It’s that time of the year again – Exam Results!
A-Level results fall tomorrow, on the 18th August, with GCSE results on the 25th August.
And with both of these days comes a whole range of emotions: nervousness, apprehension, disappointment or excitement.
It’s the day that we’ve waited for and perhaps agonised over; the day our teenagers have worked hard and prepared for; or perhaps the day they’ve dreaded as they regret the time they didn’t put in but could have.
Whilst this day is full of nerves for both parents and their teenagers, one thing is certain: nothing that happens on results day can change what has led up to this point, so today is all about moving forward – whether good or not what they’d hoped for.
And whilst, if disappointments arise, it might feel like the end of the road, the second truth is that it’s really only the beginning. The beginning of many opportunities to come.
As the saying goes, “Ones best successes come after their greatest disappointment” (Henry Ward Beecher).
And if disappointment is something your teenager faces on this day, although they may not see it at first, their results leave them with OPPORTUNITY – the opportunity to give up, or the opportunity to try again, and the opportunity to perhaps try a different path that can lead to even more opportunity! Because when we frame disappointment in a positive light, we know it’s not the end of the road – and it gives us the hope and courage to try again.
How can we help our teenagers to find fresh motivation after a disappointment?
Disappointments often lead to a spiral of negative thinking in the immediate aftermath. It’s important, once your teenager has had time to process this, that we support them in finding new ways to reframe this in a way that proves helpful and motivating to them.
Firstly, motivation increases when our brain anticipates a reward. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to look at the new opportunities that can come our way in light of these results.
- Motivation comprises different regions of the brain. But the most important, perhaps, is the pleasure centre of the brain. It is here that the feel-good chemical, Dopamine, is released. Dopamine is released when we are engaged in things that we enjoy but it has also been shown to be released more during times of unpredictability and surprise – something we can use to our advantage.
- Interestingly, if we are dreading a task, such as looking at new options in the aftermath of disappointment, our pain centre associates itself with that thing. This is one of the key reasons why it is best to wait until your teenager is ready to engage. In fact, studies have shown (and not surprisingly) that if we can’t see a reason for doing something, we have very little motivation to perform the task. For this reason (but perhaps not straight away), it can be helpful to sit down with your teen and write down a long list of benefits for exploring options and what to do next. You’ll be surprised at how motivating and inspiring this exercise can be – for the both of you!
Before anything else, it’s important to acknowledge the wide range of emotions you will all be experiencing.
And so, with lots of emotions in the air today, how can you best support your teenager through this time and take stock of your emotions too?
- First and foremost, allow them time to feel how they need to feel. In the face of fresh disappointment, we can’t see things in a positive light. We need to feel what we need to feel and your teenager is no different. They might need a shoulder to lean on or want space to themselves. Even though you will undoubtedly be feeling a mix of emotions too, try to allow your teenagers the space they need. Once they are calmer and in a better frame of mind, it can be useful to start positive conversations.
- Try to help them work through their feelings but don’t force it. Whilst our natural instinct as parents might be to want to fix everything for our child and instantly look for ways to makes things better, it is important to go at your teenager’s pace. Start conversations by asking them “Would you like a chat?” If they do, perhaps say something such as “Do you want me to just listen or would you like my help or advice?” This makes it far more likely for your teen to want to open up and talk to you.
- Explore options. When your teenager is ready, help them to explore what options they have now. Remember these conversations only go well when they are in a calm, rational frame of mind so try to choose your time wisely. When they are in a happy mood or have finished something they enjoy can be a good starting point.
- Try not to reflect your emotions on to them. Of course, as a parent, you will be experiencing disappointment too, along with a whole range of emotions. Try not to allow your child to see this as this will only exacerbate their negative emotions too. Our role in this situation is to offer support, love and guidance. Consider reaching out to friends and family too if you feel you need to share your own feelings around your child’s results.
- Discuss times when you have faced disappointment. We have the power to be the greatest role-models for our children and telling them about times when you have faced disappointment but overcome it can be hugely inspiring and a great life lesson for them to hear. No one is perfect and allowing your children to hear your own experiences, and how you have grown as a person as a result, sends the reminder that life is full of setbacks and opportunities – it is a normal part of life. And it’s how we deal with it that counts.
- Celebrate their strengths. In the face of disappointment, it can be really easy for a negative downward spiral of thinking to take hold. Support your teen in stopping this in its tracks by chatting about all of their positive strengths and qualities. This can be particularly helpful when thinking about other opportunities that are open to them and what they might be good at.
Above all, whilst Exam Results Day is an important one, their grades are only a snapshot of their time at school or in further education. It is their positive qualities and strengths that will help them to keep positive and to keep moving forwards.
If your teenager is struggling to find motivation and direction for their future, you can contact your nearest therapist at The Youth Fairy, who can help to give your child the skills to move forwards. Visit: https://www.theyouthfairy.com/fairies/ to find out more.
Further information and support can also be found at: https://www.youngminds.org.uk/young-person/blog/a-letter-to-my-younger-self-the-night-before-results-day/