Parenting through the exam process

Skills for successful study: Parenting through the exam process

The exam classes of 2020 have had a rocky start to their exam year with Covid restrictions. In this blog, which accompanies the workshop Inspire 2020 “Parenting through the exam process” I outline some simple skills and strategies for successful study.

  1. Getting ready to Learn

Importance of sleep

Sleep is vital in helping students attend and concentrate. Sleep is food for the brain and if we skip sleep or don’t get enough sleep this has a negative influence on our energy, mood and performance. As a parent you can help students by encouraging and facilitating a relaxing wind down routine before bed. Discourage the use of fizzy drinks and coffee. Lead by example and model what a healthy bed time routine looks like. There is little point in asking your teen not to drink 3 cans of coke at 9pm and turn off his phone, when you fall asleep on sofa with phone in one hand and coffee cup in the other.

  • Learning to Learn

Organizing-Coloring coding books and school equipment. This simple strategy is an effective and visual way to help students organize their school stuff. 

  • Create a timetable using MSword or similar, or use highlighters.
  • Colour each subject so History may be green, maths could be red etc.
  • Then take the textbooks and workbooks associated with that subject and using coloured stickers, put the green stickers on the history book and copybook, red sticker on maths book and so on. It is useful to wrap the coloured sticker around the spine of the book so that it can be seen from front and back.

Organisational Skills

  1. Why do I need to be organized? –
    1. To know where things are
    2. To use time efficiently
    3. To be punctual
    4. To remember things
    5. To be prepared for school
  2. Use technology and set reminders for deadlines for assignments due, homework due, application dates
  3. Study environment- have a clearly defined space such as desk and dedicated shelf /box for storage
  4. Use a paper clip to mark the current page in workbooks/textbooks so no searching for ‘where was I’…
  5. SMART Learning Goals- Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed e.g. I’m going to run a marathon next year is not as clear as I am going to run for 10 minutes this week, 20 minutes next week etc.
  6. Study environment- have a clearly defined space such as desk and dedicated shelf /box for storage
  7. Use a paper clip to mark the current page in workbooks/textbooks so no searching for ‘where was I’…
  8. SMART Learning Goals- Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed e.g. I’m going to run a marathon next year is not as clear as I am going to run for 10 minutes this week, 20 minutes next week etc.

Time management.

Students need to be able to calculate how long a task will take and modify their plans accordingly. A simple exercise to practice this is to get your teen to set a goal time, such as the time they need to be in school for. Then work out the amount of time needed to complete all morning tasks – getting up, dressed, breakfasted, walk/drive to school. Subtract this total of amount of time needed from the goal arrival time and now you have the time needed to get up in the morning. So, this could be 7am for some, 8.15 am for others, it will be context dependent.  This exercise can be developed further by adding 8-10 hours’ sleep to the getting up time and now you have the time your teen should be falling asleep. This second half of the exercise usually generates some interesting conversations.

Getting the most from textbooks: Reading and re reading textbooks endlessly is not an efficient way to study. Actively engaging with the text using different study strategies helps your brain form new connections and embeds the knowledge.

321 is one way of annotating a page from a textbook. When finished reading, write 3 important facts, 2 interesting things and 1 question.

PQRST is another simple technique to actively engage with text

Preview the chapter or article- Check the table of contents and map out the organization of ideas, Read the summary and/or intro and conclusion, headings, pictures, charts, etc. If there are none of the above aids, read the first sentence of every 2nd or 3rd paragraph to get an overall view. This overall view can also be called ‘getting the gist’ of the information.

Question before you read- Ask questions: based on the title of the chapter or piece, based on each heading, based on your previous knowledge. Read to answer your question- Read in 3-5 minute “chunks”, Read to find the answer to your question, Summarize your answer after reading- Say the answer out loud in your own words, Highlight only the most important words and ideas, Write down key words and phrases for each chunk to jog your memory when you review. Test yourself immediately- At the end of the session, test yourself on what you just read, talk your way through the headings, explaining the main ideas ideally aloud.

Thinking Skills

Metacognition is the term used to describe thinking about thinking. It is useful to understand how the brain processes information.

Help your child understand HOW?  It is important that students get into the habit of recognizing how they arrived at a solution to a problem as this will help them apply this reasoning to new situations.

  • Can you tell me how you did that?
  • How else could you have done that?              
  • What do you think the problem is?

