Every child has problems in school, whether it’s academic or social. But some school problems may need your attention more than others.
School 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 can you do? Desiree suggests acknowledging your child’s feelings. For example, say something like: “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, adds Desiree.
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.
For instance, say something like: “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.”
(Also read: Primary school children: How to handle their social and emotional development better)
School problem #2: If your child 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 can you do? Hearing that your child is bullying other children can be upsetting or embarrassing, but it’s important to remain calm.
Children who bully have difficulty controlling their aggression and need to see you model good ways of handling conflicts.
Desiree advises: “Talk to your child and check if he or she bullied because she felt sad, angry, lonely or insecure due to major changes at home or at school.”
Help your child recognise her anger signals, and tell her to stop and walk away when she 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 your child’s 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.
School problem #3: If your child 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 can you do? Parents can begin by asking their child if they understand what bullying means, as children tend to think that only physical aggression constitutes bullying, explains Donus.
“They can educate their kids that bullying can take psychological and emotional forms as well, such as name-calling, 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 your child’s 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.
(Also read: 10 steps to help your child deal with bullies in Primary 1)
School problem #4: If your child 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 can you 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 child 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.
School 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. 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,” says Donus.
What can you do? Remind your child about his positive characteristics as this can boost his ability to motivate himself.
Parents should also ask their child how they feel about their academic results. Be respectful of what is shared – that means, do not judge too quickly until you have sufficient information, Donus says.
A version of this article first appeared in Simply Her.