How to Help Your Tween Deal With Pressure
Today’s blog is by Claire Musters, a writer, speaker and editor based in the UK.
Today my tween daughter, along with thousands of other 10 and 11-year-olds across the United Kingdom, is starting a week-long set of tests. Whether I agree with the system or not, UK schools use SATs (standard attainment tests) to check a pupil’s progress at the end of their time in their first (primary) school, before they leave to start secondary school (for ages 11–16/18) in September. So this is, in effect, the culmination of seven years of schooling.
No pressure then!
We actually live in an area that has a particular type of secondary school that I have never been fond of – grammar schools. Entry to these single-sex schools (something else I’m not that keen on) is by exam. There are usually over 3,000 applicants for a few hundred places. It’s high pressure!
My daughter has always excelled academically, but I wasn’t sure she would cope well emotionally with such a rigorous and demanding entrance criteria. I didn’t push her into taking the tests; she decided for herself that she would like to try and reach the required standard for grammar school and so studied hard for well over a year.
So, this week’s set of tests has come after she has completed and passed, not only the grammar school tests but also excelled at music scholarship entry tests at other schools too. She is going to be going to her own first choice of grammar school in the autumn. I am proud of her for not being swayed by her peers, as she is the only one from her school who chose it.
The long journey to get to this point has taught us both so much.
For example, we learned to look around each of the secondary schools in our area with spiritual eyes as well as physical, and I was astounded at her spiritual awareness.
I also learned to let go and entrust my daughter to God – over and over again!
This week may be a week of intense pressure, but I feel she has already achieved what her end goal was and so I am trying to alleviate the pressure as much as possible. As well, of course, as utilising some of those vital lessons learned, which I believe can be applied to all sorts of tween parenting situations (not just exams). Here are some of them – I hope you find them as usual as I have:
Together and separately…
Our tweens will experience an ever-increasing amount of pressure. My daughter may have got into the school she desperately wanted, but, come September, the hard work will start as her new teachers will expect the high standard to continue!
It is so important that we teach our children, from as early an age as possible, to involve God in their everyday lives. To make Him our first port of call when we are beginning to sense we are feeling overwhelmed. Communication with God is one of our most vital and basic tools for facing pressure.
I continue to encourage my daughter to talk to God while at school – and I make sure I remind her to do so as she walks into high-pressure situations such as examination halls.
I’ve talked to her about how she has something so many others haven’t – a God that literally comes into the exam with her and will flood her with His peace as she connects with Him in her heart.
We also need to pray for our tweens regularly – bringing them before God and asking for His will to be done in their lives. It isn’t about our ideas and dreams being fulfilled through them; they are gifts from Him and He has plans for their futures.
Take your own pressures to God
I have to say I lived every moment of my daughter’s intense period of study and examinations. Because I had invested so much time and effort myself in working with her to prepare, on the first exam day I found I couldn’t work. The waiting time was almost unbearable! I felt it would have been easier if I had been sitting the exam myself!
When my daughter came out of that first round of tests and told me she had run out of time my heart just sank. I was also slightly annoyed, as we’d worked so hard on thinking about pace and ensuring every question was attempted (as that section was multiple choice). I was shocked by my response. While I hid it from her, I had to talk and pray it through with my husband. I had to own my feelings but take them to God and ask Him to help me let go of them.
The last thing my daughter needed was to feel any extra pressure from me. As our heavenly Father unconditionally loves us, we need to shower that same unconditional love on our tweens. But we do need to ask for His help in order to do so, as we are not perfect. Thank God that He is!
Encourage but also instruct
When our tweens are trying to achieve a certain goal, sometimes we do need to encourage them to work hard. I certainly reminded my daughter that it would be a good idea to go through practise papers regularly. However, I was also very careful to explain that doing her best was the goal – not perfection.
How vital this message is was drummed into me when she came home at the beginning of this school year and said that there was a girl last year that got 100% in all her SATs tests. She then added ‘I HAVE to beat her!’
I looked at her, aghast. As I said, she’s intelligent. But then I realised she actually meant it. Having always been top of her class, she was caught up in a cycle of having to be the best; this was simply her knee-jerk reaction.
I had to gently point out that there is no beating 100% – and getting less than that is not a failure. I also talked to her about consciously choosing not to compare ourselves to others, and not setting ourselves up for failure by giving ourselves unrealistic goals.
Both my husband and I have perfectionist tendencies – our tweens can really hold a window up to our souls in the way they reflect our characteristics, can’t they?
I have talked to my daughter about the fact that all three of us seem to be perfectionists, and how we need God’s help to guard against that. We have discussed how wanting to do our best is fine, but piling on the extra pressure to ourselves is of no help and simply overwhelms us. It isn’t God’s best for how He wants us to live. He wants us to look to Him for our security and self-worth – not exam results.
Remind them of who they are
As a tween parent, one of the most important things we can do is instruct our children in the ways of God. Once they have decided to follow Him for themselves, the next responsibility we have is to help them grab hold of their identity in Him as firmly as possible, because everything out there – all the pressures they will face – will try to erode that.
I am so thankful to a friend who gave my daughter a present from God last Christmas. He instructed her to create a little booklet with a verse on each day for the 52 weeks of the year (she actually used a set of playing cards to do this – very creative J ). These, my daughter was told, are God’s messages to her for each week. We are now into May and she has loved turning over the page each new week and has faithfully meditated on what the new verses say to her.
Finding different ways to help our tweens engage with the Word of God is vital, as it is the one place they will find out the truth of who they are. Learning to cling to its treasures will help them throughout their lives.
Be their comfort
There have been times when my daughter has crumbled under the pressures she has faced: when everything has got too much and she has either erupted into anger or collapsed into sobs. When this first happened, I tried to deal with the anger I was being faced with. But God and my (much calmer than me) husband showed me that I needed to reach the person underneath with love.
Now when she’s feeling too much pressure in any area she comes to me for a hug. That’s it. A simple hug. It tells me she’s feeling overwhelmed (as at times she doesn’t know how to express that in words) and gives her space just to rest in my arms.
There are quite a lot of hugs around piano practice times each week!
Allow them to still be kids
I like the fact that my daughter’s teacher didn’t set homework for the weekend before this week’s tests. She said she wanted each of them to relax and enjoy time with their families.
We need to ensure that we give our tweens space to let off steam and also have fun. They are in that in-between stage – striving towards teenagehood and the desire to be grown up but also wanting to have fun. My daughter has crazy times of (very loud) playing with her 8-year-old brother and it is lovely to see her still enjoying her childhood.
There is enough pressure in the world; our tweens need to know their home is a safe place to relax and be themselves in.
Did you miss the other days of the Tween Parenting Blog Party? Check them out here!
Claire is a freelance writer, speaker and editor, mum to two gorgeous young children, pastor’s wife, worship leader and school governor. Claire’s desire is to help others draw closer to God through her writing, which focuses on authenticity, marriage, parenting, worship, discipleship, issues facing women today etc. Her books include Taking your Spiritual Pulse, CWR’s Insight Into Managing Conflict and Insight Into Self-acceptance, Cover to Cover: David A man after God’s own heart and BRF Foundations21 study guides on Prayer and Jesus. She also writes Bible study notes regularly, and her latest co-written book, Insight Into Burnout, was published in February. Her newest book, Taking off the mask: learning to live authentically, is now available. To find out more about her, please visit www.clairemusters.com and @CMusters on Twitter.