Clarify don’t criticize; Try to encourage clarification of incorrect answers rather than dismissing them as incorrect.

  • Yes but you could look at it another way
  • Can you think of a better way to do this?
  • When is another time you need to…?
  • How do you know that is right?


  • Set realistic goals
  • Consider telling someone else about your goals as this may improve motivation
  • Ask yourself what will change if I do nothing?
  • Acknowledge and affirm all success- what have I achieved today, however small?
  • Acknowledge unhelpful thoughts but don’t dwell on them
  • Visualise success, imagine how it will feel to have achieved your goal, what will others see, how will you see yourself?
  • Take action, don’t over think JUST DO IT


Winston S. Churchill

The New Normal- Transition back to school during Covid 19

One of the very few positives about experiencing a global pandemic is that there is a global response to crisis. Teachers and Mental Health advocates have worked tirelessly to prepare students and schools for the transition back to school. To provide practical support to parents and teachers I have curated a selection of the many resources from across the globe, which you may find useful.

The Psychology Society of Ireland produced an excellent document about supporting the return to school. It is comprehensive, practical and evidence informed document. It would be very useful for a SEN team drawing up a transition plan.

For teenagers with Intellectual disability explaining the new normal has presented a lot of challenges, particularly as many of the health promotion advice is in written form. The website books beyond words has an excellent series of picture books designed for this group. Core issues such as social distancing, getting a covid test and dealing with bereavement are all covered in clear age appropriate way.

A lovely resource from New Zealand takes a creative and Arts based approach to supporting social and emotional learning post disaster. A very practical website with lesson plans and videos, it focuses on the power of creativity. A useful resource ready to go as is with minimal adjusting. In Irish schools it may even prompt a useful discussion about the native language and customs of other countries.

This short powerpoint resource from Touchbase UK takes a trauma informed approach and looks at self care and emotional regulation. A useful addition for a school pastoral care team.

This comprehensive resource from Young minds includes short film clips and other resources. It is UK based so some of the terms may not work in Ireland but the experience of transition and its accompanying nerves and anxiety is universal and 1st year heads and pastoral care teams will find it useful.

This short film called Mind the Gap transition to post primary was produced in Ireland  by the Navan School Completion Team and is an excellent resource for Irish teachers of 6th class and First year.

Parents and staff are understandably very worried about the mental health and well being of the young people in their care. This booklet from NHS Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health team was designed to support people manage during lockdown. However the CBT informed approach and the accessible language and format make it a very useful resource for SEN and Pastoral care teams supporting students experiencing anxiety. A useful part of a well-being tool kit.

Another excellent resource for CBT orientated approaches to anxiety is Anxiety Canada. A veritable treasure trove of PDF and e learning modules for children and adults it is a very useful and practical resource for SEN teachers.

The NCSE (National Council for Special Education) has some useful resources for supporting students, particularly strong resources for students with ASD.

Sadly many children and young people will have experienced bereavement in the last 6 months. This website is an excellent resource about responding to grief in classrooms with sensitivity.

Staff well-being is a critical part of a successful transition to a new normal. Now more so than ever the phrase ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ is relevant. This free course from the Public Health team in Wales is easily accessible and divided into small chunks so easier to squeeze a few minutes of ‘me’ time into each day

Finally the most important message to remember over the next few months will be the value of human connection.

Consistent Clear Communication that values connection over confrontation will be essential.

Creating a Communication friendly house

August 10th 2020

It is generally accepted that language is vitally important to all aspects of child development. Language enables children to process their thoughts, reflect on experiences and communicate their wishes. However not all children have access to language, or they may have language delays. In our home we are learning to live with deafness and language delay. We loosely subscribe to a practice of Total Communication, which in our home involves ISL (Irish Sign Language), Lamh (a modified language support system), non-verbal gestures and oral language. Total Communication places the focus on understanding.

Thus whilst language is important perhaps it is more correct to say that having the capacity to communicate and have that communication understood is of critical importance. This blog will outline some of the tips and tricks that we use to support communication in our home. They are generally real life adaptations of SLT sessions, without the luxury of the 30 minutes 1:1 in a quiet space.

