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
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.
How to motivate the child?
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.
How to keep the enthusiasm going?
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.
Assessing strengths and weaknesses
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.
How to deal with mental blocks on certain categories of questions?
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.
What is ‘burn-out’ and how to deal with this phenomenon?
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.
Self-Confidence versus compromise?
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.