How do you help children improve on their grades without crushing their spirit? Our parents reveal the strategies that have worked for them.
Question & Reflect
When your child’s results are unsatisfactory, here are some questions you can ask yourself:
Have your child’s results always been this way? Was he or she in a learning support program? If your child’s results have been consistently poor, then perhaps he or she needs to focus on foundational concepts.
Do you suspect your child of having a learning issue such as dyslexia? It might be good to get your child tested.
Does your child work hard and yet get bad results, or is your child under-achieving? If your child is simply unmotivated, research some motivational techniques that may work for him or her.
If you are a working parent: who is the caregiver while you are at work? Is there any way the caregiver can supervise your child more closely? Even if the caregiver is unable to help with the work, he or she can remind the child of what needs to be done.
It would help if you could make a timetable and list expected work tasks. Since many children won’t see the importance of this, you could build in rewards, such as using a sticker chart for specific good behaviour and giving treats or privileges for a certain number of stickers.
I feel that extra classes will help if the child is not understanding the material and needs additional explanations. If the issue is a lack of discipline, then someone other than a tutor needs to show the child how to work hard—a lot of kids need to be shown, not told to work hard.
I think it’s more important to build good work habits than to focus on results. If a child is motivated and knows how to work hard, then he or she will achieve the best results. But do note that “best” will differ depending on a child’s abilities.
I agree that children do not share parental concerns about marks. My own child and my friend’s children (even up to O-Level age) don’t agree with us on the importance of school results, and the potential impact on their futures. While I have no magic solution, let me share my thoughts.
If tutors are the problem, axe them and do it yourself, or together with your spouse if possible. No one is more vested than you in the outcomes that you hope to achieve with your child. Possibly, no one understands your child better than yourself. It is going to be difficult but it is doable. You will have to spend a lot of time understanding what the issues are, and thinking of effective ways to plug the gaps and tutor your child.
First, “sell” the idea of “no tuition” and a balanced lifestyle with your child. The plus is that if you do it yourself, you can target specific areas to achieve small victories that can motivate your child. What I find helpful is designating a time for going through work and a time for play, and sticking to that routine.
At the P3 level, I gave my child about three to five pages of work a day to complete. After dinner, from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m., we would go through the worksheets, corrections, and schoolwork. The carrot: if the child can finish early, playtime begins earlier.
Close to the exams, slowly up the volume of work to be achieved, and after exams, let the child take a complete break. My child’s teacher shared that sitting next to the child to quietly support him or her while work is being done is better than leaving the child alone to work. The emotional connection makes a difference.
However, if DIY is not your cup of tea and you have to get tutors, you need to understand your child’s learning style, e.g. mine is playful and loves group tuition over one-on-one sessions.
Don’t despair. You still have time to fine-tune your strategies with your child before the teenage years.
If a child is bright but is not getting great grades, it could signal certain underlying issues; the child could be distracted by something else in her life, she could be unhappy, or she could be feeling neglected. Other possible causes: she could be suffering from low self-esteem, or her lack of motivation could be due to peer influence.
If a child’s learning capacity is average or below average, she may still get unimpressive grades while doing her best. Slower learners require more time to internalise and grasp concepts. Such a student would have to be much more diligent to see results.
If hiring a tutor, try to get one that teaches full time. The commitment is there, unlike for part-timers or students. Also, most tutors don’t teach thinking skills—they tend to provide answers readily. This may be something you wish to discuss with your tutor.
Never expect an average performer to improve by leaps and bounds. Take little steps and set realistic targets. Diligence, encouragement, and patience is the key.
I don’t feel we should prep children too much; instead, we should focus on providing an enriching learning environment. Of course, we need to help our children with learning issues and time management, but I do not feel the need to “power” them up so that they are among the top.
I believe in good fundamentals—everything else will fall in place eventually. I do not teach my child writing, but I go through spelling rules and grammar rules with him and he reads widely in his abundant free time. I like science and my children watch a lot of BBC documentaries and know things beyond the textbook. I like Chinese and I now read Chinese stories regularly to my kids to cultivate the same appreciation in them.
Interest and good fundamentals will go a long way. Don’t sweat too much over the small details. It is a journey.
How much can one memorise? There are so many different permutations to answers and so many answers to remember. It may take more effort and much repetition to get a child to understand a concept, but in the long term, understanding aids retention.
My daughter had a classmate who was scoring well in P1 and P2, however her weaknesses started to show in P3 and P4. Her maths in particular was slipping. Apparently, the girl did not understand the concepts, but would memorise methods and simply apply them when she spotted a familiar-sounding question. If there was a slight twist, she would be stuck. I bring up this example to emphasise that understanding concepts becomes more important as a child progresses through the learning ladder.
I applaud many parents here for their tireless efforts to prep their kids for exams, but from what I see, it seems like some kids still did not make the mark despite these efforts.
As parents, did we ever pause to ask: are our children are ready for higher-order thinking skills? Children need to “see the light”; sometimes it comes earlier, and sometimes later. Do countless lessons, assessment books, or tutoring sessions help?
I have to admit that being a full-time working parent, I haven’t had much time to coach my kids in their schoolwork. I depend on them to be independent and responsible, and offer limited help when they are in doubt.
We also carry out minimal preparations for the exams because their school already gives them tons of homework. I am grateful for that, as it keeps my kids in check and keeps me aware of their weaknesses.
In the end, I’m not sure if it makes a significant difference to have parents pile on the extra effort. Our kids are still young—don’t make their learning journey an unenjoyable one!