What you say matters
How aware are you of the effect of what you say and think? Have you noticed that what you say and how you say it can have a big impact on others?
In last week's blog, I talked about mental health and exams, and I talked briefly about things that I wish parents wouldn't say to their children.
Since putting that article together I have watched an episode of my one of my favourite TV programmes, Call The Midwife, and it made me think even more deeply on the topic.
How do midwives talk to labouring mothers?
I remember when I went into labour for the first time. A few hours in the contractions were coming thick and fast and I felt like I was totally out of control of my own body and that I just couldn't cope with the pain.
I remember cowering on the bedroom floor and saying to my husband, “I can't do this. I can't cope with this pain.”
He held my hand, told me that of course I could and just encouraged me along the way. When the midwives arrived, they were the same. Not one of them (and I encountered many in my 47-hour labour) ever expressed any doubt in me.
When I was watching Call The Midwife recently, the episode featured a mother who turned out to be expecting triplets.
As the mother was labouring, supported by the midwives, she repeatedly expressed doubt about her ability to give birth to her babies. She did really well with baby number 1, found number two more difficult and number 3 was a huge challenge – the baby had to be turned and the doctor and midwives had to do an assisted delivery. But, all the time, no matter how worried the midwives were about the situation, they were only encouraging to the mother in question. They safely managed to deliver all the babies.
What this shows about how to talk to teens about exams
You might be thinking, “Lucy, I love Call The Midwife too but I have no idea what this has got to do with exams and my teenager!”
Well, the first thing is learning a lesson from how midwives talk to labouring mothers.
Once a baby is inside a mum, it has to come out some way. It's entirely inevitable – just like exams are 100% inevitable and unavoidable to students in year 11. Just because it hurts a bit and you don't really want to go through it, you can't make it go away.
So, you need to talk to your child about exams in the way the midwife talked to you when you were in labour.
She never said;
“I can see that birth really isn't your thing and you're not cut out for it. We'll just find a way to send the baby back and pretend this pregnancy never happened.”
“You haven't got the pain threshold to cope with labour – I really don't know why you're trying.”
“I can't see how someone who needs as much sleep as you thinks they'll be able to cope with having a new baby what with all those sleepless nights.”
Instead, midwives say things like
“You're doing so well. Only a couple more hours to go and you'll be holding your baby in your arms.”
“Breathe deeply to get through the contractions, it will make it easier to cope with the pain.”
“Now pant a bit while we're waiting for the next contraction.”
All the time, the midwife is building you up psychologically, making you believe that you can do this thing (because, really there is no other choice, that baby has to come out, one way or another) and coaching you through the trickiest bits that you find hardest.
You need to be doing exactly the same thing with your child as they work for exams.
What you need to say to your child
So, when your child says, “It's too hard, I can't do this.” You need to say, “Of course you can do this, look at what you've achieved so far, and if you keep going you'll keep seeing an improvement in what you can achieve.”
Or, if they say, “There's too much content for me to cover and there simply isn't enough time,” you say, “Well, let's break it down and make a plan so you can focus on the things that matter most and will make the biggest difference. If other people can do this, you can too.”
Or, if they say, “I've got fourteen exams in three weeks. I have no idea how I'm going to get through it,” you need to say, “Well, yes it does sound daunting, but let's draw up a plan. We know that you need lots of sleep to get through, I'll make sure I've got food on the table and I'm here for you every night. We just need to plan your revision so that you're not cramming at the last minute when you're tired.”
The really important thing is that you show that you have confidence in your child and that you lay out an achievable plan to help them to get through the obstacle or difficulty that they're facing.
If you go along with, and reinforce, their self-doubt, you will only make things harder for them.
Do you want to know more?
In episode 59 of the podcast, where I interviewed psychiatrist Dr Thomas Dannhauser, he explained how we teach our children the tone of the self-talk that goes on inside their heads with what we say to them. If you're struggling to set the right tone for encouraging and positive words with your teenager, I strongly suggest you listen to that conversation (there's so much other good stuff in there too).
I also wrote a blog post called How to deal with exam anxiety with postive self-talk. This is something you might want to share with your teenager.
Finally, hypnotherapist Dipti Tait, who I interviewed in episode 50, said to me when we weren't recording, that your brain needs a plan if it's going to get out of a funk – so helping to lay out the bare bones of a plan to move forward is a great thing to do when your child is feeling like it's all too much and they can't cope.
Not sure you can do this on your own?
I'm here to help. When you join The Extraordinaries Club, my online hub containing my signature study skills course that will help your child to achieve their grades in the best way for them, I will help you and your child to develop a more positive mindset, and therefore talk, around exams, as well as helping you to build a plan for tackling the difficulties that works for you and gets results. And, I will always, always believe in you.
You can find out more about the club here. If you have any questions about joining, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, try to see the positive in every situation, and whatever you do, always build your child's confidence in their ability to succeed in everything you say.