Oh dear. You’ve nurtured your child as best you can through their exams. Now, after a couple of months of uncertainty (but during which time you all agreed there’s nothing any of you can do about it so you might as well try to relax) it’s time for the results.

Even for the least talented of students it’s human nature to hope for – even fantasize about –getting good exam results. So what can you say when your child’s results are lower than expected or needed or, even worse, if they’ve failed completely?

You may have read our article about talking to children during the run-up to their exams but what now? What can you say? What should you say?

The whole game has changed now. You’ve shifted from the irritating parent who doesn’t understand to the supportive parent who is much-needed and who must provide comfort, solace and direction.

What you can say to your child will, of course, depend on the level of failure and the academic year they are in – for example, whether you’re facing poor GSCE results, lower-than-needed A Level results or even end-of-year exams for younger or higher-education students. However, the general ethos is the same and I hope you find this article of help at a difficult time.

Don’t get angry or show your disappointment

Easier said than done, I know, but neither will help the situation. You can’t change what’s happened, you can only move forward with positive and constructive support. If your child gets abusive or violent or angry, try to defuse the situation and help them realise that the past is in the past and it needs to ‘go on holiday’ while you consider the future.

You could even introduce some well-known success stories into the discussion. Richard Branson, arguably one of Britain’s greatest ever (and among the most down-to-earth) business success stories, is keen to help others realise that failure to achieve many things is inevitable if you’re ever going to achieve anything worthwhile. “Every person”, he says, “and especially every entrepreneur, should embrace failure with open arms. It is only through failure that we learn. Many of the world’s finest minds have learned this the hard way…”

Richard cites one of his favourite ‘failure’ quotes as Henry Ford, who said: “One who fears failure limits his activities. Failure is only the opportunity to more intelligently begin again.” These are wise words indeed – trying again more intelligently – from the founder of the Ford Motor Company and sponsor of the development of mass production on an assembly line.

Try again?

Trying again is, of course, an option, through re-sits next year. However, I would advocate an evaluation of the situation. How hard did the student try for this exam? Is it their forte? Would it be better to consider a different subject/s or, in fact, a different approach? Maybe it would be better to consider an apprenticeship or, in the case of A Level students, entering the workforce but carrying on studying if they want to achieve higher education. That’s what I did – although I passed my A Levels and entered university I decided I wanted to offer more than the average graduate and so I worked while studying for my degree in the evenings.

If you jointly decide that trying again is the best course of action, consider how you can do it differently. I appreciate it’s an obvious example, given the site you’re reading this article on, but online tutoring can make a massive difference to exam results and confidence: a change of approach, a different slant, extra tuition on points which the student finds particularly hard. (My father enrolled an accountancy tutor for me when I studied for my degree in business studies. Without that tutor I would have failed my entire degree. Please remember, as a parent, you are more likely to be able to understand and make this happen than your child is.)

Don’t ‘Go Compare’

In my previous article about what to say or not to say I advocated that parents should not compare their child with any other – no-one in the class or friendship group and certainly not a sibling. A parent’s lot is to understand that every individual is different and everyone has different strengths. Being compared is torture for us as adults and it’s even worse for teenagers, whose hormones and emotions are all over the place.

…but do be demonstrative to your child and let them know you love them unconditionally

We’re past anger and defiance, what we have now is despair and disappointment. So what your child needs is your care and love and, above all, support. Don’t wrap it up in syrup and tell your child it really doesn’t matter (unless it really doesn’t!) but talk to them about what’s happened and about their options.

Watch out for any signs of depression (solitude, changed behaviours, angst) and gently encourage them out of this by taking their mind off the exam results and doing an activity they enjoy, such as a trip to the beach, the shopping centre, the park, or treat them to a new gadget. Splashing the cash isn’t a long-term solution but it can help to snap a teenager out of the doldrums and make them sit up and think.

Track your child’s progress

Whatever decisions you make together, it’s important to track how well your child fares. Whether it’s re-takes or a change of course in whatever direction, I would encourage you to watch over their spiritual wellbeing as well as their academic progress. As a parent you can not only help your child recover from failures in school or college examinations but also prepare them to face difficult situations at different stages of their life.

Modern living can be competitive, particularly in the UK but also in the US, China and many other countries. I can only reiterate my advice to prepare your children for job competition but also instil in them the basic values which will help them withhold their morals – through failure and success.

What do you think?



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I'm an active energetic person. I enjoy long-distance running and have taken part in many organised events including the 2016 Prague Marathon. I'm a keen skier and love open-water swimming, when the weather is right!