Exam results stress: advice for parents

A member of our Parents Helpline team shares their tips for how parents or carers can support their child during the lead-up to results day.

Over the next couple of weeks, students across the UK will be on tenterhooks awaiting the results of their A-Levels or GCSEs.

These periods are often accompanied with feelings of stress, anxiety and worthlessness - in the case that a young person does not achieve the grades they anticipated. All this tension can also leave parents feeling the pressure.

To reassure and support worried parents who are concerned about their children during this time, we put our questions to Barbara Benson, who trains all our Parents Helpline volunteers. She has a wealth of knowledge on the subject of exam results stress, and plays a large role in maintaining our key resources for parents.

What is normal behaviour from teenagers around exam results time?

There is probably a wide spectrum of ‘normals’, but leading up to the day, everyone will likely be feeling the anticipation (parents included). All these feelings could result in every type of behaviour from silence and withdrawal to loudness and exhilaration.

When the results come out, those who have received the results they were hoping for tend to express their relief and joy in the usual way, with celebrations and preparations for the next stage in their lives.

For those who are disappointed with their results, they can feel scared about the future and embarrassed to face their friends and family. This is partnered with feelings of anger, isolation and hopelessness (and the list goes on). They can dwell on the disappointment, feel uncertain about what to do next, refuse to talk to others and display extreme behaviour. But on the other end of the scale – after a deep breath – they can decide to move on and focus on creating another plan.

All these feelings could result in every type of behaviour.

Are there any key pieces of advice that any parent should know if their child is worried about exams?

In the lead up:

  • Keep calm, especially when your young person’s anticipation is turning into worry or even panic.
  • Let them know you love them, no matter what their results. 
  • Reflect back how they’re probably feeling, e.g. “I can tell you’re worried. Yes, perfectly understandable”.
  • Distract them and keep busy: days out, movie nights, shopping trips - these can help them relax. 
  • Be available to talk when they are ready to.
Keep calm, especially when your young person’s anticipation is turning into worry or even panic.

What do parents commonly ask about exam results when they call the Helpline?

Their questions often concern general emotions and behaviour following disappointing exam results, partnered with anxiety about going to university or moving away from home. Frequent questions we are asked include:

  • Should I be worried?
  • How can I talk to them about it?
  • How can I help them?

When should parents call the Helpline for further advice?

  • When young people are affected by their results and they display concerning behaviour that isn’t alleviated within a reasonable time.  
  • Or when they become very anxious about moving away from home, starting university, or going to sixth form.

It’s worth noting that schools and colleges are generally quite good at supporting, with practical advice and on-the-spot counselling about next steps.

For more advice on how to support your child on results day, have a look at our Parents Guide To Support A-Z. 

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