All stressed out over P1 kid's term tests

ALL WORK AND NO PLAY: Striking a balance between leaving a child alone to learn at his own pace, and stepping in to make sure he is not neglecting the basics in school, is harder than parents think.


    Oct 14, 2013

    All stressed out over P1 kid's term tests

    LAST week, the Supportive Spouse and I had a heated argument - over schoolwork.

    Specifically, the amount of revision that our elder son, seven, should do.

    As the Primary 1 kid's term tests were coming up, the SS mapped out a revision schedule for him.

    For days, I would hear Papa instructing the boy to go through his English and Maths textbooks. Assessment books were purchased and done. Mistakes were reviewed.

    When I suggested doing something fun at home with the firstborn, the SS would remind me that the boy's maths/English/ health-education tests were coming up, and that there was much to be revised.

    On days that work-from-home Tiger Dad had to leave the house for business appointments, he would SMS me about our son's studies: "He has a listening-comprehension test tomorrow, can you go through with him?"

    I sifted through the materials in the child's school folder and looked cluelessly at the listening-comprehension worksheets. They comprised columns of pictures, some marked with ticks, others with crosses. The correct answer depended entirely on what the teacher verbally asked. I had no idea how and what to go through with the kid.

    A few hours later, when Tiger Dad came home, I threw up my hands and cried: "Aiyoh, listening comprehension, just go there and listen, lah!"

    Things came to a head when I walked into the boy's room to find him leafing through a picture book on the floor, procrastinating on his work. Somehow, the boy had got the idea that his dad was going to make him do more and more work if he got any of the maths questions wrong - "I'll never be done," he said, sulking.

    I asked if I could have a word in private with the SS. I had jumped to the conclusion that he was stressing our son out with work, and that the boy was paralysed with anxiety and might eventually refuse to study any more. "Stop stressing him - and me!" I said.

    That did not go down well. The man tried to defend himself, reasonably, saying that he was not overloading the boy. The purpose of setting him workbooks to do was to get him into the habit of checking his work and minimising careless mistakes, explained the dad.

    I accused him of letting Singapore's pressure-cooker system get to him, and of being overly concerned with performance and grades. Things degenerated into irrational insults (from me), banshee screaming (me) and tears (me, again).

    When we first became parents, the SS and I had agreed that we were not going to be kiasu folks who made their offspring have tuition every day for every subject, and rob them of their childhood. As long as they enjoyed learning, and absorbed information from the world around them with curiosity and discernment, that was enough for us.

    But seven years on, we are finding that striking a balance between leaving our child alone to learn at his own pace, and stepping in to make sure he is not neglecting the basics in school, is harder than we thought. In principle, my husband and I are on the same page; in execution, we couldn't be more extreme.

    By midnight, the SS and I had made up. We agreed that - for maximum efficiency - we would always pay full attention to the boy when he was revising, instead of asking him to look at his books or do assessment books on his own. Each revision session had a set and finite duration (not more than an hour), and once we were through, the boy got to unwind for another set period of time.

    In a way, the episode was also a revision for us - on how to work through the minefields of parenting, keep the lines of communication open, and never forget that we are both motivated by love.