As parents, do you often wonder what our responsibilities towards our children are? To provide them with good education? To encourage them to climb up the social ladder as high as they could? As a parent of two teenage daughters, I can safely say that these questions never fail to constantly fill up my mind.
Regardless of our skin colour, the country we come from, or the culture that we practise, parents everywhere value the importance of education and understand how it can affect their children’s future. Through education, we parents hope that our children will eventually embark on a respected career and contribute back to the society. To put it simply, we want the best for them and if at all possible, we want them to lead better lives than ourselves.
However, and in reality, the pursuit of academic excellence and grades creates the tendency for some parents to put undue stress on their children to perform well in high-stake examinations. There have been adverse consequences as highlighted by the suicides of the Primary 5 student in May 2016 (Chelvan, 2016) and two Junior College students in August 2016 (Robert, 2016).
The Ministry of Education (MOE), Singapore recognizes the stress caused by high-stake examinations and has taken some steps necessary to reduce the overemphasis of academic grades in several ways. These include creating diverse pathways for different students, removing both the PSLE T-scores in 2021 and announcement of top scorers in national examinations, and implementing programmes to engage our students in learning. Some of these programmes implemented are the Programme for Active Learning in primary schools, Applied Learning Programme and Learning for Life Programme in secondary schools, and PERI Holistic Assessment which focuses on the development of the whole child.
On top of these MOE initiatives, we parents also need to play our part in reducing the amount of stress placed on our children. We can do so in several ways:
- Shift of mind-set: There is a need to rethink and change our approach towards, and view and mind-set of academic excellence. We need to understand that achieving academic excellence does not guarantee eventual success in life. Instead, we should give our children the support, space and time to learn about their interests and strengths. As such, even “late bloomers” can become successful academically and in life.
- Manage expectations: We need to manage our expectations and be careful of how we portray ourselves to our children. Regardless of their age, children tend to seek affirmation and acceptance from their parents. As such, the way we show our approval, disappointment or anger towards their academic results can affect their sense of self-worth – that they are only as good as their results, which should not be the case.
- Be a friend: We need to show interest in our children’s lives beyond their academic grades. This can include our children’s likes and dislikes, and engaging with them on topics or things that are of their interests. We can also lead by example to show that there is more than just studies and work by doing activities and just enjoying time together.
- Parental support: This is an important aspect. Providing our children with unconditional support and help enables them to be more resilient against stress. However we must also be careful to not be “over-supportive” or over-protective as that can greatly reduce our children’s ability to handle adversity.
- Set goals: We can teach our children how to cope with academic pressure by coaching them in managing their time, and setting achievable and realistic goals for themselves.
- Allow room for destress: All work and no play would certainly cause stress to anyone. As parents, we need to allow our children to destress in their own way, be it reading a book or playing computer games, instead of imposing on them our ideas of destressing.
- Build trust: From their early years, we need to build trust and have an open communication with our children. When they can trust us and when we are open and encouraging, our children are more likely to share their problems and difficulties with us.
As a counsellor, I have had heard plenty of accounts from children that their parents do not understand or do not trust them. Building trust in our relationships with our children is therefore of utmost importance. Here are some strategies to build trust with our children.
- Learn to listen: It is much more than just hearing what they have to say. We can paraphrase our children’s words to show that we are listening, and focus on their emotions. Never enter into a discussion with our children with our own agenda in mind.
- Open communication: Communication refers to the sharing of perspectives and what is going on in each other’s lives, including being open about our own shortcomings, fears and struggles. It helps our children to learn that no one is perfect and there is always room for improvements.
- Be truthful and appreciate honesty: Telling the truth from the start helps our children to match verbal and non-verbal communication. When we inform our children to be honest with us, we must respect their honesty by not punishing them. Instead, work with them on how to prevent similar problems from happening again.
- Be a role model: Nothing turns our children off more than knowing that their parents are not doing what they have preached. We need to lead by example.
- Keep our promises: Avoid making promises that we cannot keep because breaking a promise can reduce the trust our children have in us.
- Be consistent: Sometimes, we tend to threaten our children to take away their privileges as a punishment. We need to ensure we can implement what we say. Otherwise, our children will pick up on the empty threats and not believe what we say. We also have to be consistent in the things we say to them to reduce potential conflict with and confusion in our children.
Building trust and relationships with our children requires patience and perseverance. At times, it will seem like it is too difficult to go on but it is important to be fair to ourselves and to them, and understand that trust do not happen overnight. As parents, we need to take the lead for our children’s sake.
Chelvan, V.P. (2016, October 21). 11-year-old boy’s suicide due to exam and parental stress: State Coroner. Channel Newsasia. Retrieved from http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/11-year-old-boy-s-suicide-due-to-exam-and-parental-stress-state/3225314.html
Robert, C. (2016, September 4). Distress signal. The New Paper. Retrieved from http://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/distress-signal