Parents can motivate their children to do well in school without looking at good grades as the be-all and end-all
It is a well-known fact: Singapore is praised for its top-notch education system, and for its students winning a range of international tests. But this emphasis on academic excellence also means parents often place too much pressure on their children when it comes to exam results.
But this mindset is changing.
It was announced in January that, since the start of the year, the civil service has stopped grouping its officers according to their education levels, so how far civil servants progress is no longer determined by their paper qualifications.
The country has also seen a lean towards promoting an entrepreneurial mindset, where university degrees are not necessarily advantageous or the ultimate pinnacle to strive for.
So how can parents balance their own expectations and their children’s chance of future career success by getting them to do well at school without being a kiasu parent focused on grades?
One way is to place emphasis on the “baby steps”, instead of the top grades that children need to achieve, said experts TODAY spoke to.
“Encourage your children by focusing on the improvements they have made, no matter how small,” advised Dr Thang Leng Leng, Families for Life Council Member. “When highlighting that, remind them that every improvement brings them a step closer to their end goal and will also help to keep them focused.
“For instance, if their grades have improved from a C to a B, motivate them by telling them that their efforts have paid off and they have done well and are on the right track, instead of reprimanding them for not scoring an A. This will assure them that you are there to help support and guide them,” she added.
Have reasonable expectations
The key here is to offer guidance, instead of actually setting demands on them. Dr Thang elaborated, “While you can let your expectations of them be known, refrain from imposing too much or adding unnecessary pressure on them. Guide them in setting their own goals so they develop a strong sense of ownership, purpose and accomplishment.”
Dr Tan Hwee Sim, specialist in Psychiatry and consultant at Raffles Counselling Centre, said that parents should take on the role of their children’s “supporter”, rather than “pusher”.
“‘Pushing’ often stems from anxiety that the children will be left behind in a competitive world. While some children are able to be compliant under pressure, they are less likely to develop their own more sustainable internal motivation. For others, the push-pull of trying to motivate the children may turn into a power struggle, causing stress on both parents and children,” she explained.
“‘Supporting’ children to do well in school means making time for them (for example, being available during homework time to look over homework and give suggestions), creating a suitable environment for study, taking an interest in and keeping up with your children’s school activities and assignments, and communicating with them about their interests, goals and concerns,” she continued.
“Make sure to be empathetic, compassionate, and encouraging in your approach.”
One important point is that parents should be reasonable in what they expect from their children. “No one is motivated at all tasks at all times,” said Dr Tan. “Parents need to be patient and have reasonable expectations. Remember that warmth and encouragement are more motivating than pushing or punishment.”
She suggested concentrating on efforts and progress rather than outcomes, taking note of and encouraging your children’s natural interests, as well as encouraging them to make their own choices while thinking through the consequences of different decisions. Dr Tan also advised not to over-schedule children into constant activities, or micromanage grades on tests or criticise, shame or punish children for their performance.
Encouragement is key
Parents in Singapore say they have their own tips to combat the “kiasu parent” syndrome, such as being more involved or nurturing.
“I sit down with both my kids daily to run through their work,” said Johnson Soh, 46, director, and father to two kids aged eight and 11. “It could be bite-sized, 30-minute sessions but it beats the anxiety of cramping in everything at the last hour just before the exams. They also have a great set of closely-knit group of friends who egg each other on regularly, so that helps too.”
Finance manager Lyn Ng, 44, who has two children aged 17 and 14, said, “Reminding our children how smart they are will give them more confidence and lower their stress.”
She added, “If they sit for a test and do not do well, tell them it’s not the end of the world. At the end of the day, tell them we love them, whether they succeed or not in the things they do.”
Sabrina Abu Bakar, a 38-year-old senior programming executive who has four children aged 10 to 15, suggested setting KPIs (key performance indicators) or goals before the school terms start. Then monitor your children’s progress so they will feel a sense of accomplishment by putting in extra effort in order to do well in their exams or topical tests.
“It’s important to acknowledge their efforts by saying things like ‘Well done and keep it up’,” she added. “Even if they don’t do well, do still encourage them by saying, ‘I see that you’ve put in extra effort, so try again next time’.”