If exams are frustrating, the day of the results can get even more exasperating. Children shuffle in through the door wishing that the parent is not home, planning elaborate exit strategies and escape plans, and basically hoping that the day gets over really soon. Rather than mulling over the results, they are preoccupied with containing the disaster. If an average student scores a mark less than the last time, he is in trouble. If, God forbid, an ace student slips, he is doomed.
I am no different. I haven't achieved Nirvana yet and remain firmly entrenched in the world. I fear for their future. I fear the fierce competition ahead. So when the door opens and they drag their bags in, I know. The result wasn't bad but it wasn't top notch either. Thankfully, my fears remain hidden, pushed into dark corners by the more sensible (or perhaps the mad) mum in me. How do we deal with disappointments? Simply by deep breathing and keeping these few points in mind:
The moment you get exasperated and express that you are doing so much for the child and yet he scores so little, the battle is lost.
1. I consciously avoid comparison with others.
The older one announced that he had scored four marks less than the highest score. He was promptly corrected. I never ask for highest scores. The idea has been and always will be to compete with oneself, to evaluate the performance as objectively as possible.
2. Do not accuse, belittle, or borrow dialogues from 1970's Bollywood movies.
The moment you get exasperated and express that you are doing so much for the child and yet he scores so little, the battle is lost. He will have his defences up and will be busy justifying his scores rather than looking at the reasons behind the poor show.
Rather than saying that you are disappointed in her for scoring less, ask the child how she feels about scores and whether she is satisfied.
3. Step back
Everything doesn't warrant an immediate reaction. Step back. Contain the frustration, fear, anger or any other negativity bubbling up inside you. Ask yourself the purpose of these exams. Are they a ticket to a dream life? Or merely an assessment of the child's learning and hard work? How can you help the child change?
We can help them shape their future. Then why cry ourselves hoarse over something that has already been done?
4. Ask, not tell.
Rather than saying that you are disappointed in her for scoring less, ask the child how she feels about scores and whether she is satisfied. If the discussion starts on a neutral non-threatening ground, chances are the child will introspect rather than just 'say the right things.'
5. Reorganise and strategise
Now that we have realised that something needs to be done, sit with the child and let her figure out her core strengths and weaknesses. We just need to help them organise their thoughts. Do not grab a paper and a pen and make a schedule for them. That simply shows that you have lost faith in them and isn't the greatest morale booster. Let them figure out instead. Once they have made a strategy or a schedule, our job is to make sure they honour their word. We usually have a deal — work your backside off during the week, end up prepared for the Monday test by Friday, and the weekend is yours. Falter and the plan for a movie, a lunch, or a trip to the bookstore, stands compromised. Yes, positive reaction doesn't imply complete lack of discipline. The boys get ample time to figure out their end of the bargain and they know they are expected to honour their word once they have figured out their strategy.
If we let it all go unnoticed in a bid to create a stress-free environment, that could create problems of its own. Some amount of stress is essential for getting us to work, to stretch ourselves.
6. Give incentives but do not peg every morsel of food to the outcome.
It is all right to lure them in but there are a few rules. Do not promise the world. Let the incentive be tied to the goal. Do not use cash. Experiences are better incentives. Do not tie everything the child needs or wants to an outcome. Doing so would lead to higher frustration and ultimate disregard for the incentives. It is essential to figure out appropriate incentives, and not put everything up for barter.
Exams can either be seen as a hurdle or an opportunity to learn. We can let the pressure get to us but that will not help the child. If on the other hand, we let it all go unnoticed in a bid to create a stress-free environment, that could create problems of its own. Some amount of stress is essential for getting us to work, to stretch ourselves. They have scored whatever they had to. The ball is now in our court. We can either teach them to deal with setbacks productively, or get them to learn that mistakes can never be corrected. The former is the way forward and the latter can lead to unfathomable dark waters. The choice is not theirs. It is ours.