Parents, beware of giving kids more stress

Photo above: Accountant Mazlita Abdul Jabbar, 37, switched to part-time work to supervise her children - (from left) Falisha Dina, six, Muzammil Arif, 13, and Mikail Firas, nine - and help them with their schoolwork. Muzammil was the second-best PSLE scorer last year.

SINGAPORE - Two years before her son sat the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), Madam Mazlita Abdul Jabbar, 37, switched to a part-time job.

She wanted to spend more time to guide him in his studies. She believes her efforts paid off: Her son, Muzammil Arif Din Abdul Jabbar, went on to become Singapore's second-best scorer last year.

"It gave me time to teach him how to make mind maps, apart from just teaching him the concepts.

"Also, sometimes, I do need time to learn what they are learning before I can help them," said the accountant, who works in the mornings while her children are in school. She has two younger kids - in Primary 3 and kindergarten.

It is not uncommon for working parents like Madam Mazlita to opt for part-time work, take time off for a few days, weeks or months, or even resign when their children face a crucial examination.

Most do it so that they can be around to provide last-minute help, drive them to the exams and even cook their favourite dishes.

But experts said the heightened parental presence during this period could give their children more stress.

The issue of parents taking leave or quitting their jobs to help their children prepare for the nationwide exam came under the spotlight early this week after OCBC Bank announced a new PSLE leave scheme.

Staff can carry forward between 10 and 15 days of leave if they have a child sitting the PSLE the following year.

On Wednesday, Minister of State for Finance and Transport Josephine Teo called the scheme "over the top" in a post on her Facebook account.

Responding to feedback on her post, which was mostly in favour of OCBC's policy, she wrote yesterday: "The bank providing such leave suggests it should be the norm for parents to take leave for their children's PSLE."

She added: "I can understand that many parents feel anxious. However, by focusing an inordinate amount of attention on PSLE (or any other exam), we stress ourselves and the kids excessively...

"Yes, it does determine the secondary school they go to, but that itself is not the only thing that determines their future."

Every year, some 50,000 pupils attempt the PSLE.

Many parents who took leave told The Straits Times they did so mainly to provide moral support.

One such parent is Ms Lee Hwee Boon, vice-president of the global enterprise banking division of OCBC Bank.

Three weeks before this year's PSLE, the 41-year-old took half a day off from work every day to spend time with her son, who is in Bukit Panjang Primary School.

Said Ms Lee: "Exams are a trying period, so just being there for them is helpful."

Apart from helping her son with his work, she bonded with him during walks in the park to de-stress.

But while parents have the best intentions, their efforts can backfire. Child psychologist at the Singapore Children's Society Carol Balhetchet said some parents are naturally anxious during this period and may unknowingly pass on this anxiety to their children.

"Some parents would do the PSLE or homework for their child if they could... but they can't... so they hang around the child, putting more pressure on themselves and their child," she said.

She added that parents do need to show support emotionally and physically but it should come throughout the year while the children are preparing for the exam, and "not do what we call cramping parenting".

Member of Parliament Baey Yam Keng, whose daughter took the PSLE this year, told The Straits Times: "I know parents are anxious over the major PSLE

exam more so than the A or O levels because they can help or coach the child at this level."

But parents' decisions should depend on whether their children need parental supervision or can handle their revision themselves, he added.

South View Primary School principal Jenny Yeo agreed, while noting that in her school, parents who take leave specifically for the exam are in the minority.

"By the time they have to sit the PSLE, they should be able to cope on their own.

"If parents do this at PSLE, does that mean they will do it for all the other major exams?" she said.

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