Thursday 22 August 2019

Leaving Cert: What to say when someone does not get the results they wanted

Don’t compare grades with their friends or siblings. You are starting a conversation that will only end in disaster.
Don’t compare grades with their friends or siblings. You are starting a conversation that will only end in disaster.
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

Leaving Cert results day is a day of high stress and high drama. There are elevated stakes, towering expectations, moments of pure elation, but also disappointment and devastation.

If your child/ niece/ friend has not got the results they were hoping for, it’s extremely important to tread carefully. Often our inconsiderate reactions can compound feelings of inadequacy, and upset.

So here are the things you definitely should not say or do.

*Don’t make it about yourself. Rein in your ego; no body cares that you failed Honours level French 15 years ago but are now working in a successful recruitment agency. There is absolutely no need to relate everything back to your own personal experience. Sometimes, it’s just not about you. All this proves is that you are not listening and you are not being respectful to someone in an emotionally fraught situation.

Dr Anne Kehoe, Clinical Psychologist and member of the Psychological Society of Ireland, says the most important thing is to listen and acknowledge the individual's experience. "It is very hard to sit with someone else's disappointment," she said. "But when someone is in the middle of a bad situation they don't want to hear someone else's life view. They want to feel listened to."

*Don’t say “It’s just the Leaving Cert”. Of course it’s just the Leaving Cert and in the grand scheme of things may not be all that important. But for the past two, maybe three years, students have been told these exams are pretty much the be-all and end-all.

“The sentiment is contradictory to everything you were led to believe for the previous five years. It takes a lot and lot of time for people to realise ‘it’s only the leaving cert’,” Lynsday Martin, who works in media and had to resit her Leaving Cert several years ago, said. “I think you have residual PTSD if you don’t get the points you wanted. It takes time to process.” Also by dismissing the magnitude of the event, you are dismissing the validity of the student’s feelings. This can leave individuals feeling emotionally unsupported.

*Don't try and fix it. Let people process disappointment at their own pace. "We often try and make things better," Dr Anne Kehoe said. We can do this by offering a plethora of solutions and trying to cheer people up. "But you just need to listen and empathise with the person. Empathy means acknowledging their emotions, saying things like 'That sounds hard', 'It is difficult'. Let them dictate the conversation - when they are ready to move on process what they are going through, they will let you know."

* Don’t compare grades with their friends or siblings. You are starting a conversation that will only end in disaster.

*If they are re-sitting the Leaving Cert, don’t say “It’s only another year”. Time is relative; a year may seem like a short period of time if you’re 50 (or Johnny Logan), but when you’re 18 it can feel like a lifetime. And it’s not just the thought of another academic year filled with textbooks and study aids that is depressing – it’s the prospect of watching your friends and peers progress to adulthood while you stay put.

* Don’t inundate students with calls and messages. If someone hasn’t called to share results with you, there’s probably a reason why.

* One for students who aced the exams. Don’t ring/ text/ DM/ or voice note your pal when you’re out celebrating, telling them to ‘Forget about it and let their hair down’. Give them time and space.

* If your friend is repeating sixth year, don’t point out that they’ll have to go to school the morning after their debs. It's just cruel.

* If you are a parent do tell your child that you are proud of them. Even if they skipped out of every exam early, and got a grade point average of 2pc. They need to hear it.

*Don’t take it to heart when they have a breakdown and blame you for everything that has gone wrong in their life. Those feelings are better out then in.

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