Many children hate exams. If you ask them what they hate more than homework, they will tell you it is exams. They hate them because it is natural to be anxious in a situation that puts our abilities to the test.
Someone is looking at what you do, checking what you do and then judges you for it. Children don’t like to be judged. Well, in fact, no one likes to be judged.
Many parents say to me, “This is life and kids need to learn to live with it!” and I wonder if this really must be part of life and whether we must live in such a judgmental environment. Maybe we can transfer the focus from what others think about us to self-awareness and what we think about ourselves.
When studied special education, we had this theory that if you ask children to grade themselves on a subject, over 95% will match the teacher’s grade for them. We checked it and it worked. Children were amazingly honest about it, and those who were not, helped the teacher start a discussion to understand the mismatch.
Even in the current system, there are children who disagree with the teacher, but with the self-reflection method, children learn to assess themselves based on their own criteria. With external assessment alone, they only learn inadequacy and fear of judgment.
One thing children are most of afraid of is their parents’ judgment of their exam scores. Do you know why? Because parents are anxious about their children’s exams, maybe even more than the children themselves.
Many parents perceive their children’s test scores, and their grades, as a reflection of their parenting ability, their own abilities and their social status, and they transfer this fear and anxiety to their children.
Parents have many ways to pass on this message to their children. They show anger and disappointment, they threaten, they bribe, they do their kids’ assignments to perfection, they compare between children “for motivation”, they nag about homework, the pay a fortune for their children’s education and tuition and they punish their children for failure at school.
They do it all because they are afraid of what others will think of them. Over time, they transfer their fears to their children and make them afraid of what others are thinking about them too.
Sadly, schools promote children’s low self-esteem and we, the parents, pay them to do that. I’ve said millions of times that exams are for teachers to measure how well they have done their job. They say nothing about the children and nothing about their parents, but everything about the teachers’ ability to pass on their knowledge and to help their students develop an ability and grow from it to be better versions of themselves.
Many grownups share with me in coaching stories of inadequacy that have stayed with them for 40 and even 50 years due to something their parents said when they failed at school or did not perform like a sibling or like what was expected. What a shame!
It is hard to let those thoughts and feelings go, so it is very important not to plant them in children’s minds in the first place.
Happy people don’t have to get an A on their exams
There is a beautiful letter that a principal in Singapore wrote to her parents that’s going around the Internet and comes back to me from time to time. Every time I see it, I feel sad that so many parents still do not understand or implement the message of this letter.
I am bringing this letter here and I suggest you read it. Read it if you are a parent. Read it if you are a teacher. Read it if you are a student who is stressed about exams.
The exams of your children are to start soon. I know you are all really anxious for your child to do well.
But, please do remember, amongst the students, who will be sitting for the exams, there is an artist, who doesn’t need to understand Maths.
There is an entrepreneur, who doesn’t care about History of English literature.
There is a musician, whose Chemistry marks don’t matter.
There’s a sportsperson, whose physical fitness is more important than Physics.
If your child does get top marks, that’s great! But, if he or she doesn’t, please don’t take away their self-confidence and dignity from them.
Tell them it’s OK, it’s just an exam! They are cut out for much bigger things in life.
Tell them, no matter what they score, you love them and will not judge them.
Please do this, and when you do, watch your children conquer the world. One exam or a low mark won’t take away their dreams and talents.
And please, do not think that doctors and engineers are the only happy people in the world.
With warm regards,
Remember, there are many important things in life. Your child’s health and wellbeing are more important than your child’s grades and if you want your children to stop fearing exams, start by letting go of your own fears.