Waiting for exam results is stressful for students, parents and teachers. Everyone hopes for success, but things don’t always work out that way, and if young people miss out on the grades they need, it’s important to know how to react. Amy Smith, MD of an online Alternative Provision school for vulnerable students, shares some strategies for turning exam disappointment into positive action…
So much of exam coverage across media focuses on the successes: the fistful of top passes, the record breakers, the go-straight-to-Oxbridge stories, and the like. Any parent with a child whose exam results were disappointing will recognise the effect this can have on self-esteem. And it can go way beyond the radius of school.
Young people can often make the quantum leap from academic failure to being an all-round loser in the blink of an eye. But as a parent or carer, you can take steps to bolster your son or daughter’s sense of self-worth by helping your children to put their results into perspective, and helping them recognise that their sense of self-worth comes from within. The key is to build mental resilience.
By ensuring that your child doesn’t define his or herself by external factors, you’re putting the building blocks in place for a mental resilience that will help them negotiate life’s curve-balls. And that’s guaranteed to be helping them in 10 years time when that GCSE pass in Algebra has been long-forgotten.
How to build mental resilience
1. Establish trust in your relationship by treating your children as responsible people. Until your child knows you genuinely respect them, and that respect is mutual, they will give little weight to your praise or perspective.
2. Praise achievements – organisation, grace, humour, compassion and thoughtfulness are all great life skills to possess and youngsters should know they can make a difference to the world.
3. Take your everyday language from negative to positive. You might not even realise you’re being negative. Pacific islanders do this automatically; instead of saying,”‘I’m sorry I’m late,” they say, “Thank you so much for waiting for me.” It’s a lovely flip in the emphasis. In the same way, starting a sentence with ‘don’t’ can often immediately trigger resistance – especially saying, “Don’t worry,” which in times of stress can be guaranteed to light the blue touch paper as it trivialises their state of mind. Treat your children like big people, “I know you’re worried, do you want to grab a coffee and we can get our heads together?” Or even, “I can see you’re down, let’s take a break and get away for a bit,” can help.
4. If they have friends who are also disappointed, give them space for peer support and a safe environment in which to grieve and rail against the world. Supply pizza and garlic bread. You may not be thanked at the time, but it all goes to reinforcing the respect in point one.
5. Allow your children to take control of situations wherever possible. When schooling represents trouble and failure, it can be hard for a youngster to see the value of education. What is their hobby or their passion? Football? Animals? Food? Let them know that with a little lateral thinking there’s a way to encompass that passion into their future.
6. The hardest aspect of our job as AP teachers is helping youngsters who have no-one to believe in them. We give them back that belief and watch them flourish. So believe in your sons and daughters and they will start believing in themselves again.
Amy Smith is MD of Apricot Online, an online school for Alternative Education Provision, teaching children who, due to mental, physical, or behavioural issues, have had their education interrupted. Find out more at apricotlearningonline.co.uk