How not to fail your child if they fail their exams

 In Parenting, Parenting teens

What if your child doesn’t get the results you’re all hoping for this summer?

Here’s what you can do.  Don’t wait until results day, here are some suggestions for now:

Point out her strengths and qualities

You don’t have to labour it, just drop into the conversation, “You’ve a good memory, what was the name of that…?” or “You’re obsessed with that game, but you always were good at focussing on what interests you” or “That was kind of you, you’re a good friend, reliable, honest…” or “Don’t you want to go out, mind you, you’re okay with your own company” or “I can’t figure her out, you understand people, what do you think?”

Plan ahead

Do some research into what options there might be if the results aren’t good enough for what she’s hoping to do next. It’s not that you think she’s not going to do well enough, but you’re showing her the value of having a plan B. You could do this together which might lead to some interesting discussions about what’s really most important to her. Or at least do a bit of investigating yourself, even if it’s thinking about how you’d support her in exploring her options if she needs to after results day. Who do you know who could help?

Think about how your teen handles disappointment

What will she need? A hug, be left alone for a bit, nice food, a distracting activity, have a good cry, a rant, get straight on with figuring out other options, not to have to think about it at all, go off with friends, hunker down with family, wallow in the bath. Make your focus be on what she’s going to need (however you may be feeling).

Find someone else to talk to about your own feelings of disappointment

Your child does not need to hear your fears for her future, your anger or regret at her performance, or your frustration at how much better she could have done if only… Find another adult to off-load with.

Plan something special for that day

Plan an outing that will happen whatever their results. Make it something unrelated to schoolwork. Bowling, the cinema, the beach; take strawberries, sugar and cream to a place with a view; download a good film to watch with popcorn; choose something where you can all have fun together.

On results day

If your teen doesn’t get the results she was hoping for she might be devastated and need you to help her see that it’s not the end of the world. Or she may seem not to care, but inside she may still be feeling fear and regret, and she’ll need help to figure out where to go from here.

Children grow up spending the best portion of their day at school, most days of the week, most weeks of the year. How well they do at the end of all this will feel like a test of the value of all this time spent. What’s the point of all those hours learning algebra and past participles if they don’t get some credit at the end?

We all encourage them to do their best. Imagine how it might feel if their best isn’t good enough? Or perhaps they didn’t do their best — they might regret that now. Many of us, children and adults, mistake exam results for a measure of a person’s worth. That can feel horrible if you don’t do as well as you hoped, or don’t perform as well as your friends. Esteem and confidence are bound to take a dive. Our job is to make sure that it’s a temporary dip and not a permanent slide.

Childline report 35% increase in calls from children feeling anxious this year. Teens tell me that they worry about exams, not getting into further education, not getting jobs at the end of it, never being able to afford to move out and set up their own home. That’s pretty big stuff to be worrying about and I’m noticing these are bigger concerns for teens now than they used to be.

This recent batch of exams were tough. This year’s GCSE exam candidates were the first to encounter the new 1-9 marking system in all subjects. There will inevitably be some casualties to such large-scale change. I hear from teachers that they felt there was more crammed into the curriculum and teens told me that there wasn’t enough time to answer all the questions in the exam. Even if the results are pretty much similar to last year, there will always be hordes of children unhappy on results day.

And then we must think about the children who find that school and academic study isn’t what they’re best suited to. And yet this is still the path that leads through most childhoods, so they have no choice but to sit in lesson after lesson for years. Some children struggle through, many give up. Their exam results are never going to reflect their many other strengths and qualities that aren’t tested for.

Parents and teachers have an important role, before and after the results come out. It can make the difference of a child diminished and deterred by their results or determined and directed.

What you can do when she’s received her results

Let her respond however she needs to (as long as she doesn’t harm herself or others)

Listen. She needs to work out what to do next. Let her think aloud as she figures out her options. Hold back on advice to begin with. Don’t reassure, solve, or minimise. Let her be sad, mad, or frightened. It’s hard to watch your child in distress but know that this is part of her process and if you try to make it all okay too quickly she’ll not learn how to cope next time when you’re not there.

The Bigger Picture You’ve got the bigger picture and the long-term in much better view than she possible can. You’ve lived a while, you know that her exam results are only one part of what determines the future. Many people who didn’t do so well at school are happy and successful adults.

Don’t catastrophise even if your teen is.

Have trust in her ability to find her right path. If you believe she can, it will help her to.

Careful how you treat the good results too. Be proud, of course be proud, but mention all her other qualities which haven’t been tested and ranked too.

Even when the results are a disappointment there’s the possibility of turning this into a positive experience.  How you manage this big day will teach your child how to approach other big news. Remember if you want to be able to help then she needs to feel like you’re on her team.  Be kind.  Make sure she knows that she’s so much more than her test results.  A set of numbers from 0 to 9 can’t possibly sum up your daughter, so don’t let exam results define her future.

Tell her everything you love about her and list what she does well.

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