August 05th, 2019
Most children and many parents get anxious about exam results day. It’s completely normal. For those with GSCE results, it’s the culmination of 3 years of studying, or if you’re waiting for A level results, it will have been an intense 2 years. As a parent you will have lived and breathed exams over the past 6 months and yet your role is not yet over as you still you need to help your child get prepared emotionally for results day.
There may well be a mixture of anxiety, fear, uncertainty and maybe even panic or perhaps excitement. All those emotions in hormonal and heat-exhausted teens makes for a lethal cocktail of feelings.
It’s wise to be emotionally prepared for results day in terms of what the possible outcomes may be. They may range from having exceeded expectations, through making the grades needed, or missing by a little, to not getting the grades you want. Your teen retorts “so you don’t believe I’ve got this!” and a cycle of defensiveness and anxiety ensues. The truth is it’s wise to plan for every eventuality from elation and celebration to the possibility of disappointment, if your son or daughter does not get the grades they hoped for. Keep the champagne on ice but also have available the websites or numbers you’ll need for information if a change of plan is required.(eg UCAS)
There are plenty of articles and blog posts abut preparing practically for results day and but few people talk about emotional preparation. In the run up to results day your role is to:
• Keep yourself and your child calm. Let them know you love and value them, no matter what their results
• Keep the connection and communication door open - make time on the day to be there for them to celebrate or commiserate
• In the run up to results day keep them busy and relaxed enjoying their hobbies and favourite pasttimes – for us it was always having fresh air and fun on the golf course or a family board game night
• Reflect back to them how they may be feeling, and show them you understand
Results day! If they’ve done well make sure you acknowledge the amount of work it took to achieve those grades. Make your praise descriptive. Point to specific examples of where your child made good choices and developed good habits around study and achieving balance with exercise and family time. This may not seem important now that the results are in but what you say now will affect their future attitude toward effort whether their future involves further study or not.
If your child does not make their required grades, it’s important to acknowledge the feelings –both yours and your child’s - before you can discuss any solutions or next steps. Taking time to acknowledge the feelings without judgment or blame (this is not the time for ‘I told you to study’) is important to free up the rational brain. If your child is feeling shame or guilt s/he may act as if they don’t care. Name that feeling to show them it is normal and to help them move past it. If indeed your child could have worked harder shame will stop him from getting that learning. You want her to feel that she made a mistake but is not a bad person and she can learn from this and move forward.
Acknowledge to yourself how you feel as a parent. Are you confused? Was this result unexpected? Are you angry –because it was totally expected given the paltry amount of work your beloved offspring put in? No doubt you’re feeling anxious. There is a huge amount of pressure to do well in exams and it is easy to think that your child’s future has just slipped away from him. You need to acknowledge these feelings because if not they’ll fuel your responses and you will not be able to support your child in his moment of anxiety.
I’m sure all of us can recall incidents where we have had to deal with disappointments in life. Have you given up? Were you able to share with others how you were feeling? Were you able to give things another go?
S/he’ll be feeling pretty down. Some children will take failure to get grades or places at college or university as a massive knock back and really take it to heart. Some will make it mean that they are not up to scratch. It’s not uncommon for kids to give up at that point so parents need to respond carefully. If your child has got poor GCSE results but his place at school is secure then he needs to be able to pick himself up and move on with determination to do better. Even if there has to be a rethink about how he will continue his education he will need parents’ support to avoid him giving up. Parents can help build self-confidence and increase resilience and help him to see that increased or redirected effort will pay off.
Moving forward parents can help with ongoing studies by:
• encouraging and motivating young people by descriptively praising them, not just in the academic arena, but generally.
• avoiding evaluative praise so as to encourage a growth mind set (where he seems himself as someone who can grow through his own efforts) rather than a fixed mindset (where he sees his skills and intelligence as limited)
• developing resilience and a healthy attitude to failure –partly through using descriptive praise and partly by emotion coaching him (see below) and also by modelling a positive attitude to set backs and failures. What parents model around failure will count for a lot.
• encouraging independence in thought and action. Give him responsibilities which require skill and dependability. This demonstrates to the young person his own competence and builds confidence. He will learn to trust his abilities, to take risks and give things a go.
But in the immediate aftermath of the results parents need to respond with emotion coaching:
“You’re obviously really disappointed with these results Tom. I know you’d been hoping for better grades in History and Biology [and you needed As in those subjects to get into Exeter university]. Maybe you think Dad and I are mad at you. I’m disappointed with the results too but could never be disappointed in you. I know that you’ll be feeling really worried about what to do now and we’ll discuss that later.”
“Life throws up difficulties all the time and we will support you to deal with this difficulty. I have faith in your ability to show the courage and determination to get over this hiccup when you’ve had a bit of time to absorb it. Right now you might be thinking there’s no point in doing anything. You’ve really been knocked for six so you may be feeling a bit hopeless. You might be comparing your results with your sister’s too. It’s hard to follow in the wake of someone for whom academics seems to come so easily. [don’t be tempted to say “and if you’d worked as hard as she did you might have got somewhere…”] When you’re feeling a little less flat come and we’ll talk about what you can do next. This is one of those life blips that is going to require the kind of resilience you showed when you broke your shoulder and couldn’t play rugby for so long. You didn’t give up then and I’m sure you won’t now either”
Life is tough, and part of our job as parents is, not to shield our children from the rubbish bits of life, which we can’t do, but to build strong children who as adults can cope with whatever life throws at them. The first step is to just admit that this sucks and he feels rubbish. Only then can the child move on to look at solutions.
The one thing we can guarantee they will experience is change and so by emotion coaching we can help our child adapt to whatever changes may come their way.
Sending everyone positive vibes and a good dose of fortune for the 15th and 22nd August 2019!
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