Kids' stress: Whose fault is it?

Kids' stress: Whose fault is it?

SINGAPORE - Accountant Goh Ruoh Sze used to sit next to her elder child, Daniel, to ensure he did his primary school homework and assessment books.

Finding that she lacked the patience to teach him at home, Ms Goh, who is in her 40s, started enrolling him for tuition in all of his four subjects from Primary 4. Now a Secondary 3 student, 14-year-old Daniel receives tuition in six subjects.

While many acknowledge that Singapore's education system is competitive and demanding, Ms Goh thinks that parents are the "main cause" of studies- related stress in kids.

"I keep asking Daniel to stop playing Xbox games, to do his work or take a break by reading instead. I have been stressing him out for the longest time," Ms Goh says, adding that her eight-year-old daughter, Dorothy, is a "happy-go-lucky" child who has not experienced academic stress yet.

Exhorting Daniel, who declined to be interviewed, to study stems from a deep, near-universal parental desire for a good future for her son - and from feeling stressed herself.

She says: "Life without a good certificate is difficult in terms of finding a good job. I want him to excel and I don't see it happening so I find it stressful. I feel stress when I don't see him studying."

She is taking steps to stop the negativity in this cycle of stress and adds: "I want to let go, I don't want to keep nagging. I don't give him enough moral support. I'm learning to speak positively and to be encouraging, rather than only asking him, 'Have you finished your work? When's your test?' He's also matured and is more self-motivated."

While parents, experts and educators interviewed by SundayLife! hold different views on the causes of studies-related stress in children here, many agree that parental expectations regarding academic performance play a key role in generating stress.

Ms Petrine Lim, the principal social worker at Fei Yue Family Service Centre (Yew Tee), says: "Part of studies- related stress could be the expectations of parents."

To illustrate this, she recounts how a girl, an "average" student who had been struggling academically in secondary school, was pressured by her parents to get better grades.

She adds: "The girl engaged in self-harming behaviour for about two years. She hid in the toilet or a room to cut herself, mainly on the upper arm and upper thigh. The parents chanced upon it and they and their child have been attending counselling sessions for the past six months."

Ms Kelly Yeo, a senior clinical psychologist at the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Institute of Mental Health, advises parents to manage their own expectations, to alleviate any studies-related stress their children might feel.

"Parents need to learn to place more emphasis on the children's efforts. Sometimes, the kids cannot really control their grades, if they are already doing their best," she says.

"Parents might say they don't apply pressure on their child, but if they say, 'What did the teacher say about your result?' or 'How did your friends do on the test?', they are sending the message that the child is not quite good enough."

But she cautions against simplifying the issue, noting that there are a few causes of studies-related stress in children, including the education system ("with its heavy emphasis on grades"), parents ("who may enrol their children in too many tuition and enrichment classes") and the children themselves ("who want to please teachers and parents with good grades").

Ms Clarinda Choh, director of the gifted education programme at Hwa Chong Institution, says expectations of high achievement may not always be realistic.

She adds: "A lot of students have expectations of themselves - what they think their parents expect of them and what they think the school expects of them. Very often, the kids don't want to disappoint. They feel as if they can't meet the expectations of their parents and sometimes of their peers.

"A lot of it is the perception of what constitutes success on the part of the students. I've encountered students who are upset scoring an A2 alongside straight A1s. The journey towards excellence must be mitigated by realistic expectations and being content when one has indeed done one's best."

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