  • Do a quick environmental audit of your home. Are certain areas of the kitchen, living room etc., always in shadow? If so try to avoid standing in these areas when speaking as the shadow will make it harder to read your lips and facial expression.
  • To support listening and attention: slow down your speech and chunk the delivery of the information, this means leave a 1-2 second pause between each piece of information. Make sure you have their attention before you start talking, do this by calling their name and waiting until they have shifted their attention. This avoids the constant repetition of “what did I tell you”, and causes less stress in general
  • Follow your childs lead, what are they currently playing with or talking about? Take the time to enter their world and observe what they are doing. Resist the urge to tell them to play the ‘right way’, and ask “ can I play, what is happening here”. You will find yourself on some amazing adventures courtesy of the power of imagination.
  • Involve your whole body in listening. So take your head out of the fridge or washing machine when answering a question or giving an instruction. Telling the inside of the fridge that ‘dinner is ready’ isn’t effective. Make sure your face and lips can be seen clearly by the person listening. Try to avoid speaking when eating, this is an opportunity to model good manners as well as good communication practice.
  • Become familiar with narrating your life. Add language to everyday interactions and tasks, be explicit about what you are going to do, “ I am going to make some tea, I will put on the kettle”, The kettle is boiled, I must be careful, tea is very hot”. There will be days when you feel that you are channelling your inner David Attenborough as you narrate mundane tasks “ Lets put the clothes in the washing machine, this is your red top, it is going into the machine” but stick with it. It becomes second nature very quickly and exposes children to a lot more language use.
  • Personalised scrapbooks or memory books are popular with children of all ages but especially up to middle primary. How many photos of family events do you have on your phone? Do your children ever engage with those photos? Print 20 or 30 of them and create a family memory book. You can include the children in this activity if older and if you have the patience, if not present the memory book as completed object. You can create chapters- “This is us at the beach, What colour was your bucket? Who came to the beach with us? What did we see at the beach? etc or create themes to support social stories, “This is me with a mask, this is you with a mask, this is me cleaning my hands” etc.
  • Model correct pronunciation and use of language but try to avoid correcting mistakes. So when a child asks for ‘smudge’ and you know they mean ‘fudge’, reply with ‘Here is the fudge’, likewise with ‘ocks’ reply with ‘socks’ or ‘coffee book’, reply with ‘copy book’. Understanding these mispronunciations can often mean knowing the context, if you are unsure of what they are trying to say, look around and make an educated guess based on the current activity or time of day.
  • For younger children you could create opportunities for children to ask questions such as making small changes to a regular routine to create fun e.g. shoes on without socks, or cereal in the fridge, and wait for their reaction, they will notice the mistake and this opens up a chance for a communication exchange.
  • Ask open ended questions so instead of ‘how was school”, you could try “did you have fun today”
  • Games are a wonderful addition to regular family routines- Games such as Simon Says, Eye Spy Scrabble, Boggle etc teach language but also crucial skills such as turn taking, listening and following rules.
  • Listening Walk: This can be done indoors or outdoors, and does take a bit of planning. The idea is is to listen to sounds, particularly those they may not have been aware of previously. Before the walk you can suggest sounds to listen for or you can call the child’s attention to sounds as you walk along. After the walk, see how many sounds your child can remember and encourage him/her to describe them. Practise listening to environmental sounds and guessing where the sounds are coming from and what is making them.

As a parent it is really important to help your child learn how to communicate clearly. It is vital that every child learns to communicate so they can share with us their desires, dreams and feelings. Communication is a foundation skill for learning social and emotional skills such as self-awareness and self-regulation. Remember also to keep trying, don’t dismiss a child’s attempt to ask a question or tell a story, and don’t say ‘never mind’ or ‘it wasn’t important’ when they ask you about something that they misheard. Yes it takes an extra 60 seconds to slow down and explain what they missed but if you take the time, each time, you are teaching them language and most importantly that their right to be included and heard is valued and respected.

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road…Unless you fail to make the turn.”
― Helen Keller

Some useful websites and organisations are

The visiting teacher service at

Top Tips for improving Reading Skills at Home

         “Children must learn to read so that later they can read to learn”

Reading with young children is very important for development of language skills and early literacy skills. To read fluently children need basic reading skills and comprehension skills.

