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December 02nd, 2016

Handling anxiety around the 11+

As many parents and children head into the last weeks before 11+ exams, final preparations begin. There is a long list of things to check before the day itself – test papers completed, tick, clear pencil case purchased, tick, arrival time and travel plans checked, tick, arrangements for siblings made, tick, nutritious breakfast and early night planned, tick….. 

Even with all your preparations, your child will probably still get anxious. This is the real thing; they have not done it before, they know it matters and they may well have picked up that you are nervous. They probably also know that getting nervous won’t help them. 

You might take your child aside for a quiet word….. “There’s no need to be nervous, everything is going to be fine, and you just need to breathe and stay calm so you can do your best”

This kind and practical advice might be reassuring. As the tummy flutters start you remember what Mum or Dad said, and you breathe and maybe it all settles down…. 

Maybe. 

But hearing that you need to manage your nerves is not the same as being able to manage your nerves. Managing anxiety is a really important life-skill, and it takes more than a few minutes of pep talk…… 

We need to directly approach our children’s anxiety about the approaching exams. It may not feel natural, it may even feel the wrong thing to do. But it will help them if we say things like “I imagine as the exam gets nearer you may well be getting nervous, perhaps it is rumbling away and you’re not sure what to do about it” or “Maybe you’re scared about feeling scared about the exam, even though you have worked so hard on all those tests.” 

Despite lots of practical and also emotional preparation, my son was overwhelmed by nerves on the morning on his 13+ exam. He turned as white as a sheet as we arrived at school, his eyes filled with tears, and he started shaking his head…. I so wanted to take these feelings away, I wanted him to feel better – not just for himself and for me, but for the results! I had to dig really deep to say “This is a very tricky moment, you have worked really hard and kept yourself very calm, and now it’s a few minutes away and the nerves have hit you hard and fast and big. Perhaps they have caught you by surprise and that is really tough….” This gave my son a moment to feel OK about not feeling OK, and I saw him trying to pull himself together, and I put my hand on his shoulder. We stood there for a few minutes, and then he dashed into the cloakroom to splash his face. And then he walked off to the exam hall. 

The truth is anxiety is already present in our homes – so we’re not going to introduce it or make it worse by talking about it.  In fact, when we NAME IT we have a chance to TAME IT. 

Let’s give our children a chance to recognise and acknowledge their nerves, by identifying them and then supporting them to work their way through their feelings. We may still give the advice about breathing, but we approach it in a different way. 

We can teach children to manage anxiety in a few ways. 

First, we can model our own approach to nerves– verbalise how you feel when you’re doing something new or difficult or important,  and show them how you handle this. (“I am so excited about driving Dad’s new car, and I am also worried. I think I need to get to know where everything is before I turn the engine on, and then maybe I should do a practice run around the block before we set off to Grandma’s house.” 

Be open about the benefits of anxiety.  Any performer will tell you that those tingling and jangling adrenaline-fuelled nerves are what can propel you further, keep you going and take to you to new heights – if you welcome and harness them. No nerves? That’s just not true. 

Discuss how nervousness feels – can we visualise or describe nerves?

When I asked my sons, I was astonished how clearly they could express their fear! One son said he feels cold and wants to stay very still; he described it as feeling blue and fragile, like glass. My other son described his anxiety as red and bubbling and it makes him want to run. 

And what are the early warning signals that things are building inside you? I realise now that I’m concerned about something when my fingers start twitching and I can’t settle to one task.  Ask where in their body do they feel the nerves? Tummy, head, arms or legs? 

We can refer to other people – it’s not just them. How does Tom Daley feel standing on tip toes at the end of a 10m diving board? They may look completely calm and relaxed – how do we think they manage it? 

Talk about various calming techniques that may work for them. They may need a different one to those that work for us. Some well-known options are breathing, visualizing a serene and happy place, or a balloon floating into the distance, or maybe they need to sing or talk to themselves, or have a mad dance around the house to release tension? Whichever one catches their imagination, give it a go and practice it, often. 

Obviously doing mad dances or tapping fingers or feet in the exam hall isn’t going to be an option, so it’s likely they will need some alternative calming techniques. (My son takes blu-tak into exams, he squishes it between his fingers in his pocket. )

The trick is to use these techniques early enough – hence the need to spot early warning signs. 

So, just as with revision preparations, emotional preparations will help your child deal with exam nerves but also with anxiety generally.

 

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November 24th, 2016

Christmas is coming...but so is the 11+

Christmas is coming – but many parents are counting down revision days rather than shopping days…..

Exams in early January cast a shadow over the festive season for many families. How do parents get the balance right, so their child enjoys a rest and gets the seasonal cheer and family fun they need, and is also ready for the Big Day in the New Year?

The obvious advice is to make a revision schedule and stick to it – but what is a good revision schedule for your child? And how do you stick to it?!

