Anxious, panicked and scared? How to deal with exam results stress... if you're a parent

It's a tough for teenagers but for their parents too. We asked experts for their top tips on how to stay cool during the hottest week in the academic calendar

They are the most stressful weeks in the schools academic calendar – A level results are out this today and GCSE results next Thursday.

So how can parents and carers help their teenagers cope with the tension, and deal with their own inevitable stresses of their results?

After years of hard work and effort some moments of gut wrenching trepidation are inevitable as thousands of students, their parents and carers await results that determine their immediate future and career choices.

Anxiety, self doubt, panic and fear about the future are just some of the feelings teenagers may go through in the next few days as they await A level results today and GCSE results on August 21.

Many will need emotional support in the run up to and aftermath of results, but asking for help isn’t easy so parents and carers should try to be there for their teenagers, say the experts,

High expectations and pressure from family, teachers or friends can be too much to bear, especially for those who fear their results can’t meet expectations, warn psychologists and youth workers.

So what can parents and carers do practically and emotionally to help them? First up says psychologist and psychotherapist Leila Collins is to stay calm.

This is easier said than done but the best way to prevent emotions boiling over is to make sure everyone gets enough sleep in the run up to results day. Keeping to the normal routine also helps things remain low key, but suggest ways take minds off results day such as going out for a walk or lunch, she advises.

And hard though it may be adults shouldn’t show it if they feel worried themselves.

“Stay calm. If you panic as a parent they will think there’s something to panic about,” says Ms Collins who works with families and young people.

“Whatever you feel don’t show it so they can rely on you to help carry them through a stressful time. Occupy them and take them out to divert attention from impending results and tell your child that however they have done you are proud of them. Tell them if their results aren’t good enough for what they want to do then they can re-take them.

“Nothing is forever. If results aren’t what they wanted facing difficulties is how we teach our children coping strategies. Tell them ‘this has happened, now let’s see what we can do’.”

“One practical thing parents can do is have a plan B,” he suggests.

“A level students wanting to go to university need to have certain grades. Plan for what to do if they don’t get those grades. There are options such as re-takes, going to a different university or course and going through clearing. Arm yourself with the facts.”

And be alert for hidden signs of stress as young people don’t always show how much pressure they’re under, he warns.

“Watch for changes in behaviour. If someone is normally laid back and they are getting unusually snappy something may be wrong.

“If they are worried talk it through. I re-took my A levels to get the grades I wanted, lots of people have done.

“Stay calm so your children don’t panic and keep your own expectations under control. There are techniques for staying calm. Firstly get enough sleep and don’t stay up all night before results day, however nervous you are.”

One sure sign that teenagers feel under pressure is the huge rise in calls to helplines at exam time.

MEIC, the Cardiff-based advocacy, information and advice helpline for children and young people, sees calls to its helpline surge by 30% at exam time. Figures for last year’s exam time show calls to MEIC peaked at 1,008.

“There is a lot of pressure on parents on results day,” says Rebecca Iddon, project coordinator for MEIC.

“It’s important to remember schools are there to help and they and young people can also contact Meic for advice. They aren’t alone.

“It’s important for young people to remember they’ve done all the hard work and in terms of what lies ahead there are other options if they don’t get the grades they want.

“They might be able to do a foundation or access course and get to university by a different path.

Parents and carers should try to be calm and supportive.”

On results day itself parents and carers should ask their child whether they want them to come to school with them and wait outside if that’s what they want, advises Michael Duke, principal educational psychologist for Denbighshire County Council.

“If they’re worried before results day say to them ‘let’s see what happens on Thursday and then we can talk about what to do next’.

“On the day itself it’s nice to take them to school but wait outside or drive down the road while they pick up their results if that’s what they want.

“After results go out for a walk or for lunch or if they just want to go off with their mates let them do that.

“If it’s not gone well it’s not the end of the world. They can re-take to improve grades.

“Sit down with your child and work out what can be done next. Talk to subject teachers and ask their advice. That might not be best done on results say, you might be better to wait until the start of term.”

Amid all the emotion don’t forget to celebrate, he adds. If a student was predicted five Cs and gets them remember to tell them it’s a triumph.

“Results day will be quite emotional whether it’s gone well or not,” warns Mr Duke.

“Try to stay calm. Whatever happens the worst thing you can do as parents is be critical. That will create a bigger barrier. Usually young people are their own hardest critics. If things haven’t gone well they need support not criticism.”