Behaviour & Emotions

How to talk about: NCEA results

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It’s a big week in the life of our teens, when the summer holiday vibes are interrupted by the release of NCEA results. Whether at the beach, on the job or waking from a sleep-in, young people across the country will stop what they’re doing to nervously go online in anticipation of their exam results.

It’s a big moment for parents and caregivers too. How we handle ourselves affects our kids – be it their need for cushioning, congratulating or a delicate balance of both. Here are some ideas to help you support your teenager, whatever big feelings the ‘great reveal’ moment may bring.

Do some prep

As parents, we need to some of our own study and groundwork first. Make sure you understand the NCEA system – this will help you to gauge the impact of your child’s results better. The NZQA website may help.

Check your own expectations and motivations – you might be concerned for your teen’s future, and fair enough. But don’t make your anxiety their anxiety, and don’t let your own disappointment or frustration at their results get the better of you when you talk to them.

Be curious about how your teen might be dealing with the anticipation of getting their results, and then how they cope with the news when it’s in front of them. They may not say much, but their behaviour tells you that they are worried or disappointed. Either way, create opportunities for them to talk about it, and when they do:

  • Avoid empty platitudes.

We want to encourage our kids and let them know we believe in them, but lines like “You’ll be alright” or “Don’t worry there’s always next year” rarely make our kids feel like we understand them.

  • Avoid “I told you so”.

Depending on how difficult it was to get them to study in the first place, we may be tempted to say “I knew this was going to happen” or “If you worked harder before the exam you wouldn’t have needed to be so worried!” While there may be elements of truth to these statements, saying them out loud is absolutely unhelpful.

They may not say much, but their behaviour tells you that they are worried or disappointed.

Bring the balance

Instead, really listen to your teen’s fears and concerns, empathise with their feelings and be the voice that brings back balance and hope. It is easy for kids to get caught in all-or-nothing thinking (eg, “I didn’t get excellence so what’s the point!”) or catastrophising (eg, feeling like their whole future is ruined because of poorer-than-expected exam results).

If this happens, empathise with your child about how disappointing it must be to have worked so hard and not gotten excellence, or how scary and worrying it must be to think that everything rests on their results or that their future plans have been derailed.

Then gently remind your teen: “No matter what happens, we’re in this together and you won’t need to deal with it alone.”

And, if some problem-solving is needed, make sure your teen knows that you will be there to work with them to come up with solutions.

Coping with comparisons

One of the first things teens do after receiving their results is compare themselves with their friends. If your teen gets discouraged because a friend has scored higher, some gentle guidance might help. Acknowledge and empathise with their feelings. Show them that you understand by giving them plenty of time to vent their frustrations or to shed a few tears of bitter disappointment.

Once you’ve supported them to manage their emotions, encourage them to be gracious towards their friends through congratulatory texts or DMs. Remind your teen that, while exam results are important, friendships and relationships are what will last the distance and see them through this year.

On the other hand, your teen may have performed better than their friends. Encourage your teen to celebrate and be proud of their achievements, without being boastful or downplaying the hard work they put in to get the good results. Teach them to accept compliments graciously and to ignore those insensitive comments involving words like “geek” or “nerd”. Support your teen to sincerely praise and celebrate the efforts and achievements of all of their peers, and teach them to show empathy to disappointed friends.

While exam results are important, friendships and relationships are what will last the distance and see them through this year.

High praise

Lastly, your child might have done really well and exceeded your expectations. Make sure you give them lots of praise and let them know how proud you are of them – but again, avoid those generic platitudes like “I always knew you had it in you!” Acknowledge the hard work they put into their study, especially given the fact that the last few years have been pretty tough on high school students. Offer specific praise with respect to the subjects they found particularly challenging. This lets your teen know you’re aware of the journey they’ve been on – and that they didn’t travel alone.

Whatever your teen’s NCEA results, this might feel like a logical moment to drive home some ‘sowing and reaping’ life lessons, but resist the urge to preach. Our young people are smart – and with their marks in front of them, they’re more than capable of understanding the correlation between effort and results. Simply standing by and smiling proudly, while offering a hug/handshake and perhaps some pizza or a lift back to the beach, will speak volumes.

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