Each child needs different preparation – it may be the same exam, but the children are not the same! It’s hard to walk your own path, and hear that other families may be doing more revision, or indeed to hear them insisting they are taking a laid-back approach when you know your child needs more support.  

Children today DO have to get used to taking exams. How can we find the right approach and avoid piling on pressure and overwhelming them so they can learn how to do their best?

There are lots of tips about revising – eating healthy foods, getting good sleep, using post-it notes or flashcards. And here are four ideas that will definitely help that you may not have heard before!

Take a tip from computer games!

Have you noticed how motivated your child is to play Minecraft or Jelly Splash? Why? Children love playing these games, and keep going back for more, because lots of clever people have worked hard to make them enjoyable. And, obvious as this may seem, when children enjoy themselves, they are willing to keep going and they improve their performance.

What does this mean for revision?! There are ‘educational’ or ‘revision’ games available, but that’s not what we’re talking about. Children thrive on feeling successful and being rewarded for their efforts as they are in computer games. Does that give us a clue? Does your child feel successful at revision? Do they feel acknowledged and rewarded for the effort they put in?! Mmmmm…..

Computer games work on giving the child something that they value and appreciate every 7 seconds. How much positive feedback does your child get for each revision session? Computer games also break themselves down into munchable chunks – a few minutes of intense work, then a shift of pace or perspective to refresh the previous skills.

Keep revision sessions SHORT and make them REWARDING – that doesn’t mean handing over smarties for every right answer, but it does mean giving LOTS of Descriptive Praise. Say something positive about their effort, any improvement and strategies they use, and for persevering and much more!

 

“I see you’ve used different colours to make that diagram more interesting and clear. This will help you remember it better.”

“You’ve been very conscientious about filling in your scores on the exercises. Now you can keep track of your progress.”

“I noticed you had a glass of water before we started. That was good thinking, it means your brain is ready to work!”

“You’re pushing yourself to do this, it’s not easy for you, and it will pay off over the next few weeks.”

“Even though you would rather we weren’t doing this, you realise it’s important we get it done. Your attitude towards these exams is mature.”

“I love that you are sticking with this, even when you don’t get the right answer straight away.”

 

LET them do it their way and have a choice

This doesn’t mean doing NO revision, but it DOES mean letting them have some input and autonomy in their revision. Given that there is no choice about IF they do it, then allow them to have some say about the HOW, the WHEN or the WHERE.

There isn’t one right way (your way!) to revise. Many children do not enjoy sitting still and repeating facts. In fact, trying to do so may be impeding their learning. Some children really do learn better when they are walking around the room, or squeezing, bouncing or hitting a ball. Moving can make learning more enjoyable as well as more effective - have you tried BEING a volcano erupting? It’s much more fun than talking about it…..

Does your child enjoy creating images? Then get them drawing shapes and flow diagrams using a whiteboard, blank postcards or even powerpoint, rather than using something already created by someone else. Yes, it takes a little more time, but the personalisation and engagement is key.  Does your child like rhymes and sounds? They can create songs or poems to help them remember facts – it doesn’t matter whether they are rather silly songs or poems! The sillier the better in fact.

We get so worried that our children take revision seriously that having fun and doing it differently to how we would do it, doesn’t sit well with us. Just because your 10 year old works differently from you, doesn’t mean he’s not working or indeed it’s not working for him!

UNDERSTAND their reluctance

This is likely to be the first time your child has experienced this level of pressure or stress. It won’t be the last. That’s not meant to sound all doom and gloom, but rather this is an opportunity! Our job is to coach our children through this new experience and help them learn that they can manage it.

There is nothing wrong with a child who does not look forward to doing revision and would rather be doing something else..

Telling them off for not realising how important revision and exams are doesn’t work. And it probably isn’t true either. They probably do realise, as it’s unlikely we’ve kept it to ourselves. Equally, trying to persuade them that revision is really fun isn’t effective either. It’s simply not true, unless you have taken our first tip very seriously and it really is fun now!

So what’s happening?

Well, we may have come to believe that our child is lazy or defiant . Assuming they are lazy is untrue, although they may have been unmotivated to date. How hard have you seen them work, and for how long, when they’re really enthusiastic about something?  It helps to remember that children want to do well, and they care about what happens and what we think of them. When they don’t think they can achieve or make us happy, they pull back from trying. They can do this two ways – either by noisily and defiantly claiming it’s all pointless and you can’t make them do it, or quietly and equally strongly by pulling back and making cursory, if any, efforts. The negative response they get from us hurts, but they believe it’s the best way to protect them from something worse – the feeling of failing and letting us down.

So what can we do?

First and foremost we need to model a positive attitude towards getting things wrong ourselves. Rather than berate ourselves for making mistakes, we can show our children a more healthy way to handle mistakes by talking about what we are going to do next to improve.

We can also explain to our children that our brains grow and get stronger through use, just like any other muscle, and actually the best exercise they can get is struggling to get something right and finally achieving it!

