Commentary: Don't stress over your kids' education this circuit breaker. There are other ways they are learning
Parents may be anxious about their children falling behind, but it is good enough if they are even a little engaged in the daily routine of learning, says psychologist Dr Sanveen Kang.
SINGAPORE: There is a lot of information currently available online showing the high expectations people are setting for themselves during the circuit breaker.
This can be anywhere from working longer hours because the clarity between home and work is fading and feeling that they should come through the circuit breaker with new skills or goals.
I have seen many instances where people are learning a new language, coding or pushing themselves to complete fitness challenges.
While these are great ways to improve oneself during the circuit breaker and keep occupied, they can also represent the high expectations we place on ourselves to remain productive.
Engaging in such activities allows us to feel that we are contributing somehow to our lives because we have been accustomed to the need to be constantly productive and gainfully engaged.
KEEPING KIDS ENGAGED
For parents, these expectations are heightened by the feeling that they ought to be able to support their children in their home-based learning (HBL) curriculum effortlessly.
Again, I have heard of parents feeling guilty around their difficulties in teaching their children while also engaging them through a relentless list of creative exercises – like art and craft or social media dance videos - that they receive from other well-meaning parents.
Even during the circuit breaker, the race to keep up is real.
Needless to say, this adds to the expectation that parents ought to be able to do it all. And if they can’t meet these expectations, it heightens their sense of anxiety.
For parents with school-going aged children or children who will be sitting for national examinations like the PSLE or GCE O-Levels, there is immense fear around their children’s preparedness.
Feeling the pressure, parents may also set these expectations for their children - ensuring that the kids not only keep up with their academic learning but also engage in new and creative undertakings.
PARENTS TAKE THE LEAD
The most important thing parents can do is recognise that they play a huge role in their children’s emotional and psychological well-being. Children model themselves after their parents.
Several theories in psychology, such as the social learning theory, explain that children pick up on the slightest changes in their parents’ mood and behaviour.
Some children internalise these changes and feel responsible for their parents’ well-being.
As such, the first thing to do as a parent is to recognise times when you are placing pressure on yourself.
Consider what you’d like to achieve for yourself. What are the emotions underlying these pressures?
Apply these to your children. What are you hoping to achieve? What would you like them to gain?
STRUCTURE IS NOT ALWAYS NEEDED
Children respond well to structure and consistency. Set a routine and follow a schedule.
But children also naturally tap into their creative minds. They do not need structure or learning for that.
Psychological approaches will tell you that it is important to allow your child the free time to play and be creative.
Playing is not a passive act. Children do not play idly. During play, children think, connect and create.
For example, by learning in school about gravity and motion, children think about those experiences, incorporate them into their play and then create new connections.
Play, in this view, is just as important as education and is also a form of education.
Play also teaches prosocial behaviour and allows the development of imagination and creativity.
ENCOURAGE PLAY, NOT DEVICES
It is also important to remove devices during this time. Children may be spending increasingly more time on devices during the circuit breaker as HBL gives them the flexibility of time to do so.
This leads to pent up frustrations and restlessness. Research has also shown that notifications on electronic devices can stimulate the release of dopamine, a brain chemical involved in cravings and desire, which can make the use of such devices addictive.
It is recommended that screen time is limited and used in moderation.
Parents can consider creating a space to play at home; consider placing materials that tap into their kids’ creativity during this time.
You may consider leaving story books, blocks, pretend-play toys, puzzles and art supplies around so your child can explore their environment and tap into their own creativity.
Get creative together. Art can be so powerful because it makes you escape for a little bit as it puts you in that mindfulness zone.
Artwork has been shown through years of research to promote emotional regulation as well as to facilitate the communication process. As such, it serves as an effective coping mechanism. Art can be accessed by children regardless of their age and verbal abilities.
It is also a great hack for parents looking for something to occupy their kids for a longer period of time, while giving kids a tangible outcome of their efforts to be proud of and to boost self-esteem.
They can actually reflect and say: ‘I did that and it looks good’.
LEARNING CAN COME IN MANY WAYS
As adults, if we are doing this ourselves, then we are showing good habits to our children.
Take time out of your busy, strange lives at the moment, by doing something like cooking, crochet or colouring with your children.
Doing such activities together will go a long way in teaching your children life skills and allowing you to bond as a family.
Above all, recognise that this is an unprecedented time. No one has ever had any experience to prepare for this. We are all learning and adjusting at the same time.
We are in a huge transition and it is extraordinarily difficult. Be kind to yourself and your children.
I can sense the anxiety parents might have about children falling behind, but just make sure they do a little bit, often, so that they are still engaged in the daily routine of learning.
This goes back to the importance of routine and also the process of learning, which is made up of a series of building blocks – each at a time.
Know that learning is a journey – so there is no time lost. The expectation of continuous learning during times of uncertainty is hard to achieve.
A child needs to be physically and psychologically well to be ready to learn so focus on your children’s psychological wellbeing knowing that it is directly tied with yours.
When your children feel connected to you, they will feel safe and secure and ready to face the world. When their anxieties are at bay and they can make sense of their emotions, they will be ready to take on new challenges and be ready to learn.
Know that they will be able to bounce back, some requiring more help than others, when normalcy returns and when they have a perceived sense of control over their lives.
Until then, children of today are learning many lessons – the biggest lesson is that of resilience and that they can and will bounce back from life’s adversities. We just need to be kind to ourselves.
Dr Sanveen Kang is a Clinic Manager & Principal Clinical Psychologist at Psych Connect. She has more than 14 years of experience in treating mental and physical health issues for clients in hospitals, private practice, educational and corporate settings.