The folly of pressing children to excel in exams

The folly of pressing children to excel in exams

The folly of pressing children to excel in exams

I want my children to be free from stress and anxiety...I want my child to be a no-limit person…I want my child to  know that worrying only inhibits performance, and they  should see nothing in life to complain about. They should  cultivate the art of relaxation and recreation. 

— Adapted from Dr Wayne W Dyer

Kavya, all of 12, who studies in class 7, is a average student. But she gets all upset during the week before exams. This is manifested physically - she gets headaches and stomach aches.  Sometimes, she refuses to go to school. She is unable to sleep through the night before an exam.  Her mother is all worried and tries talking to Kavya, telling her that she has to study very well to get over these fears.  Kavya, feels even more anxious after hearing her mother. She weeps and says that she cannot remember much during her exams.  She feels that she might fail miserably. In contrast, Kavya does quite well in her daily academic performance. To add to her misery, her father keeps telling her that if she stands within the first five ranks, he will get her an ipod.  This adds to Kavya’s pressure. She gets very fidgety and keeps looking blank and afraid.

Let us look at Sudeep, studying in the same class. He isn’t the least bit worried about the exams. He is an average student as well. His mother keeps on bugging and nagging him.  Sudeep’s response is very lukewarm, though at times it worries Sudeep’s  mother  that her son has a don’t-care attitude towards his  studies.  Yet, she is confident that he will perform well during  exams.  Sudeep seems careless towards his academics but cleverly pulls up his socks especially during the exams. Sudeep   sits with his books for at least two to three hours a day, and gets through his exams with a good performance.
Sudeep is a strong-willed, confident boy who does not respond to exams with stress. This can be traced to the parenting styles of  Sudeep  as well as Rekha’s parents. Let us understand that all children are not the same.  Children react or respond to pressure in more ways than one. Some children perform very well under pressure, others fail and falter.

Why do some children feel more anxious than others? First, let us understand in simple terms what ‘anxiety’ is.  Anxiety is a normal reaction; it can be an apprehension, tension, or uneasiness to any perceived threat or anticipation to any danger.

Why do young children feel anxious?   Is this squarely because of parental pressure? Yes, it can be one main component, yet we cannot shoo off other factors like peer pressure and school demands. This again brings me back to delve on the fact of parenting. During the crucial years of growth and development, what are we emotionally feeding our children with? Is it a quest to excel and win all the time? Now, let us see whether we can build confidence and self esteem in children and help them to look at studies as part of developing themselves and a phase where they should give their best, but not chase myriad thoughts of standing on the top all the time.  Remember, children want to be seen as worthwhile. They are eager to be accepted and loved unconditionally by their parents. They want to be valued as individuals.  So the fear of not living up to the parents’ expectations, which they think will lead to rejection, makes children view exams as a demon which will leave a mark on them of  being either hopeless or excellent.

We, as parents and as significant adults in children’s lives, have somehow over emphasised the need to excel in academics and the way the schools evaluate this excellence is performance through examinations.  

The examination becomes all too important to us and we transfer this “all  too important to us” to our children, when something “all too important”  becomes  a threat.  Many children tend to overestimate the threat, underestimate their ability to cope with it, and  they feel anxious, and slowly, stress  overtakes anxiety. Sometimes the environment at school, at home and peer pressure further triggers the stress. Stress can pose a serious threat to emotional health.

An answer to this is positive parenting, that is helping children with positive problem solving and coping skills.

*It is essential to build lasting and meaningful bonding with our children, thus helping them build supportive relationships at home and at school, with peers and adults. 

* We should help children to express their fears and feelings of exams  appropriately.
This will make children feel physically and emotionally safe. Good nutrition, exercise, and healthy sleeping patterns should be in place. When emotional and physical needs are met and good sleeping habits are cultivated, children can focus better on studies.   

* Allot time for relaxation recreational activity. Always keep the communication channels open and interactive. Guide the child as and when required. Be available mentally and physically during exams. 

* Allow the children to be participative in their own development and in consensus with them, draw up a study schedule with simple study habits.   As a  caring parent, lay down reasonable and clear expectations, which will help in developing competencies (academic, social, extracurricular, and life skills) 

* Educational discipline has to be in place. Yes, all of us will agree that our children should maximise every ounce of intellectual potential they possess. There is no excuse to work hard. 
We as parents should be aware that education has lasting benefits, yet self-esteem and self confidence should not be sacrificed on the altar of education. Dr James Dobson says, “Some things in life are more important than academic excellence, and self esteem is one of them.” 

He further goes to say that a child can survive, if he must, without knowing a noun from a verb. But if he has less or no self confidence and self respect, he won’t have a chance in life. 

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