Surviving Year 12: A parent's guide to self-care

Stephanie sitting down and smiling at camera

This article was written by Stephanie Osfield, an award-winning health and science journalist, family and carer Peer Support worker, and a trained counsellor, teacher and mentor. She is passionate about connection, community and the importance of family-inclusive support in the mental health care of young people.

It’s 1 am and my teen has just asked me to proofread their HSC English practice essay. ‘Sure,’ I purr, but my heart secretly sinks at the thought of my shrinking sleep time. 

1.15 am: I’m sitting in bed immersed in Shakespeare. 

1.30 am: I’ve just-re-read the same paragraph five times.

1.45 am: Seriously, brain. Shift. In. To. Gear. What was the rubric again? 

2 am: Oh, no! I nodded off and splashed herbal tea all over my pillow and I still have 1,000 words to go!

Welcome to Planet Year 12. I remember this place well, having supported my three kids through their final-year exams as a single mum. Upfront, I want to say that my strongest memory of the experience is the lovely comradeship and solidarity we shared. You’re on the emotional and physical rollercoaster with them. And you bond. Big time.

Supporting your child through the blips and rolling study demands of Year 12 may cause you stress and moments of overwhelm. In addition to feeling protective of your young person, you may worry that they’re not hitting the books enough or that they’re overdoing it. It’s a lot to navigate.

Regardless of how you’re feeling, you’ll be there 24/7 with your parenting ‘toolkit’ of quick and long-term fixes. But who’s caring for the carer? To avoid burnout and ensure you have enough bandwidth to go the distance, here are some wellbeing tips to help you (and your teen) get to the finish line intact.

Be a cheerleader, not a critic

Set your emotions to cruise control and be supportive, even if your child hasn’t hit the books for some time. Here are some ways to maintain perspective:

My reboot tip: Make ‘Tomorrow is another day’ your Year 12 mantra.

Schedule ‘me’ and ‘we’ time

You and your family will also cope better with the demands of Year 12 if you schedule regular quality down time, preferably at least 30 minutes a day (but even five or ten minutes will help). Here are some ways to nurture yourself:

  • Drop everything and read a book.

  • Go for a walk with a close mate you can talk to.

  • Organise a brunch or dinner out with friends or at home. (Have everyone bring a dish to share.)

  • Enjoy a family games night or movie evening watching comedies or family favourites.

  • Do a sun salutation or several yoga flows to loosen up your body and mind.

  • Make a pot of loose-leaf English brekkie tea or chamomile brew and savour it mindfully.

My reboot tip: Soak in a candlelit bath before bed. If the water is warm (not hot), it will lower your body temperature and help you to fall asleep.

Lean into your support network

Extended family and friends are usually only too happy to help if you just put your hand up.

  • Ask grandparents to pick up your child from school/sport/their casual job.

  • Accept all offers to cook dinner so that you can enjoy a night off or out.

  • Enlist other family members to do chores while you chat – think weeding, folding the laundry or changing the bedsheets.

  • Check if your foodie friends would be happy to make a few meals if you supply the ingredients and they doggie bag several servings for themselves.

  • Organise a carpool with other parents.

My reboot tip: Shop online for groceries when you’re having a heavy-duty week.

As you step up to be your child’s ‘go to’ support person, snack dispenser, proofreader and HSC agony aunt, sometimes you may struggle to find your zen-zone. Ditto for your teenager, who may morph in a millisecond from ‘I’ve got this’ to ‘I’m over this!’

Take a nature break

Go for calming ‘ecotherapy’ in a blue space (near water) or a green space (near anything leafy and green). Here are some other ways to nurture yourself with nature:

  • Forest bathe. Called Shinrin-yoku, this Japanese practice can boost mood, immunity and concentration while lowering blood pressure, heart rate and stress. So, head for a forest or a canopy of trees at the park.

  • Walk on the beach or down to a nearby creek or stream. Collect shells or driftweed along the way.

  • Dine in your garden or on your balcony with a picnic meal at dusk.

  • Cloud watch or stargaze.

My reboot tip: Play a recording of rain, birdsong or waves if you can’t get outside today.

Boost your sleep

A good night’s sleep helps to improve your mood, energy and disposition. Here are some ways to practise better sleep hygiene:

  • Aim to get up and go to bed at the same time every day.

  • Reduce your intake of caffeine and alcohol, which can interfere with sleep onset and quality.

  • Avoid screens for at least an hour before bedtime: The bright light can reduce levels of melatonin, a hormone that lowers body temperature in readiness for sleep.

My reboot tip: Breakfast al fresco. Morning sunlight helps your body clock by synchronising your hormones with light and dark.

Max the power of music

Whether you enjoy Beyonce, the Beatles or Bach, music is a powerful antidote to anxiety. Here are some ways to milk the benefits of every musical note:

  • Play songs that you and your teen love, and DIY karaoke when driving in the car or preparing a meal.

  • Put together a ‘chill-out’ classical/ambient playlist and a ‘feel-good’ playlist of upbeat songs. Stressed? Just press play.

My reboot tip: Stevie Wonder's song 'Superstition' is an evergreen tension circuit breaker.

Relax and re-set

Relaxation is critical for avoiding burnout. Here are some ways to relax:

  • Practise progressive relaxation. Start at the top of your head and work your way down to your toes, tensing and then relaxing all your muscles as you go.

  • Visualise an appealing scene, such as a rainforest or a Japanese garden.

  • Meditate daily. To help you focus, concentrate on your breath, or on a calming word or a chant.

  • Use online wellbeing resources such as Act Mindfully, Smiling Mind or Mind/Land Youtube meditations.

My reboot tip: If you’re feeling anxious, slow-breathe in and out to a count or three or five.

Organise weekly menus

Here are some ways to fast-track food prep and say goodbye to ‘what’s for dinner?’ blahs:

  • Stock up on healthy snacks: go for fruit, nut and seed mixes, healthy protein bars, and dips served with baby carrots and cucumbers.

  • Stock your cupboards with quick-fix basics, including:

    • canned foods like tomatoes, tuna, salmon, chickpeas, lentils and red kidney beans

    • pasta, couscous and rice vermicelli noodles

    • spices and tagine sachets. 

  • Keep it simple. Choose some no-frills meals such as a veggie-packed omelette or rice-paper wraps filled with barbecued chicken and salad vegetables, served with soy dipping sauce.

  • Snatch a moment to sauté onions and garlic, chop veggies for a stir-fry, or season some mince and then shape it into balls, ready to cook later.

  • Ditch the Sunday sleep-in for a bulk cook-up so you have frozen stews, hotpots, curries or spag bol ready as back-up.

My reboot tip: Set the table every night with candles. Soft lighting can help to relax stressed shoulders, too.

Hit the pavement

Exercise benefits your immunity, sleep, energy levels and mental wellbeing, research shows. Here are some ways to move more:

  • Get off the bus two stops early.

  • Play a family game of soccer, basketball or footy.

  • Lap the oval while your child is at sports training.

  • Buddy up with a friend for the gym, yoga or Zumba – it will motivate you to go.

  • Do bite-sized bouts of exercise, such as skipping rope, jumping on a trampoline or cycling on a stationary bike.

My reboot tip: Find an online HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) session and max your fitness in minimal time without leaving home.

While your young person’s welfare is obviously top priority during their final year of high school, make sure you put on your own oxygen mask first. Consistent self-care that nourishes your mental and physical health will ensure you’re better able to pace yourself, keep your cool and sense of humour, and provide optimal support to your teen. 

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