Parenting through the HSC
The best path between two points is not always the most direct one. The journey can be curly, bumpy, disrupted and longer than anticipated – or it can be cruisey and non-eventful. It all depends on any number of factors, including personalities, mindsets and a whole range of circumstances, and this applies to the attainment of the Higher School Certificate for your daughter, too.
Recently our parents heard a presentation from StreetWork Youth Services Manager, Lucy Dahill, who is also the Pymble parent of one HSC graduate and one daughter embarking on this journey. Lucy offered the following advice for parents:
It’s your daughter’s HSC, not yours
Be mindful of the vibes you might be giving off and what you are saying, even quietly, to her and to others about how stressed YOU are about the HSC years. This can be misjudged by your daughter as you having a lack of confidence in her at a time when she is trying to figure out how to pull it all together. Also be aware of discussing other people’s children, their stress or performance, as your daughter can easily re-translate this to how you or others talk about her when she is not around.
Some students can also buckle under the weight of expectation, especially if other siblings or relatives have performed very well or if they are aware that their parents have made sacrifices and invested heavily in their education.
Remember, this is her HSC, not yours. The aim is to be there to listen, support and help guide your daughter to make her choices and to own the consequences of her decisions, not to do the work or bear the stress on her behalf.
Help her look after her physical and mental health
It’s a sad fact that mental health issues can arise in the HSC years. Some stress is good – it prompts your daughter to study and to get up in time to do the exams or the work. Too much stress at this age, however, can affect her mood, blood pressure and immunity. Stress can also affect her memory, which in turn can ramp up feelings of anxiety and panic and lead to more stress.
You can play a supportive role by modelling positive ways to cope with stress, such as walking the dog, having a swim or doing some stretches. Be inspired by her when it comes to downtime – a stint of gaming or some time on social media may be the short release she needs, even though it looks like a timewaster to you. Be there emotionally when she needs to vent but be mindful that this is your cue to listen; you do not need to try to fix.
And think back to the baby and toddler years when it comes to promoting sleep, which your HSC student needs to recharge and to maintain her physical and mental health. Nighttime routines, especially after heavy study sessions, create effective triggers for sleep. An oldie but a goodie is shower, PJs, book, bed, lights out, conk out.
Don’t tell, listen
Telling your daughter how to study and when to study can be counterproductive, as what works for you may not work for her. Ask her how she learns best – it may be listening, writing, or her own unique study method – and how you can help. If she likes working in (what looks to you like) chaos, turn a blind eye and leave her to it.
Keep things in perspective
The HSC is not the be all and end all, no matter what anyone says. The sun still rises and sets every day, regardless of the marks or rankings your daughter receives. Talk about life after the HSC. “What will you do on the first day after your last exam?” is a fun question to ask and a reminder that there is light (and that life goes on) at the end of this tunnel.
Consider the benefits that the HSC years bring – learning to prioritise, managing multiple projects, dealing with things that go wrong (as well as things that go right) all help to lay foundations for life skills.
Remind your daughter that there are many paths towards to a meaningful and purposeful life, and that the right path, the right time, and the right place for her can turn up when she least expects it. Most importantly, make sure she knows she is loved no matter what marks she brings home.
As parents, we can best support our daughters during the HSC years by letting go of our expectations or preconceived notions about what this journey should look like and walking beside our girls, trusting them to make their own decisions and to accept the consequences of those decisions. In this way, you will both find the journey more rewarding, and your daughter will benefit from a great many genuinely useful life lessons.