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It’s the start of the new year! It’s time to shake off the year-end hangovers and remember to get the right year when writing down dates!
Parents, as you are busy adjusting to 2022, part of your hustle includes getting your kids ready to start school and enter another milestone in their lives. Please remember that part of their grumpiness as they drag themselves out of bed might not be just post-holiday blues: They could be dreading school for myriad reasons.
As chief executive of Centre for Fathering, Mums for Life and Dads for Life, Bryan Tan, told The Straits Times, disruptions to normal school routines in the past two years have brought about an unprecedented amount of stress for children, and some may not be able to voice out what they are experiencing.
School has drastically changed since Covid-19 hit us. Even though things are starting to get back to “normal”, with in-person CCAs starting and students allowed to interact in groups of five during breaks, it’s still quite a shift in terms of what our children have to live with in a post-pandemic Singapore.
While vaccinations have started for primary school children, parents (understandably so) still remain concerned over the potential side effects, even as experts reassure that the chance of serious vaccine-related injuries such as myocarditis, or heart inflammation, are low.
These kinds of concerns can spill over to stressing our children — as if they haven’t had enough to worry about!
Coping in the new school year
Some children starting in a new school may feel the stress of being in a new environment with new classmates and teachers and worry about making friends.
Others, after a year of home-based and hybrid learning, may also find it stressful to have to re-adapt to a full schedule again.
These concerns, when identified, are more easily addressed — parents can reassure children that they will be fine and encourage them to step out of their comfort zones and have new adventures.
However, encouragement doesn’t work as well when overly-high parental expectations are thrown into the mix. It’s difficult when parents are the source of stress and reassurance at the same time.
There will always be expectations and tension between children and parents about their education journey — especially so in our kiasu society. Although we have evolved from expecting every child to be a “lawyer, doctor or engineer”, there are still some stereotypes that linger about those who take less conventional paths to success.
We need to remind ourselves that there are multiple pathways to success.
It’s fine for parents to want their children to top every class and even their cohort; but it is also important to understand their abilities and to adjust accordingly.
In other words, it’s okay to lower your expectations.
American psychologist Barry Schwartz and bestselling author of The Paradox of Choice once said: “The secret of happiness is low expectations.”
He wasn’t being glib; his argument was that in modern society, we have a vast number of options in everything from what to buy at a supermarket to what brand of mobile phone to get. It had also led to us increasing our expectations substantially. When expectations increase, failure to achieve them creates unhappiness.
We’ve all heard of the phrase “manage your expectations”. This is exactly it.
While standards are important and we do need to set them, we should set reasonable expectations, especially for children. It is in the little wins and accomplishments that children feel motivated to do better the next time.
Too many or too high expectations can overwhelm children, and if they don’t meet these targets, they could feel dejected and give up altogether.
Author and neuroscientist Robb Rutledge once said: “Happiness depends not on how well things are going but whether things are going better or worse than expected.”
Or as another psychologist Jeremy Sherman argued, the tension between contentment and improvement is about “managing the ‘aspirational gap’, the gap between what is and what could be, what you have and what you expect.”
So how do we set reasonable expectations?
1. Set expectations based on your child’s traits
Every child is different, so it is only right that your expectations are different for each.
Find out what your child is good at, and set goals based on their strengths. This way, they are more likely to find it easier to meet your expectations and may even find it encouraging, which drives them to do better in future.
Don’t compare. If they have older siblings, refrain from making remarks like, “Kor kor/Jie jie could do this when she was your age, why can’t you?”
This can affect the relationship that you have with your child and can also foster an unhealthy sibling rivalry. Not only that, it can also affect how they think about themselves years down the road.
2. Refrain from setting expectations based on your own life
There’s a Chinese saying that goes, “望子成龙, 望女成凤” (wang zi cheng long, wang nu cheng feng), which directly translates into parents hoping that their son becomes a dragon and their daughter becomes a phoenix.
It means that parents expect their children to be the best of the best.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with setting high expectations, but these expectations must be realistic. Not everyone can be an Albert Einstein or a Marie Curie; similarly, not everyone can be a Roger Federer or a Serena Williams. Or a Loh Kean Yew — (well done for making Singapore proud!)
Many parents tend to set unrealistic expectations for their children because they could not achieve certain goals when they were their child’s age. Now that they are parents, they expect their children to fulfil these unattained goals without considering if their child can attain them or not.
Instead of setting expectations and goals based on what you did not achieve while you’re younger, set new goals and expectations based on your child’s likes and interests.
3. Emphasise “it’s okay to be imperfect” and not “you have to be perfect”
A child must know it is perfectly normal not to be perfect. Instead, they should be more focused on working hard and giving their best.
If they get used to giving their best in everything they do, the results will come eventually.
Though it is important to set high expectations for your children, always assure them that failing their exams does not make them failures.
Complimenting your children for their efforts and accomplishments frequently would boost their self-confidence and lead to them striving to do better.
4. Analyse if goals set for your child is realistic based on age and abilities
Every child grows differently, and they mature at different rates. It is only reasonable to set expectations based on their abilities and personalities at that point in their development and not expect them to do tasks that they are not physically and mentally able to do — for example, forcing your child to skydive when they don’t even know what skydiving is.
I exaggerate but it’s to prove a point.
Many parents expect their kids to know how to “skydive” and instantly be champions at it. This contributes to unnecessary stress in children, affecting their growth and development.
5. Focus on the process of learning
Many parents put an overemphasis on results. Putting it bluntly, they don’t care about how their child achieves a result, as long as they achieve it.
This teaches the wrong lesson.
This is why some children resort to cheating in tests or exams, as they do not wish to go home to a scolding from their parents.
Instead of berating your child for getting a bad result, focus instead on how and where they can improve. That way, tests don’t become as scary anymore, as they serve as a check on how your child has progressed.
Parents need to help their children focus on the process of learning. If children understand how to learn, they will pick up skills easily and improve their knowledge.
You know your child best
Some parents, when they read this, will probably exclaim, “oh, but you don’t know my child!” That is true. You know your child the best. All we are saying is that your choices be tempered with realistic expectations.
At the end of the day, It’s all about moderating expectations so that you don’t end up alienating your child.
In their need to please you, some children may not admit that they cannot achieve what you set out for them. Be a cheerleader as well as a discipline master.
In this new year, be more forgiving to yourself and your children as well.
The past year has been challenging, and we are uncertain about what’s to come. Therefore, it is important to be there for your child, understand their abilities, and not forget about their needs in 2022 and beyond.
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