December 2nd is the start of two weeks of mock exams for year 11. Although these are practice exams, we encourage students to take them seriously so that they develop good habits for the real thing. As parents, you have the tricky job of finding the balance between supporting and challenging your child. What does this mean? It means being supportive without being overly helpful, and being challenging without being overly critical.

Helpful comments encourage independence and make a student feel good; unhelpful comments discourage students and make them feel bad. When you are tempted to say something critical to your child, ask yourself if it is really about them, or is it about you? Are you projecting your own expectations onto your child in an unrealistic way? As humans we often learn the most from the things we get wrong, so have some patience and allow room for your child to experiment and find out what work for them. Here are some examples:


“You’ve been very focused for the last hour – well done.”

“I see that you’re having trouble getting started Would you like me to quiz you with your flashcards?”

“No matter how you do on your exams, I’m proud of you for trying your hardest.”


“You’ve only revised for one hour – that’s not good enough!”

“You’re just messing around and not getting anything done. Don’t be so lazy!”

“If you fail your exams I’ll be so embarrassed and your life will be a disaster!”

Similarly, the right questions can empower students, while the wrong ones put students on the defensive. Generally speaking, questions that require more than a ‘yes or no’ answer are best as they require some thought to answer and encourage students to take responsibility for themselves:


“What’s your plan for revision this weekend?”

“How will you prepare for your maths exam today”

“What’s getting in the way of your revision plans?”


“Don’t you have anything you should be doing?”

“Aren’t you going to revise for maths today?”

“Are you going to just sit there on your phone all day?”

Finally, resist the urge to be overly helpful – it robs your child of the chance to learn or practice a skill and encourages dependence. Notice the difference between “Would you like some help creating a revision timetable?” and “Here, let me make a timetable for you!” Being too helpful is unhelpful!

Tricia Nearn is one of our specialist parenting coach with Connections in Mind. Tricia’s coaching combines a knowledge of adolescent brain development with coaching strategies to help children develop resilience, tenacity, creativity and the ability to self-reflect. Tricia and Connections in Mind believe that academic success is not always the end-game, but it is often the side-effect of building a strong coaching relationship.