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Passing the HSC

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 HSC Advice for Parents

HSC exams kicked off this week which means stress levels are rising among Year 12 students. For parents, it can be hard to know how to support your child through this difficult period so we have reached out to psychologist and student counsellor, Karin Austin, for tips and advice.  

Aside from being a student counsellor at the University of Notre Dame Australia, Karin Austin is also the mother of an 18-year-old son who is currently completing his HSC, and therefore she is uniquely placed to offer advice to other parents guiding their own Year 12 student through final exams.

As surprising as it may seem, Karin’s first word of advice for parents is to get their own anxiety under wraps. “Often as parents we get worried so we start to ask our kids a lot of questions – Are you studying? What’s coming up next? Have you prepared?” says Karin. However, these kinds of questions only add pressure and are usually born out of a parent’s own anxiety about how their child will perform in the HSC. Parents need to find a support network to debrief with. It’s also a good idea to explain to the whole family, especially younger siblings, that this period of heightened stress requires the family to adjust their expectations of the Year 12 student in the household.

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Psychologist and student counsellor Karin Austin.

“I’ve had to be really mindful not to ask so many questions because they’re actually making my son feel more stressed,” Karin adds. “That’s my own anxiety; I want to know that he’s studying so he does his best, but the better question to ask is ‘how can I help?’”

So how can parents help? 

“Think about what it’s like for you when you experience extreme stress – maybe you don’t sleep well or you’re short with people. It’s the same for your children,” says Karin. “So ask yourself what you find helpful when you’re feeling stressed. Is it someone just offering to make you a cup of tea? It’s often small gestures that can really make a difference when people are feeling stressed.”

Karin’s Tips for Surviving HSC

  • Create a calm atmosphere at home for your student. “Parents can be an anchor in the storm for children,” says Karin. “We regulate our nervous system through other people so if we are relaxed as parents, sitting down and talking to our children in a calm tone of voice and making eye contact, we are helping regulate their nervous system.”
  • Ask your child what support they would like from a practical point of view. Find out what meaningful measures you could take to help them, such as bringing them breakfast or giving them a break from their chores.
  • Remind your kids to focus on the bigger picture. “Doing the HSC isn’t just about an ATAR, students should also be thinking about what kind of person they want to be and what kind of contribution they want to make to the world in the future,” says Karin. It’s also important to remind your children that the HSC isn’t the only pathway to what’s important to them in their lives.
Preparing for exams PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli Photography
  • Encourage connection with friends. “We sometimes think that family is enough support, but peer support is really important because it’s other Year 12 students who understand the experience your child is going through.”
  • Make sure your child has a good balance. “Some kids don’t know how to create that balance for themselves; they feel like they should be studying all of the time, but sometimes the best use of time is having a break,” says Karin. “I often tell my university students that it’s not only about doing your best but being your best self. That might mean choosing to go to bed earlier or chatting with a friends, rather than doing an extra hour of study because your wellbeing is part of being your best self.”

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