This is part of how our children develop a Growth Mindset – a belief that we can keep improving by working hard, trying different strategies and persevering.

We can also help our children understand their own reluctance by putting it into words for them – this is very different from asking them “What’s wrong, what’s the matter?” however kindly and gently this is asked. Even if they understood and could articulate it, they probably wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so. So, instead, try “I wonder if you’re scared about working hard and still not getting a good mark. It’s very difficult to push yourself without knowing whether you will get the result you hope.”

We absolutely can help our child feel better – but we can’t PUSH them to do so. We need to support them. That means we FIRST need to LISTEN to how they feel and then help them work their way through. They can’t hear our advice or encouragement until we have heard their concerns.

You could try: “I sense this is really getting you down right now. I wonder if it feels like this is all you get to do, and maybe you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe you’re scared about what will happen after you’ve tried your best….”

If your child is getting frustrated and stressed, we know this doesn’t help so we are tempted to reassure them or brush their negative feelings away by saying: “Don’t worry, it will be absolutely fine, it will all work out, you’ve got this if you focus” or “Come along, there’s no need for all this upset, it’s just a test, you need to toughen up and get your head down”

Instead try: “It’s hard to keep on going, particularly over the holidays. Maybe it feels like you’re not getting anywhere and at the same time the exam is getting closer….”

What’s next? Stay quiet! Let your child open up rather than diving in with a homily about how life works…… This moment is not about what you know, this is about what they are thinking and feeling. And it can be very powerful and illuminating. Sometimes we hear that a child has developed some muddled ideas about what is going to happen or not happen, and we can help clarify these. Sometimes we hear about practical concerns that we can help them sort out.

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May 23rd, 2016

Preparing for exam season

While many of us are looking forward to half term, some families will be trying to combine having some fun with preparing for exams. What can we do to support our children in the lead-up to these important days, without adding to their stress? 

We all know that to ‘make a revision schedule and stick to it’ is a good idea in theory, but HOW can we do it in practice? What’s the right amount of revision? Too much, too little - how do we get the balance right? Our attempts to motivate them so easily slip into bribes and can also feel manipulative, so what can we say and do that will encourage our children to persevere and feel confident they can do what is required?  On exam day what will matter is to be organised, and to manage anxiety. Giving lots of encouragement through Descriptive Praise will be very important but below are three other ideas that we know will help, but aren’t usually mentioned. 

LET them do it their way and have a choice

And this doesn’t mean doing NO revision! Let your child revise his way rather than insisting he does it your way. Most children find it very hard to sit still and simply regurgitate facts and in fact being forced to be still may impede their learning. Many learn better by moving, maybe hitting or bouncing a ball, or simply walking around the room. Others are more visual and need pictures – get drawing with shapes and flow-diagrams on a white board, or blank postcards. Other children are more auditory and they may find background music helpful and not distracting. They may find making up songs or poems, or using mnemonics helpful – it doesn’t matter if these are wacky and not very serious. They just need to be memorable to your child. She remembers things differently to the way you do. 

DESCRIBE how they feel – name it to tame it!

This is probably the biggest stress they’ve been under in their life, so it would be strange if there weren’t some anxiety, and maybe poor behaviour.

Our instinctive reaction is to reassure and try to push them through to feeling better about revision and exams so we say “don’t worry, it will be fine soon, it will all work out” or “You poor thing, this is just awful and unfair” or “Come along, there’s no need for all this upset, it’s just a test, you need to toughen up and get your head down, getting cross doesn’t help any of us….”

Instead we need to really listen to how they feel and then help them work their way towards a solution. For example: “I sense this is really getting you down right now. I wonder if it feels like this is all you get to do, and maybe you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe you’re scared about what will happen after you’ve tried your best….”

This doesn’t make them feel worse, or feel anything they don’t already feel, but it does make them feel connected and understood. This in itself is calming. Take care not to add “but….” afterwards because this undoes everything you’ve said so far. It’s usually best to keep quiet and hear how they respond.

And make sure that you don’t add to their stress by the way you’re talking about these exams. Scare tactics don’t usually make children perform better. 

UNDERSTAND their reluctance

We can understand how they feel about revising, and still require that they do it. But we need to understand why they don’t want to do it – we often start with the assumption they are lazy, not taking it seriously, etc, and when we approach it this way, it ends up negative and confrontational. And ineffective!

Children want to do well – it’s in their nature. And they do care about the result and their future (to the extent that they can imagine their future), and they want to please us, though sometimes it may not seem that way!

If they start to believe they can’t succeed, and that we are not happy with them, they pull back from trying. Some children will bluster this out and vigorously assert they don’t care or they may simply shrug and refuse to put in much effort.

Our best approach is to face this head on. So, try “I wonder if you’re worried about trying hard, and still not getting a good mark. It’s scary to push yourself to the full, and not know whether you will achieve what you hope for. It may feel as if you’ve used up all of your brain power. In fact your brain grows the more you make it struggle with things.”  This isn’t the time to go on to lecture about how this is how life works, and they have to learn to knuckle down and get on with things…..

