As there is examination fever all around, and everyone is geared up or gearing up for the process to take place, have you ever wondered what exactly your child might be going through during this period? Typically during the months of February and March, I get to meet a lot of students who are going through anxiety. Now, you may say that anxiety during exams is natural. However, have you ever stopped and wondered what exactly is going on in that beautiful mind of your child that is creating stress for everyone around?
EXAMS ARE ASSOCIATED WITH OUTCOME
As parents, you may have arguments with your child regarding the number of hours they might be studying for, the marks that they get on their practice tests, teachers' comments, etc. There is a common conversation in every household where the child is giving an exam "You were supposed to study for 5 hours and all you want to do is play." or "Study!!!", or "All you want to do is go and meet and talk to your friends but you don't want to study" or "Your exams are right around the corner and I see you doing time pass". This is the common response I get from children and teenagers whenever I ask them in a counselling session, "What goes on in your mind when you have your textbook right in front of you?". The most common response I get is "I FEEL SCARED." My obvious next question usually is, "What is it that you are afraid of?" Without hesitation most children reply with "Mom/Dad will scold me." or "I do not want to disappoint my parents."When this is the pure motivation for your child, do you feel he/she can perform? And, even if they do perform, then for how long are they going to retain what they have learnt?
THE "WHAT IF..." THOUGHT PROCESS IS DISTRACTING
When a child's intention is to avoid punishment (whether in the form of direct punishment or your disappointment in him/her), it creates a lot of anxiety. It begins with low levels of stress, where your child is mostly distracted. He/she stares at the textbook or the study material and within 5 to 10 minutes, starts thinking about the worst possible negative outcome of a low performance. This then turns to fear and thoughts mostly surrounding "what if....". Then their mind wanders off to "If I get poor marks, If I do not top the class, If my friends think I am not smart...", so on and so forth.
PERFORMANCE ANXIETY AND NEGATIVE VISUALIZATION
After the WHAT IF phase, comes the outcome based anxiety in the form of negative visualization. The child starts imagining the what if scenarios. The focus on this image is so high that through the study material is right in front of your child, he/she hasn't comprehended a single word after the first paragraph, since the "what if..." thoughts started cluttering in your child's mind, taking away most of the attention and focus. Now, we all know what happens when we visualize negative outcomes. When we consciously visualize something enough number of times, it creates a pattern. Once that pattern gets created, it becomes the first coping mechanism to any stressful situation in the person's life. You may have come across people who get worried about almost everything. You too may have this habit of worrying. This worry becomes a part of the person's life and eventually leads to the negative outcome that the person has thought about or visualized. Therefore, even if your child has the capability of doing well in studies, this pattern ensures that he/she doesn't do well. When the child doesn't perform well because of this (the child is not aware he/she is doing this), it confirms the thought that "I cannot score well." This thought eventually turns into a BELIEF.
NEGATIVE VISUALIZATION PATTERNS CREATE LOW SELF ESTEEM
When your child has formulated this belief and it is so firm, it leads to thoughts like "I am useless" "I am worthless" "I can never succeed". Gradually, your child will start distancing himself/herself from you and will create a barrier against any conversation surrounding studies and exam. Low self-esteem can really do a lot of damage. It makes a person have low expectations from oneself. Low self-esteem starts appearing in other parts of your child's life. Your child may show signs of not being socially equipped, he/she may get into frequent fights with friends, start isolating himself/herself, start losing his/her self-confidence, etc. Low self-confidence usually stays with a person for a very long time. You need to choose if your child's performance is more important or his/her self-confidence. Self-confidence can help your child win all battles in life. Your priority needs to be redefined in this case.
PROLONGED LOW SELF ESTEEM LEADS TO "BAD BEHAVIOUR"
The ability to love oneself and keep oneself happy or content is very important in every phase of our lives. When we are unable to do so, it slowly leads to a state of perpetual unhappiness. I see a lot of unhappy children and teenagers. They start disliking themselves and eventually disliking everything else around them. They develop a strong sense of aversion towards reading, studying as well as their parents. Have you met teenagers who back answer, or who disregard and ignore what you have to say? Have you ever wondered why this sweet child of mine, who used to be loving and happy, has suddenly turned into a different person? Or why is there World War III going on in my home every single day? Why does a mother or father turn into the enemy of the child or vice versa? This perpetual state of conflict in your otherwise loving household is a result of the stress-anxiety-low self-esteem process in your child's life.
UNDERSTANDING, EMPATHY AND COMPASSION CAN AVOID ANXIETY
It is important for you, as a parent to reflect and introspect upon the question, "Why is it important to me that my child performs well?" Is it because it gives you a sense of high status when your child scores well, or it gives you a sense of inferiority when he/she doesn't? Is your child's success a reflection upon you as a parent? Are you seeking the approval of the society by avoiding the judgment of people? Are you worried about your child's future and career? Try to understand the difficulty your child might be facing. You will be surprised how easily they can confide in you and seek your support.You always have a choice to provide your child with the tools to overcome their fears or to instil more fear in them. If you wish to bring about a change in your child's behaviour, the first change you need to bring about is within yourself. This transformation in you can not only give you peace of mind, but it also creates an environment of emotional security for your child.