SINGAPORE: Parental fear begins from the moment you find out that you are going to have a child.
Will my baby be alright? What if I give birth prematurely? Will we have sufficient finances to give the child our best? The list goes on…
Then by some miracle the child grows up strong and healthy, and new fears emerge.
When I read the news about the HFMD virus that has been spreading like wildfire in Malaysia, I couldn’t help but worry. My second child contracted it when he was three, and it was one of the hardest seven days of his life.
When I see posters warning of terrorist attacks and public service messages telling us what to do in cases of molestation, I fear for the day when my kids will travel on public transport on their own.
But should we allow these fears to drive our behaviour?
Because of the potential threat of catching a virus, do I ban my kids from going near a playground?
We often tell our kids that they should face their fears bravely, and that it’s unproductive to worry unnecessarily, but are we taking our own pill of faith?
RAISING A WORRY GENERATION?
Academics is another huge area where children seem to be hapless victims of parental paranoia.
Led by an overwhelming fear that our offspring will be disadvantaged when “everyone else is doing it”, we enrol them in all manner of tuition even before they start Primary 1.
For many of our children, tuition is a way of life, regardless of the stage of academic life.
Granted, that our children will be left behind or struggle later in life are very real concerns. These lead us to constantly wonder: “Am I doing enough?”
They may also lead to extreme measures such as having for tuition in all four subjects when the child is already coping well, just so they have something to occupy them while we are away.
But as parents, we have the responsibility to define what is enough, and not let societal expectations and our own fears lead the way.
We have a duty to build their sense of confidence to face an uncertain future. The onus is on us to put a dam against the flood of anxiety.
Anxiety is contagious. The more anxious we feel about our children’s grades and achievements, be it extra-curricular or academic, the more our children will feel it, and hold back from taking risks.
Are our fears feeding into a generation of anxious youths? And how do we expect them to rise up to challenges and adapt to change, if we cannot model the same courage and resilience we want to see in them?
READ: Move by St Margaret’s Primary a test of parents’ ability to deal with change. Will they rise to the challenge? A commentary
CODDLING OUR YOUNG
These attitudes can shape our everyday actions if we are not mindful. As a parent of three school-aged children, I sometimes catch myself doing things for them that they are fully capable of doing.
One example is clearing their plates after meals. My fingers instinctively find their way to their plates. I have to remind myself that I’m doing them a disservice by “helping”.
Many of us grew up in households where we were expected to help out at a tender age. I recall being allowed to head downstairs to grab bread or simple grocery items by the time I was in Primary 2.
Having to cross a carpark to the provision shop was never a major safety issue, and I probably developed a strong awareness of my surroundings on these occasions.
Serving in the home is a great way to instill responsibility and ownership. Yet why don’t we enlist their help more often?
I wonder if the strong emphasis on academics is a big factor here. There seems to be an underlying assumption that kids should just focus on their studies, and be excused from other “menial” tasks.
Where then will they get a chance to learn responsibility? And will they grow up with a warped belief that their sole purpose is to get good grades, get into a good school, and earn a good living?
Will they learn that life has no model answers or automatic route to success?
TAMING OUR FEARS AND INSTILLING CONFIDENCE
Giving in to our fears may cost us invaluable opportunities to build our children’s independence, responsibility and life skills.
Perhaps it is time to examine and confront them.
Weigh the consequences of taking a small risk, such as allowing your child to take public transport on their own for the first time.
And what is the worst that could happen if we roster our kids to dinner table or laundry duties?
For schoolwork, review the goals that you and your child have set. Before the upcoming semestral assessment (otherwise notoriously known as SA2), discuss the options that are available if they fall short or exceed those goals. If they show improvement in a subject that they have been getting tuition for, it may be time to drop some tuition classes, and find alternative uses for the time gained.
This way, they will start to see that they need not rely on any tuition teacher for the rest of their lives. They also gain a chance to grow their own resourcefulness and desire to learn.
Fear that leads to over-protection (or over-tuition) can stifle the growth of our children’s inner resilience and strength.
What we can do though is map out a plan to stare these challenges in the face.
As Singapore just celebrated her 53rd birthday, my hope is that we too will find our inner strength and resourcefulness as a society, and carry on that same grit and perseverance our nation’s pioneers exemplified.
Our children will find and carve their own pathways in life. All we need to do is to tame our fears and instill in them a belief that they can do it.
June Yong is a mother of three, an educational therapist and owner of Mama Wear Papa Shirt, a blog that discusses parenting and education in Singapore.