Their real concerns don’t come out with direction questions such as “what’s wrong, what’s the matter” etc. Most children duck these questions with ‘nothing’ because they sense a judgment in the question that they are wrong to be worried etc.  Empathise also with the fact that they’d just rather be playing and that other children (and adults) don’t have to be working as they are.

Make sure they do have some down time.

Remember that this stressful time will pass and think of it as an opportunity for your child to learn how to handle the stress that they will inevitably encounter in life. Encourage them to employ some anti-stress measures such as physical play and having a good laugh –maybe get them a joke book. Make sure you look after your own stress levels too…. 2 joke books. 

How does your child react to stressful situations? What do you do to inject calm? Let us know your thoughts.

 

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April 21st, 2015

Improving your Child's Attention Span

Does the fruit of your loins whom you love to death sometimes seem to have the attention span of a gnat? Does your darling child forget what you’ve asked him to do on the way to do it? Are you worried about their future at school?

My boys used to fidget, get up and down, need the loo, stare out the window or chase imaginary rubbers (erasures) around the floor rather than focus on homework.

Instead of concluding that lack of focus is hereditary (as you get distracted by incoming emails and Face book messages) consider first what is realistic to expect for your child’s age (and gender). Under 8s generally fidget and wriggle around a lot and it isn’t always an indicator that they’re not paying attention. Boys generally move around a lot more than girls do. They are impulsive and they forget things. All of this is normal. Research gives us a rough rule of thumb for how long children should be able to focus on a learning task.

Attention span for learning = chronological age + 1

This means that a 6 year old should be able to focus for about 7 minutes on a task that is a learning activity. He can focus for a lot longer on a game that he’s engaged in. So motivation is a key factor. This is a clue for adults trying to get kids to focus –try to make the task interesting or fun!

Other things that will help expand on your child’s ability to focus that you might like to try in the holidays:

  1. limit time spent on electronic games and TV

Most children’s games and TV are designed to be very fast-moving –they flick from one image and idea to the next very quickly, discouraging sustained thought and puzzling out solutions. Several US studies have found that too much time in front of a screen can affect development of the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for planning, attention and self-control.

  1. encourage activities involving sustained thought and listening 

Get children interested in construction toys, craft and jigsaw puzzles and give them mysteries to solve such as on http://kids.mysterynet.com/  Play games that involve careful listening like Simple Simon. 

  1. provide opportunities for physical release of energy and enough sleep 
  1. make sure kids are getting enough ‘down time’

Kids need down time to just think and be creative. Make sure they have some non-scheduled time where they can just gaze out the window and come up with some brilliant scheme.

  1. use descriptive praise

When we praise our children descriptively and specifically it really focuses their attention on what they’re doing in a much more effective way than by pointing out what they get wrong. Comment when they’re focused on a task and they’ll do it more.

  1. build your child’s emotional intelligence

Research shows that parents can influence the development of the pre-frontal cortex and encourage emotional intelligence in their children by recognising and validating their children’s feelings. When they do this children can process their feelings and move on. This greatly assists focus. Kids can’t pay attention to learning tasks when they’re consumed by emotions.

  1. when you ask them to do something just get them to do one thing.

Children under 8 can’t retain more than 2-3 pieces of information at one time.

If you use these 7 fun, easy ideas your child’s ability to focus will definitely improve.

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December 04th, 2014

Surviving the 11plus exam preparation

While many of us are looking forward to the holiday season, many families will be trying to combine having some fun with preparing for January exams. What can we do to support our children in the lead-up to these important days, without losing all the festive spirit? 

It’s too easy to say “make a revision schedule and stick to it” because we all know this will work in theory, but what we want to know is HOW we can do it in practice. What’s the right amount of revision? Too much, too little - how do we get the balance right? We all know we need to make revision motivational and rewarding, but we can’t keep handing out sweets or letting them use the i-pad, so what can we say and do that will encourage our child to persevere and feel confident they can do what is required?  We all know that on the day it’s going to pay off to be organised, and if our child is getting anxious, they will need to breathe. But what is the best way of preparing ourselves and our child so they go into the exam with the best chance of doing their best? For full details on how to motivate without pressurising and how to support children’s learning see our publications on 'Creating Happy Learners' and 'How to Handle Homework Horrors'. Below are three ideas that we know will help, but aren’t usually mentioned.  

LET them do it their way (a bit!) and have a choice
And this doesn’t mean doing NO revision! Try, whenever possible, to let your child revise their way rather than insisting they do it your way. Most children find it very hard to sit still and simply regurgitate facts and in fact being forced to be still may impede their learning. Many learn better by moving, maybe hitting or bouncing a ball, or simply walking around the room. Others are more visual and need pictures – get drawing with shapes and flow-diagrams on a white board, or blank postcards. Other children are more auditory and they may find background music helpful and not distracting. They may find making up songs or poems, or using mnemonics helpful – it doesn’t matter if these are wacky and not very serious. They just need to be memorable to your child. Your child remembers things differently to the way you do now as an adult.  

