GCSE results day: What to say to your teen if things haven't gone to plan

A mum comforting her daughter as GSCE results are released today. (Getty Images)
This GCSE results day will feel as nerve-wracking for parents as their teenagers. (Getty Images)

For any parent, GCSE results day will feel almost as nerve-wracking for you as your teenager.

You want all that hard work to be reflected in their grades, so that they can move smoothly on to the next stage of their life.

But emotions could feel even more heightened this year with the number of pupils in England achieving at least a grade 4 in maths and English expected to fall, amid efforts to restore grading to similar pre-pandemic levels.

Read more: Teens to find out GCSE results - after warning of 'shock' as grading standards are restored to pre-pandemic levels (Sky News, 3-min read)

Of course, the hope is that your teen will be beaming with joy when they open their letter, but an expert warned earlier this week that 300,000 fewer top grades could be awarded this year.

So, what should you do if you are among the thousands of parents trying to support sons or daughters who didn't get the grades they were hoping for?

Do: Reassure them

The most important thing, according to child and adult psychologist Dr Alison McClymont, is to tell your teen that these unpleasant feelings will pass.

"Remind children that this grade is not a description of 'you', it is simply a response to what is very likely two essays and two hours of concentrated work in exam-style conditions," she advises.

"This is one page in the entire book of you. Many, many people who go on to lead very successful careers also weren’t happy with that page in their book, but it taught them grit, resilience and to fight to try again.

"If we can learn at a young age the skill to pick ourselves up, problem solve and try again that’s something to be very proud of."

Do: Show sympathy

The key is to show compassion, notes Navit Schechter, a cognitive behaviour therapist and founder of Conscious & Calm Parenting.

"Tell them: 'I know how disappointed you must feel not getting the grades you wanted'," she says.

"Letting your child know that you understand how they feel is very powerful. It can help them to recognise their feelings and know that it is normal to feel that way given the results that they received.

"Saying 'I know how hard you worked and how much you wanted those grades, I would feel the same in your situation' can also help."

Show compassion – this is no time for blame. (Getty Images)
Show compassion – this is no time for blame. (Getty Images)

Don't: Shrug it off

Schechter points out that minimising their emotions for example telling them: "never mind, it's not that bad" – is definitely not the way to go.

"If your child was hoping for a better grade and is feeling overwhelmingly disappointed, then to them it is that bad and being told not to worry about it will give them the impression that you don't 'get it' or understand them," she explains.

"Instead, recognising and validating their disappointment can help them to know that you understand what they're going through and are there to support them."

Parenting: Read more

Do: Stay calm

While you'll probably be feeling as devastated for your teen as they are, it's crucial you try to stay composed.

Natasha Tiwari, psychologist and founder of the Veda Group, says: "Don’t feed any tendency to catastrophise in this moment.

"It’s important, that as a parent, you remain calm and can be a sounding board for your child.

"Remind them that they are loved, worthy, and special to you, no matter what happens with their results."

Side view of two sad good friends embracing in a bedroom in a house interior with a dark light in the background
They may want to turn to friends for support – let them have their space. (Getty Images)

Don't: Overwhelm them

While the temptation can be to be sit by their side all day consoling them, this can feel suffocating and might not help them move on.

Natalie Costa, a confidence coach for children and founder of Power Thoughts, says: "It’s heartbreaking to see our children in pain and perhaps we want to jump in and say things like 'it’s OK', or 'don’t worry', but one of the best things we can do is allow them the space to process and feel their feelings.

"Don’t offer any judgement but rather allow them to feel. If they need to cry, let it out. If they need some time alone, then give them the space.

"Let them know that you’re right there with them as they sit through the uncomfortable emotions."

Do: Avoid comparing results to others

Your child may be on social media groups where everyone is sharing their results, but no matter how bad or how well your child has done, this is not helpful for them to be a part of.

"It can encourage an unhealthy jealousy or competitiveness and may leave your child feeling hurt if they have not achieved their preferred grades," explains Fiona Yassin, family psychotherapist and founder and clinical director of The Wave Clinic.

"Encourage them to stay out of these groups on the days after results day if they are finding the experience stressful or anxiety inducing."

Do: Look ahead

When things have settled a bit, Tiwari suggests helping your child consider next steps.

"With the support of loving parents, good teachers and advisors, it is possible to make a strong comeback and to look forward to a bright future," she adds.