Ask any teacher—the most challenging month of the year for the chronically disorganized child is June. They’ve had the same notebooks, folders and back packs for a full ten months. They have failed to shed unnecessary materials, making important notes and exam review sheets that much more difficult to keep track of. They are tired. They are stressed, and so are the adults they rely on for help. Teachers and guidance counselors are winding things up and making room in their schedules for end-of-the year meetings. It is a hectic time for all. So how can parents support kids-in-need during the final weeks of the school year? Here are ten (simple) ways to help support your stressed-out teen this exam season:
Be Realistic: If your child has been earning Bs and Cs all year, do not get in the mindset that final exams present an opportunity to “fix” the problem. As parents, it seems like a Just Do It moment—Just get down to studying and ace the Spanish final—how hard can it be? We all pulled all nighters in college and learned a semester’s worth of work in a single ten hour study binge! Beware the “J” word—when we say just get your notes together, just learn all the irregular verbs in one night, we are minimizing a serious challenge. Eliminate the “J” word and ask yourself is this really do-able? High school freshman are not like college freshman. You may have pulled all nighters and aced your exams, but your kid is in a different place. Have high expectations, but do not expect a complete turnaround.
Get a head start: I do not recommend that parents intervene in the nitty gritty of finding a years’ worth of physics notes in a teenager’s binder. Instead, ask if the teachers have given out study guides. If so, sit down with your teen and model how to use the guide—have them check off which topics they have materials for and mark those that they need help replacing. Be prepared for the fact that your disorganized child needs time to pull her notes together—help her not leave this until the final crunch time. If teachers are approached with a week or more before the exam, they are likely to help students replace lost notes. If it is a day or two before the test, the response will not be so generous!
Hold steady—a high stress time of year is not a time to take away electronics or impose new limits. Yes, prioritize studying, but do not put a kid on lock-down for all of June, or impose new, stringent limits on electronics. He will view this as punitive and unfair.
Try to be around—Even if your teen does not often go to you for help, they are probably more productive when you are around. Try not to travel for business or go out with friends when your kid is buckling down for the toughest weeks of the year.
Stay in the moment—Try not to get ahead of your teen in terms of thinking about future challenges—don’t go shopping for summer reading yet, or start talking too much about interventions for next year—you can put the wheels in motion in interviewing tutors without your child’s input at this point. He needs his head in the game.
Say yes—If he wants a night out to go to a concert, and he is doing the best he can on getting ready for finals, give him that well-earned break, without the twenty-minute lecture on what he needs to get done the following day. A great night out listening to music with friends can re-charge an overwhelmed kid, and it is, after all, “festival season.” All kids want to belong, and concerts are often considered one of the year’s social high points.
Re-stock—Make sure the printer has ink, there’s plenty of looseleaf, colored sharpies and new folders around for organizing studying materials. New materials are always a boost!
Get professional help— If your child does not work with a tutor, look on line for study skills tips and templates. I personally love colored Sharpies for memorization tasks. Topics in one color, notes in a second color—The act of switching colored pens ensures the student is thinking about and processing the task. Colors stand out and are easy to visualize! T-charts and outlines are also easily available as are daily planners. Show kids websites and let them choose templates they think look helpful.
Encourage your teen to create lists of questions as they cull through their notes. Disorganized students tend to conceal (from themselves) what they do not know. Explain that you understand they have struggled this school year. The point of exams is to solidify learning. Knowing what you know and what you don’t is not shameful—it is part of the practice. Good students admit their knowledge gaps and fill them. The first step in studying is acknowledging what you do not know. Do not add to panic by expressing dismay about your child’s lack of understanding of a topic. Every fact gained and every concept grasped is a step forward. Questions are the key to filling in knowledge gaps.
Stay positive—Many of us have memories of awful exam periods. It is easy to commiserate and to engage in negative talk about “the system” and how irrational all this testing is. It may be true that your child does not shine on exams. However, research does show that studying for tests is productive for learning and storing information. Be positive about putting in the effort to study hard and avoid fatalistic views on people being good or bad test takers by nature. Good testers are people who focus hard, admit what they do not know and remain positive. No one learns on auto-pilot. Dispel the genius myth, and reinforce the fact that, although some skills come more easily for some people, everyone needs to learn how to learn and everyone needs to put effort in to succeed.
Exam times are highly stressful for everyone, but especially for the disorganized child. Problem solving is not easy when everyone is under pressure. If you are too busy or frazzled to help a flailing teen, a college student or specialized tutor may have availability, even in June. If you do hire a college student or new tutor on an emergency basis, be sure to brief the person on your child’s needs, state of mind, and academic performance throughout the school year.