The local primary school education system with its unique PSLE examination structure is one of the most rigorous programmes in Singapore.
With this in mind, more and more parents prepare their children as early as the age of 18 months by enrolling them in different classes.
Needless to say, when these children enter primary school, their timetables become packed with school and tuition classes.
However, this preoccupation with test scores and academic achievement could be at the expense of your child’s mental wellness.
An article on Straits Times last year reported that one of the main culprits for poor mental wellness in children was academic stress. The article states that it is extremely worrying that children are resorting to suicide when they fail to do well in school.
Did you also know that as a result of an increasing number of incidents like this, a taskforce, NurtureSg was also implemented by the Ministry of Health Singapore to reach out to children to protect and maintain their mental wellness?
Ms Regina Phang, Deputy General Manager and Principal Occupational Therapist of MindChamps Allied Care, is also witnessing how her own daughter who is only in Primary Two, is feeling stressed about school.
In this article, she provides eight useful coping mechanisms that parents can use to help their children manage stress.
1.Provide plenty of downtime for your child
Ensure that your child gets plenty of downtime. This simple means allocating time that they are able to relax.
Activities such as playing at the playground, library time, spending time with their beloved grandparents and even sitting around and doing nothing constitutes downtime. This will help alleviate the pressure that they feel in school where they are expected to perform.
2. Avoid overscheduling primary school tuition and enrichment classes
While there are seven days a week, it does not mean that you have to pack each day with a class or activity after school.
Ms Phang recommends that you become selective of the type of classes that you wish to enrol your child in and ensure that he/she is not overwhelmed. Consider only enrolling your primary school child for tuition classes that he/she really needs.
Also think about alternating enrichment classes on a termly basis. For example, your child can go for speech and drama in term 1 and reading classes in term 2, and not both concurrently in the same time frame.
3. Punishment should not be a form of consequence
Avoid punishing your child when he or she does not do well in examinations. Punishment should not be a form of consequence for poor performance in formative assessments.
A child is traumatised when they are caned or punished for poor performance. This does not make them better performers and can exacerbate the problem when they begin to dislike the subject. Moreover, punishment can strain the relationship between you and your child.
Children do feel disappointed when they do not perform well, and punishment will only result in more stress for your child.
4. Be the gatekeepers to your child’s stress levels
Often, children do not have the capacity to deal with stress the way an adult can.
As a parent, be responsible for moderating the stress and stressors in your child’s life. Be a gatekeeper and ensure that you constantly monitor your child’s stress level. Do not wait for your child to experience a nervous breakdown before you step in. Make sure to continuously check in with your child to ensure their mental wellbeing.
Do note that intense stress can also be triggered by social factors such as bullying. It is then important to reach out to your child’s teachers and work with them if this is happening and causing stress for your child. Children need to feel that they can be safe in the school and not always be anxious around bullies.
5. Manage your own parenting stress
There is no doubt that you as parents are also dealing with a lot of stress in your own work lives, but Ms Phang recommends that you be mindful that it does not spill over to your family life.
Often, a parent who does not manage his/her stress levels well may find themselves losing patience with their children. This can affect your children adversely.
6. Manage your expectations that you place on your child
Many parents hope that their child becomes a high achiever in school, but in reality, this does not always happen. Do manage your expectations and embrace your child for who he/ she is. Learn to appreciate and highlight to your child his/her strength and do not compare your child with other children.
Your child will always be a unique champion in his/her own way.
7. Allow your child to learn at a reasonable pace
Ms Phang suggests that you allow your child to learn together with his peers, and not in advance of his peers.
A primary school child who has learnt way in advance in tuition classes will only find boredom in school and start exhibiting behavioural challenges such as talking to others or not paying attention in class.
Also, understand that your child has his own unique learning pace. Respecting his learning pace will reduce unnecessary stress on him.
8. Seek professional help early
If your child is showing signs of not coping positively with stress, please seek help from a psychologist, or counsellor early.
Professional allied health clinicians can teach your child positive coping mechanisms so that he can cope with stress better. Sometimes, a child may even have a hidden disability such as high functioning autism. Early diagnosis can ensure your child has access to resources that can help him cope better with stress.
Choose mental wellness over tuition and enrichment classes
Your child’s mental well-being will benefit his/her development academically and socially, and there is a need to safeguard it. Instead of just providing your child with the necessary primary school tuition and enrichment classes, be also the supportive parent who listens and cares for them.