You Ask, We Answer! (Part 1)

September 10, 2021

Over the last 4 weeks, Bramble has been running workshops on the topic of “Preparing for PSLE: Managing your child’s stress”, in collaboration with the Youth Mental Well-Being Network (YMWB). 

Each workshop ends with a lively Q&A session, filled with so many excellent questions that we were inspired to turn them into resources for all parents! Every child, parent, and situation is unique, but we also hope to assure you that you are by no means on your own.

In this series of Frequently Asked Questions, we hope that you will gain new insights, practical tips, and some assurance that plenty of parents are in the same boat as you! 

My child is not stressed enough! They can’t be bothered about studying, they find it boring. 

It’s common for children to use generic phrases like “It’s boring” and “I just don’t like it” when they’re unsure or unable to articulate their feelings more clearly. It could be that your child uses “boring” to describe what is “challenging, tiring, time-consuming”. Their “boredom” could point towards a barrier that stands in their way!

The next time your child complains that homework or a subject is “boring”, follow their lead. Instead of changing the topic to the importance of perseverance or discipline, dig deeper into “boring”. Which topic of which subject, or which part of the studying experience makes your child feel “bored"? That will help you uncover the specific barrier your child is facing. 

When you know what their specific learning barrier is, then you can find alternatives to conquering it, or possibly try to remove it from their path. 

Of course, it’s also possible that your child truly just finds it “boring”. Even if this is the case, don’t fear! Just because something is “boring” now, doesn’t mean it is doomed to being dreadful forever. Here are some tips to make studying more interesting for your child: 

It might be awkward or difficult to start off, but these simple changes can help your child redefine their relationship with studying, to become something to look forward to.

I tried to get my child to do meditation/quiet time to manage their anxiety, but with no success. Any suggestions?

Learning and applying new strategies takes time! Two suggestions: 

Break down the new skill into smaller parts. 
  1. You could start with just 30 seconds of deep breaths, before building up to 1 minute, then 2… 
Accompany your child, or lead by demonstrating & role-modelling! 
  1. Kids do what you do, not what you say. Your kids are way more likely to take up a new practice if they see you doing it first, and if they’re able to try it out together with you. 
  2. Make this a family activity or an opportunity for quality bonding time.
  3. Your demonstration doesn’t have to be excessively or artificially “simple”: you can be honest with them about how you, too, struggle to clear your mind and stop thinking. It’s not easy for you to put your phone away either.
  4. If they give up or can’t make it to the end of the set time, it’s okay. Building new skills isn’t all-or-nothing, it’s step-by-step.
Ask them if there are other activities they prefer when it comes to managing anxiety, such as listening to music, walking in the park, or arts & crafts. 
  1. Partake in these activities together with them too! 
  2. They can try your “thing” (e.g. meditating), you can try their “thing” (e.g. building Lego) 

My son doesn’t want me to be involved in his schoolwork. The thing is, he does his best, but when his results come back, he fails. How can we encourage him to ask for help? 

Let’s celebrate the fact that your son is displaying some ownership over his schoolwork and the desire to be independent! Of course, as a parent, you’re worried that this so-called “independence” might be overly secretive. His studying process is totally opaque to you, so you feel helpless about how you can support him…

Start by encouraging him and affirming him for trying his best. 
  1. “I appreciate how you take initiative to study on your own, and that you want to take charge of your revision!”
  2. Next, use an “I-statement” to honestly and neutrally share how you feel 
  3. “I feel worried or helpless when I can’t support you. I’m wondering if there’s anything I can do to help?”
Assure him that you respect his boundaries, your intention is not to encroach on them
  1. “I can tell you don’t like someone looking over your shoulder while you work.”
  2. “The reason I want to help is not that I think you can’t do it by yourself. I trust you and I believe that you’re capable.”
Address the shame he may feel in asking for help, focus on the learning process
  1. “There’s nothing wrong with getting questions wrong and doing corrections. When I want to help you, it’s not because I want you to be perfect.”
  2. “If you ask for help, it’s not because you’re dumb and you failed. It’s part of your learning process.”
See where you can add on to his existing way of doing work, finding a balance between his freedom and his learning
  1. “Since you prefer to do your homework without being disturbed, I won’t burst into the room and ask you what you’re doing.”
  2. “Instead, let’s fix a time near the end of the day that we can go through difficult questions together, after you’ve gotten the chance to try them yourself.”
  3. “I promise I won’t rush into teaching you the right method. You can decide and let me know if you want a tiny hint or a bigger helping hand.”

How do we support our children while not raising a ‘Strawberry Generation’ child? When my kids step into the working world, bosses may not be so understanding about missed deadlines or feelings.

You’re totally right! One big picture goal that all parents share is wanting to prepare their kids for success in the future. You want to help your kids build confidence and independence.

Acknowledging your child’s stress, disappointment, or frustration is not the same as allowing any & all behaviour. Rather, addressing feelings is the first step to making a plan that can shape behaviour.

Remember the 3 Rs: Recognise signs of stress, explore Reasons, then Refine your plan. If we stopped at step 1 or 2, we might risk raising a “Strawberry Generation” child. But step 3 is where agency and empowerment comes in — after understanding their perspective, you’re now in a great position to refine your plan in a way that will work for them.

To support your child’s future success, your role as a parent is not only to prepare and instruct your kids. More importantly, it is to build your relationship with them! A strong parent-child relationship is a key positive predictor of a child’s mental health, self-esteem, and academic success! Mummy and Daddy can be their strongest supporters and sources of comfort.

My daughter seems to be picking on her brother, maybe because of PSLE stress. How do I improve their relationship? 

I’m sorry to hear that exam stress has been putting a strain on your kids’ relationship! It’s true that some of us become more irritable or moody when we’re under pressure, and it sounds like your daughter might be having a hard time expressing her feelings or coping with them.

Kudos to you for acknowledging that your daughter’s behaviour may be related to her PSLE stress. The fact that you recognised this as a sign already puts you on the right path to helping her manage her stress! Here’s what you can do… 

Begin a conversation with your daughter, stating your observations and guessing how she might be feeling
  1. “I noticed that when you’re feeling anxious about exams, you seem a bit more impatient or easily triggered with your brother.”
  2. “I’m worried: not only for your brother, but also for you! I want to help you deal with your stress.”
Explore reasons behind her stress
  1. “I wonder if there’s any subject that makes you feel stressed out?” 
  2. “When you’re studying or face a tough question, what’s going through your mind? Could you help me listen in on your thoughts?”
Assure and affirm her that stress is normal
  1. “I know that you’re not purposely being mean or impatient.” 
  2. “It’s normal to be stressed by PSLE! I feel nervous too when I think about it.”
  3. “I’m not blaming you or accusing you. I don’t think that you’re bad or wrong! I can tell that you’re under a lot of pressure and it’s difficult to handle your feelings!”
Brainstorm different things she can do to vent her feelings and cope with stress
  1. “If you’re fed up with your work or stuck on a question, you can take a break to get some fresh air!” 
  2. “You can even complain to Mummy. I won’t scold you, I will listen and try to understand you.”
  3. “Is there a particular time/place that your brother is annoying you? Let’s find something for him to do while you’re revising.”

All questions submitted during our workshops were anonymised for this blog post. Some of these questions have been edited for brevity or clarity.

A special thank you to Michael Chua from YWMB, who participated in our 28 August workshop and contributed his insights to the answers above!

If you found this post useful, feel free to share it with a friend or family member who might relate to it too. On top of our blog, we’ll also be updating our Instagram and Facebook regularly with these nuggets of wisdom! Follow us there for more. 

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