Confidence comes in all shapes and forms. Low self-esteem is like a screen blocking the rays of brilliance. Until children are made to believe in their abilities, there is no way of telling what they can achieve, and they can achieve a great deal more than we sometimes give them credit for. Most of us parents believe in our children. We believe in their ability to reach great heights, both in academic and working life and as all round human beings. If you are not one of us, if you have serious doubts about your child’s ability, then don’t even think of taking this challenging route. It will be your child who will suffer at the end. After all, how can you instil the confidence in him/her that is paramount for success, if you, yourself, don’t believe?
Believing in your child to a point of expecting the ‘impossible’, without extending a helping hand is also detrimental to their chances of success. If we expect the impossible, we must provide the conditions for them to live up to that dream.
But, succeeding in 11 Plus exams is not a dream removed from concrete facts of life. It is a realistic dream, even though the competition is quite tough. Obviously, some child’s success would mean another’s ‘failure’, but that is also a fact of life in present day society we have to live with. How else can we liberate the universal excellence the human race possesses?
Apologising for abstracting the objective reality to a point of despair and for leaving a bitter taste in your mouth, let us return to the world of the living and concentrate on the concrete measures that may help your children built their self confidence.
Acknowledging improvements or things well done is a powerful tool for motivating your child. You can only do this by playing to your child’s strengths, rather than overemphasising the weaknesses. Attempting to praise the child for tiny little crumbs that do not signal tangible progress may not be such a good idea, as the child will see through it and it may even work to lower child’s self-expectations. But, thoughtful structuring and timely sequencing of revision process could be made to work for maintaining and/or boosting child’s motivation. For example, giving the child practice questions on a category that he used to find very hard to tackle, until you have patiently explained the method the day before and made sure he/she has fully understood it. Then you are quite sure that the child will get most of those questions right and you have created a perfect occasion to praise her/him.
The child will get tired, the interest may occasionally waiver and at times mistakes may start creeping in. Note the changes in your mind and keep a close eye on it, but don’t panic, as this is most probably just a glitch in the demanding revision process. Let the child have a break for a few days or better still let him do something he/she really enjoys or take him/her to a theme park for a day.
You may also need to remind your child of the benefits of going to a selective school every now and then.
Don’t jump in prematurely to help the child. Children have their own way of working out the answers. You may be pleasantly surprised at times, just when you are thinking that they are not going the right way about it, they come up with the right answer while you are still contemplating how to make them understand. Show respect for their way of doing things until you are absolutely sure their way is not the correct way. With parents there is usually a tendency for the emotional ties to take over and impatience sets in, as your expectations of your loved ones may be very high. Don’t let your expectations cloud your judgement, as this might adversely effect child’s enthusiasm. Have you ever tried to give driving lessons to your son or partner? Imagine the state both of you were in at the end of a lesson. If you can control your emotions and are able to take an objective approach and with a bit of homework of your own, there is no better person to help your child. Otherwise, seeking outside help may be a better option.
Including your child in the planning of weekly revision sessions, giving the child responsibility and more importantly getting the child’s opinions about the progress of the whole revision process could bring a better sense of belonging. But, more than anything else, if the child sees his/her own progress at every stage, especially improvements in the weaker areas and meaningful progress is always rewarded proportionately, then there is no reason why that vital enthusiasm should not be maintained.
Making a list of your child’s week and strong question categories in every subject area and constantly monitoring that list is probably one of the most important aspects of the whole process. You can do this through progressively evaluating the practice papers completed and marked. Periodically the areas where the child is not achieving as expected should be assessed and together with the strong areas a list with ascending (or descending) order should be compiled. Then, any fluctuations in the list should be observed and permanent changes should be reflected in the list. In the light of this list, the revision sessions should be organised to strengthen the weak areas and to consolidate the strong ones right until a few days before the exam. The eventual form of the list will then serve as the guide to fine tune the time management strategies.
As a general rule, if the child does not comprehend the dynamics of a question category, in most cases dwelling on the subject would be counter productive. Switching to another category the child feels more confident with and returning to the topic on a later date would be a better approach. Again, before hastily deciding that this is an area you have to give a miss, make sure it is not the method that is lacking. Try changing or modifying your method or ask other parents or a tutor to see if there is a better method, but never blame the child for the failure. In fact, if possible try not to make the child feel inadequate by openly putting too much emphasis on the issue. In the last analysis, it is not the end of the world and the child can still achieve a high score without it.
Burning-out is a phenomenon that throws the child’s progress into a constant state of decline. This usually happens after prolonged periods of hard work without meaningful breathers. It is vitally important that the revision work is mixed with variety of social and entertainment activities. Each revision sessions should be kept to round about an hour except for the several mock tests. If the practice sessions are more frequent than 2-3 times a week, the duration should be even shorter. The child also needs change of atmosphere and regular outings and other extra curricular activities should be dispersed in between revisions. The early signs of burn-out can take various forms. Lack of concentration, indifference, forgetfulness, rise in the number of careless mistakes, slowing down etc. By the time the obvious signs, such as scores consistently falling behind accustomed levels, drop in the number of questions answered in the given time etc., the burn-out would have reached a fairly advanced stage and the revision work should immediately be stopped at least for 2-3 weeks or more. The burn-out is not a permanent state and can be reversed with time, provided that recovery is carefully monitored. Burn-out is a spontaneous event triggered by child’s defence mechanisms, telling us that the mind had enough.
Sometimes compromises may be necessary to keep the self-believe fresh. Nearer the exams those categories the child still finds difficult could be left out of the equation all together, if there is a risk that it may cause a dip in self-confidence. So, if push comes to shove, it is not the end of the world and that category can be left out. The child can still achieve a high score without it. What is worse is your child going to the exam dreading that category will come up. Not only the anxiety could have an adverse effect on the concentration, but also the time wasted for that category could mean not being able to answer more questions in the strong categories. However, there is one area you should not compromise on, time management. Using the time allowed efficiently might make all the difference. In the last few months of preparation do not compromise on time to encourage your child, by allowing extra minute or two to complete the practice papers. Find other ways of building their self-confidence. Praise them for correct answers, especially in their weak areas.