Parents worry about the stress their children go under around exams but are exams a good or bad thing for children in your opinion?
Exams are a way to level the playing field, to see what children know – and that’s part of life. Exams can be stressful, but it’s important how parents handle them and how you teach your children to handle them: if you’re stressed, nagging or putting them under pressure, they’ll pick that up and may resent it.
What you’re trying to do is create is a lifelong learner. I work with children to set goals and understand why they’re doing exams. For example, I knew I wanted to be a teacher, so I worked backwards and knew that I had to pass Maths to be able to do that so I realised I needed to stick with it.
Try to link the exams to the bigger picture. If you relax around their studies and help them create routines and structures for learning, it helps them not feel overwhelmed by the exams when they come.
What is the worst parenting mistake anyone can make on GCSE Results Day?
Look enormously disappointed and say, ‘Oh God, that’s disastrous’! This undermines all your child’s self-esteem, they’re already feeling awful, so it won’t help take them to a better place.
You have a choice in how you react: the best approach is to stay grounded and positive. For example, my son didn’t do as well as expected in history and we had to have a chat with his teachers around staying on in the Sixth Form but at no point did I make him feel like a failure. It’s very much about thinking, ‘We’ve got a problem, how can we solve this positively?’
What advice do you give to parents whose children are receiving GCSE results?
Be supportive, encouraging and listen to your child. Also be mindful of their privacy and don’t compare them to their brothers and sisters.
If they don’t get the grades they anticipated, it can be a time to reflect and think about where they’re going. It can actually be a wonderful opportunity if you choose to make it so.
But it can also teach them a valuable lesson about life; either you get out what you put in or that life isn’t always fair. It is about teaching them resilience and building their self-esteem: life will knock you down but you have to be able to get back up no matter how many times you fall over. As a parent, you have to support them in getting back up.
If your child does better than expected, how should you react?
It’s a cause for celebration. Praise and encourage. Dance and sing. Celebration is a great motivator to carry on.
When should you be worried about your child’s response to their results?
If they are overly anxious or depressed, if they’re not coming out of their bedroom, if they’re self-harming, if they stop eating or eat too much. It’s perfectly natural to be disappointed, it’s part of life’s lessons but if their behaviour is not like them, observe them and if you’re worried talk to them and if you’re still concerned look for help.
Should you encourage your children to resit?
Your child needs some time out to recover from disappointment. Try to encourage them to have time off rather than take action straight away but if they want to resit, encourage and support them to, help them find out where they went wrong and what areas they should’ve been doing more in.
The benefit we have as older people is we have hindsight and can look back at things with perspective, but when you’re 16, you don’t have bigger picture so help them see that.
What advice if you’ve paid for a tutor and your child underachieved?
Parents may get angry or look to blame but that’s not helpful. Focus on the solution.
What role should social media play in terms of children sharing their results? Good or bad thing?
Be careful on this. Social media gives the impression everyone’s having a great life. This is a problem for today’s child and their mental health I’d encourage parents to keep their children off social media for a bit. Encourage them to take time out, get grounded and feel nurtured.
What should a parent’s relationship be with the school like at this time?
You should be working together, don’t blame them or be rude or aggressive. Don’t let your child go through this by themselves but don’t rush into rescuing them either. Respect what they ask you to do or not do.
What do you think about parents who ‘bribe’ their child with gifts if they do well?
Celebrate their successes, but I’m not a fan of promising your child a reward if they do well. As a former educator, I’m trying to create a lifelong learner whether you’re 16 trying to pass an exam or 87 trying to send a text, so focus on whether they’ve enjoyed the course. Bribing kids with gifts means they’re learning to win a prize. We motivated our kids by their efforts not their results. We were all about the effort, tenacity and resilience.
What’s your take on the new numerical grades for GCSEs?
I feel sorry for the kids because exams always seem to be being tweaked. They’re always having to negotiate the headlines like ‘This year’s the best’, ‘Boys are doing better than girls’ – it puts children under a lot of pressure. You have to keep a balanced head.
When the dust has settled, any advice for the rest of the summer holidays?
Have a lovely summer holiday, recuperate and rest. It’s so important to do nothing and enjoy life, it helps keeps you balanced.
Any final thoughts?
Look for the life lesson in these results. There’s personal growth in it.
Sue Atkins is a Parenting Expert, regularly appearing on ITV’s This Morning programme where she presents on parenting issues.