What’s The Problem?

These five school-related issues happen more often than you think. Nip them in the bud with these expert strategies.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

These five school-related issues happen more often than you think. Nip them in the bud with these expert strategies. 

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PROBLEM 1 If your child is constantly comparing himself with others

“Matt has an iPad. Can I have one too?” Sounds familiar? Making social comparisons is a natural part of life and it is how we build our self-identity, starting from a young age.

However, Desiree Wee, a clinical psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health, says children have a hard time distinguishing between needs and wants. “They may think they absolutely have to have what their friends have or they will not be valued in society,” she explains. “They may feel sad, angry or even lonely when they do not seem to live up to society’s standards.”

What you can do Desiree suggests acknowledging your child’s feelings. For example, say: “I know you would love to have that too” or “iPads are fun and it’s sad when your friend has one and you don’t”.

Avoid brushing off or ignoring your child’s requests or calling him “greedy” or “spoilt”. This can give him the idea that his needs are not important to you or that he cannot turn to you for support, Desiree adds.

Teach children that they do not need to have or do everything their friends do. Highlight values and character over material goods or achievements.

Model how to be happy with what you have. You can say: “It’s frustrating when you can’t have an iPad. But you know what? We have a television to watch movies together and I really love our time together.”

PROBLEM 2 If your kid is a bully

Children bully for various reasons, says Desiree. “Research has found that children who bully may have poor academic performance and risk developing depression,” she explains. “In the long run, aggressive behaviour puts them at risk of poor pro-social skills, smoking and alcohol use, and delinquency.”

What you can do Hearing that your child is bullying other children can be upsetting or embarrassing, but it’s important to remain calm. He has difficulty controlling his aggression and needs to see you model good ways of handling conflicts.

Desiree advises: “Talk to your child and check if he bullied because he felt sad, angry, lonely or insecure due to major changes at home or at school.”

Help your child recognise his anger signals, and tell him to stop and walk away when he feels angry. Seek help from the school counsellor if you need support in teaching your child anger management strategies.

It’s also a good idea to reduce his exposure to violent shows, cartoons and games. And you can go to websites such as www.bullyfree.sg, which has activities and videos that parents can use to discuss bullying with their children.

PROBLEM 3 If he is being bullied

Victims of bullying tend to be those who appear as if they are unable to protect themselves, and are therefore easily picked on. Donus Loh, psychologist and director of W3ave Singapore, says: “They could be introverts, passive when it comes to conflict and poorer in social skills compared to their peers.

“Over time, victims may think of themselves as weak and helpless, and this can lead to very low self-esteem and depression.”

Senior clinical psychologist at Promises Healthcare Sanveen Kang-Sadhnani adds: “Some other characteristics of victims may include being good at something and gaining positive attention for it, being intelligent, determined and creative, or having few or no friends.”

What you can do You can begin by asking your child if he understands what bullying means, as most children tend to think that only physical aggression constitutes bullying, Donus explains.

“Parents can educate their kids that bullying can take psychological and emotional forms as well, such as namecalling, threats and constant teasing,” he adds.

Be patient with your child if they’re a victim of bullying. “It may take a while for them to open up and talk about their feelings and experiences,” says Donus.

Should you decide to speak to his school, document all incidents with dates before you do so. “Request that the school share its anti-bullying policy and explore how you can support its efforts when working with your child. Involve your child in the meeting,” Sanveen advises.

PROBLEM 4 If your kid cheats in tests or exams

It is important to get to the root of the issue. “Find out why your child cheated. It may be an indication that he feels pressure to do well academically or to conform to his group of friends,” says Desiree.

What you can do Explain the consequences of his actions and how cheating affects other students who have tried their best in exams and the teachers who have put in effort to draw up the exam questions.

Help your kid avoid future temptations to cheat, and develop his ability to face peer pressure. Tell him: “Cheating is not worth it even if all your friends do it.”

Promote values over academic achievements – praise and reward your child for being honest and courageous when he stands up to peer pressure.

PROBLEM 5 If your child gets bad grades

“The most common reaction from parents when their child comes home with bad grades is to express negative comments, such as ‘careless’, ‘lazy’, ‘stupid’ and so on,” Donus says. “Some parents think this will motivate their kids, although I feel that it greatly demotivates a child and over time, may even cause the child to link poor grades with a negative character.”

What you can do Remind your kid about his positive characteristics as this can boost his ability to motivate himself.

You should also ask your child how he feels about his academic results. Be respectful of what is shared – that means, do not judge too quickly until you have sufficient information, Donus says.