The start of the academic year is looming, which can be a whirlwind of emotions and stress for both students and their parents or guardians. There is a lot of pressure to set good habits that will support students throughout the year, all the way to exams.
School staff have, of course, a crucial role to play in helping students prepare for this. However, parents and guardians are in a unique position to offer substantial support for their child's mental well-being and academic achievement at home.
But it’s hard to know how to best support your child in a stressful moment and in a sustainable way. So, we’ve put together 10 practical strategies that parents and guardians can utilise to help their children throughout their school career, focusing on:
- Good sleep habits
- A nutritious breakfast
- Minimising distractions
- Studying using Retrieval Practice
- Making use of the Protégé Effect
- Combatting procrastination
- High expectations
- Making outdoor exercise a habit
- Balancing work and play
Sleep is vital for memory consolidation, a process which is integral to learning. Parents/guardians can help by ensuring their child follows a regular sleep schedule, getting the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep each night.
This becomes even more crucial during the exam season, when quality sleep can enhance concentration and memory. Studies indicate that sleep helps form new neural connections and prioritise important information, enabling better recall during exams. In fact, prioritising sleep during exams has been shown to lead to higher grades. If you want to know more about this subject, check out our guide on the link between sleep and learning.
Encourage a nutritious breakfast
Despite the common knowledge that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, studies show that a significant percentage of teenagers regularly skip breakfast, with over 60% of teenage boys and 70% of teenage girls doing so.
Parents can play a crucial role in reversing this trend, emphasising the importance of a nutritious morning meal. Research indicates that children who skip breakfast or rely on energy drinks perform worse in attention and memory tasks compared to their breakfast-eating counterparts.
In an age of digital distractions, parents and guardians can aid their child's revision by creating a calm, distraction-free environment. This may look like looking after their child’s phone for them during study sessions, turning the TV off, or helping them ensure their desk is tidy.
Multiple studies have debunked the myth of efficient multitasking, showing that the mere presence of a phone can cause a 20% decline in performance – even if students don’t use it. Encouraging students to put away their phones during revision can reduce errors and improve productivity.
For more information on this subject, take a look at our guide to mobile phone management for students.
Implement Retrieval Practice
Retrieval Practice, a strategy that involves recalling previously learned knowledge by generating an answer to a question, is one of the most effective revision techniques. It helps strengthen memory traces and increases the likelihood of long-term information retention and can take many forms, from past papers to quizzes.
One great way to utilise Retrieval Practice at home is by using flashcards. For example, parents and guardians can encourage their child to use the Leitner System, a handy way to make the best of flashcards.
Getting their child to teach them the material
A powerful way to reinforce understanding is for students to teach the material to someone else. Known as the Protégé Effect, this technique improves memory recall and enhances understanding. When students prepare to explain the material to others, they organise and clarify their thoughts, leading to a deeper comprehension of the subject matter.
Procrastination is a common challenge among students, with 75% considering themselves procrastinators and half of these viewing it as problematic.
Parents and guardians can help combat procrastination by setting a structured routine for their child’s revision, limiting distractions such as mobile phones and ensuring they start their revision as early as possible. Studies suggest that once a task is started, even for a few minutes, the brain's inherent desire for task completion kicks in—a phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik Effect.
Set high expectations
A review of 37 studies found that high parental expectations significantly contribute to improving student grades. These expectations instill belief and motivate students to work harder. However, it's crucial that these expectations are paired with supportive actions that enable the child to develop resilience and overcome setbacks.
Motivating a child to revise can be tricky. However, research shows that highlighting the practical applications of the revising content can increase motivation. Parents can share examples of how they've used the knowledge they learned at school later in life, thus making learning more relatable and engaging.
However, it’s important to note that motivation can be a tricky thing to master. For example, using incentives can have its pros and cons – learn more about this on our blog Should Parents Pay Their Child for Good Grades?
Encourage daily outdoor exercise
Daily outdoor exercise is beneficial for students, especially during revision periods. Studies show that even a short 12-minute walk can improve a student's mood and increase concentration levels by up to 21%, even when facing daunting tasks.
This is another great habit that parents and guardians can help their child to set, for example by reminding them to take an outdoor break halfway through their revision session – and perhaps even joining them for a walk.
Balance work and play
While studying is important, it's equally crucial to set aside time for relaxation and leisure. High stress levels can negatively impact a child's well-being and even the quality of their revision.
Incorporating a healthy balance of screen time, socialising, partaking in hobbies and exercising within study can actually contribute to exam success by providing necessary mental breaks. This will help students stay motivated and avoid burnout, but will also give their brain the time to consolidate their learning.
While school life inevitably brings stress, the 10 strategies outlined above can help make this more manageable for students and parents/guardians alike.
Remember, academic success isn't just about achieving better grades—it's about developing effective study habits, resilience, and a balanced approach to work and life. These strategies may be helpful during school time and exams, but they will also benefit students for a lifetime.