Encouraging Parent-Child Dialogue in Education
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
For parents who wanted to know the latest developments in the local education landscape, this year's MOE ExCEL Fest was an event not to be missed. Held on 30 and 31 March at Suntec International Convention & Exhibition Centre, the event was centred on the theme of "Nurturing the Whole Child, Opportunities for All". It featured 62 sharing sessions, 20 seminar talks and an exhibition with over 70 booths.
A key thread that ran through the event was the importance for parents to communicate with and understand their children. From sharing sessions such as on character building, to seminars such as on choosing a secondary school, different expert speakers reminded parents that they needed to put their child's interest at heart.
One example was Dr Jessica Leong's seminar session, "Character Building Starts with Whom?". A clinical director in counselling and training, Dr Leong highlighted two examples of "difficult" six-year-old children, such as a girl who demanded of her mother, 'Why do I have to listen to you?" and a boy who was an "absolutely angel" in front of his teachers but misbehaved once he was at home.
The girl was showing "individuated behaviour - a sign of growing up," explained Dr Leong. The parent could ask in return, "Do you like your friends to listen to you when you speak?" and assure her that "Mummy likes to listen to you speak too", before trying to find out why the child had expressed a reluctance to obey. As for the boy, Dr Leong felt that he understood the boundaries of acceptable behaviour at school, but was "testing" these boundaries at home. She advised parents in such situations to be "very clear" and "firm" about what they consider acceptable behaviour outside of school.
Harm or heal? Curse or bless?
Dr Leong also reminded parents that children tend to model themselves after their parents, and adults should exercise "impulse control" at all times in their interactions. For example, if a child who is born with "vulnerable temperament" has a moody parent, he can become sad, withdrawn, introverted and be prone to mood problems. A child who is constantly exposed to overly-suspicious behaviour may grow up angry, distant and be unable to form relationships.
"Think of HEAT and STAR in your interactions with the child," urged Dr Leong. "HEAT" refers to hearing the child's issues and feelings, being empathetic, apologising when needed and taking action. "STAR" is her strategy for parents and children to sit together and stop, think, act and review/reflect, so that through communication they can find a solution together.
"We found the seminar very helpful as Dr Leong touched on the many issues that affect a growing child," said Mr Billy Ng and his wife Mdm Peggy Chan, whose son Jia Jian is a Primary 3 pupil at Tampines Primary School. "We've always had family dialogues, and her talk validated some of our strategies with Jia Jian."
Choosing a secondary school to bring out the best in your child
Another session which encouraged parents to communicate actively with their children was "Helping the Child Make the Right Decision in Selecting a Secondary School", which brought together school principals and MOE specialists to offer their advice. They emphasised the wide variety of flexibility and choices available in the Singapore education system, and the importance of choosing a school where the culture and programmes would suit a child's character and interests.
Although some parents believe that children should aspire to enrol in the more popular schools, it is more important to "find the right fit for your child - a school where the child will be happy for the next four to five years," said Ms Beatrice Chong, principal of Dunman Secondary School. This means taking into account the child's strengths and talents, needs and interests and how they fit into the school culture, programmes and niche areas. "Visit the schools during their open houses to get a sense of what they are like," added Ms Chong.
Mr Ong Kong Hong, principal of Teck Whye Secondary School, noted that the education system has many pathways which recognise students' different talents and interests, learning styles and pace of development. Thus, there is no worry that students will be stuck in a stream determined by their examination results.
And as Dr Leong had said in her session, it is essential for parents to "discuss, not dictate" to their child, said Mr Jeffrey Chan, a Senior Specialist with MOE's guidance branch. "Safeguard the child's efficacy, know how he is wired and play to his strengths," he said. This includes helping them to set goals so they have something to aim for.
For parents like Ms Benita Yau, whose Pri 5 daughter is in Temasek Primary School, the session was "useful and insightful". She had wanted only a "top school for her daughter, but has now decided to "explore other options" as well. Parents who have lingering doubts about selecting the most suitable secondary school for their Pri 6 children can refer to MOE's booklet "Choosing Your Secondary Schools - For Admission to Secondary 1". This will be distributed through the schools in the middle of the year.