Yesterday, 10th August, was A’ level results day. Tomorrow, 12th August, is GCSE results day.
These days can be filled with hope and anxiety, celebrations and disappointment – for both our children and for us. In ‘normal’ years we probably have a good idea of how our children are doing – we’ve had Parents Evening, predicted grades and mock exams. Not this year. This year our children have been home schooled, self-isolating, in bubbles, back in school and home again.
The last 2 academic years have been far from normal thanks to Covid-19 and this week’s results days are also very different. They are earlier (to give students time to appeal, especially for A’levels), and are taken from classwork and not examinations sat at the end of the course.
Teachers (as well as parents and students, we suspect) are happier to be the ones assessing and submitting the grades and it not being left, as last year, to an algorithm. But let’s not go there. Whatever your opinion on the systems in place, we want to support our children as they receive the results that will affect the next steps they take.
It is good to recognise that, although these next choices will not define the rest of their lives, that there are many decisions and options still open to them, this may be one of the biggest recognitions of their effort and achievements so far.
The time has come to take a deep breath and see what these results hold in store – and it can be mixture of disappointment and celebration.
Youth Fairy Lisa’s Disappointment: I’m casting my mind back to my first results day – mine was my GCSE results on the day of my 16th birthday. What do I remember about that day? The grades that were higher than expected? No. I remember that they were displayed, publicly, for all to see. I remember the sinking feeling that everyone could see my music grade. I knew that I had failed – one of my friends called out asking why I had got a ‘kiss’ for Music. The kiss was an ‘x’ for not attended. When the rest of my class were sitting their GCSE Music Written Exam, I was at home doing last minute revision! Yes, you read that right – I had thought my Music exam was in the afternoon, when in fact it was in the morning. I am grateful that the first teacher I came across was my Biology teacher, Mr Williamson, who kindly and calmly took me to one side and told me that it wasn’t the end of the world and that if I wanted to I could re-take the exam in November. My then still 15-year-old self was devastated. I had worked so hard and I was so embarrassed. But Mr Williamson was right – it wasn’t the end of the world – I didn’t retake the music exam, as I had the qualifications I needed to be accepted on my college course. I have never missed an exam again. I did, however, always have a sick feeling when exam dates neared and would double and triple check that I had the right date, time and location.
Youth Fairy Sian’s mixed feelings: I remember being super nervous on results day and was SO pleased when I opened the envelope: 2 x A* 2 x A and 4 Cs. I did get a D for Woodwork but I knew that would be the case – they were never going to be impressed with my wooden pull along Starship Enterprise on wheels ha ha!
I remember getting home absolutely buzzing that I had done well but unfortunately my Mum didn’t really agree. Now, neuroscientists are discovering that when we remember something it changes slightly depending on how we were feeling at the time of remembering so I’m fully aware this may now be distorted slightly but my main, lasting memory of that day is my Mum simply saying “well, you could have done much better than that if you’d worked harder.” To be honest she was kind of right – I’d lost my way a little bit as I entered my teens. Nothing major – usual teen stuff on reflection but any sense of pride or achievement I’d felt that morning fizzled out pretty quickly. My Mum and I can laugh about it today – and I’m sure there will be moments I’ll put my foot in it too with my kids but how we talk to our kids this week about their results could have an impact on their feelings and motivation for the future. If sharing this encourages just one parent to be more mindful of what they say this week I’ll be chuffed.
Fairy Insight – supporting our kids with their results.
The re-living and re-telling of a negative experience creates anxiety. We know that our brains don’t know the difference between reality and the imagined. When we negatively retrospect a negative experience over and over (missed exam) that then becomes ten, twenty, fifty, even hundreds of negative memories of the same event (or missed exams!) reinforcing it in our minds and creating the cortisol and adrenaline that accompanies stressful experiences. If your child hasn’t got the grade that they wanted it is good to allow them to feel disappointed or upset or angry – and you may be feeling this with them. But help them to remember what else they have achieved. Whatever their achievement – celebrate with them. We know that for some this will be other exams or it might be that they need to celebrate getting through this really difficult year – it might be acknowledging how well they have coped with online school and social distancing, how well they have overcome the challenges of this time
Sometimes as parents we think we know the answer – remember we haven’t walked in their shoes. We haven’t experienced the pandemic or lived the social media life that they are expected to lead, or… When we were teenagers is very different to the experience of today’s teenagers. You may have the answer – but sometimes it’s good to start with a question. What do you need from me? Do you need a hug or advice, or do you just want me to listen?
When THEY are ready (this might not be when you are ready or think they should be ready) help them to look at what they want to do next (their next positive action) and what road they can take to reach their goal. They might need to take a different route or they might want to choose a new destination altogether, but encourage them and support them in exploring what outcome they are now looking for.
Sky Blue Thinking – if it’s good enough for business it’s good enough for us. Take a piece of paper and encourage them to write down ALL the things they might like to do and be sure not to filter out the ‘impossible things’. You might both be surprised at what options become a possibility when they are able to think creatively. Once you’ve got the unfiltered thoughts on paper then you can work together to consider what paths are possible now, which might be for the future and which might be dreams – although of course there are people whose dreams come true too. When they know you are supporting them as well as acknowledging their disappointment, you will likely be amazed, as we often are, at how resourceful and amazing our young people are.
At The Youth Fairy we recognise that the young people we work with have all the resources they need to make good choices and decisions – we also recognise that often they need someone else to help them acknowledge and access those resources. This cohort of young people may need to be even more creative and resourceful than previous years, they may need more support and understanding but if you, and we, show them that we believe in them they will, undoubtedly, rise to the challenge.
So, whether the piece of paper (or email) shows the grades they want and need or if they are having to re-evaluate what they do next – acknowledge how difficult this year has been for them (we can’t understand, we are not them), celebrate their many achievements and let them know that you are there for whatever they need next.
These young people have navigated their way through so much uncertainty over the last year requiring an enormous amount of resilience, courage, and determination – all character strengths that no exam can capture and an achievement worth celebrating.