For many families across the UK, the dust is beginning to settle. This week sees the end of the exam season where many young people have been receiving their results for University Finals, A2/AS levels and most recently, GCSEs.
I have heard of so many instances where these students have been left feeling disappointed with their results. What saddens me is that the majority of these grades are not only passes - but good passes!
For example, some pupils are not reaching their university of choice - despite having ( in my opinion ) great grades. Others are upset that the ideal number of A grades were not achieved. So, even though the results are reflecting all the hard work that has been put in over the months and sometimes years and the huge achievements achieved, still, for one reason or another many of these students are not happy.
How come this is happening ?
These students have achieved so much, yet they are left feeling deflated and in many cases labelling themselves 'failures'. This is a problem.
Are students nowadays setting the bar too high for themselves ?
Are we as parents and educators allowing this to happen ?
Granted, if the student didn't work hard enough - then that's a lesson to be learned for another time. But, when the study hours are made and (because, let's face it grades are now no longer enough) they have participated in team sports and societies and group activities - then surely this negativity should be discouraged.
Young people today are labelling their successes as failures.
If we continue to permit this train of thought - that successes are in fact being regarded as "failures" - surely we will be creating a new generation of unfulfilled young people with unrealistic expectations of themselves.
Please don't think that I believe for one minute that healthy competition should not be encouraged. I remember my disbelief at my kids at primary school sports days, where all participants received medals - so that those who came last did not have their feelings hurt. Winners should be rewarded. However, it is our job to maintain a degree of perspective. It's up to us to also educate our children that yes, there will be ups and downs, but they still have the resources within themselves to achieve their dreams. By empowering them to believe in themselves we are enabling them to reach their true potential.
One child I was chatting to recently did not do as well as his older brother in his exams. His comment really rocked me "Yeah - I didn't do as well as Simon ... I am the thick one in the family." This young man passed every single one of his exams. It's just he had different grades than his brother. Already he has labelled himself as a low achiever. His confidence has been severely knocked; and to make matters worse - he worked really hard throughout the year; but he still felt like a failure.
As parents surely, we need to find a way to eradicate this negative self-talk before it becomes the norm and embedded in our children's mindset. We need to show our kids that their value rests with who they are - not solely on their academic certificates.
As adults, we know that these unreasonable expectations erode self esteem and make our lives miserable.
For 35 years, I carried around a comment from a teacher who said, at my parent-teacher meeting when I was just 10 years old, "Caroline will never really set the Thames on fire." I believed her. For all that time, I never felt good enough. I always felt second best.
How can we stop this happening to our children?
Challenge this Negative Self Talk - before it takes hold permanently.
When we believe we have failed, or believe that there is something that we cannot do; this is called a Limiting Belief.
For some of us it's our inability to lose weight, for others it's public speaking and in this case it's being successful in exams.
In the example I mentioned earlier, the young man has already labelled himself with the limiting belief that he is the least intelligent in his family.
These thought patterns need to be challenged quickly so that they do not take root and start affecting future behaviour.
Here's a very short suggestion that can help ... Use the word 'YET'
"I can't do X" ...
"I can't do X - YET."
Instead of succumbing to the negative self judgement we can be prone to, finding tools that can help us overcome life's demands and challenges is a much more rewarding and positive approach.
We all know the train of thought: that we learn more from our struggles and our failures rather than our successes and achievements. Somehow I doubt that is much consolation to many young people right now.
Granted, these exams and resulting grades are an necessary step to facilitate the transition to the next level. It's important however, to maintain a degree of perspective.
Our young people must understand that there will always be bumps in the road - but the secret is - even if they stumble - what really matters is how they dust themselves down and move forward more positively.
This is what's known as The Growth Mindset.
We can help our children work out how to react to certain situations - and if those reactions are not productive - then we can show them how to change their thinking a little, (remember YET), to achieve a more positive outcome. This builds their resilience, so that when they hit future challenges, they learn and grow. And with encouragement they will celebrate their 'wins', however great or small. This works wonders with their self-esteem, which in turn empowers them with a "Can- Do" mindset.
Perfection is not the ideal we should necessarily strive for but rather we should nurture our children to become happy, healthy and confident individuals.