ALLOW them to be upset or worried – name it to tame it!
This probably the biggest stress they’ve been under in their life, so it would be strange if there weren’t some tears and tantrums, but this doesn’t spell doom and disaster.

Our instinctive reaction is of course to reassure and try to push them through to feeling ‘better’ about revision and exams so we say “don’t worry, it will be absolutely fine soon, it will all work out” or “You poor thing, this is just awful and unfair” or “Come along, there’s no need for all this upset, it’s just a test, you need to toughen up and get your head down, getting cross doesn’t help any of us….”

Instead we need to really listen to how they feel and then help them work their way towards a solution. We have to connect first, before they can trust us to redirect them. For example: “I sense this is really getting you down right now. I wonder if it feels like this is all you get to do, and maybe you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe you’re scared about what will happen after you’ve tried your best….”

This doesn’t make them feel worse, or feel anything they don’t already feel, but it does make them feel connected and understood. This in itself is calming. Take care not to add “but….” afterwards because this undoes everything you’ve done so far. It’s usually best to keep quiet and hear how they respond. Most children feel less resistant after they’ve been allowed to express their reluctance to do something.

And make sure that you don’t add to their stress by the way you’re talking about these exams. Scare tactics don’t usually make children perform better.  

UNDERSTAND their reluctance
We can understand how they feel about revising, and still require that they do revise. But we need to understand why they don’t want to do it – we often start with the assumption they are lazy, not taking it seriously, etc, and when we approach it this way, it ends up negative and confrontational. And ineffective!

Children want to do well – it’s in their nature. And they do care about the result and their future (to the extent that they can imagine their future), and what we think about them, even when it may not seem that way!

The problems come when they start to believe they can’t do something well, and that we are not happy with them, so they pull back from trying. Some children will bluster this out and vigorously assert they don’t care or they may simply shrug and refuse to put much effort in. In their mind, they believe this will protect them from the failure they fear is coming – the price they have to pay on the way is to accept the negative reaction they get from us….

Our best approach is to face this head on – but not with a direct question, let alone an accusation! So, try “I wonder if you’re worried about trying hard, and still not getting a good mark. It’s scary to push yourself to the full, and not know whether you will achieve what you hope for. It may feel as if you’ve used up all of your brain power. In fact your brain grows the more you make it struggle with things.”  Wait here, this isn’t the time to go on to lecture about how this is how life works, and they have to learn to knuckle down and get on with things….. Let them open up and talk to you about how they feel about the exams. It may be quite illuminating – they may have some cross-wires in their understanding, which you can help untangle. Or there may be some real issues that are concerning them that you can help them address. These things don’t come out with direction questions such as “what’s wrong, what’s the matter” etc. Most children duck these questions with ‘nothing’ because they sense a judgment in the question that they are wrong to be worried etc.  Empathise also with the fact that they’d just rather be playing and that other children (and adults) don’t have to be working as they are. 

Make sure they do have some down time.

Remember that this stressful time will pass and think of it as an opportunity for your child to learn how to handle the stress that they will inevitably encounter in life. Encourage them to employ some anti-stress measures such as physical play and having a good laugh –maybe a joke book in the Christmas stocking! Make sure you look after your own stress levels too. 2 joke books.

How does your child react to stressful situations? What do you do to inject calm? Let us know your thoughts.

If you found the ideas in this blog helpful do share them on your favourite social media outlet. 

Wishing you a happy Christmas and calm holidays,

Melissa and Elaine.

 

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October 17th, 2014

Understanding the Independent Girls Schools 11+ Process: What you need to know and how to protect your daughter’s sanity and self-esteem.

The process of applying for independent secondary schools for girls at eleven can be a nightmare for many reasons. Parents and girls are subject to extreme pressures so to take some of the stress out of it we set out here in simple terms how it all works, including insider tips. 

The 11+ process starts to pick up steam from Year 3.  Many preparatory schools commence Christmas and summer exams and girls and parents start to get a sense of how the girls are performing academically.  The subjects of particular importance are English comprehension, English composition, Mathematics and Science. 

In Yr 4 parents start to think about and schedule preliminary visits to potential schools.  Exams become more formal with revision being expected. 

Yr 5 is the year of heavy lifting when most of the 11+ syllabuses are covered.  Depending on how their child is fairing academically, this is the point that many parents start to get their children tutored.  This is particularly true in London where there is intense competition for London day school places and many parents fear taking a too softly, softly approach.  School visits happen in earnest in Yr 5.  For parents considering boarding schools this is particularly important.

