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Coping with Academic Stress

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A common stressor that plagues youths in Singapore is academic stress. As a parent, seeing your child struggling to cope may make you feel helpless and distressed. As a student, there are several strategies I adopt that allow me to breathe a bit easier and alleviate my stress. In sharing these tips with you, I hope that you will be able to take away some lessons to better protect your child from the adverse impact of academic stress.

1. Familial support

Family is usually one of the biggest and most influential support systems one can possess. It is crucial that parents create opportunities for your child(ren) to approach you when they require guidance, aid or a listening ear. Letting your child know that they can rely on you and approach you anytime when they are facing duress is important.

Do not push them to talk to you, often it might backfire and cause them to avoid you. Instead, give them space and when they are comfortable, they will naturally come to you and open up about their woes. When they do so, make sure to listen to them and understand their perspective.

Be careful not to pass judgement too quickly. Ask them if they want comfort or solutions. Often, children just want someone to listen to them while not necessarily seeking advice. Being present with them and attentively listening is comforting enough. Knowing that someone will always be there for them unconditionally reassures them.

2. Peer support

In addition to familial support, peer support plays a huge role in your child’s life as well. During the adolescence stage, they are exploring and seeking to forge their self-identity. This means that they might be spending time exploring different activities or spending more time with their friends.

As such, if you determine that your child’s friends are a positive influence and they display pro-social behaviour, encourage them to talk to their friends when they might be feeling upset or stressed out. Often, because they are in the same boat and facing similar circumstances, their friends can provide insight and advice from a different perspective.

If possible, encourage them to form a study group. Peer pressure is often viewed as negative, with peers coercing each other to engage in unhealthy activities, but when used positively, it can be encouraging and motivating. When your child and their friends study together, it keeps them accountable and the group benefits as a whole because they get to help each other out by answering each other’s doubts and queries.  Being able to teach others and clearly explain information allows one to retain information better and it is a sign that one understands the material well.

3. Being true to one’s feelings

When your child is feeling anxious or stressed out, validate these feelings, and allow them to feel these emotions. Reassure them that it is normal and help to process these feelings. By acknowledging that these negative feelings exist, it is easier to start formulating and developing a plan to tackle them because your child faces them head-on and understands where they stem from, allowing them to determine the root causes of their stressor(s).

However, the real challenge arises when we do not come back to the issue and take action to try to solve it. It is easy to get caught up in avoiding our challenges. Your child might start distracting themselves by engaging in excessive screen time or talking to their friends till the wee hours of the night, neglecting their responsibilities. This is when you might have to intervene. Our thoughts sometimes make the problem appear more intimidating and daunting while in reality, it is manageable.  Once you start chipping away at the issue, it helps to put the issue into perspective.

4. Putting the issue into perspective

The thought of failing an examination or not getting an ‘A’ on a test might seem catastrophic to some. It is useful to help your child take perspective by hearing your assurances that failing one test or even examination, is not the end of the world. There will be more examinations and tests for your child to conquer in the future.

Help your child learn from their perceived “failures” by talking to them and understanding what they were going through. If they request solutions or help, analyse the situation to see where they could improve. Perhaps, it was their anxiety that hindered them from doing better or maybe they lack good time management and did not have ample time to revise. Being able to learn from one’s mistakes is part of growth.

Help them put things into perspective, will this small test that constitutes 10% of their final grade ruin their lives? Learning not to sweat the small stuff and learning from one’s past experiences will enable your child to develop a healthy and resilient attitude when it comes to challenges. One failure does not define you for life. Help your child package the disappointment they feel into determination and willpower to do better on their next test. Harping and ruminating does no one any good. Frame it into a teachable moment instead. It will help your child not to fear failure and instead, embrace it when it inevitably comes knocking on their door.

Other than academic stress, your children might face other challenges related to their peers or their self-identity. Life is not without its challenges. Seeing your child experience these challenges might be painful, but it is necessary for their growth. Providing a haven for your child to return is a good place to start because a child who knows that you love them and that they can always depend on you is the most important assurance they need.

Written By: Ng Xiang Hui, Intern, Fei Yue Community Services