How to cope with primary school stress

Vera turned four this year, and already I’ve started to get questions about where we intend to enrol her for her primary education.

There’s only one word to describe how I feel whenever I get asked.

Stress…

There’s something so unknown and unfamiliar about primary school that makes me break in cold sweat. Plus all the stories I hear about daily homework and what-nots.

I recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with Fiona Walker, Principal of Schools, Julia Gabriel Education. Naturally, I asked her the questions I had in my mind about primary school education and how to prepare my child for it.

Here’s what she shared with me…

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1. What do you identify as the key sources of pre-primary stress? How can parents prepare ourselves to deal with these?

I think that parents themselves are one of the sources of pre-primary stress. There is an element of group hysteria in the need to make sure children are prepared for primary school and the focus is on academic readiness. Because of this, there is a huge market in enrichment classes and tuition schools who feed on the concern by providing courses and classes, which “prepare” children for primary school.

Very often, once the child enters Primary One and is able to cope with the school work, the worry evaporates. For this reason, first time parents are usually much more concerned than parents who have had other children go into primary school.

To avoid being caught up in group pressure, make sure you find out what exactly are the requirements of primary school. Ensure your child meets those criteria but also keep your expectations realistic.

2. How can parents prepare their children to better cope with the transition?

The move to primary school is a big transition for any child. They will go from being the eldest in their preschool, which is usually in a small nurturing environment, to being the youngest in a large and initially confusing school.

Most children find the level of independence expected a bit daunting. I think that a visit to the new primary school is great. The more familiar they can be with the new environment or new routine, the better. Also prepare your child for buying food in the canteen, by giving them opportunity to ask for food in the food court and handle money when making a purchase.

There is a huge amount of emphasis placed on all the things they must do and remember and this can produce a bit of anxiety, so take the time to talk to your child about your happy memories from primary school. Talk about the friendships you made, the adventures you had and the experiences you remember.

Children going into primary school are six years old – still very young. They must not feel burdened by the worries you may have.

3. Which is more important? Academic preparedness or social-emotional preparedness, or both? Why?

In Singapore, both are important. Our school system requires children to have certain academic skills when they enter Primary One, so it is important they are able to manage the workload.

However a child who has confidence and resilience is more likely to enjoy the experience. Strong social skills and healthy self-esteem will mean they find it easier to make friends and ask questions when they are unsure.

If I had to just pick one though, I would choose social-emotional preparedness because it is generally easier for a child to pick up the academic skills if they didn’t have them than build low self confidence, especially if they have found the experience of a new school and social environment distressing.

4. If you could give parents in Singapore a word of advice, what would it be?

Here are two pieces of advice:

  • You know your child best so have realistic expectations. By all means, shoot for the stars but be fair. It is not fair to expect a child who has no Mandarin exposure outside of his hour-a-day, five-days-a-week in preschool to get 95 per cent all the way through primary school.
  • Remember childhood is short and there is no one out there who is going to protect your child’s childhood other than you. If you don’t carve out time for him to explore, play and dream, no one else will and your child will have been robbed of the most magical time of their lives. You can’t get it back!!

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I hope these insights are able to give us some new ideas in navigating this rather touchy topic.

I really value Fiona’s reminder that we as parents are also guardians of our children’s most precious time of their lives – their childhood…

What comes to your mind when you think about primary school education for your child? How would you like your child to experience primary school? 

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