Reading is not an innate skill, we are not born with the ability to read we must learn it.  Reading is a complex skill involving the word recognition, understanding the conventions of print, comprehension of text, fluency and motivation. A fluent reader will decode the text, and make inferences and predictions about the text to enhance comprehension, all at the same time. Your child’s teacher will focus on teaching them the skills of word recognition, decoding, phonics and ultimately foundational reading skills. You can support this at home by creating a literacy friendly environment in your home. Even before they learn to begin to learn to read, children should enjoy listening to stories and talking about the meaning and interpretation of words and illustrations with others. Local libraries are a great source of books and lending rules are very generous, so why not work in a monthly trip to your local library into your schedule?

There is some interesting research about the benefits of e-books, with extra features such as built in animations, suggesting that for children over the age of 3 they may be marginally better at vocabulary gains (BPS Research Digest 06/17) although crucially theses studies focused on basic e-books, with very simple animation. Whether you choose an e-book and a read-to-me app or a regular book there is no question that integrating reading into your family life will have positive benefits on language and literacy development.

What can I do as a parent to support reading?

  • A print rich environment: Make sure that there are lots of opportunities to read text in your home. Catalogues such as Aldi/Lidl/Smyths are really useful. For younger children ask them to find a letter or a letter sound in the text. For older children ask them to find a describing word or a doing word in the description. Read cereal boxes, juice boxes , connect the image with the words e.g. What is the juice flavor? How do you know? Where is the word orange? Can you find the letter O?
  • Model Reading- Try to ensure that children see you reading. Talk about the book before during and after reading using open questions e.g. why did that character do what he did?, If you were in that story what would you have done? Help break the sentences into word and words into sounds. Encourage them to use the letter sounds i.e. B A T rather than looking at pictures for clues.
  • Audio books-These are a great resource for children who are struggling as they can follow the text without the stress of having to decode the words.
  • Comic strips and Picture books- Learning to follow a story through picture is a valuable skill and encourages children to practice inference and prediction.
  • Reading and Thinking Activities- Let your child to listen to you reading a page of the story and encourage them to predict what will happen next in the story. Support the development of narrative skills by talking about the beginning, middle and end of the story, what is going to happen next? Play games and pretend to finish the story a page early and ask how do they know the story isn’t finished.
  • Family board games such as Boggle and Scrabble are a great way to develop language awareness in fun way.
  • Library- your local library is a treasure trove of books and community activities,
  • For middle primary students, the tasks of word recognition and decoding may be less of struggle but comprehension of text is a challenge. There is strong evidence to support the explicit teaching of comprehension strategies. This means that the student must learn how to break down the text in order to find the meaning. One useful way to do this is to activate prior knowledge. If there is picture of a Volcano, what do they already know about Volcanos? Another useful tip is Retelling, ask a child to re-tell the story to you.
  • For older post primary students who struggle with the second level text-books there is good evidence that a key word approach can be helpful. This means an explicit focus on subject specific words such as minus/divide/calculate etc. You can support your teen by creating literacy mats of key words for certain subjects. There are some great examples of literacy mats at
  • For post primary students it is also important to focus on functional literacy skills. This means do they have the skills necessary to live in the world independently. Adult literacy agencies have excellent literacy support resources that are targeted to the older student. Age appropriate learning materials are very important for this age group, these are often sold on education sites as High Interest books. Digital literacy is also important for this group. Can they read and send a text message? Can they read and send an email? Do they have sufficient literacy to manage their finances, pass the driver theory test, complete the Safe pass test.

References:,,, BPS research digest

Sleep and children: Supporting sufficient, good quality Sleep

July 16, 2020

“Sleep is the best meditation.” — Dalai Lama

Why is sleep so important?

Sufficient sleep is vital for health and emotional well-being.  Poor sleep over a sustained period of time has been linked to high blood pressure, obesity and depression. Children and young people who have regular access to good quality sleep have improved attention, behaviour and learning. Sleep deprived children have difficulty with mood disturbances and emotional regulation. In teenagers persistent sleep deprivation has been linked to depression and anxiety. The impact of poor bedtime routines on the family as a whole is also significant. Frequent arguments about bedtime, behavioural challenges such as repeatedly getting out of bed and difficulties getting up in the morning can result in conflict across the household.

What happens when you sleep?

The brain is not actually resting when you are asleep. Your brain cycles through REM and non REM sleep and this circadian rhythm supports healthy brain function. The brain consolidates learning that occurred during the day, supports metabolic function and recent research suggests that sleep plays a role in removing toxins. A simple way to explain the importance of sleep to children is to use the analogy of charging a battery. Children are familiar with the need to charge phones, tablets etc. so sleeping to recharge the brain is a useful visual analogy.

