Prioritising your child’s mental health in the run up to final exams and their next steps

by Tia

A worrying reality facing South Africa is that almost half (49.1%) of the 18.3 million people currently not enrolled in education or in employment are between the ages of 15 and 34. This is according to South African Markets Insights, which paints a problematic picture for parents who are trying to encourage their children, particularly teenagers, to push forward on plans for the future.

Many soon-to-be matriculants may be concerned about the lack of job opportunities available in the economy, and beyond that, what profession to pursue. This can lead to disheartening demotivation and stagnating on their essential life-shaping decisions. Fortunately, parents can positively influence their kids to keep their heads up over the challenging period of writing prelims and final exams, as well as determining what follows.  

Commenting on this is Tammy Dicks, National Trauma Support Co-Ordinator at ER24, who says that: “Supporting your child is essential to keeping them calm. It’s important to listen and relay that exam stress is normal, as is wondering about what lies ahead. Remind your child that a test, by definition, is a measure of their understanding of completed work. You should constantly reassure them that results are not linked to who they are or your love and approval. Tests and challenges are an opportunity to learn, and failure is not the end of the world. Avoid criticism, and instead, validate your child’s concerns through your guidance and support.”

Tammy Dicks

Get involved

Parents are advised to know their child’s exam schedule and if possible, the syllabus. “Assist with study plans and encourage your child to find a process of learning that fits them, as not everybody studies in the same way,” she says. “Remind them that exams are important, but not more so than mental and physical well-being. A positive approach promotes a more positive result.”

These steps can all add to showing support, alongside healthy routines.

“Good eating habits, regular breaks and finding a balance between studying and relaxation are crucial for your child both physically and mentally,” she says. “Anxiety could be plaguing your child more than you realise, so it’s important to explain that we can consider the worst possible outcome, but we can also consider the best possible outcome. By trying to ‘flip the script’, your child can approach this time with clarity that things can go well, even if the future is unclear.”

While certain tertiary studies have entry requirements that match good matric exam results, not all children will necessarily need to score highly to get into a college, but some form of tertiary learning can aid them in finding their way. Though some may go on to do other things, such as starting a business or working in a job that doesn’t require tertiary studies, there is still merit in choosing an initial focus after graduating from high school. There are opportunities to do an apprenticeship in a trade, there are bursaries available across a range of fields, and entrepreneurship doesn’t always come with a degree.

Dicks notes it’s a wise move to consider options as early as possible, but whatever path a child may seem drawn to, parents should maintain that supportive approach.

Many youngsters struggle committing to tertiary studies as they believe this will determine the outcome of their entire working career, but this isn’t always true. According to FundiConnect, 50-60% of university students drop out in the first year, and though there are various reasons as to why, changing course is among them.

It’s a process

“Life is a journey of learning, and where we start is not necessarily where we end up, and that’s okay – the only way to really know is to try,” she adds, noting that often when we try and don’t succeed, other options can present themselves.

“Remind them that if we are not making mistakes, we are not learning, and if we are not learning, we are not growing. It’s crucial to adopt a growth mind-set, instead of a fixed mind-set.”

Studying is a useful steppingstone, but it may not align with where a child ends up professionally, and circumstances from financial backing to realistic dreaming will play a role. Fundamentally, every parent wishes success for their child and can see their capabilities, which can create an expectation or add pressure, but being open-minded will have a better result for a child’s present and future wellbeing. 

As Dicks concludes: “Parents should take an interest in their child’s dreams. If you encourage curiosity about exploring new things, no matter how unconventional, your child will form a stronger connection with what interests them, and what suits them professionally.

It’s worth noting that Mediclinic has been recognised as a 2024 Top Employer in South Africa. There are various opportunities to apply for a bursary through Mediclinic’s Higher Education programme, including for Nursing Diplomas, a Higher Certificate in Medical care, Higher Certificate in Diagnostic and Procedural Coding, just to name a few.”

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