How to support HSC students in isolation

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Are your teens struggling to cope with the HSC in isolation?

BY DR. BARRY MCNAMARA

Teenagers do not have the life experiences, emotional resources or maturity that adults are able to draw upon in these extraordinary times. This is where parents and carers can step in and be their guide, their support, their constant in a situation where they have little control over what is currently happening in the COVID-19 crisis.

Until school life returns to normal (which will be dependent on your individual State/school), here are some tips to support students right now:

Be Supportive

We know you are supportive but these are extraordinary times so they call for creative support. While your child is at home this is a new ball game for them too and they may be floundering and don’t know what to do or how to cope. Let them know you are there to support them in any way possible. Ask them what they want from you.

Go Easy

While you may be dealing with a teenager with all their idiosyncrasies and personality quirks (and we still love them), this is not the time to be overly critical of them. While not advocating you compromise your standards and expectations, give some thought to what is important in these last 6 months of their school life. Act accordingly.

Get All The Family On The Same Page

Make sure all family members are onside and supportive, particularly siblings, so there is a consistency of approach to the student.

Maintain Communication

Don’t let them hide away in their room avoiding other family members. They can tend to overthink and worry excessively in isolation or indeed get overly involved in the chaos of social media. Open up the channels of communication (even if they may be initially resistant).

Be Aware Of Changes In Their Behaviour

You know your teenager well. You know how they usually function. If you notice a change in that functioning, then have a conversation with them about your observations and concerns. Be honest. Take the risk. Mention they don’t seem to be themselves. Is there anything on their mind? Would they like to talk about something?

Encourage Social Contact

Teenagers are reporting that they miss the incidental social contact that comes with being in the school environment and interacting with their peers. Encourage them to reach out to friends on a social contact basis (not social media). Encourage regular phone or video contact with their friends.

Be Their ‘Accountability’ Partner

HSC students benefit from being accountable to someone when they are doing the HSC. Usually this role is fulfilled by the school and their teachers and “the system”. Work with your teenager by offering to be their accountability partner – someone they can report back to on how they went today. In this role, you don’t chastise them, you just listen and gently prod them back on track if necessary. Make this a regular habit of checking in at the end of the day.

Encourage A Routine

Encourage the student to work off a schedule or timetable. Set daily GOALS. Give their daily schedule to you (this means they are implicitly accountable to you) at the start of the day.
Here are some steps:

  • Work out what they have to cover that day – don’t skip “disliked” subjects (in fact do them first)
  • Write out that day’s schedule – give it to you as their accountability partner
  • Work out how they may “chunk” that work into 25 min chunks
  • Build in a 5 min break in between chunks – get up, leave the room, walk around.
  • Set their phone to 25 min chunks to regularise their routine.
  • Stick to their routine

 

Keep An Eye On Their Diet And Sleep

It is tempting to “comfort eat” during stressful times. Encourage healthy eating habits by having healthy food options available and sticking to regular meal schedules. Encourage good sleep hygiene. Teenagers need more sleep than the average person. Suggest they don’t take their devices to bed with them – they just go online – and this interrupts their sleep routine.

Encourage Physical Activity

Working from home can lead to a lot of pent-up energy. In addition, students working from home can be overly sedentary. They aren’t mobile like they are at school. It can be beneficial when students build regular physical activity into their daily study routine (minimum 2 sessions a day).

Put A Bottle Of Champagne In The Fridge

Purchase a bottle of champagne today, put it in the back of the fridge. Open it in November when your teenager does their last HSC exam – you will deserve it!

Barry is a Clinical Psychologist with over 35 years’ clinical experience. He undertook his clinical training at the University of New South Wales, Sydney University and University of Wollongong, where his PhD research in Clinical Psychology investigated the public perception of psychologists and how psychologists can better meet the needs of their clients. Barry initially worked in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Royal North Shore Hospital and then in his own private consultancy supporting employees of client organisations to address both work-related and personal concerns.


 

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