Learning to say less - managing exams with kids

May monthly review – learning to say less

Each month I review my progress (or lack of!) towards my personal goals for 2014. You can see my full goal list in this post here – Goal Setting For 2014 And Creating My Decision Making Framework. The monthly review will look at my key learnings for the month and each quarter I write a full review of my progress. This month the focus is on my goal to increase family harmony.


Last month I realised that if I was to achieve the below goal I needed to stop expecting the kids to do the wrong thing and focus on catching them doing the right thing. This sub goal is one of the main ways I have been working to my main goal of increasing harmony in the family:

Maintain a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative comments (lead by example). Inconsistent achievement. There was a direct correlation between lack of sleep and failing to meet this ratio. I am going to be having this goal as my lead goal for quarter two 2014.

May saw both the 13 and 15 year old switch into exam mode. The 15 year old had exams start in the last week of May and the 13 year old the first week of June. These are the first exams for the 13 year old.

Traditionally this time period has been a time when we see a decrease in family harmony, but not because the 15 year old gets stressed out and grumpy about exams, quite the reverse. During previous exam periods what I see as his lack of focus and time commitment to his study would drive me a bit crazy. If I am truthful I would attempt to micromanage his study, thinking that I was offering helpful advice.

During the exam period at the end of last year, I became more aware of my behaviour and the reaction it would draw out from the 15 year old. So I decided to back off and allow him to find his own study routine. I still offered to be available to help and provided advice if asked, but let him know that I was going to leave him to it.

I found this quite hard and I failed a number of times when frustrated with the approach I was seeing. But as we had discussed my saying less and stepping back, the teenager would be very quick to remind me of what I committed to. I did notice that when I could stick to our agreement, the harmony of the house would be greater. And his results where the best he has achieved!

If the teenager and I had words over his study, it did impact the overall tension of the house. Kids pick up on the quarrelling and it puts them on edge. The teenager would also sometimes take his frustration out on the other kids by picking a fight with them.

So this time around, I have tried extremely hard to say less with the 15 year old and it has worked very well. It doesn’t even feel like it is exam time with him. But I don’t let him go completely, he loves his iPad and can spend much more time on it than I would like.

To find some balance there have been times when I feel he has spent way too much time online and not studying, I let him know he needs to get whatever info he needs online and have it saved because I am going to change the wifi password. He doesn’t necessarily love this, but it is for an agreed time and he acknowledges he gets more done with out the distractions.

I have also let work with his own rhythm. He is having a growth phase at the moment and he craves more sleep. This however never happens because he will voluntarily go to bed earlier. A number of nights after school, all will be quiet (he is the loudest member of the house!) and I will find him asleep in his bed.

At first I used to wake him up instantly, but now I only wake him up if he has been sleeping for well over an hour. He of course then has second wind and is buzzing with energy at 9pm at night and is often still studying up until 10pm. I thought afternoon naps would be not recommended for teenagers, but Victorian Government Better Health Channel actually recommends teenagers have a nap after school if they have time.

I am not convinced his approach is at all optimal, but they are his exams and the results will show how much work he has really done. I want him to be independent so have decided the best approach is to say less, chatting at the start of the exam period to talk about expectations and what I will and won’t do, then just let him go. This approach has really helped decrease the amount of arguing we do and we have gone through the exam period without any big issues.

What approach do you take to the kids’ exams?