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The phrase “survival of the fittest”, coined by Victorian intellectual Herbert Spencer, hits home in today’s competitive world. Everyone feels pressure to be stronger, smarter, and richer. Every parent wants the best for their child so it’s hardly surprising that they expect more from them. Cue a hectic schedule packed with tuition classes and supplementary lessons burdening an already stressed out child.
Some blame Singapore’s education system for placing high demands on our children. Madam Nursafarena, whose son is in primary school, points out that standards today are much higher than in the past. “Primary 4 standards are that of Primary 6’s. But it’s inevitable, as we’re striving to nurture an intelligent generation for a better tomorrow,” she says.
However, it’s hard to play the blame game when there are very real reasons why children feel a crushing need to excel and, as a result, fear failure. As this article explains, high expectations from both parents and students, as well as a competitive school environment are contributing factors.
Failure is unavoidable and it is important for youngsters to experience it in order to grow and learn. However, there’s a limit to how much pressure each individual can handle. When anxieties threaten to overwhelm, a child can resort to extreme measures to cope. These include self-mutilation, and surprisingly, reaching for food. Some students even turn to suicide because they fear they have ‘failed’ their parents.
Aidil Ali, owner and Principal Tutor at ZYD Math & Science Academy, explains that failure in school should not be seen as the end. “There is always a second chance. I was a repeat GCE ‘A’ Level student. That didn’t deter me from trying again,” he says
The bright side
Dr. Lim Boon Leng, psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness, suggests focusing on the process of working hard instead of the results. “This emphasises the value of hard work and perseverance, and lessens anxiety as the child knows that he has tried his best.”
Dr. Lim also encourages parents to explore their child’s life goals and set long-term targets together. “It’s important to understand that there are many ways to achieve these goals. With this realisation, the thought of failing an exam will not be as daunting in the bigger picture.”
Other ways to help your child deal with setbacks include teaching him resilience by being a good role model, as well as encouraging him to try new things, as shared in this article. Ultimately, family or parental support is a key factor in helping a child cope with stress, disappointment, and failure, which are an inevitable part of his academic journey.
Henry Ford once said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again. This time, more intelligently.” When your child falls, encourage him to get back up on his feet and try again.