(49)My child doesn’t want me around – what do I do? – Image 1

Stock image: As our children transit from primary to secondary school, our parenting style also must go through a transition.

As our children transit from primary to secondary school, our parenting style also must go through a transition. Here are tips on how to keep up with the changes.

“Stop trying to tell me what to do, you don’t know anything about Secondary school!” While your child may not express themselves so strongly, the transition to secondary school is part of a larger change that every child will be experiencing.

While they are excited about making new friends and joining new CCAs, they may also fret over having to adapt to new routines, manage a heavier workload, and having to deal with growing pains.

For many parents, they may find that their way of managing the child in primary school might not work anymore as their child struggles with independence and adolescence, managing their feelings and fears, and having to juggle their time and schedules among school, friends and family.

How can parents help? Here are some takeaways from three speakers, who responded to questions posed by the audience at a transition seminar recently organised by the ministry.

Q: Some parents “let it go” during the school holidays. Their children get to do “whatever they want” – including the increased usage of digital devices – after a rigorously policed year of preparations for the PSLE. Is this a good idea?

Ans: Dr Yvonne Lek, Psychotherapist, PsyCare Consultants and parent of 2 

“A sudden burst of freedom and lack of structure may cause the child to either feel lost or overwhelmed. They may not know how to make use their time constructively, especially for those whose parents have been involved in planning their schedules at every step of the way.

“In today’s context, the child may not know how to “rein in” as necessary when they are given the liberty to access digital gadgets, for example, so there still needs to be some form of balance, order and consistency. The last thing you want is for them to get hooked during the holidays and find it hard to pull the plug when school reopens. It doesn’t help that they will be exposed to a new environment by then too – they’ll have more adapting to do.

“Rather, parents should continue to provide some form of guidance that’s sustainable all through secondary school. Akin to adjusting the sails of a boat, it’s a matter of calibrating the extent, degree and quality of support.”

Q: There are horror stories of children getting tangled up with new friendships and boy-girl-relationship woes, as well as those of tantrums about “hating the world” and “ignoring” their parents when adolescence hits. How can we prepare for that?

Ans: Dr Yvonne Lek, Psychotherapist, PsyCare Consultants and parent of 2

“As the child begins to individuate and develops their own network, friendship becomes a big component of their lives. They will face issues of exclusions, conflicts and misunderstandings et al. It is important for parents to help them prepare for the real world by equipping them with self-management and social-emotional skills through play and interaction.

“[Help them to] learn to ask good questions, have eye contact when you’re listening to them and be a good role model as the child learns by observing the adults’ behaviours. Take note that sometimes, when the child argues or complains, they may not be asking for solutions. This may actually present an opportunity to have meaningful conversations and gain insights into your child’s perspective and struggles.

“We often hear of teenagers responding to parents – if at all – with monosyllabic replies. I once had a focus group on this topic – you might be surprised by what the kids say. When asked why they don’t like to talk to their parents, they said:

‘My parents are too busy’;
‘They would say ‘wait’ or try to listen while on their phones’;
‘They can’t handle the truth’;
‘They don’t give relevant advice (wrong context)’;
‘They rush to complete my sentence’;
‘They just patronise us and whip out theories of yesteryear’ etc.

“If we could think a bit more about these responses, we would have half the battle won. By attuning to your child’s emotions and needs, we are able to relate to them and support them in in their struggles.”

Q: My kid has been posted to a secondary school sans her existing friends. She is unhappy and wants to ask for a transfer. Any thoughts?

Ans: Dr Lim Choon Guan, Psychiatrist, IMH and parent of 2

“This actually happened to me. I wanted to change school in my first week but the Principal said ‘no’. I went on and made friends, adjusted and am still thankful today that my request was not granted. Sometimes we need to give our children time to make adjustments, encourage them to persevere and not give up too early without trying. I learnt that in life, it’s sometimes not about making the right decision, but about making your decision right.”

Q: From four subjects in primary school, the kids now have to handle eight to nine in secondary school. It’s such a big jump in volume and scope. How can we help them?

Ans: Sanjay Patel, self-employed and parent of 2

“From my observation as a parent, the difference in the number of subjects may look intimidating but we should also look at the nature of the workload, and how it is designed and being paced by the teacher. For example, there is more teamwork, projects instead of individual academic demands (at the start) – I can see that efforts are being split up and shared among a group. The school is doing this to help the students adapt and manage progressively. I think it is important for parents to have regular conversations with the teachers to address such concerns and work together to support and develop the child holistically.”

Choy Wai Yin, Director, Guidance Branch, MOE and parent of 3

“I observe that parents are quite used to managing our kids’ work in primary school. In secondary school, we need to let them learn how to manage their work and schedules themselves. Don’t be unnecessarily alarmed if the kids forget their things or score poorly at the beginning. Let them get used to the school routines, and walk them through problems and difficult situations. Be there for them and provide guidance where necessary. This will help them build up their sense of responsibility and confidence gradually.”

Q: How do we strike a balance between over-helping and leaving the kids to their own devices? (No pun intended.)

Ans: Choy Wai Yin, Director, Guidance Branch, MOE and parent of 3

“As parents, we tend to still view our teens as children. We forget that they are growing up and need to develop the competency that allows them to solve problems at their level. When parents are anxious or over-prepare their kids, they may unknowingly pass their anxiety and fear to their kids. If we make decisions for them all the time, they will never learn how to be independent or worse, blame you for the outcomes. Sometimes, we just have to trust ourselves and the kids - let them figure things out, make adjustments, and go with the flow. But don’t wait till 2020 to start. Your transition starts now.”

Contributed by:
School Bag @ Ministry of Education