You’ll soon be holding your child’s report book in your hands. But what would your parental report card reflect about your progress as a parent so far?

The year-end exams are finally over and I’m on tenterhooks awaiting the moment of truth: How did I fare? Yes my son revised and sat for the exams, but I coached him. So in some ways, his report card is also a reflection of my effectiveness as his tutor. Did I prepare him well enough? Is he average or among the top few in class? Has he met my secret expectations?


My line of questioning was stopped short by the chilling news that an 11-year old boy had committed suicide, possibly as a result of parental pressure and exam stress. That struck uncomfortably close to home. My son is just two years younger, and studying in the same pressure-cooker education system as that boy.

Although I had always thought that I have adopted a moderate and reasonable approach towards my son’s studies, it may be time to re-evaluate my own performance using a different set of criteria. Have my actions have helped my son to cope in this stressful education system? Or has my behaviour added to his pressure — because it would be too late to kneel in apology to a body at the foot of the blocks and ask what had gone wrong by then.

(See also: 7 Ways for Kids to Combat Exam Stress)

Key Performance Indicators

rubiks cube

Instead of merely scrutinising my son’s results and comparing it against the bell curve for his class, I am applying the following rubrics to see how I have fared:

Before the exam:

1) How did I respond when my child dragged his feet to start revision?

A procrastinating child can lead to an exasperated parent. While I had previously perceived avoidance as laziness or bad work attitude, this article has helped me to realise that there may be deeper underlying reasons for our children’s procrastination.

Rather than act out of frustration, I could ask:

• Is my child avoiding work because of fear of a subject that he is weak in? How can I help him to gain confidence and overcome his mental block in this subject?
• Is my child crying out for more downtime as a result of too much homework? How can I help him to adjust his schedule to achieve a better work-play balance?
• If he has been genuinely lazy, how can I remind my child of his aspirations and motivate him to work towards them?

(See also: Teach Your Child to Self-Motivate)

2) Did I ensure that my child got adequate rest and play, or did I try to cram in one more topic “just in case”?

lego

It is easy to create a revision schedule but stressful to keep to it. Neat plans can be derailed by a sudden influx of homework or my child’s need to take a longer time to learn a topic. Have I been flexibile and willing to drop topics in the revision schedule so that my child’s rest and play time are not compromised? Or did I cut back on his sleep and leisure time just to squeeze in that missed topic, telling him to “bear with it for just these two weeks?”

While my insecurity tells me to complete revision no matter what, I am learning that down time is as important (if not more so) than revision time, because a child needs to unwind. A build up of stress is unhealthy for the child’s mental and emotional wellbeing. It can inhibit his mental capacity and his ability to absorb and understand his work (see this article).

(See also: Top 20 Brain Foods for Kids)

3) Have I helped my child to buffer exam stress or passed on my anxiety to him instead?

Experts caution that parental stress rubs off on children. While my son and I are both keenly aware that the weightage, and consequently, stakes of a year-end exam are higher, have I reined in my own anxiety and helped him to put things into perspective? Have I been guilty of hounding him to memorise every word on his Chinese spelling list? Or have I helped him to understand that success in life does not rest solely on the results of one exam? Have I been alert to stress symptoms that my child may be exhibiting and taken steps to mitigate his stress?

Upon receiving the exam results:

passed

1) What was my immediate response?

Did I praise my child for what he has achieved or did I immediately express frustration over marks lost and careless mistakes? Doing the latter before the former may unintentionally send the message that I have overlooked my child’s efforts, and that his best is not good enough for me. Did I look through his scripts before commenting on his grades? Have I taken into account the level of difficulty of the paper and given room for mistakes made under exam pressure? Have I been fair in my appraisal of him?

2) Did I measure my child’s performance by the effort that he had put in, or did I compare him with his peers?

While the amount of effort put into exam preparations is within my son’s control, his performance relative to his peers is not. I have therefore encouraged him to adopt the mindset of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps who said, “I never aimed to be the best athlete ever. I always aimed to be the best athlete I could be”. Another piece of advice (also from Phelps) to remember is that “competing with others is a sure shot recipe to create stress for yourself, and also to put a limit to your potential.”

3) Have I helped my child to analyse his paper and reflect on areas where he can improve?

If a child has fallen short of expectations, it is more helpful to do a post-mortem rather than to berate him. Have I helped my child to evaluate where he had lost marks? Was it due to a lack of revision, a weak understanding of a concept or a poor answering technique? How can he avoid making similar mistakes in future exams?

(See also: Teach your Child to Learn Independently)

4) Does my child know that he is loved regardless of his results?

Mother and son

I believe that for a child to develop a healthy self-esteem, he needs the assurance that he is loved unconditionally for who he is and not what he can achieve. Have I demonstrated that I value my son much more than any of his achievements?

5) Have I demonstrated to my child that a good character is more important than good grades?

Did I zoom in too quickly on the exam results in the report book, glossing over the teacher’s comments? It would be good to consciously affirm my child for the positive character traits that the teacher had praised him for, and show him that I value a good character above good grades.

(See also: 5 Things You Can Do to Help Your Child Succeed)

Scoring Straight ‘A’s

motivation

Instead of merely aiming for straight As in the exams, Ms Joanna Koh-Hoe, CEO of Focus on the Family, encourages parents to “also focus on the five As of their emotional needs”, by accepting them unconditionally, affirming them, giving them attention and affection, and teaching them accountability in their actions. In so doing, we can take care of their emotional and psychological well-being and “give them a better future”.

Looking back, my mid-year report card reflects room for improvement. I hope that I will fare better in the coming year-end appraisal and score straight ‘A’s in meeting my son’s emotional needs. How about you? What will your score be like?

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