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Empathy & encouragement - Parent toolkit for Matric exams

Parents tread a delicate line during the high-pressure Matric study and exam time. On the

one hand you want to be motivating for optimal performance every step of the way, but it’s easy to tip over into applying too much pressure on an already stressed-out teen. It’simportant for parents to have an accurate take on their child’s unique coping mechanisms as it’s not uncommon for teens to be adept at masking anxiety and stress. In other words, the teen presenting a carefree, even careless front may well be doing this to hide strong, fear-based emotions they haven’t yet learnt to process.

Ziyanda Khumalo, a SACAP (South African College of Applied Psychology) Student Support 

and Development Advisor emphasizes the importance of distinguishing between pressuring

and motivating children. She says, “If you notice your child is frequently anxious, stressed or 

even exhibiting signs of fear, it might indicate that they are feeling pressured. Your child

may be overly focused on avoiding failure rather than striving for success. Perfectionism

and frequent self-criticism may be also signs of too much pressure. There can be physical

symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, trouble sleeping or changes in appetite.

Procrastinating and losing interest in enjoyable activities can also be signs of reduced well-


Ziyanda is on the SACAP panel of experts presenting the free SACAP Parents’ Guide to

Matric support webinar from 10:00 to 11:30 on Saturday, 19 August 2023. The panellists’ focus is on practical ways to navigate exam stress during the upcoming months.

SACAP Educator and Educational Psychologist, Jacques Viljoen highlights how important it 

is for parents to be able to identify and understand stress in children.   He says, “Children 

often do not express their feelings and emotions as transparently as adults. This can make it 

challenging for parents to discern when their child is experiencing stress, anxiety, or other 

negative emotions  related  to  exams.   This  means  that  active  engagement  and  informed

observation by parents are essential in understanding and supporting their child's emotional 

well-being.”  Jacques will unpack tools such as active listening, observation and using open-

ended questions during the webinar.

Another key aspect of parental support during Matric exams is providing adequate support 

and resources.  Jacques says, “Academic pressure and competition can be overwhelming 

for children. Parents need to ensure that they're not just focusing on grades but also on the 

holistic well-being of their children.  It helps when parents continually remind their child that 

their worth  is   not   solely based  on   exam   results. Parents  can   focus   on celebrating  their 

efforts, resilience, and progress, not just the outcome.”

Supporting your child well includes providing a stress-free environment and promoting a

balanced routine and healthy lifestyle. It is also important for parents to model positive

behaviours such as managing your own stress and anxiety and paying attention to self-care.  

There are opportunities to boost your bonds by taking short breaks to be physically active

together and to share healthy meals. Counsellor, Salma Kathrada will be joining the SACAP 

panel. She works with the wellbeing of families and will focus on practical ways to build

healthy relationships and maintain family balance during exam time.

Ziyanda concludes, “Open and non-judgemental conversations are the fuel for traversing the 

Matric landscape as smoothly as possible. To promote motivation rather than pressure

parents can set realistic expectations and help their teens set achievable academic and

study goals that are aligned to their abilities. Focus on being encouraging, and support

appropriate time off for exercise, social interaction and relaxation. Offer emotional support,

reassurance and a safe space for your child to express their feelings. Celebrating small wins 

creates frequent positive reinforcement and builds confidence. Some parents may need to

focus on letting go of the reins a bit and providing more autonomy so that their teen has

some control over their study schedule and can make decisions that increase their

responsibility. In the same vein, aim to encourage intrinsic motivation so your child can

discover their personal reasons for studying which can lead to more sustainable self-

motivation. Remember that every child is unique, and it’s important to maintain open

communication so that you understand their needs and feelings during the exam season.

While Matric is without doubt a challenging time, it is potentially also a time of learning,

growing and deepening relationships.”


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