3 words to help your highly anxious teen avoid meltdown in the mocks

    “I have very high expectations of myself.”

    These are the words of one of my highly anxious students. We did a coaching session over the weekend.

    She is starting her mock exams today.

    We were discussing strategies to keep herself more settled over the week of the exams.

    This year’s 6th years have been given a raw deal. This group are the Covid Kids. They were the ones who had their Junior Cert cancelled because of the pandemic.

    For many Transition Year (TY) was also a disaster. They didn’t get work experience, go on any trips or get to do any plays or performances. To quote one parent “it was a wash out.”

    In fact for this student, her pre exams are her first set of ‘big’ exams and she feels daunted.

    Many people ask me ‘why are young people so anxious today?

    We are starting to see the compounding effects of covid and things like screen-time now (I will talk about this another time).

    They did not get to do normal things and have experiences that ‘battle harden you for life’ such as sitting a ‘big’ set of exams before the age of 18.

    In addition, this girl puts herself under a lot of pressure.

    She also explained to me that she has had four different teachers for Geography and three different teachers for English in eighteen months. This is far from ideal.

    When I asked her what is the best thing I could help her with right now, she replied ‘what else can I do outside of the mocks to keep myself settled?’

    I responded with 3 words: DIAL IT DOWN.

    Let me explain.

    One of the patterns I see in highly anxious teens is the pressure they put themselves under to achieve. This of course self-generated.

    Another parent I spoke with last week summed it up so well. ‘She gives herself such a hard time.’

    In this session, I needed to give this girl a new framework to ‘dial down’ the pressure and her very high expectations.

    So we mapped it out.

    The problem for many highly anxious students is setting unattainable expectations.

    So, subject by subject we walked through this girl’s target grade results.

    She needs five H3’s and an O4 in Maths to be on target for her points goal in the Leaving Cert.

    However right now, she is not at H3 level in most of these subjects. And guess what? That is totally okay.

    In fact, she not meant to be at those levels. That is the purpose of the mocks – to help her get there.

    So we drew it. We gave her a visual model.

    The ‘Good Enough’ Zone On the left side of the graph we have zero to 100%. On the horizontal side, we have the subjects. We then set targets for her mock exams.

    I then asked her how much of each course does she know right now?

    She told me between 50% and 60%.

    So we set the high bar at 60%. We defined 50% as ‘good’.

    Then I asked her this question: ‘what is good enough right now?’

    That word ‘enough’ is very important.

    She responded around 35%.

    So we defined the ‘good enough zone’ at between 35% and 50%.

    I even told her I didn’t want her going too far beyond this point.

    After the mocks, we can then use the ‘good enough zone’ as the foundation point to kick on for the leaving cert in June.

    We also did something else to help her dial down the stress of these exams.

    We gave the mock exams a new name.

    We called them ‘the pretend exams.’

    When I asked her how it felt to give them a new name she said she ‘did not feel as daunted’. She also for the first time looked relaxed.

    People put themselves under a lot of pressure in exams. I know I have been there.

    Helping highly anxious young people come up with different mental models and frameworks to cope with exam anxiety is my jam.

    On Saturday night, I watched Tommy Tiernan interview a very interesting guy called Jonno. His face is deformed because of something called Treachers Collins disease.

    The interview was an inspiration. He said ‘be the person you needed when you were younger’.

    I needed someone to help me dial it down when I was younger.

    I was lucky in that I had two great parents. But I had no mental models.

    Exam pressure is real. Perfectionism can be paralysing. Expectations can be enormous.

    The solution can be simple.

    Dial it down.

    And watching Tommy Tiernan and some comedy can also help.

    Until next time, keep RAYSING THE GAME.

    Ray Langan

    Ray Langan

    I help students and young people go from anxious and overwhelmed to calm and confident (and get better grades than ever before). I show students how to study smarter and learn faster using my unique methods. I am an award winning speaker, coach and therapist and I can help you help your teen to RAYSE THEIR GAME.

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