Leaving Cert: What to say to a person who gets disappointing results

A child’s worst fear may be disappointing their parents, so don’t confirm that they have

Getting exam results, especially such important ones such as the Leaving Cert can be a stressful time for students and parents alike. This is especially the case, when a student receives disappointing results, which do not meet their hopes or get them the college place or career choice they initially wanted.

Here are some tips on dealing with this as a parent

1) Manage your own expectations

Be aware of how you feel about your child’s results (as you could feel as disappointed and devastated as they are). Take a step back to understand your own feelings and expectations so you don’t subconsciously pass them they to your child. It can be helpful to talk through how you feel with a partner or with a friend.

The more you can be aware of your own expectations and feelings the easier it will be to help your child. Remember that one of their worst fears about exam result is probably disappointing their parents, so be careful you don’t react in a way that confirms that.


Often thinking through the “what if” of bad results in advance can help you be more grounded and prepared for when they tell you.

2) Respond supportively

When you hear the results, try to respond as supportively as possible. Listen your child’s feelings of disappointment and upset and be as understanding as possible. Focus on any positive in the situation such as how close they were or how much work they put in.

Also, show your support in other ways, such as cooking their favourite meal, or providing another treat. Often, being there and expressing that you understand and love them no matter what is sufficient.

3) Give perspective

One of your most important jobs is to hold perspective for your child. While not getting the results you want can feel really disappointing, it is not the most important thing in the world. You know of plenty of people who learn from the experience and move onto success the second time round or for whom an alternative college choice turns out to be much more fruitful than their first one.

Express a positive belief to your child that you will sort this out together, that there are other options there for them in the future.

4) Give your child time

Be cautious about too quickly giving well-meaning advise and give your child time to deal with his own feelings and emotions – a period of “mourning” is often very appropriate in these situations and your best role can often be one of listener and supporter.

Once the initial disappointment has been dealt with, your child will be ready to plan and think through what to do next. Rather than making lots of suggestions, make sure to go slow to empower them to think through alternative options for themselves. This is a good time to express your belief in your child, highlighting their strengths, positive abilities and unique qualities. Reassure them that you will be their ally moving forward

– John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. parentsplus.ie