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5 ways parents can support their children through the HSC

by Suzie McKinley, Practice Manager - School Counselling Program, CatholicCare Sydney

With thousands of children across NSW preparing to undertake the Higher School Certificate (HSC) exams in the coming months, it is critical that we acknowledge the stress many of them may be feeling and work to best support them.

With over 20 years of experience working in CatholicCare's School Counselling Program, I have enjoyed supporting students, their families and whole school communities. In my role as a school counsellor, I helped students who are struggling with feelings of stress develop and implement coping strategies, particularly during the HSC.

As the HSC approaches, your child may begin to feel enormous amounts of pressure. As a parent or carer, you play an important role in boosting their confidence and ability to cope with these final exams. Here are some ideas you may wish to try.

1. Assist with time management

You may be able to use your own experiences to help your child manage time effectively.

If the HSC seems overwhelming, you can help them to break down the course into manageable portions. Be sure to set a realistic study schedule with clear goals for each portion of study and include a reward for each goal.

Be sure to schedule relaxation and fun activities as well and let your child lead the timetable, it's their timetable after all.

Need proof? Studies show that students with effective time management perform better and experience less stress.

2. Be positive

Whenever possible, use positive language and actions around your child studying the HSC.

An example of a positive phrase that encourages without being judgmental is “how can I help with your study today?” This helps steer your child to the right path and gives them control of the situation.

Avoid using negative phrases such as “you’ll never pass the HSC if you don’t study” or “do you really think social media is a good choice right now?”

If under stress, your child may be very sensitive to any criticism whether implied or not. So be sure to ask questions that aren't judgmental and let them know they always have your support.

3. Promote healthy lifestyle choices

A healthy body assists a healthy mind. Encouraging your child to eat and sleep well while staying fit can help them cope with any HSC-related challenges they face.

Research shows that there is a clear connection between sleep and brain activity. We also know that a good night's sleep is important for teenagers' mental health and that it directly affects how well students do in exams.

But it is not just sleep that we should be aware of. Staying active increases oxygen to our brain and stimulates it. UCLA studies found that exercise can increase brain growth and development. What you eat also has a big impact on your brain functions. This is particularly true for younger people who are still actively growing.

You can play a really important role in your child’s HSC year by pointing them to the right foods; healthy proteins and foods rich in antioxidants, encouraging them to stay active and sleep well.

4. Direct them away from distractions

Our kids are living in a period with more distractions than ever before. Phones, gaming,  social media and screen time generally, are a constant presence in their lives.

The use of phones especially can be addictive. A recent study of smartphone users showed that the average user checks their phones more than eighty times a day. While another study uncovered that children who spent two hours or more each day on screens achieved lower results in language and thinking tests.

As parents, you don’t have to rid your home of distractions, but you should talk with your children about reducing the use of their phones so they can stick to their study schedules. For more information and advice visit eSafety for parents and carers.

5. Stay calm and help combat stress

There’s no question that most HSC students are feeling the pressure. In fact, a University of NSW study found that 40% of HSC students displayed symptoms of depression, high stress or anxiety.

By helping to create a calm home environment, you can reduce their anxiety. You could also consider changes to their bedroom, so it is a space where they feel comfortable and relaxed to work.

Meditation is another good way to overcome stress. There are plenty of options to choose from too such as Headspace or Insight Timer.

As a parent or carer, you need to look after your own wellbeing too. As a family unit, you are part of the HSC journey. Find out more about our school counselling services and find out more advice and support in our Parenting HUB.

About the author

Suzie McKinley CatholicCare SydneySuzie McKinley has over 20 years of experience working in CatholicCare's School Counselling Program; supporting students, their families and whole school communities. As a school counsellor, she helps students who are struggling with feelings of stress develop and implement coping strategies.

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