Boarding schools

The boarding school process is quite different from the London day school process. With boarding schools you register approximately 18 months in advance.  When enough people have registered they close their lists.  Even for the most academic boarding schools there is likely to be no more than four girls registered for each place.  As soon as you start Yr 6, in the September or October, your daughter gets invited to spend a day at the school.  There may be some computerized aptitude tests (normally some combination of verbal, non-verbal, mathematical reasoning questions), an interview, a chance to do some sport and a general seeing if you will fit in.  The Head Teacher’s report from your existing school is particularly important and there will be an emphasis on your Yr 5 academic performance. 

Just a few weeks after your school assessment you are told whether you are being offered a place.  You can apply to lots of boarding schools but once they have sent out their offers, you can only accept one to sit the 11+ Common Entrance exam for.  The Independent Schools Examinations Board organizes this exam. In mid January of Yr 6 you sit the 11+ exam – this normally takes place at your own school and is then sent off to your chosen boarding school to mark.  The results are normally sent out two weeks after taking the exam. Each school has it’s own mark scheme and pass threshold.  If you reach the necessary pass mark you are then automatically accepted.  For boarding schools you sit papers in English, Maths and Science. There are a few boarding schools that have their own exams so these can be sat for in addition to the 11+ exam. 

In general the boarding school route is much less pressured and there are quite a few good girls boarding schools in easy reach of London including Wycombe Abbey (High Wycombe), St. Mary’s Ascot (Ascot), Downe House (near Oxford), Benenden (Kent), St Mary's Calne (Wiltshire), St. Swithuns (Winchester) to name just a few.   

London day schools

For the London day school process parents generally have to register their daughters to sit the exams by November of Yr 6. There is no limit to the number of exams you can sit.  Some of the London girls’ schools have formed a consortium for purposes of the 11+ exams. The North London Independent Girls’ Schools Consortium comprises two groups of schools that have their entrance examinations on the same day. Schools in the same group set common papers using the same mark scheme.


Group1:
Francis Holland (Clarence Gate), Francis Holland (Graham Terrace), Heathfield School, Notting Hill and Ealing High School, Queen’s College, St. Albans High School, St. Helen’s High School, South Hampstead High School, The Royal School, Hampstead

Group 2:
Channing School, City of London School for Girls, More House, Northwood College, Queen’s Gate School, St. James Independent School, The Godolphin and Latymer School.


By sitting the exams for these two groups you are covering a lot of schools in one go but many London girls schools are not part of these consortia.  For instance, St Paul's Girls School (for which you need to pass a computerized pre-test in November before being eligible to sit the exam), North London Collegiate School, Putney High School, Lady Eleanor Holles School, Latymer Upper, Wimbledon High School.
This means that many girls sit exams for 5 -7 different schools/consortia over a two-week period in early January.  The exams are generally English and Maths (no Science).  Some schools also test for Verbal and Non-Verbal reasoning.  This can be very exhausting for the child. 

If you score highly enough in these exams, you are invited in for an interview.  The head teacher’s report will also be taken into consideration at this point. Many of the day schools are highly competitive – in some cases there will be up to 10 applicants for every place.

Around the middle of February the day school places are awarded. The deadline for acceptances for the day school places is early March. 

What do I need to think about as a parent? 

From Year 3 you need to start thinking about what type of school – boarding or day – will suit your daughter and your family. 

From Year 4 start to narrow the list and get as much information as possible, talk to other parents who have children at these schools.  Where possible do preliminary visits. 

From Year 5 do follow up visits.  Visit as many times as needed so you really understand a school’s values, culture and how it will fit with your daughter.  This is the year to decide if you do want to go down the boarding school route (many parents who feel it is too early to make this decision apply to a limited number of boarding schools and then to day schools as well). 

Your daughter’s wellbeing

Consider carefully how hard your daughter is working, particularly if you decide to go down the tutoring route. With girls you have to be very careful about their mental health.  There is some evidence that girls’ brains have a higher blood flow through the area of the brain that handles emotions, thereby making them more susceptible to depression and anxiety and also the pervasive feeling that they are never good enough and they should be striving for perfection.   

Whilst for many parents an academic education is important - it is only one part of a bigger picture.  Confidence, curiosity, resilience, emotional intelligence, good social skills are key to a fulfilling life, so it is important not to focus exclusively on academics.  Girls need to keep a balance in their lives so make sure they keep up the extra curricular activities they enjoy and that there is still plenty of fun and family time at the weekends.  

In Year 6 the boarding school process will start immediately and there is only a term until the 11+ exams.  Try to de stress their lives as much as possible.  Make sure they understand your love and acceptance is not dependent on how well they perform in their 11+ and that the world is much wider than this process!   You can do this by focusing not on exam and test results but on the effort they put in, strategies they use for learning, attitudes they show, improvements made and when they don’t do so well what they can learn from that. Give them lots of descriptive praise and empathise when things are tough. And make sure they get some play time! 

If you want to know more see our publication on Creating Happy Learners. http://www.theparentpractice.com/shop/publications 

Wishing you a stress-free approach to secondary school preparations.

