How to cope with exam failure

Results day is imminent and even those who couldn’t have studied harder or more thoroughly get nervous when exam results are published. But if your child or teenager didn’t get the result they were expecting or hoping for, it can really knock them for 6. Failing even the most minor test – let alone an important exam – can result in feelings of frustration, dejection and devastation, not to mention embarrassment.

But it’s certainly not the end of the world (even though they may feel it is). Many successful people had serious setbacks when they were starting out – and may have had more setbacks throughout their careers. In fact, many experts believe failure is essential for success, as failing always offers invaluable opportunities for learning. So, the 1st step in helping your child to get back on their feet is to ensure they aren’t being to be too hard on themselves.

Knowing how to support your child’s needs and emotions if they fail an exam isn’t easy. Here, CABA, the wellbeing charity have shared their advice on coping with disappointing exam results, as well as ways you can support them by keeping their stress at bay during this time.

Make a new plan

So your child or teenager has had an exam result that didn’t go their way. What’s next? It’s important to remind them that they have options. But it’s even more important for them to weigh those options up before deciding which course of action would be best for them. Try making a list of all the pros and cons of each available option together if they’re struggling to come to a decision.

Learn from the experience

If they’ve decided to resit the exam but don’t have an idea about why they failed it, it’s a good idea to find out. Help them to identify their weaknesses – if there is an area or areas they’re lacking in, they can tailor their study to help ensure they’re much better prepared overall for the next attempt.

Besides any weaknesses or gaps in your knowledge, they may have made other mistakes previously too. They may have stayed up too late revising the night before the exam, or they may have let their nerves get the better of them – either way, these things could have affected their performance. They may not have had an effective study plan or might not have stuck to it. Or perhaps they simply didn’t have enough confidence in their abilities.

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So try and identify what they could do differently next time. Give them space and try to ensure they get a good night’s sleep the night before the resit. Also remind them that you don’t have to be the best or the brightest to pass exams – they just have to work, study hard, and practice.

Be more resilient

Their future attempts at passing exams – or navigating any other challenging situations – may be more successful if they learn to bounce back more effectively. Being more resilient will help stop them going into panic mode and allow them to cope better whenever they feel under pressure. But unless they’re a naturally resilient person, developing resilience takes practice. Check out our guide on resilience here.

How can you help keep stress at bay during this time?

As well as academic expectation and disappointment, there are many aspects of modern life that can lead a child or teenager to feel stressed, anxious and worried

Here’s our 5 top tips to reduce these pressures:

  1. Make time for them - All parents are busy these days, but it’s important to spend more time than usual with your children if they’re worried about something. Make yourself available for fun activities or just being in the same room as them. Ask them about their day and show an interest in things that are important to them. But try to avoid forcing them to talk about their worries – they’ll open up when they feel comfortable talking about it. 
  2. Encourage healthy sleep - Getting the right amount of sleep and rest can help children become more resilient to stress. Children need different amounts of sleep at different ages – find out how many hours your children need by visiting NHS Choices.
  3. Feed them healthy food - Good nutrition is also essential if you want to boost your child’s coping skills. Try to make sure they’re eating at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. If your children are resistant to eating fruit and veg, there are lots of ways to get them into their diet (these tips by NHS Choices may help). 
  4. Make stress normal - It may be useful to remind your children that some level of stress is perfectly normal in life, and that everyone is affected by it and has to find ways of coping. Explaining that it’s okay to feel what they’re feeling could give them the confidence they need to manage their stress levels. If it helps, try talking about times when you’ve been stressed, and explain how you tackled it.
  5. Keep them active - Physical activity can help children and adults alike manage stress, so make sure your children are getting plenty of exercise. Other things you could try with them include relaxation techniques and even things like breathing exercises. Also try leading by example – if you use these methods to manage your own stress levels, your children are more likely to follow in your footsteps. 

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