Helping your teen manage exam result disappointment

As a parent or carer, it’s completely normal if you’re also feeling some intense emotions in the period leading up to your child’s exam results. After all, we worry about our young people – how they’ll cope if things don’t go well, what their future holds, and so much more. We’re also invested in the outcomes because we love them, want the best for them, and we’ve gone through all their educational ups and downs alongside them.

You’ll no doubt have witnessed your child invest countless hours studying, preparing, and feeling the weight of expectations. Anticipation, nervousness, and sometimes disappointment could be some of the feelings that you’re both experiencing.

But the fact is, exam results do not define anyone’s entire future. So as guardians you can continue to support your children, especially if the results aren’t as expected. You can help them to see that these results do not dictate the rest of their life and their ultimate success. If you’re not sure how, we have some tips you can use to help your teen manage exam result disappointment.

Understanding and supporting disappointment

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s natural for young individuals to feel upset or disappointed if their results don’t align with their expectations or aspirations. Let them know that is OK – as a parent, being empathetic and understanding is key. Then you can help them to work through those emotions and find alternative pathways and a new focus.

Here are some tips to help your teen manage exam result disappointment:

  1. Let it go: Just listen. Be open and non-judgmental while your teen expresses their feelings, processes all that emotion, and then starts to move on.
  2. Explore together: Helping your child to look at different options and find new pathways could help them to change their perspective, bring new hope, and even spark joy. Sometimes, a setback can open new doors that were previously unseen.
  3. Find the positives: Remind your child that everyone experiences disappointment; in fact, it’s often how we grow and build resilience. Success is rarely a linear path, and resilience in the face of challenges is a crucial life skill.
  4. Find their why: Knowing their core values and knowing their “why” can provide direction and focus. This can be particularly helpful when everything seems unknown or uncertain and provides some confidence to move forward.
  5. Write down their new goals: People who set goals, write them down, and check in on them are often more successful. Your job could be to ask them if you can help by checking in on their progress and helping them to remember their goals.
  6. Ask for help: There are so many people aside from parents, carers, friends and family who are well placed to help. Careers advisors, future student teams, and recruitment specialists are just a few. And if feelings become overwhelming, there are professionals who can help them work through that too.

Rethinking success beyond exam results

It’s important to remind both yourself and your child that exam results, while significant, are not the sole predictors of future success. Perhaps you could start a conversation about what success looks like to them and talk about the many different ways they could be successful.

Exam results can be important, but they are just one chapter in a book filled with many opportunities and paths. Ultimately, the mark of true success is not a grade, but in the resilience, adaptability, and determination to achieve their goals – even if they change down the track.

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