Stress Faced By Students and
Methods to Cope With It
Life as a Singaporean student is often seen more as an insurmountable task rather than an enriching journey where learning takes centre stage. Students at every level from preschool, primary school, secondary school and tertiary education face stress when it comes to education and performing well.
Children are finding that they have struggles when transitioning from primary school and eventually to secondary school. What are the factors contributing to these struggles faced by students?
- Study Stress
Finding the balance between the joy of learning and the rigour of education is a tough ask. Often children are fetched from school and shuttled off to classes. This results in a long day in school, tons of homework and hours spent in tuition classes. This could impact their mental wellbeing negatively.
- Exam Stress
Some students feel that examinations are all their capabilities are based upon. It is the yardstick which they are measured by. It decides which schools they are able to enrol in and often projects their career trajectory which is a monumental sized task for a 12-year-old to undertake. By focusing solely on grades, a child’s self-worth becomes defined by how well they do in examinations.
- Competition to Get Into "Top Secondary Schools"
Children and parents may foster an unhealthy competition when talking about which secondary schools to apply for. This competition would seem deeply rooted within our Singaporean culture. Only schools from the upper echelons would be deemed worthy and only a near perfect set of scores will guarantee a place. However, what this does is it invalidates all other achievements such as good social skills and excelling in Co-curricular activities.
- Shared Environment
Children also have to deal with pressures from their shared environments with those around them. Children have to cope with issues with friends and various forms of bullying. Children with a low resilience and low self-esteem can have trouble coping with such added pressures. This in turn creates a domino effect, with some developing social and emotional issues such as keeping to themselves, severe anxiety, trouble falling asleep and developmental issues.
- Afraid of Disappointing Parents
As exams have a profound impact on the lives of our children, it is common to hear of children with days packed with tuition and classes. Parents may even pull children out of their CCA’s and use the time spent on further tuition. As a result, time after school is used for revision and very little opportunity is afforded to children to develop other skills. This in turn leads to children having to sacrifice their time to meet their parents’ expectations as not doing so would lead to disappointment.
However, children are not the only ones who experience stress. Parents who have school going kids face pressures which stem from various contributors. What are the contributors?
- Cultural Factors
Cultural factors affect how parents view children’s skills in their various subjects. Some parents might attribute their child’s abilities to their innate abilities and the environmental factors in school. On the flip side, some parents believe that success in various subjects are attributed to the amount of effort, practice and time spent on the subject. They would expose their children to a structured and formal modal of learning earlier.
- Emphasis Placed on Exam Grades
While acknowledging that grades hold a certain amount of importance in a child’s life, we must not forget that each child is unique and has their own strengths and weaknesses. The emphasis placed on IQ and EQ needs to be balanced. It is possible to live a good and comfortable life with or without getting top marks. By focusing and developing our child’s strengths, we are equipping them with skills to unlock opportunities and possibilities. Thus, we should not be basing a child’s ability solely on their academics.
- Having Realistic and Attainable Expectations
Parents have expectations and goals that they would like their children to meet as they journey through life. I myself have partaken in such thinking where my personal goals supersede the realistic goals that my child could achieve. Experiencing first hand how those minute failures negatively affected my child, I knew I had to change my perspective. A step back to refine my objectives was much needed to align my goals with those needed for the benefit of my child.
When done responsibly, goal setting and plans to meet attainable goals are advantageous to guide and support a child. However, when done negatively, it could result in the child facing constant stress and feeling like a failure. This could lead to an ingrained feeling of helplessness. As such, we as parents have the responsibility of ascertaining if a goal is realistic for our children.
Some might argue that facing stressors is part and parcel of school and a precursor to life in general. However, there have to be measures and procedures introduced to ensure that the stress levels don’t fall into unhealthy ranges. Furthermore, education should encompass techniques and skills to tackle and reduce this stress.
What are some activities/routines to regularly keep abreast of our child’s mental wellbeing and to help them cope with stress?
- Structured Physical Activities
Physical activities help to reduce and equalize the body’s stress response hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. Physical activities also help to boost the production of neurotransmitters, endorphins, which are responsible for the feeling of wellbeing. The brain has neurons connected to all parts of the body. Thus, by negating the effects from stress and increasing the "feel good factors", individuals will be capable of managing mental and emotional state.
- Regular Feedback Sessions. Not Fact-finding Missions But Genuine Conversations
Parents are main players within the microsystem of children. They offer support, understanding and alternate views on life experiences. Parents are also able to gauge if a situation requires their intervention. By being available and starting conversations with our children, they will know that we are genuinely interested in what is going on in their lives and we can offer support and guidance in times of need. We can also allow our children to try to solve low-level problems which will help them build up their resilience. This resiliency will also help them mediate negative thinking patterns.
- Change of Mindset That Grades Do Not Define Everything
Parents want to ensure that their children are well positioned to take advantage of any opportunities that come their children’s way. By pushing their children towards constant tuitions and classes, parents want to ensure success. However, by focusing on grades we restrict their learning to academics. The emphasis on creative thinking, novel problem solving and ability to take risks is dampened. This leads to a negative school experience which in turn could lead to a lack of motivation for learning as well as an increase in stress and anxiety.
If we are able to shift our thinking patterns and the method used to assess if a child is competent, we would be helping them develop a healthier outlook towards their academics and learning. This would benefit the wellbeing of children and reduce the stress they face.
Educator at LoveKids / LK Academy
Bachelor of Arts Psychology and Neuroscience
Bachelor of Business Economic and Finance