Exam strategy: crisps and TV


“Eat junk food and watch Gray’s Anatomy for 2 hours,” my nerdy Asian kid replied when I asked her what her strategies are for coping with exam stress.

We are currently in the IGCSE exam season and Georgina definitely has a lot on, not only in terms of her studies but also her heavy sporting commitments. She plays football at a very high level and cannot afford to slack off as she is playing in an important tournament in Portugal in less than two months’ time. It is business as usual on the football pitch.

“I’m training kids to be professionals who can earn a living from playing football,” her football coach says pointedly to parents like myself who whinge about his four days a week training regime during the exam time. Surely those poor dears should be in their comfortable homes studying instead of running around in the hot sun chasing a ball?

“Exams are just exams and life goes on,” her father agrees with the coach.

But I am 75% Asian, OK? Exams are a big deal. It is a cast-iron belief that is woven into the Asian genes, like it or not. You’re screwed for life if you don’t come home with a brace of As.

But I was surprised, nonetheless, by Georgina’s response.  She is normally extremely disciplined and controlled, so what is this with junk food and mindless television for two hours?

There are healthy options available in our house and we live by the beach. So why stuff your face with junk food and hole yourself up in your room wasting time watching mindless TV (which she never does), instead of eating a homemade energy bar, swim in the sea and get down to work?

She shrugged. “I give myself two hours. And then I take out my school books.”

She does know what she is doing and what she needs to do.  The walls in her bedroom are covered with Post-Its.

And as a testament to the saying  that we know our own body best, there is a reason for Georgina’s out-of-character behaviour.  Yesterday, I read that Dr Sandi Mann, a researcher from the University of Central Lancashire, and colleagues presented their findings to the British Psychological Society conference in Nottingham which showed that when we are bored, our dopamine level drops and we compensate for this drop in other ways, namely by eating fatty and sugary foods. You can read the short article, Bored People Reach For The Chips, by clicking on this link.

“Bored people do not eat nuts,” Dr Mann said. My goodness, so true! Georgina who loves nuts shuns them when she comes home from school after a long day and still has a couple of hours of studying ahead of her.  Bring on the McVities and crisps.

And interestingly enough, in a separate study, Dr Mann found that boredom can make us more creative. She suggests that boredom can have positive results including an increase in creativity because it gives us time to daydream. Hmmm, television soaps do have their worth after all.

Note to self: my child knows her body and mind better than I do. Note to self: my child knows her body and mind better than I do. It is the innate wisdom called Mahad that I wrote about in my parenting book.






Inspiring children and building teens

When my children were young, I did not endear myself to relatives and friends. I specifically made it be known that I would not allow my children to play with plastic toys.  Gifts that were plastic in nature were politely and firmly returned.

“Come on, relax a bit,” my children’s father would say.

No, not on this. We have to live our beliefs in our everyday lives rather than spouting ideals.  Children learn when their parents model their teachings.  If we allow plastic toys – many of which are manufactured unethically using child labour and contributing to environmental pollution – when and how will our children learn to live mindful lives? Our home is the laboratory that our children learn the art of being and the ways of living.

In any case, my children were not deprived despite my draconian laws and moratorium on plastic toys.  They played with pots and pans and wooden spoons. They rearranged my cupboards and spent a lot of time outdoors.  My niece Katie infamously ate earthworms served up very prettily on my mother’s china plate.

My father-in-law made beautiful toys for my children.  It was truly a labour of love. He passed away in 2005 but the toys that he made almost 30 years ago still have the place of pride in my son’s house. My mother-in-law made lovely things for them too with her sewing machine and crochet needles. She made the characters of the series of story books that my children’s father and I wrote entitled The Atoms Family to teach our children about the physical world. Here’s Harry Helium who is one of the residents of the block of flats called The Periodic Table.

My parents, who were less into crafts but more into biology, taught my kids about the plants that grew in the New Forest and the animals, birds and insects that lived there. Almost thirty years later, I still treasure those sketch books.


Scarcity of ‘toys’ made my children more resourceful. You see, toys entertain them passively, especially those with bright lights and synthetic voices. Without these toys to entertain them, they had to actively engage themselves. They became very creative and resourceful. I did moan a fair bit about the fact they they were always up to mischief, like cutting up old t-shirts to make clothes for the dogs, dismantling things and experimenting with fireworks.

But the upshot is, they learned how to live purposeful lives.

As teens, they would put on cabaret acts for the family. They would dress up. Yes, they were always up to something, living their lives fully and colourfully. Georgina taught First Aid course in her school for small children. She ran weekly children’s Taekwondo classes in our front garden (she was a Second Dan Black belt by 12 years old).  She started a company called G-Tech selling home electronic kits for children to learn the basics.

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Today, she is two weeks short of her 16th birthday. She has no interest in hanging out in shopping malls or nightclubs (though we live in a party town). She does not own an iPad and she is not into computer games. She lives her life as a continuation of her childhood, which was fun-filled, resourceful and creative. She enjoys studying because she sees it as part of the process – no pressure, challenging, can be beautiful – and brings her creativity and enthusiasm into it.  This comes from her childhood where the things she does is active and directed, rather than passive and accepting.  An example of her biology notes:


This morning, I stopped by my friend Vivienne Reis’s stall. I wish I had known her when my kids were young, because Vivienne is a patron of a Thai charity, Good Shepherd Sisters www.handsofhopenongkhai.com. The ladies supported by this charity learn self-sufficiency by making beautiful crafts and toys.  I particularly love the cloth books with detachable pieces which are good for engaging children in story-telling.

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good shepherd 1

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They are all handmade with love and are very reasonably priced. I especially love the 2-in-1 Mermaid doll….because many years ago, my mother-in-law made one for my daughter Kat.

For more information, please email viviennereis@gmail.com