If you’re a parent with a student expecting A Level results you don’t need me to tell you the results are due this week. Naturally the focus is very much on students but for parents this can be a terrifying time. Sometimes it feels like the results reflect on us, our intelligence, and our parenting. We might have to cope not only with our child’s reaction to their performance but also our own, especially if the results are disappointing.
So how can you handle your feelings around disappointment?
- Take a Few Deep Breaths
When we are faced with a stressful situation our bodies gear up for “fight or flight”. Give yourself a brief moment to breathe. It will oxygenate your blood and allow you to reduce the cortisol and adrenaline of the moment. This will give you a chance to think rather than to react. Slow your breathing down, concentrating on the out breath.
- Allow Yourself Some Time
There is no need to react quickly. You may want to model to your child that there is no need to panic (even if that is not the way you feel). You may want to allow both of you some time to process the emotion of the moment. If you feel shocked when they first tell you, it might not be the best time to discuss things in detail. A good holding strategy is to ask how they feel, empathise with their feelings, reassure them that you love them whatever – and then take some time out.
See if you can recognise your own feelings – there might be shock, disappointment, anger, sadness, hurt, fear. Name the emotions to yourself. You may want to talk with a supportive friend or partner to process them.
Giving yourself space to experience your feelings and be who you are prepares you to allow others to be the same. It will enable you to listen to your son or daughter. They will need your empathy and support and to know that their own feelings are valid.
- Choose Your Response
Giving yourself some space allows you to feel calmer. This means time to re-connect with your core values. What do you want for your son or daughter? Presumably, if you’re feeling disappointed, it is because you want the best for them. Will it help them to have a parent who reacts badly to their performance? Or would you prefer them to know that they are loved, unconditionally?
Choosing your response to the situation gives you a sense of control. You cannot control the results but you can control how you respond to them and how you wish to act towards your children.
You are in control of how you frame the narrative around the results. What would help your child more? To feel that all is doom and gloom, or that it is possible to overcome difficult situations?
- Gain a Sense of Perspective
Of course this situation is disappointing, especially if plans have to be changed. However, they are not the first person to gain a set of results that are less than desired. It may help to:
- Think about people who have been successful without qualifications, for example Richard Branson or Alan Sugar.
- Ask yourself, how much will this matter in ten years’ time? In five years’ time? In a year’s time? In six month’s time? This thought can lower the emotional tone of the moment
- Remind yourself that there are other options available
- Review your expectations. Perhaps they were unrealistic. Perhaps there was some perfectionism in them. Is it possible for you to let go of what was desired?
- Imagine the positives that might emerge from this situation. Failure is a great teacher! It highlights areas for improvement. It may be a hard lesson but it can produce determination, growth and maturity (for both the parent and the child!). It may produce a result that is much better than the original plan.
- Exercise gratitude for all that your child is, apart from a set of exam results. Are they loving? Are they fun? Are they sporty? Are they friendly? Are they thoughtful? What are the things you really love about them? Focus on those and appreciate them for who they are, not what they have achieved.
- Avoid Comparisons
Unfavourable comparisons will probably accentuate feelings of disappointment. Comparisons are a very subjective measure and often do not allow for each individual’s circumstances.
Comparisons may only lead to a sense of blame either for the child or parent.
Your son or daughter has their own life, their own experience, their own challenges. They are themselves. Why compare them with someone else?
The same is true for your parenting. Other parents are different to you. They have different circumstances and different strengths and weaknesses. Comparisons based on their child’s exam results versus your own is unfair to you. It takes no account of any other external factors. It only makes you feel bad and it does not change the outcome.
- Work on Lowering Stress Levels
Look after yourself in the next few days to stop yourself from ruminating and feeding anxiety.
Anything that helps you feel calm and at ease will help to lower adrenaline and will enable you to be kinder to yourself and kinder to your son or daughter. Try to identify the activities that help you to relax and make sure to include them in your daily schedule. It may be walking, having a bath, spending time with friends, listening to music, going for a drive. Each of us has something we enjoy doing.
At times like this, looking after ourselves can help us to feel more positive and that will help our children to overcome their disappointment and look forwards.
The following video may also help: