More primary-school children are showing signs of stress… What can we do?

It’s worrying when you read headlines about a child breaking down, or even worse, taking their own life from the stress they go through. But what can we do to help our children through it?

Daniel Koh, Insights Mind Centre psychologist, talked to SmartParents about school children and stress. “Firstly, most parents need to be aware of their child’s baseline, so as to notice any changes,” he said.

Basically, this means that as your child grows up, you need to keep your lines of communication with them as open as you can (if you need tips, go here).

So what are you watching out for? Koh lists possible changes, such as your once-confident child losing their resilience and becoming hopeless or helpless, negative, un-motivated and unwilling to try new things.

He says, “Another likely symptom to watch for is when your child becomes over-sensitive to others and their surroundings. Angry outbursts when the child is unable to cope.”

He says that stressed children might start to behave in ways that seem completely opposite to the way they behaved before; and mood swings or crying fits may be more common.

They are also likely to start avoiding other people, refusing to talk. There might be increased insomnia and nightmares, weight loss or even bedwetting and unexplained injuries.

“And, of course, their studies would suffer,” says Koh. He listed poorer concentration, weaker memory and taking a longer time or more effort to do their school work. These lead to a vicious cycle as they affect the children’s ability to study, leading to more stress and worse results.

Here are ways to help your kids...

1) Be realistic

Effective school-work can only be achieved if the child has a positive mindset, a feeling of well-being and confidence. “Balance work with rest and relaxation as well as positive with negative comments,” suggests Koh.

2) Look at your child’s abilities

It’s not about your wishes about your child’s future, think of what your child needs and wants — not just your dreams. Know your child's limits and respect them.

3) Love your child

Comfort and reassure them. Show them unconditional love and care. Don’t let your only means of communication turn into scolding and nagging. Try to spend relaxing family time with them so your child knows that they are important — not their results.

4) Consider short vs long term

Koh says, “Parents always think of the need to study hard and get good results. It is this sort of pressure that can break a child. The long-term pressure you put on them is not helping them regain their confidence.”

Parents need to also watch out for accumlated stress from mini-tests, projects and so on.

5) Listen to your child

Says Koh, “You can show that you care enough to do [this school journey] together with your child.” It will also help you know how much is enough —meaning enrichment and extra classes; don’t just push your child into classes, so that you can boast to your friends about “your child doing computer coding/ballet/soccer!”

6) Focus on fun and interest

When you child finds learning to be fun and interesting and not a daily drudge, they will remember that rather than the pressure. And it would be in line with recent MOE stories about the limitations of exam-based schooling…

Photo: iStock

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