Do you find the school system stressful? What are your tips for counteracting those pressures? 

If this information has been useful to you share it on your favourite social media platform. 

Jenny, Melissa and Elaine

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August 21st, 2014

Exam Results - Handling Disappointment

A level and GCSE results have just come out. If your child has done well, congratulations.  Go celebrate with them and acknowledge the effort they must have put in to get the results they did.

 

But maybe your son or daughter just got results he or she wasn’t happy with or that you weren’t happy with! If the outcome was not as hoped for read on to find out how best to respond.  

There’s much advice around at the moment about what to do if your child doesn’t get the hoped for grades or the place at the institution of his choice. There are courses of action to take and it’s not the end of the world. There are often alternatives. 

But before you can get on to discussing any solutions or steps to take it’s important to acknowledge the feelings –both yours and your child’s.

Acknowledge to yourself how you’re feeling. Are you confused? Was this result unexpected? Are you angry –because it was totally expected given the paltry amount of work your beloved offspring put in? No doubt you’re feeling anxious. There is a huge amount of pressure to do well in exams and it is easy to think that your child’s future has just slipped away from him. You need to acknowledge these feelings because if not they’ll fuel your responses and you will not be able to support your child in his moment of anxiety.

He’ll be feeling pretty down, and possibly guilty and anxious. Even if he doesn’t show it. Some children will take failure to get grades or places at college or university as a massive knock back and really take it to heart. Some will make it mean that they are not up to scratch. It’s not uncommon for kids to give up at that point so parents need to respond carefully. If your child has got poor GCSE results but his place at school is secure then he needs to be able to pick himself up and move on with determination to do better. Even if there has to be a rethink about how he will continue his education he will need parents’ support to avoid him giving up. Parents can help build self-confidence and increase resilience and help him to see that increased or redirected effort will pay off.

Over time parents can help with ongoing studies by:

• encouraging and motivating young people by descriptively praising them extensively, not just in the academic arena, but generally.
• avoiding evaluative praise so as to encourage a growth mind set (where he seems himself as someone who can grow through his own efforts) rather than a fixed mindset (where he sees his skills and intelligence as limited)
• developing resilience and a healthy attitude to failure –partly through using descriptive praise and partly by emotion coaching him (see below) and also by modelling a positive attitude to set backs and failures. What parents model around failure will count for a lot too.
• encouraging independence in thought and action. Give him chores to do which require skill and responsibility. Validate his opinions.  This demonstrates to the child his own competence and builds confidence. He will learn to trust his abilities, to take risks and give things a go.

(For more on this see our Parenting Insight Creating Happy Learners: How to reduce pressure and increase creativity. Click here)
 
There will need to be decisions about further education choices soon. (For help try the Exam Results Helpline on 0808 100 8000 between Thursday 14 and Saturday August 23, calls are free from landlines and some mobile networks or the UCAS Contact Centre on 0871 468 0468).

But in the immediate aftermath of the results parents need to respond with emotion coaching:


Even if you think he could have worked harder there is no point berating him for that now.

“You’re obviously really disappointed with these results Tom. I know you’d been hoping for better grades in History and Biology [and you needed As in those subjects to get into Exeter university]. Maybe you think Dad and I are mad at you. I’m disappointed with the results too but could never be disappointed in you. I know that you’ll be feeling really worried about what to do now and we’ll discuss that later.

Life throws up difficulties all the time and we will support you to deal with this difficulty. I have faith in your ability to show the courage and determination to get over this hiccup when you’ve had a bit of time to absorb it. Right now you might be thinking there’s no point in doing anything. You’ve really been knocked for six so you may be feeling a bit hopeless. You might be comparing your results with your sister’s too. It’s hard to follow in the wake of someone for whom academics seems to come so easily. [don’t be tempted to say “and if you’d worked as hard as she did you might have got somewhere…”] When you’re feeling a little less flat come and we’ll talk about what you can do next. This is one of those life blips that is going to require the kind of resilience you showed when you broke your shoulder and couldn’t play rugby for so long. You didn’t give up then and I’m sure you won’t now either”
 
Life is tough, and part of our job as parents is, not to shield our children from the rubbish bits of life, which we can’t do, but to build strong children who as adults can cope with whatever life throws at them. The first step is to just admit that this sucks and he feels rubbish. Only then can the child move on to look at solutions.


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How have you dealt with disappointments in your life? Have you given up? When have you been able to give things another go? We’d love to hear about your experiences with setbacks, academic or otherwise. Tell us your story. The most inspiring will win our publication Creating Happy Learners.

Happy parenting

Melissa and Elaine

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July 07th, 2014

Exam Results - responding to disappointment

Disappointed boyIn the UK educational system children could be doing exams for entry to their next educational establishment – and getting the results – at any time of year. They sit for 11+ in March, Common entrance (CE) generally in June but possibly January or November also and A levels results come out in August. And sometimes there are disappointing results.

