PSLE is just around the corner, and so are preliminary exams! As these exam dates loom nearer, schools would definitely be increasing their workload for students, to prepare them adequately. In Singapore, it may be very common for you to supplement your child’s work at home, by buying additional test papers for them to do or going for more tuition lessons. With so much that children have to handle at school and at home, both you and your child may feel that there is never enough time to prepare for the exam, leading to increasing levels of anxiety. Additionally, you may feel more worried that your child may be underprepared for the exam due to previous schooling disruptions caused by COVID-19.
Do you find yourself getting more easily frustrated at your child whenever you are going through schoolwork with them? Or more upset when they get stumped by questions in a paper? These could be signs of anxiety (Katz, 2020). You may also feel that your methods in educating your child and disciplining them are not working, thus wondering if your child has difficulties studying or staying focused
Yet, when faced with such a situation, children are similar, if not more sensitive to increased levels of expectations, and anxiety around them – in turn becoming anxious as well (Laxmi, 2020). Parental anxiety often spills over onto children and negatively affects them (Katz, 2020), especially in Singapore where there is a lot of pressure on parents to ensure that their children go to ‘good’ schools and do well in comparison with their peers. With all these expectations from the school and their parents being pinned on them, children may feel excessively stressed, and this may lead to negative effects on their mental and physical health. Unlike moderate and healthy levels of stress, where children will feel motivated and see an increase in concentration, excessive levels of stress will do more harm than good. What are some signs of excessive stress? Children may have lower levels of energy and become more easily irritable and defiant towards you (Barish, 2012). They may also be unable to sleep at night, thus making them less energetic and less focused the next day. This creates a vicious cycle as children will end up needing more time outside of school to review their work, making them even more stressed and tired (Sandhu, 2017). Again, these are very common responses from your child.
So then, what can we do to help you and your child prepare for the exam without overworking the child?
Changing Up ‘Study Time’
At home, you may often go through schoolwork with your child, and may often get frustrated with kids when kids say that they do not know how to do the work, or when they do not do their work properly. What you could do would be to ensure that ‘study time’ can be made enjoyable and educational at the same time by changing up the way you utilise the time at home. Instead of sitting down together and going through papers alone, you and your child for example, could make use of materials such as documentaries, educational videos and podcasts, or books.
Some materials can include (Lee, 2020):
- The Magic School Bus – Netflix
- WhizKidScience – Youtube
- But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids – Spotify
- National Geographic Kids – Youtube
These alternative forms of ‘study time’ can potentially help children to better absorb their study materials (Kapucu et al., 2015), while helping them relax and do something more fun at home. Since children have been actively reviewing their work in school and during tuition classes, it may be good to do something more passive at home but not compromising on education.
Understanding The Importance of Rest
Ever heard of “Perhaps too much of everything is as bad as too little” – doing too much of one thing may be counterproductive (Ariga & Lleras, 2011). The brain takes up a lot of the body’s energy despite only taking up 2% of our body, and this affects our bodily functions and energy levels if overworked (Raichle & Gusnard, 2002).
Also, children may lose any interest they had in the subject, or in studying itself, because they have so much pressure on them and have so much to do in a single day. In the end, all that your child looks forward to is time to themselves and a time to relax. Even for parents, having inadequate amounts of rest can also make us more tired and less patient with the children.
Just as adults require a break from work, so do our children. By resting and recharging, both parents and your children alike can have more energy to tackle the school work that they need to do together in the upcoming days. Ensure that your child is getting enough sleep and work-breaks (Bertin, 2014), or take one afternoon out of the weekend to have family bonding time by staying at home to watch a movie or playing a video game. Not only are children getting the rest that they need, but parents also are too, and the whole family can enjoy some quality time together to de-stress from this challenging period of time (Lee, 2020).
Managing Expectations and Setting Realistic Goals
A lot of stress stems from expectations placed on the child to do well (Laxmi, 2020). To prevent excessive, counterproductive stress, parents can also help by managing these expectations and setting concrete yet realistic expectations according to the abilities of the child.
A way to do this would be for you to provide your child with structured and visible goals, thus allowing your child to track his or her study progress in preparing for the exam (Ackerman, 2020). This way, both you and your child can feel more encouraged and motivated, possibly dispelling feelings of anxiety that arise from uncertainty.
When facing academic challenges, parents can perhaps make use of a ‘goal ladder’ to help them work step-by-step towards the main goal (Cullins, 2019).
This consists of 4 steps:
- Writing down the ‘big goal’ or ‘main goal’ at the top of the ladder
E.g. PSLE, end-of-year exams, your child’s aspiration/dream job
- Discussing the purpose of the goal
It is important for parents, at this step, to think about the purpose with the child, instead of setting it on your own (Finn, 2020)
E.g. getting into a desired stream, getting into the desired school, to just do the best that the child can
- Breaking the big goal into smaller steps, things that can help the child work towards the ‘main goal’
Here, a structured timetable can also be created to help both parents and children to visualise the workload of the child (Mandlazi, 2018). This way, the child is more likely to stick to the timetable, while parents will not overload children with too much additional work.
E.g. doing 2 additional practice papers a week, tuition lessons on Monday and Wednesday
- Think about potential obstacles, and make a plan
E.g. my child is weaker at Math and thus we will dedicate more time to building up his/her foundations in Math (OpenSchoolbag, 2018)
Assuring Your Child
At the end of the day, your children are the ones taking the exams, and the best thing that we can do is to be their number one supporter and cheerleader!
As parents, it would be good to give them words of encouragement and affirm them of their abilities so as to build up their confidence and reduce anxiety during the actual exam. “I will be happy if you just do your best!” can be encouraging and create a healthy environment for children to build confidence in their academic journey (Sandhu, 2017). You could also make sure that they are eating well (OpenSchoolbag, 2018), so that their bodies are adequately nourished during this stressful period of time. Additionally, you could also discuss ideas of success and failure with them, or be conscious about the way you convey your attitude towards success and failure. Whether or not our children attain straight ‘A’s or not, parents should still be proud of our children for working hard and embracing the learning process (White Swan Foundation, 2015). Exam scores are not all-or-nothing, and results should not be seen as a means to an end.
By providing healthy support to children emotionally, mentally, and physically, children will feel nurtured and motivated in their academic endeavours. It is important to keep in mind that every child is different! We have to make sure that we are pushing them in a healthy manner, by being mindful of their individual strengths and potential. Learning should be seen as an engaging and enjoyable process for both children and parents, all while avoiding the excessive stress and anxiety that is usually synonymous with exam-taking. By having a positive outlook on learning and adopting a growth mindset in dealing with less-than-expected academic results, we can then teach our children to become inquisitive and motivated learners who personally strive for excellence.
Camellia Wong (MA), Kam Wing Shan
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