Compliment
It is important to affirm your child by highlighting his or her strengths. Regular affirmations will help children to feel more confident and positive about the future.
A bonus tip: for greater impact, mention your child’s name as you are sharing your affirmation or compliment.
Here are some examples of affirmations that parents can use:
“I’m impressed that you could come up with this idea.”
“I didn’t know that you could do this all by yourself.”
“All the progress you’ve made shows how resilient you are.”
“My friends also noticed how ambitious you are.”
“I admire your perseverance.”
“The cool thing about you is that you…”
“I appreciate that you’re trying your best, despite it being challenging.”
“I’m inspired to be more disciplined, just like you.”