The other day I found a diary from the time my oldest was in Year 10. This is the year before they sat their GCSEs and I’d just read their school report. I was so upset and worried. It seemed like they weren’t working and were wasting their potential. They’d missed a French oral exam and I thought it would affect their final grades.
I was obviously agonising at the time but it came as a complete surprise to me reading it nearly ten years later. I can’t remember what grade they received in their French GCSE but they are now successfully established in their life, happy and purposeful, and I’d forgotten about that school report.
It caused me such consternation at the time: self-recrimination for not promoting hard work and self-discipline, and anger with my child. With hindsight I can see how I wasted my energy worrying.
This week more public examination results are due to be announced.
Results which are less than expected can cause parents such disappointment and worry for the future. However, as my diary shows, many of these feelings may be unnecessary. So how can parents cope when they are worried?
- Remember that Thoughts are Not Facts
When we are anxious, our brains get into a loop where everything becomes more and more frightening. We tend to imagine the worst possible outcomes.
These thoughts are based on assumptions and emotion, not fact.
An example from my diary: in Year 10, my fears were based on the false assumption my child’s work rate would remain the same – they actually worked much harder in Year 11 than Year 10. I couldn’t have foreseen that.
- Perceive Difficulties in a Different Way
When we worry, we view possibilities in a very negative light. We think that they will be a disaster. It might help us to view them differently. Can we see them as challenges rather than obstacles? Can we see them as opportunities for growth?
- Try to Imagine the Best, not the Worst
Our fight or flight response will always have us imagining the worst. It’s an evolutionary tactic necessary for survival. It’s useful for responding to a sabre toothed tiger but less useful in family life.
How about trying to imagine the best possible scenario?
If I’d imagined my child exultingly clutching a results slip with excellent grades, I might have felt happier and perhaps been more balanced and encouraging. It is also worth noting that this scenario was in fact closer to the truth than my negative imaginings of doom and gloom.
A study asked participants to imagine four positive things that would happen every day. They did this for a fortnight. At the end of the study this group of people showed an increase in happiness whereas a control group did not.
Whatever the eventual outcome, why not be kind to yourself along the way and imagine the best?
- Remind Yourself of Your Strengths
This is probably not the first time you have faced doubt and uncertainty. It is probably not the first time you have faced challenges. Yet you survived difficulty in the past. You worked through it. You developed perseverance and determination. Why do you suppose that you won’t be able cope this time?
- Find a Mantra
We can convince ourselves that by worrying we will somehow change the future.
We want to take action because it eases feelings of uncertainty that can be unpleasant to experience. However, with almost adult children, we need to beware of imposing our own solutions and perhaps stifling their ability to resolve problems for themselves.
Worrying can be a hard mental habit to shift. It takes self-discipline to allow the worrying thoughts to pass by rather than becoming attached to them.
Using a mantra can help to soothe unpleasant feelings of being out of control and to distract our brains. Here are some examples:
- “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”
- “This too shall pass”
- “May I accept things as they are”
- “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
- Focus on the Here and Now
If you worry about the future and nothing is wrong, you have wasted time. If you worry about the future and something is wrong, you have still wasted time.
Think about that for a moment.
You have spent time thinking about the future when you could have spent your time focusing on what is going on in this moment. You are sacrificing the present for an imagined future.
What are you missing now, because you are living in the future?
It can help to look for joy and pleasure in the smallest of things, such as a beautiful sunrise, a fresh breeze, the laugh of a child, the scent of a rose, the softness of a pet’s fur. It can also help to surround yourself with positive people who encourage optimism and, perhaps, help you to keep a sense of perspective.