Last Friday (Feb 22), CHC pastor Jeremy Choy, together with Judith Alagirisamy of Focus on the Family, spoke to MediaCorp’s 938NOW about how parents can help their children manage school stress.
Schoolchildren in Singapore face a tremendous amount of stress given high academic expectations. In an international study in 2017, Singapore students aged 15 to 17 were polled to experience much higher levels of stress than their global peers: 86 percent of the Singapore sample of nearly 6,000 students expressed worry about poor grades at school compared to 66 per cent of students across all the other countries in the study.
While much of the stress experienced depends on the individual child, and while the Ministry of Education is making concerted efforts to reduce stress at school, there are powerful steps that parents can take to help their children too.
Last Friday, City Harvest Church pastor and Family Life Trainer Jeremy Choy went on radio with Focus on the Family’s head of research and development, Judith Alagirisamy to give advice on how parents can make a difference.
938NOW radio host Susan Ng opened the show by asking her guests the one thing they have learned from the families they have worked in relation to school stress.
Ms Alagirisamy replied, “School does not need to be a difficult place for children and can be pleasant and enjoyable. It can be a place where both parents and children can look back and see how it has helped them build a stronger family unit.”
Ms Alagirisamy introduced the concept of the 4A’s: anticipating changes, addressing a child’s stress, acquiring new habits or mindsets, and acting the school term together.
She first highlighted that parents must learn how to anticipate the changes that their children face.
“We need to recognize that children today face a lot of change in school,” she said, “whether it’s changing schools, different teachers and classmates, children are contending with changes on a daily basis.”
Pastor Jeremy added that “parents need to be intentionally involved so they don’t become dismissive of these changes. You have to go down [to the school] and understand the situation and personally get involved in helping these transitions.”
Ms Alagirisamy went on to cite a large study from Search Institute in the US, an organization that bridges research and practice to help young people become the best they can, saying that out of five dimensions that help a child, nurturing relationships help with developing healthy behaviours and cultivating a proper personality.
Questioned on the differences between how parents and children handle stress, Pastor Jeremy explained, “The way children handle stress is similar to adults in the way that we need to get it out of us.”
He shared how he solved his son’s separation anxiety on the first day of school by meeting with his son’s teacher and by walking with him around the school grounds, experiencing the school together with him.
The second A is to address the child’s stress. Ms Alagirisamy said that it helps to talk to our children months before they start their classes so that parents can find out about and share their expectations, hopes and fears and empathise with their children’s feelings.
Ms Alagirisamy acknowledged that some parents may be reluctant to do this, fearing that it may open up a “can of worms”, but “as parents, we are our child’s biggest cheerleaders and no one else is going to do that better. Half the time, the child is not looking for an answer from you—he just wants to be heard.”
Pastor Jeremy added, “It also helps us to listen to what is really going on in their lives. By talking about it, it lifts their burden.”
Ms Alagirisamy went on to the third A: acquiring new habits and mindsets. “Adults need to recognize that stress does not go away, and is something we all have to deal with on a day to day basis. Children, like adults, need to learn to manage this stress, and routines are a great way to do this. By adding structures and routines to a child’s schedule, it can help reduce their anxiety as they can anticipate what is going to happen next.”
Ms Alagirisamy and Pastor Jeremy went on to outline five practical routines for a child:
- Draw up a revision timetable with your child.
- Schedule downtime in your child’s routines so they have something to look forward to.
- Create family routines where the parents spend quality time with their children.
- Spend 15 to 20 minutes a day talking to your children just before they go to sleep.
- Adjust your children’s bedtime to adapt to the changes in their school day.
What about children who don’t respond well to routines? Ms Alagirisamy said, “You need to look at mindset changes and how to get your child to have that mindset of overcoming challenges. We also have to remember that values are caught more than they are taught. So you can talk to a kid and half the time they are not listening, but they watch everything we do. And they watch how we deal with stress.”
Supporting this point, Pastor Jeremy said, “We have to be very aware of what we do at home. We really need to show them things that will help them socialize, like learning to take turns, speaking politely, being helpful, being considerate, and listening.”
In closing, both guests were asked what one piece of advice they would give to parents. Pastor Jeremy replied, “Be consistent and be involved with your children so they know that you are always there for them.”
Ms Alagirisamy responded, saying, “If your child is still dealing with issues of anxiety, then seek professional help. A professional counselor can offer you strategies that can help your whole family through a challenging time.”