Leaving Cert can be stressful for parents, too

Yesterday, almost 87% of 60,000 students sat their first Leaving Certificate exam. This cohort of students experienced an incredible amount of disruption over the last two academic years. Quite simply, there hasn’t been a group of students who have had to endure so much in recent times. 

Thankfully the Government didn’t bury its head in the sand over this issue and was proactive and the changes they made to each exam acknowledged just how severely impacted their education was by the Coronavirus pandemic. So, the fact that 87% of students sat the exam yesterday is a huge success and speaks to the effort made by so many involved in education in this country.

But parents, too, must celebrate their own efforts over this long 15 months. It has not been easy. 

Parents have had to endure so much, working from home, managing their relational life, homeschooling, and keeping their children motivated in the midst of such uncertainty while also minding the health of their aging parents. No easy feat. Yet, manage it they did. 

And if there is to be a silver lining from all of this disruption and chaos perhaps it is this, we are more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. Perhaps, we now know our children can handle significant challenges. That shouldn’t be something we gloss over. It should be something we point out to our children so they come to realise just how powerful they are. 

Resilience is when we tell ourselves, ‘I can handle things when they come my way’. That is an important voice to develop in your child. 

But over these next few weeks, it is also important that you mind yourself while you support your child during the most stressful exam they will ever undertake.

The Leaving Cert is the monster of exams. I dreamt about it up until recently. The dreams have taken many shapes over the years but the most recurring one was that I was sitting the exam and hadn’t prepared for it, whatsoever. 

I’d wake in a cold sweat, a sudden wave of relief would wash over me when I realised I was just dreaming and not sitting in the exam hall bereft of knowledge. So, these next few weeks will be challenging. 

One of the most important ways to support your child as they navigate this Irish rite of passage is to watch your own response to your child’s anxiety. When they come out of the exam hall and they are consumed with the exam and all they had to answer, it is important that you don’t get caught up in this also. 

We all know it is not productive to ruminate on an exam that has just gone, because it will change nothing, only the positive outcome of the next exam. So, gently help your child to get their focus where it should be, on the next exam. 

If you join them in their post-exam dissection, you are not enabling them to focus on what is important. Of course, they will need to speak about what came up and how they feel they did, but that should be it. You should try to avoid going into it with them and if they talk about the injustice of some of the questions just help them to change their perspective. 

It really isn’t productive to join them in their discourse about how unfair the educational system is. Try to help them out of this way of thinking. Maybe something as simple as, ‘well it sounds like you knew a lot of the exam, what’s on tomorrow? This might get them to change their focus for the better, while supporting them so they feel their experience has been validated without delving into the minutia of the exam.

It can seem like you are living with a diva unhappy with the lack of purple orchids in their dressing room living with a Leaving Cert student. Fridges slammed shut, with the lack of food, everyone walking on eggshells so as not to upset the fragile ego stalking around the house, noise reduced to breathing so as to not disturb the study. 

But you should try to keep things as normal as possible while also being a little more tolerant than you usually are. The pressure on a teenager’s developing mind as they navigate this time is immense and we must, as parents, take this into consideration when we are confronted by unreasonable demands. It will pass soon. 

So, as you manage these next few weeks, take a moment for yourself to celebrate all you have endured and successfully managed over these long two years. Your children will look back on this time and if you support them properly, they will have grown a little too. 

To the parents of students in 2021, I salute you. Head down, only a couple of weeks left.

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