A few years back, when I tried to get some of my more 'mature' mum-friends to come out in the evening, they told me they couldn’t. Because of GCSEs. GCSEs? Why does that mean they can’t leave the house? Now that I am the one with a teenager going through it, I finally understand. During the first two weeks, I’ve had a knot in my stomach, a constant a headache and existential angst.
So why is this and what can we as parents do to get through in one piece, avoid self-medicating and most importantly of all, support our young people to do their best?
I would kick off by saying my son is handling things well at the moment – he’s got his head down on revision and is not showing obvious signs of nerves. He’s a bit tired and is finding solace in the kitchen cupboards. So far, so normal. So I realised that everything I’m feeling is about me, me, me and not him. Giving this some reflection my thoughts on everyone keeping sane would be:
1. Remember it’s absolutely not about YOU! Yes yes I know: it’s the kids who are doing all the work and going through the angst. But would it kill my child to send a text message to let me know how each paper went? All week I have resisted the temptation to get in touch for a WHOLE HOUR. After the third paper, I would have hoped he would have taken the initiative and put me out of my mystery. But, no, it doesn’t look like it and, you know what, that has to be OK. Because it's completely unfair for our children to have to carry our worries as well as their own. So if, like me, you constantly feel the urge to grill them on how much work they’ve done or how well they answered the questions, please take a breath and give them some space. And do resist reading out what you see other students saying on Twitter after each exam as this is actually a crime!
2. Be present but on their terms. You’ve mastered not being in their face (well done) but do be prepared to help them out if they need – even if this only extends to refilling the fridge with snacks and drinks. Do check in and sit quietly beside them so they can decompress or get you to test them if they want. If you can swing it, perhaps arrange to work flexibly so you can be ‘indoors’ a bit more over the examination period.
3. Stay calm and stick to the routine. Do everything in your power to resist excessive emotional displays as they leave the house in the morning or if they tell you that the exam didn’t go well. Listen, gently help them to move on and take your concerns away from their view. One thing I have learnt to my cost is that as well as having amazing brains, teenagers have bat-like hearing so if you are talking about them and any worries you may have – take this ‘off site’ if you can. Do your best to encourage normal but regular family meals and for your kid to take breaks from the fetid air of their revision dens (bedrooms). If you can get them to exercise well done (gold star parenting) but even sitting in the garden or enjoying some TV for a few minutes in the evening does seem to help with fatigue.
4. Think about Plan B and then put it in your back pocket. I’ve asked myself why I’m getting so het up. I think this is down to not wanting my child to be upset or disappointed now or when the results come in. As parents we know deep down that GCSE results are important but not THAT important in the long run. However, with all the fuss and bother, it’s perfectly understandable that you find yourself moving from Buddha-like calm to catastrophizing in a heartbeat. I would suggest it’s helpful to spend a few private moments thinking about if things don’t go to plan on GCSE results day (this year it’s Thursday 22rd August) and how you will help your teenager work through their options. Your child’s school, your local authority and Parentkind have resources to help you including guidance on resits, finding a place in another 6th form or taking up a course at HE college or apprenticeship instead. I found once I had done this and placed it in the virtual pending tray (hopefully forever), I started to chill out a bit.
Only another few weeks to go and then our frankly brilliant and impressive sons and daughters can have a well-deserved, longest summer holiday ever. Good luck and see you on the other side.
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