Tuesday 13 March 2018

Helping parents juggle Easter holidays, revision and technology use

We teach in a number of leading schools and our March sessions focus on helping students to approach revision and exam time armed with a clear plan, plenty of grit, a positive mindset, a tank of self motivation and resilience as a back-up. 
These skills or aptitudes can be developed through self-awareness and an understanding of how to do it. 
We speak to 100s of parents and students whilst delivering our workshops.  What we have noticed in recent years is the dramatic rise in anxiety, coupled with an inability to regulate it in functional ways.  Anxiety lies at the core of any adverse behaviours, and parents need to remember that it is also the precursor to serious mental health decline.   So if you are witnessing lethargy, indifference, panic, rudeness, conflict or withdrawal and you are dreading how to balance family time, revision and technology use, here are some pointers for you:   

1  Let them have a rest from any discussion about revision at the beginning of the holiday. 
However, do ask them to get their workstation set up, BUT ideally, not in their bedroom (this needs to be a place for rest, sleep and relaxation).  Ask them to locate a place, which is quiet with no distractions and has enough space to organize their files into piles.  This place is then associated only with revision.
2  Get them to draw up a timetable, including holidays and other days off. 
Having looked at each subject or topic, they need to jot down how many hours they need to devote to each area and then allocate a spot on their timetable for each one.   They will feel more optimistic about the marathon once they have a clear path laid out.
3  Encourage them to be realistic.
Setting achievable daily work goals trains the brain to focus on what they ARE going to do, and not on worrying or ruminating on what they haven’t or cant do.  Achieving what you set out to achieve boosts levels of motivation and reduces anxiety and makes the brain focused and engaged for the next day.
4  Ask them to highlight tricky areas before they struggle. 
Rather than spending hours staring at a topic, stressing out, having a blank distracted mind and achieving nothing, ask them if they have any trouble spots and discuss an action plan early on in order to prevent the “I cant do this” from casting a black cloud over every subject.
5  Intersperse study with plenty of breaks. 
Ideally encourage revision slots in the morning when the brain is rested and fresh and encourage short work bursts (30 mins – 1 hour) and plenty of breaks.  Physical/outdoor activities boost mental acumen, focus, retention & motivation levels (get running, walking, biking, playing with the dog, cooking, drawing – even if it is short 15 minute bursts).  End each study session with subjects they are confident in.  And above all have FUN with family and friends as this boosts happy chemicals, vital for learning.  Get playing games together and enjoy mealtimes chatting and relaxing.  
6  Food/Drink – get the fridge and cupboards stocked with good brain food 
You are what you eat/drink.  Encourage them to look after their brain from now to exams, it does not need much sugar, caffeine or alcohol, but it does need lots of calories, protein and healthy food and water to maintain peak performance.         
7  Avoid ANY screen-based distractions during working slots  
Encourage them to park their phone/devices in another room and use them as a reward once they have completed revision for the day.  If wifi is on, and revision slots are interrupted by: You Tube, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, short excursions to Xbox, Minecraft and Gaming or background TV or music, their brain will be distracted and less captivated by revision. Work first, Play later.  Remind them that over use (gaming/social media) will leave the brain dull and bored by work, plus your child will be cross with themselves and take it out on the family.
8  Sleep 
They need at least 9 uninterrupted hours before and after a revision session for the memory to function and retain information learnt for the day.  If they are going to a party, they should plan to have a break the day after, particularly if alcohol will be involved. 
Leaving devices outside their room whilst they sleep will boost the brain’s effectiveness. 
Ideally they should give themselves an hour of no screen (inc TV) before they need to be asleep:  use the time to Bath, Read, sort out their washing (yes – they can still remove dirty clothes from the carpet), listen to music, chat to family in order to wind down
9  End each day with a positive. 
Ask them every night what they feel they have accomplished and don’t let them dwell on what they have not.  Acknowledge their effort or their persistence.  Remind them that they are developing effective work habits and self-discipline for life.  If they continue to feel worried, have a look at the Headspace App and make sure they know how to Breathe properly – this is the most effective strategy to balance levels of cortisol and reduce anxiety in the moment.   
10           Your unconditional love and calm presence counts for more than you will know. 

Having a secure sense that you are there and gunning for them goes a long way to anchor and motivate them.  Try and keep your own stress levels down by taking care of yourself and not getting hooked into their stress.  Calmness is contagious, so is confrontation and anxiety