So maybe some time this year your child sat an exam and got results he or she wasn’t happy with or that you weren’t happy with! If the outcome was not as hoped for read on to find out how best to respond. Of course if your child has been accepted at the school/university of your choice congratulations –but you don’t need help from me. Although possibly a word of caution about giving extra rewards for doing well in exams. Achieving the coveted entrée to the school you think is right for your child is the result and the reward for all the work they put in. If you dangle the promise of a trip to Disneyland or a new ipad in the hope of encouraging harder work from your child it may well backfire as your child feels manipulated and such an approach does not encourage self-discipline.

I recently heard about one boy who had undergone multiple exams – Y6 assessment exams for various schools which give conditional offers for Y9 subject to CE, and he’d also done the 11+ for the London day schools. He didn’t get a place. Not surprisingly he felt pretty down. The London day school situation is getting crazy. I hear the numbers are about 10-12 applicants for each place. The pass rates are going up towards 65-70% and the interview which used to be a token check is now considered crucial. The system creates an enormous amount of pressure for children and many educationalists worry that it is destroying their childhoods.

Some children will take failure to get into schools as a massive knock back and really take it to heart. Some will make it mean that they are not up to scratch. It’s not uncommon for kids to give up at that point so parents need to respond carefully.

This particular boy then didn’t do all that well in his end of year exams; not badly, just not quite as well as he or his teachers might have expected. And other kids picked up on it –he was subjected to some tough teasing. On top of his ‘failure’ to get into the schools earlier in the year it hit hard. He retreated into himself and became moody and angry. He found it hard to concentrate in class, and was unwilling to put his hand up or volunteer to take part in activities.

Luckily this boy’s mum was doing a course with us and got a lot of support at a time that is tough for parents. It is so easy to get sucked into the pressurising vortex and add to our children’s anxieties in our efforts to support them. Year 6 is a tough year for these boys, they are still so young, and yet they are expected to produce results and perform well. His mum started thinking ahead and preparing for the two years to come before he faces exams again. She wanted to build his self-confidence and increase his resilience and help him to prepare for his exams to the best of his ability while getting a whole education and without burning out with worry.

Over time his mum can help him by:
•    encouraging and motivating him by descriptively praising him extensively, not just in the academic arena, but generally.
•    avoiding evaluative praise so as to encourage a growth mind set (where he seems himself as someone who can grow through his own efforts) rather than a fixed mindset (where he sees his skills and intelligence as limited)
•    developing resilience and a healthy attitude to failure –partly through using descriptive praise and partly by emotion coaching him (see below) and also by modelling a positive attitude to set backs and failures. What his parents pay most attention to is crucial –is it his results or his effort, the attitude he shows or strategies he employs? What they model around failure will count for a lot too.
•    encouraging independence in thought and action. Give him chores to do which require skill and responsibility. Validate his opinions.  This demonstrates to the boy his own competence and builds confidence. He will learn to trust his abilities, to take risks and give things a go.

For more on this see our publication Creating Happy Learners: How to reduce pressure and increase creativity.

In the short term his mum can respond with emotion coaching:

If this boy is struggling with what the other boys are saying about his results, it will be helpful for him to have a response.  Rather than telling him not to worry what the other boys think, that it doesn’t matter what they say, or that he just needs to ignore them, or suggest he should tell a teacher, which is what we feel compelled to say, his mum can empathise with him. “That’s tough, having them talking about your results. It must make you feel very uncomfortable, even angry. You wish they didn’t know, or if they did know, that they would keep it to themselves.”

Having connected with how he feels about it, she can turn to solutions. The aim is that he comes up with the solution, but he may need a little guidance from her to start. “I imagine you just don’t know what to say when they talk about your results. You probably want to shout at them to leave you alone, that it’s none of your business. I am glad you’ve not been rude. Not saying anything doesn’t feel right either, does it? I wonder what you could say?”

Obviously it depends what they are saying – my experience was some boys taunting one of my sons “we beat you, we beat you, we’re better than you” and his response was “I’m glad you did well”. He wasn’t completely glad, but apart from that it was relatively honest! The point was there was nothing they could say back. We had to practice it a few times at home first but then it was a response he could use.

If you are worried that your child is negative and pessimistic, and this will be particularly hard if you are a positive and optimistic person, accept his concerns in the same way rather than trying to change him straight off. This only has the effect of making him feel wrong.  “I see your point about this – and it’s clearly worrying you. You’ve thought about all the pitfalls and possible dangers. That’s clear thinking. This is what keeps us safe and helps us put things right.” The trick then is to flesh out his worries and then put them into perspective. Are there any possible upsides? Is there any chance things may go well? How likely is each scenario? He will be more willing to do this with you when you have heard and accepted his point of view first.

Life is tough, and part of our job as parents is, not to shield our children from the rubbish bits of life, which we can’t do, but to build strong children who as adults can cope with whatever life throws at them.

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