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Are we expecting too much?

18 Aug 2014

Are we expecting too much_1a

Former principal of South View Primary School, Mrs Jenny Yeo, encourages parents to set manageable expectations for their children.

Are we expecting too much_4With Continual Assessment 2 and the end-of-year examinations coming up, retired principal Mrs Jenny Yeo reminds parents to review their expectations.

I was walking to my Primary One class when a pupil told me Johnwas crying. I found out  he had scored 98 out of 100 marks for his Chinese test, which was a fantastic score that he should have been proud of. But no, John was afraid to go home as his mother would cane him for not achieving a perfect score! My heart went out to John.

Another child, Mark+, was in Primary Four when I saw him crying quietly at the General Office. He scored 83 marks for Mathematics but blamed himself for the errors in his answers. He too, was afraid to return home.

A year later when I left the school, Mark made a very creative photo album as my farewell gift. In it was a note that read, “Dear Mrs Yeo, do you remember the day that you consoled me for getting low marks? I would like to thank you for telling me to be strong, and that everybody makes mistakes.”

These incidents in my career as a teacher and principal altered my expectations of my own children's academic achievements. I decided that I would certainly not want to create pressure and foster performance anxiety in my children. Just achieve your personal best, I would tell them.

Are we expecting too much_3Parental expectations can have a strong and positive effect on a child’s academic success. In a study published by the Harvard Family Research project, Professor William H. Jeynes of California State University at Long Beach found that parental expectations affected children’s academic outcomes more than other types of parental involvement, including attendance of school events and the setting of clear rules.

Clear expectations, paired with loving and supportive attitudes, can help children to learn manners, social skills, study skills, and other tools they will need to succeed in school and in society.

To establish healthy academic and behavioural expectations, parents should be aware of their children’s unique needs, skills, strengths, and maturity levels. Also, avoid comparing them to others, as every child develops at a different rate.

Unrealistically high expectations can set a child up for failure, anxiety, discouragement and low self-esteem when the child cannot live up to his or her parents’ goals. Conversely, low expectations can make it difficult for children to realise and achieve their full potential. It is better to create small, manageable goals to ensure that our children progress in their learning while not feeling daunted.

Are we expecting too much_2I helped Jane+, a Primary 1 student who was scoring zero out of ten marks in her spelling tests, by encouraging her to learn just one word instead of ten per test. Jane tried and managed to spell the word correctly. I then increased the number of words to two, and then to three. Over time, Jane finally achieved a perfect score of ten marks. I heard she has since graduated from university. I feel so proud of her and I am sure she feels the same about herself.


+Names have been changed to protect the identity of the students

Mrs Jenny Yeo, a former principal and teacher has served in nine schools during her 41-year career. A parent of three children and a grandma to two, she now lends her rich experience at the Ministry of Education as Lead Associate of the Communications and Engagement Group which engages parents in dialogue.