Posted by: Ned Johnson on November 28, 2022
A chill may blow through your home next week, sending shivers down the spine of your high schooler and possibly yours. The winds carry news of PSAT scores to be released on December 5 and 6. Are you ready for the results, reactions, and conversations?
In the 20 years of counseling students and families we have found that PSAT scores can elicit hard feelings, as they invite comparisons that can feel really intense to kids and parents alike, especially when identities and aspirations are closely aligned with academic performance.
For many students, the PSAT is the first test taken by “everyone they know” and thus the first chance to know just where they stand. Ideally, strong scores are affirming. (If so, take your kid out for ice cream! Or, hot chocolate, depending on the weather.) For many, though, low scores can lead to rapid and upsetting reassessments of academic ability and college prospects. While you may hear screams from upstairs of “I thought I was smarter than this!?!” you may be quietly thinking the same. It doesn’t have to be that way.
After an initial jolt, the good news is that while tests are standardized, kids are not. Tests present a clear target. However, when kids miss the mark, we (parents and tutors) can help them acquire knowledge, sharpen skills, and practice well to close gaps and do much better. Importantly, the right prescription starts with a clear diagnosis. It is important to note that how you respond to your child’s reported scores will influence your ability to work together to drive improvement in scores. To help you prepare here are a three tips to begin that journey:
- Set the groundwork now for future conversations:
“I understand that you’ll get your PSAT scores back next week. When you have the time and energy, I’d love to hear how things went and to help you create a plan if you think you need or want one.”
Because the major manifestation of anxiety is avoidance, taking a low-key approach that is consultative and respectful makes it more likely your teen will approach rather than avoid you if they need assistance. And, of course, you can only help solve problems you know about.
- Be a non-anxious presence:
As a loving parent, you should be interested in how your student does and concerned if they are underperforming. Things can go a little haywire though if you are every bit as or even more emotionally invested than they are. We want to be stress sponges to our kids.
When we do, it helps all of those executive functions come back on line, including problem-solving, planning, and putting things in perspective. If you have a kid who is really upset, you can more credibly convince them that things will likely be okay if you aren’t worried sick yourself.
- Aim to consult, not manage:
Offer, don’t force, advice and help. Practice saying things like “It’s your call” to lower defensiveness and “Is there a way I can help?”. Curiosity and interest are great, showing that you genuinely care is vital. Be careful if you find yourself tiptoeing past inquiry into inquisition. When we as parents are stressed, we naturally seek more control, because a low sense of control is about the most stressful thing we can experience. The problem is your greater sense of control can come at the expense of your kids, causing them more stress and everything bad that stress causes.
If this all feels like too much, you are not alone. Whenever added stress is introduced into the family environment, especially in teenage years, things can get out of hand fast. Remember that you don’t need to handle this for your teen alone. You have access to professional tutors and educational planners who have walked this walk with thousands of students and parents.
If you need help, that’s what PrepMatters does! Often the stakes are high for students and families and hiring a third party is the perfect solution combining aspiration, consultation, planning, and execution. As one parent recently told us, “This has become a lot, and I decided we could use some help, in part so I could go back to being a mom.” If you are ready to make the call, schedule a low stress introduction call to discuss a plan for your student and family.