• Exam results day is notoriously stressful, for teenagers and their parents, especially if disappointing results come through

  • Counsellor Eileen Wise offers her advice

  • If your teen needs support, find a therapist here

Exam result time is often a really stressful period for both parents and teenagers alike and it could be a good idea to think about whether a counsellor might be able to help your children at this difficult time. Especially after the delays, complications and overall stress of the last two years during the Covid pandemic, young people are experiencing high levels of anxiety and distress.

Counselling could be useful before, during and after examinations as it could help to reduce stress and anxiety. Also it is worth considering whether their problems might not be directly related to their exams, but something else entirely which could be affecting them at this time.

What can parents do to help their children?

You need to show empathy and be there to listen and comfort them, if their results are bad. When they first get their disappointing results they may be tearful and angry and often just want to be left alone. If that is what they want, then give the space but always let them know you are there for them when they do want to talk.

Try to be encouraging and help them to think ahead to what they want to do in future. It is important not to make them feel they have failed by saying things like “If you’d revised harder and done what we said you should do, this would not had happened” – this would not be at all helpful and would make them feel even worse about themselves, leading to more anxiety and possibly depression. You could ask them if in future they may do things differently and try to use it as a learning experience if you felt this was a helpful thing to do.

On a practical level do make sure they are eating properly because at times of stress some teenagers either eat too much or more commonly too little. Check to see their blood sugar levels are not running low.

Teenagers need to be allowed to work out for themselves what the next steps are but at the same time will probably welcome their parents input. They need to build up resilience and strength to learn from this experience and to start feeling positively about their future.

Don’t be afraid to talk about their results either before or after the exams. Don’t ignore the disappointment they are feeling by sweeping it under the carpet – they need to be able to face it. Encourage them to talk about all the different possibilities ahead of them. They will begin to work out for themselves what the next steps might be but will need your support to do this.

Once they have started to get over their disappointment and become more receptive to suggestions, you could point out that there are many people in the world that have gone on to have successful careers without getting top exam results. You can remind them that they have worked hard and that in itself shows they have application and a good attitude on how to succeed in life.

During the stressful period of waiting for the exam results to come through teenagers might experience a myriad of symptoms including a change in appetite, nervous butterfly feelings in the stomach, sleepless nights, headaches, exhaustion and anxiety/panic attacks.

During this difficult time it is really important that teenagers are able to talk to their family and friends. It is good for them to be able to open up about their fears. If possible try to prepare them for the fact that their results might not be as good as they’d hoped for.

For teenagers hoping to attend university, they may want to re-sit their exams, look at apprenticeships or possibly take a year out and think about their options.

The most important thing for a parent is to be there for their child at this time – they may not admit it, but they do need you and remember if you feel that talking to a counsellor might help them you can suggest it.

Further reading

Student mental health: can mindfulness reduce stress?

66% of primary school children suffer from anxiety

Tips for parents, students and teachers starting the new school year

Reducing anxiety at school: tips for teachers and students

Updated August 2022