In the news: Results Day

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6 Aug 2018
How can we help our kids if results day doesn't turn out as they hoped? Becky shares some ideas.

 Sometimes, it seems as if the only events of significance in the summer holidays are the dreaded results days. Social media is buzzing, newspapers are full of statistics and stories of the teens who achieve incredible results, the government heralds the results as proof that standards are rising … and in the midst of it all are our children, feeling as if their whole lives depends on that piece of paper. While learning to live with success and failure is part of growing up, the intense scrutiny of results day means that if their results aren’t what they wanted, young people can feel exposed and massively under pressure.

So, how can we help our kids if results day doesn’t turn out well? These are some ideas you might find helpful.

What lies might your child be believing?

When we are disappointed, we may struggle to see the truth through all the feelings we are experiencing. Your child may feel some or all of these:

  • I’m a failure – because I didn’t get the results I expected, or school anticipated, or what I need to go to college, I have failed. 
  • I’m not clever so I’m not significant – they may have absorbed the message that people who are smart are the most important.
  • You’ll be disappointed in me – I have let you down.
  • It’s the end of the road – I haven’t got a future.
  • Everyone else has done brilliantly – I’m the only one who has messed up.
  • My friends won’t want to know me – I don’t fit in any more.

If a teen you loved has had disappointing news today, it can be hard to know how to help them.  It can be devastating to see your hopes disappear, and while you may long to hug them tight until the pain goes away, that won’t be enough.  But there is a lot you can do.

Help them cope with their feelings

  • Chances are your teen will be feeling a real mix of emotions and may not be able to identify exactly what is going on.  Rachel Turner, in her book ‘Parenting Children for a Life of Confidence’, suggests using ‘curious questions’ to help people understand their feelings.  Asking questions like ‘Tell me more about how you are feeling’ or ‘What are you afraid might happen?’ may be helpful and will help you understand their point of view.
  • Try to respond with empathy rather than emotion – however disappointed you are.  Resist the temptation to point out that you did suggest they did a bit more revision, or to rush in with solutions. Give them time, allow them to hide for a while if they want to, and make sure you focus on them rather than their results.
  • Remind them that you love them just because.  No conditions.  Passing exams won’t make you love them any more, and failing exams won’t make you love them any less. Remind them that they have achieved a lot already, and you are proud of them.
  • Help them release their frustration well. Suggestions include taking time away from people for a while, screaming into a pillow, doing some exercise, journalling, talking to a trusted friend, ranting for a while, or simply having a good cry. There’s good advice here about coping with the disappointment.
  • If appropriate for your child, suggest that they connect with God and catch from him. If they are finding this difficult, you may want to help them do this using the prayer ministry model described in session 7 of the ‘Parenting for Faith’ course.
  • If you are worried about your child’s reaction to their results, there are helplines for parents such as the one offered by Young Minds that will be able to help.

Help them see they have a future

If your teen has been anticipating that they will be going to college or uni, discovering that their grades weren’t good enough will be shattering, and they may find it difficult to imagine their future. 

  • Remind them that whatever has happened today, it is a new beginning – something new will happen.  They can’t change what has happened but they can make good decisions about the future.

 ‘[Failure is] one moment in the midst of a whole story and what happens next is more important than the failure itself’

Rachel Turner, ‘Parenting Children for a Life of Confidence’.

  • Your child will need to find out what their options are – retakes, applying for another university through clearing, opting for another sort of course, for example. Encourage them to talk to people who will have good advice such as their tutors at college. There is a lot of helpful information online: for example, advice on what to do if your GCSE results aren’t what you expected here, or if you are disappointed with your A levels here. UCAS have a comprehensive guide to clearing here.
  • It may be helpful to remind them that many, many very successful people didn’t do well in their exams - see this article, for example. Explore together stories of people in the Bible who had bumpy rides. Their apparent success or failures along the journey had nothing to do with God’s ability to use them powerfully. God promises to work all things together for good, and his great plans for your life cannot be stopped. 
  • Share stories of times in your life when your plans went awry: what happened? How did you feel? 

Help them see truth in the Bible  

Despite what we might hear from the world, God doesn’t value academic achievement!  When you look in the Bible to see what God wants to see in us, it is things like the fruit of the Spirit rather than intelligence or achievement, and the book of Proverbs is full of admiration for qualities such as diligence and hard work.  

Many Bible characters had moments of failure, times when it seemed as if they had ruined everything.  Wonder at what happened; how the characters felt; what they did; and how the story ended.  For example:

  • Peter denying Jesus (John 18:1-27; 21)
  • David’s affair with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12)
  • Moses murdering an Egyptian (Exodus 2)
  • Jonah’s churlish response to God’s call (Jonah 1-4)

God does not expect us to be perfect.  There are many verses in the Bible that can comfort us when we feel that we have failed, and you may want to share some of these with your teen.  For example:

  • We don’t need to be perfect for God to use us – in fact, Paul describes us as ‘jars of clay’ holding God’s light (2 Corinthians 4:6-9)
  • God, who loves us dearly, has good plans for us, to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11)
  • Paul advises that in order to put our hearts at peace, we should pray about everything (Philippians 4:6-7)
  • We are of such value to God that he even knows how many hairs are on our heads (Matthew 10:29-31)
  • God is our unshakeable refuge when we are in trouble (Psalm 18:2)
  • We will experience trouble – and when this happens, Jesus offers us peace (John 16:33)

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Image acknowledgements

GCSE Results Day 2015 © Tallis Photography licensed under CC 2.0 / cropped and scaled