How much sleep do young people need?

Children: From ages 3 to 5 children need between 10-13 hours of sleep and from 6-12 children need between 9 to 12 hours sleep. So for primary school children aim to plan for 9-10 hours sleep every night. So when planning your bedtime routine think about what time the children need to be up and dressed and ready to go; in the morning and work backwards.

Teenagers: Generally teens need about 9 hours sleep per night, so practically speaking if their day needs to start at 7am, to allow for dressing, breakfast and school run, they should be in bed by 10pm. Does that reflect reality in your house? Probably not, as many children turn into night owls as they enter the teen years. Why? Recent research suggests that the circadian rhythm in teens is different to adults and they are less sleepy in the evenings but need more sleep in the morning. This research has prompted some scientists to call for school start times to be later for teens. This is certainly something that you should keep in mind if Autumn 2020 brings blended or online learning to schools and students don’t have to race out the door at 8am.

Bedtime Boundaries

Mum I’m thirsty”, “Mum I heard a noise”…

It is important to set clear boundaries around bedtime especially when experiencing bed-time resistance. Bedtime resistance is common and often there is less resistance about going to bed and instead it is resistance to staying in bed. It is very common and usually developmentally appropriate. In the very early years it is around issues of separation worries, then worrying about monsters or robbers and then worrying about school and peers and with the older teen often overstimulation due to blue light from electronics. Before implementing any change to a routine I always advise taking a few minutes to reflect and plan.

         Is your wind down routine giving sufficient time and space to each child to process the day? A bed time routine should take about 25-45 minutes. It should start at the same time each night and follow the same sequence each night.

         What is going on for your child? Often children wait until the business of the day is done before giving voice to their worries or fears, perhaps a new person in school, worry about Covid 19, frustration with sibling. It is very important that you give your child the space and time to be heard so they can settle down to sleep

         What are they trying to achieve? It may be time to review your bed-time routines, are they age appropriate? For siblings sharing a room, is there enough time between bedtimes for each child.

         Are you consistent? Consistency and clarity are essential elements of any approach to managing an unwanted behaviour. Are all adults in the house delivering the same message about bedtime?

Some tips and tricks may help with older children (3 +)

  • Monsters can be zapped with a bottle of magic spray at bedtime
  • Keeping a worry diary or journaling are good strategies for coping with anxious thoughts
  • Regular check ins at 5-10 intervals serve to reassure and can be helped with visual symbol like an egg timer
  • Reward charts and stickers are effective with some children
  • Losing ‘up time’ is another effective consequence, every minute out equals a minute lost ‘up’ the following night
  • A bed-time pass is another strategy for older children. A child gets a number of tickets for pre approved activities such as drink of water, looking for a teddy etc.

The decision to take a particular approach is one that must suit you and your family circumstances. Take some time to reflect on what will realistically work for you and your family.

Support Sleep by creating a sleep positive environment:

  • Electronic curfew- it is really important that exposure the blue light from electronic devices is minimized in the hour prior to sleep. The screen light has been linked to disruptions of melatonin production, which is the sleep hormone. Consider creating a charging station in a central area of the house and set a time for each family member to put down their device and place them charging.
  • Exercise and Fresh Air- Physical activity, playing outdoors in afternoon can really help with good quality sleep
  • Decide a bedtime- set a time to begin a calm and predictable wind down depending on what is age appropriate.
  • Bedtime Routine- Do the same relaxing wind down each evening in a logical order that moves from kitchen to bathroom to bedroom. So for example, a glass of milk in the kitchen, brush teeth in the bathroom, story time in bedroom.
  • Bedroom Environment- Take a look at your bedrooms. Are they conducive to peaceful sleep? Long summer nights and early summer mornings can make sleep difficult but blackout blinds or heavy lined curtains can really help. Even hanging two pairs of eyelet curtains together can mimic a black out lining just make sure that the curtain pole will take the weight. A comfortable bed and duvet that is appropriate for the season is helpful.

Want to find out more?

Check out my webinar on the importance of sleep, routine and tips to manage bedtime challenges with Jessica Kennedy @



Monitor on Psychology, July/August 2020, American Psychological Association