How to protect your child from 11-plus stress – PART 1
It’s understandable that you might feel anxious about your child’s 11-plus exams.
It’s also understandable that you’ll worry about transmitting your own stress to your child.
However, because this concern only adds another layer to your own anxiety, it tends to make things worse for everybody!
Rather than feeling guilty because you’re stressed, and fighting to hide it, you can use some simple strategies to help keep your child calm and happy.
Rather than your anxiety infecting them, it’s quite possible that their calm will rub off on you.
- I’ll explain my first two suggestions in this article, and three more in Part 2 – which will follow soon.
1) Long-term objectives – medium-term goals
There are two main mistakes that parents make when encouraging their child to focus on exam practice.
The first error is to concentrate on the exam itself as a motivation for your child.
A test which appears to be just round the corner to an adult can seem a lifetime away to a small person.
If you try to persuade them to do extra work at the weekend because “The exam’s only NINE MONTHS away!” they might work hard in order to please you – but this approach will become less effective each time you try it.
The second mistake, on the other hand, is to swing too far the other way, focusing on very small steps.
It may seem like a good idea to say: “All I want from you today is that you achieve a slightly better mark than last weekend”. But what if this weekend’s paper happens to be a little harder than the previous one?
If they score a lower mark, they may feel that they have let themselves down, when in fact it is quite possible that they are improving.
Besides, we all like to imagine a learning curve which looks like this …
… but in reality, the learning process – for any set of skills, at any age – almost invariably looks something like this:
If you set objectives for your child which are too short-term, the troughs in the graph will feel like failures … and this will make the peaks less likely to happen.
Instead, encourage your child to think in terms of goals which span a period of a few weeks, and which are definitely achievable with a bit of effort: whether this means seeing whether they can score at least 80% in one of their past papers next month, or challenging them to write a story with no more than three punctuation errors before the end of term.
2) Don’t set timed work until your child is ready
This is a simple point, but it’s something which so many parents (not to mention tutors) get wrong.
Learning skills, and learning to reproduce them quickly, are two very different things.
Timing problems are usually caused by a lack of confidence with core knowledge or techniques. Trying to work faster and faster tends to make any weaknesses worse – so that, in some cases, children who are trying to work more quickly actually become slower.
Instead, encourage your child to work carefully and in detail, repeating and correcting tasks as much as necessary. (I cover many of the core skills for exam preparation in my entrance exam guides, such as this one for Dulwich College.)
Once they are feeling reasonably confident and the exam is a couple of months away, it’s time to start introducing some fairly relaxed time limits; then building up to proper exam timing in the last few weeks.
It is rarely a good idea to set a child regular timed work six months (let alone a year) before their 11-plus.
Look out for Part 2 of this article in a week or two!
Robert Lomax worked as a school teacher and tutor for many years. He is an educational author and publisher and writes the popular RSL Educational blog.
© Robert Lomax 2018