Teaching your teen to manage uncertainty: MyTutor in conversation with Unmind

Posted August 10, 2020

2020 hasn’t been an easy year for teens. Covid-19, exam cancellations and school closures have made it the most disrupted school year in 75 years. And as exam results days approach, it’s normal for your teen to be feeling anxious about what’s next. With so much out of their control, learning how to stay calm in the face of uncertainty is more valuable than ever.

We spoke to the psychologists over at Unmind – a leading mental wellbeing platform – about how parents can equip their teens with tactics and tips to cope with, whatever life throws at them.

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Because exams were cancelled due to covid-19, teens’ results are being graded in an unfamiliar way. What can parents do to help their teens manage uncertainty in the lead-up to results day?

1. Normalise it

As humans, we’re hardwired to struggle with uncertainty. When confronted with it – such as how things will unfold on results day – we fill in the blanks with our own narratives, which are often negative. So first acknowledge this and normalise it. Now think of ways that you the parent can offer certainty – this could come in the form of anything from a clear daily schedule to the reminder that University clearing and resits are a valid safety net.

Even in a doomsday scenario, where their exam results fall short of their requirements, there will always be options. Plenty of successful people didn’t get the grades expected of them. Similarly, if they’re worried about what school will be like when they go back, simply reassuring them that it’s normal to feel anxious about this can help make the lead-up much calmer.

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2. Talk about it

Another technique is emotional reasoning. Amid feelings of anxiety we convince ourselves there must be something horribly wrong (or else why would we feel so knotted?) but actually this isn’t always the case. Help them to be objective about the facts and the real – often quite low – levels of serious threat involved. Parents should also remind their kids that education is important, but that your love for them doesn’t depend on high grades.

3. Get them to focus on what they can control

Encourage them to direct their energy towards things that are within their control – not what’s outside of it. For instance, it’s not practical to ruminate over the impact of the climate crisis, however it is effective to go green, go to protests, or to raise awareness of the issue. Similarly, with regards to the pandemic, you can’t control what happens but you can control how you respond to it – such as wearing a mask and washing your hands.

If your child is anxious about going back to school, remind them that it’s likely their entire school will be sharing similar feelings of unease to a lesser or greater extent. To fill in some of the blanks, encourage them to focus on what’s known and certain – the health and safety measures in place at school, how they will get to school each day, and what their days will look like.

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4. Help them avoid comparing their situation to others’

We’re all navigating the same sea but in different boats – and so we should normalise that it’s okay to feel different to others. Each friendship group or family will go by different rules, our kids shouldn’t be offended if they’re no longer allowed to go around their mate’s homes. The same goes for hugging and handshakes. As everyone manages the situation in their own way, it’s okay to feel unsure. As parents, we should encourage our children to talk about their concerns and help them to work through specific anxieties.

With schools reopening in September, some kids are worried about what it will be like with covid-19 restrictions. Others are anxious about being able to fill in learning gaps. What are some key ways that teens can get ready for their return to school?

1. Meet up or chat with friends during the holidays

It can also help to reconnect with friends before returning to school. This will give them a chance to discuss any concerns and even to remind them of the social benefits of sharing physical space with people.

2. Talk to their teachers

The other key communication channel will be with teachers. If it’s not possible to discuss concerns before the first day back, remind them that they can talk with their teachers once they’ve rejoined. They might feel as if they’ve forgotten everything they’ve learned after being outside of the school context for so long – but it’ll all come flooding back when they’re in the school environment once again.

3. Take things one step at a time

The first week at school will be more tiring for them, so set your expectations accordingly. They might need more sleep or time on their own to recuperate after school.

Thanks Unmind!

If your child would like specific advice about UCAS, university choices or A Level choices, our online tutors are on-hand to offer advice, guidance and mentoring before and after results day. Our tutors are all subject experts from UK unis, and they went through the same process as your child in the past few years (so they can empathise with their education being disrupted this year too!). Have a browse for a tutor or book a call with one of our tutor experts, and we’ll help you find what you need.

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