By Vivienne Scott
Singapore is home to world-class schooling, administered in both local and international schools, and expectations on pupils can be high. Invariably, there will be challenges and obstacles during their educational career, and these will require tapping into their resolve. In today’s world, teaching your child the following skills may be a priceless gift in enabling them to overcome evermore common mental health problems or tough times in their future.
- Develop a growth mindset. Research shows that mastery learners, who are motivated by gaining new knowledge or developing a skill for enjoyment, are happier and less affected by setbacks than those who are focused on gaining recognition for credit or certification. Furthermore, there is a far higher dropout rate among university students who have developed perfectionist attitudes towards gaining top grades when they find themselves to no longer be top of their class in their chosen subject.
- It’s OK to make mistakes. Mistakes are part of the learning process and teach the fine tuning or problem-solving skills needed to make progress. Allowing children to face reasonable, natural consequences teaches responsibility, independence and perseverance. You will not always be there to solve problems on their behalf.
- Face fears; don’t avoid them. It is a natural reaction to want to rescue children from situations that worry them, but this only teaches helplessness. A moderate amount of stress has actually been shown to be good for focus and the development of coping strategies. The sense of relief and success gained from overcoming and working through stressful situations also increases confidence and self-esteem.
- Stop comparing yourself with others. Too often we compare ourselves to others whose situation, past or future are not relevant to our own. This only serves to make personal success less important or valid. Encourage children to be reflective and to measure their own progress based on where they have come from.
- Set realistic goals. True achievement doesn’t come easily but it shouldn’t be overwhelming either. It is important for the development of self-esteem that children feel challenged and stretched. Encourage children to have a go and then to go back and do it again better, faster, or more accurately. Stretch their goals to enable them to realize their full potential instead of allowing them to miss out the tough stuff, or skip the part they find challenging.
- Practice emotional regulation skills. All feelings are allowed but not all behaviors are. Children must learn from a young age how to express difficult feelings, such as anger, appropriately. Deep breathing, muscle relaxation, positive self-talk and mindfulness are vital skills that should be practiced and modeled daily. Like any skill, practicing these strategies when they are not needed, improves their effectiveness and automaticity when they are.
- Be assertive, not passive or aggressive. Children who can express themselves calmly and fairly are less vulnerable, more confident and garner friendships more easily. It is important that children know the difference between being assertive, passive or aggressive to enable them to stick up for themselves, say no and avoid conflict.
- Develop a moral compass. Values such as honestly, fairness and compassion can be taught before children reach school age if we role model consistently. Innocent excuses and fibbing are confusing to young children who cannot distinguish from bigger lies that might ultimately compromise their safety. By openly discussing your own feelings with children, they will not only learn language to express themselves, but also gain opportunity to problem solve in a way that makes everyone happy. By rewording conversations to discuss what ‘we’ can do, rather than what ‘you’ can do to fix things, this ensures children feel supported and not blamed or isolated.
- Effort far outweighs attainment. Participation should ultimately be for enjoyment and personal progress. Children who receive praise for effort and positive attitude are happier than those who are recognized for their attainment. Competition should be healthy and fun when children can encourage and support one another. Otherwise friends may become opponents who are seen as intimidating or threatening which leads to negative emotions such as envy, hostility or resentment.
- Take responsibility. There is no such thing as perfection and we all get it wrong sometimes. Teach children to be reflective on where they could do better next time. Don’t blame others and don’t be expectant. We can never know what someone else is dealing with so we can only take responsibility for our own behavior and the things we can change.