You Ask, We Answer! (Part 2)

September 15, 2021

In this instalment of Parent FAQs, we’re honoured to share some insights from Mdm Nafisah, who was a panelist at our workshop on 28 August!

Click here to read our first blog post of parent FAQs, and feel free to share this article with a friend or family member who could use some encouragement.

Mdm Nafisah Md. Ma’mun Suheimi is a mother of 2 young adults and an experienced educator of 29 years, with certification in NLP, EQ, Time Line Therapy, Behavioural Coaching, and Parent Coaching. She is the Principal of Madrasah Al-Ma’arif Al-Islamiah, and has served on advisory boards in MOE and at Tampines Primary School.

My child doesn’t know how to apply concepts learned in school. I want to help them, but the teachers say it’s impossible because these concepts were taught throughout the years. What should I do?

I’m sorry to hear that your child’s teacher was dismissive of your desire to help! It sounds like you’re trying your best to support your child, but you might be feeling frustrated or helpless. We’ll break down this answer into 3 parts: 

Part 1: Building up their self-esteem 

Take a moment to step into your child’s shoes... You feel frustrated when you get “easy” questions wrong, because you can’t remember the concepts behind them. You feel self-conscious because your classmates have no problems with this. You feel dumb and hopeless when your teacher threatens to “send you back to P3 to re-learn everything”...

Not knowing how to apply concepts may affect your child’s grades, but it likely also affects their self-esteem. If they’ve been struggling in school for many years, their self-confidence might be suffering, which leads to behaviours of “giving up” or “seeming unmotivated”. 

The good news is: it’s not too late for you to build their self-esteem back up! Here are some tips: 

Show unconditional belief in them, especially when they get stuck.

Praise them for their effort, not their outcomes.

Help them focus on taking each next step, not only the final goal.

Let them know it’s all going to be okay.

Part 2: Knowing the concepts

Concept mastery can be achieved through memory retention (for Science) and drill-and-practice (for Maths).It can help your child to know roughly which concepts there are for them to “choose from” each time they encounter a problem.

Think of a toolbox full of tools: they will only be useful to someone who knows what each item does. Help your child gain familiarity with what each concept is, before helping them take the next step towards applying it.

Part 3: Applying the concepts

My child used to be a high scorer, but now that they are older, they are not doing as well as they expect/would like. My child is stressing themselves out because of this. How can I support them?

As children grow older, it is expected for the schoolwork to be more challenging with questions that require higher order thinking skills, compared to more literal questions at lower level. Therefore, it is not uncommon for students to find their marks or results to experience a slight dip in the process. 

It is good to have a conversation with your child in setting more realistic and achievable goals. This will help them manage their expectations, and to gain a sense of ownership over what targets they set for themselves!

As a parent, you can direct the conversation to reflect on areas that your child is confident in, as well as areas they find challenging. Identifying specific areas increases their sense of agency, because the path forward is clearer when you know exactly what you would like to improve on! 

In addition, we suggest that you start a conversation with your child about what being a “high scorer” means to them. Children who grow up scoring well usually tie their exam results/ “intelligence” to their sense of identity, and the fact that your child is not scoring as well as they normally do might be affecting their sense of self-worth. Or they might be worried about “not matching up to their friends”, who likely are also high scorers. Regardless of the specific reason, it’d be best to remind your child that they are good enough, regardless of their exam results.

How can I manage my child who does their work slowly? I want them to be more efficient.

Ahh… daydreaming! It seems like the enemy of so many parents and teachers today! To start with, try your best to put aside your personal fears or biases before you talk to your child. If you have thoughts such as “Slow means lazy” or “Time is of the essence” pressuring you at the back of your mind, you’re less likely to truly hear what your child is saying.

Next, try to understand what factors affect the pace of your child’s work. There are children who take a bit longer than other kids to make sense of information that is coming into their world. Frequently, the cause for slower working or processing is either auditory or visual obstacles (eg. distractions within the environment – noisy siblings, catching sight of their handphone, etc).

Instead of negatively asking your child “Why can’t you do this faster?”, change your question to be positive and invitational: “What obstacles can I help you remove, to enable you to focus and work faster?” 

Understanding the issue will help you in determining the type of adjustments to be made. You can help your child to cultivate a habit of writing to-do lists, prioritising what is required and what isn’t! This places emphasis on planning & organisation, transferring more ownership to your child – they will feel confident about managing their goals and figuring out how much time is needed for a certain task.

My child usually closes the door to their room. They are independent in managing their studying and relaxation, but I still feel bothered. It’s hard for me to trust that they are studying, and I don’t know what support they want from me! What do I do?

You may want to have a conversation with your child and let them know that you are bothered by the ‘door-closing’ and explain why you feel that way. It is good to share the fact that you would want to provide support but with them closing the door, you’re not able to do so. To do this, use an “I-statement” to describe your personal feelings or thoughts. Avoid “You-statements”, which blame, accuse, or judge your child for what they have done.

At the same time, do ask them for their side of the story and listen to their reasons. When they give you a reason, avoid the tendency to counter it (“But why can’t you do that with the door open?”) If you enter a conversation with the intention of changing their mind, it’s a debate, not a dialogue! 

Once both sides have come to an understanding of how the other feels about it, you can come up with a workable option that both will be happy with. For example: your child shares that they need a quiet environment to study without being disturbed. Meanwhile, you want to be able to see them in the room to provide support when they need it. Thus, maybe your child can leave the door slightly ajar while they work, so you can see them without being intrusive. You and your child can have a “homework checkpoint” at a designated time each day, when they update you on their progress or ask you for help. Outside of that time, you won’t continuously ask them about their work or barge into their room – this will help them feel in control, yet supported! 

My children (who have learning needs and do not do well in school) are not concerned about results. How can I help them cope? I don’t want their self-esteem to suffer because of their grades.

First of all, we affirm you for building your children up! Having a parent who is conscious about differentiating grades from personal worth is already a strong first step in protecting your children’s self-esteem.

For children with learning differences (or learning needs), it is important for them to see the value of process and effort. A small progress or improvement made needs to be celebrated - no matter how small it may be – as it is still an accomplishment on their part. 

The move towards a growth mindset, where effort and progress are applauded, will support the child in experiencing a positive self-esteem. This growth mindset will help them cope in a challenging environment and thrive in any situation. So, let’s support their journey, and allow them to enjoy the learning process at their own pace and own time!

Here are 2 great videos about the “growth mindset”:

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