Should I Allow My Child Privacy on Devices?

“I’m really worried about my daughter. I don’t know who she’s talking to, and now she’s even bringing her boyfriend into our house when I’m not at home. I didn’t know giving her privacy on her phone would result in this.”

I could see how distraught Amy was at her 16-year-old daughter Betty’s behaviour over the past few months.

Wanting to offer her sound advice, I turned to Chong Ee Jay, a Family Life Educator with Focus on the Family Singapore.

Balancing a child’s autonomy and his privacy can be a challenge, but here are some helpful guidelines.

If your child is 12 and under 

“The device should be seen as a loan instead of belonging completely to your child. And you should have full view of your child’s usage on the device.”

Ee Jay shares that it is typically not recommended to give kids aged 12 and under a device.

Of course, you might argue that schools these days require the use of technology for education. But your child needs to understand that the device is for the purpose of communication and studies, and not entertainment.

For example, one helpful way is to set up parental controls on the device you give to them, especially for entertainment apps such as games, YouTube, and the Internet browser.

This way, if the child wants to access these apps, they will need to ask you for access.

Ee Jay elaborates, “Access to entertainment apps should be given only with your permission. The device given to your child should be seen as a loan instead of belonging completely to your child. And you should have full view of your child’s usage on the device.”

With your child’s mind still developing, it is critical that we take active efforts to curb device use. “The online space is filled with a mix of good and bad content, and your child does not yet have the maturity and knowledge to keep themselves safe.”

This is reinforced through global guidelines. We see that almost all online activities and platforms do not allow users below 13 to set up an account.

Another way is to learn from the technology entrepreneurs who invented these devices.

In late 2010, Steve Jobs revealed to New York Times journalist Nick Bilton that his children had never used the iPad.

Jobs explained, “We limit how much technology our kids use in the home.”

Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired, enforced strict time limits on every device in his home, and refused to allow his children to use screens in their bedrooms.

But what happens when the child grows older? Are such limits still necessary?

If your child is above 13

Ee Jay explains that in an ideal world, we would hope that a child’s maturity linearly equates to their age and we can therefore give them more autonomy as they grow. But reality is often not as neat and tidy.

“Greater autonomy on devices is given upon considering child’s age and maturity and when they have demonstrated responsible behaviour.”

He encourages parents to consider the first ownership of a device as a rite of passage.

For example, when a child turns 13, a device is often needed for the purpose of communication on school-related matters, especially on WhatsApp. Class chat groups, CCA chat groups, and social connection with peers on social media platforms are typical examples. Personal learning devices are also purchased for use in most schools during Secondary 1.

Treating it as a rite of passage means there needs to be conversations on rules, expectations, and consequences of flouting the rules.

It may be helpful to draft a contract containing these elements:

  1. Rules around phone usage
  2. How often, and when the phone can be used
  3. When the phone cannot be used
  4. Consequences if these rules are broken
  5. Why these rules are set
  6. Privacy


“Explaining why is important. We can say, ‘If we wish to access your phone, we will let you know. We do this because we want to ensure your safety.’”

It is not recommended for the child to be given full privacy at the beginning.

Explaining why is important; we can say something as simple as, “We respect your privacy and will not invade your privacy without your knowledge. For example, if we wish to access your phone, we will let you know. We do this because we want to ensure your safety.”

The degree of privacy given is dependent on your child’s maturity and track record of responsible usage.

We should also emphasise that the device is a privilege that can be removed if rules are flouted. 

Engage in regular conversations

When Amy began imposing limits on Betty’s phone usage, such as by refusing to pay for her data plan, Betty struck back with a vengeance. She refused to talk to her mother for days. When Amy asked Betty something, Betty would just stare at her.

Imposing limits didn’t seem to work that easily.

Ee Jay recommends a different approach. He says, “We need to engage in ongoing conversations with them to better understand what is driving their needs for devices and for privacy.

“Do they experience a strong need to connect with their peers online? Are there things that the child is trying to hide from his parents due to its inappropriate nature? Reprimanding or giving a straight “No!” response tends to shut the door for future conversations.”

He recommends 4 simple steps:

  1. Be curious to hear from them
  2. Probe deeper into the issue through asking more questions
  3. Take an empathetic approach to demonstrate that you care for your child’s wellbeing
  4. Seize the opportunity to share with them your concerns too.

Keep building trust

We’ve all heard how important it is to connect with our children. But as parents, it’s often hard to do because we have different commitments to juggle.

Remember that trust is a bank that needs to be deposited slowly through quality time, conversation, and love.

So even as we push our children out to spread their wings, there are times when we need to pull them close by setting limits on how much privacy they can have.

Balancing supervision and autonomy when it comes to devices is tricky. But ultimately, remembering why you do it will make the tension easier to navigate.

For privacy reasons, pseudonyms have been used in this article. 

What Does It Take for a Successful Transition To Secondary School?

Every December, parents and children await in anticipation for the release of the results of their secondary school posting exercise.  

Many would hope to gain entry into their first school of choice and hold firm to the perception that a “good” Secondary School, which most equate to a brand-name school, would be the ticket to a successful life in the future. But what if success in life is not measured by the academic grades you get in school or the school you go to?  

The Business Insider reproduced a postcard that one CEO sent to another CEO, and this postcard listed out 16 major differences between successful and unsuccessful people. Essentially, successful people tend to be happy, confident and secure; they know what they want in life and know how to relate with people; and they do not necessarily have a good academic degree. 

How then can we help our kids grow to become happy, confident and secure individuals? How do we empower them to discover what they want in life? And how do they build the confidence needed to effectively relate with others? 

The solution is to build a healthy sense of self; what in psychology is described as a healthy “self-concept”. Psychologist Carl Rogers describes the “ideal self” as the person you want to be, while “self-image” refers to how you see yourself at a particular moment in time. Both these ideas are important in understanding how to build a healthy sense of self, which constitutes our self-concept. 

Counsellor Maurice Wagner, in his book The Sensation of Being Somebody, describes a functional approach in understanding self-concept, which comprises the aspects of appearance, performance and status. I will first elaborate on how each of these three areas define who we are, and how it affects our perception of who we are. Thereafter, I will also share some practical skills our children need for a successful secondary school experience. 

Appearance – How do I look?

This refers to how we believe we are perceived by others. How we appear to others affects their view of us, which either reinforces or erodes our self-concept. 

Some of my clients have issues with communication. One of them, then 19 years old, had major problems whenever he was involved in project work. His group mates often told him that they couldn’t understand why he was always insisting on doing things his own way. As a result, they often left him out of meetings and he developed a poor image of himself. 

Performance – How am I doing?

This relates to our abilities, skills, knowledge and sense of responsibility. The quality of our performance is always on our minds, even if we are unaware of it.   I often teach my clients about negative automatic thoughts, and how many people are caught in the performance trap. They have the mindset that if they do not get an “A” grade for their studies, they are a failure in life. This translates to a low sense of self.  

Practical Skills for A Successful Transition

As we examine the aspects that make up self-concept, it is evident that grades alone are not an effective measure of success. We need to build our children’s self-concept by helping them gain a more accurate understanding of who they are, and what they’re good at.   We also need to equip them with practical skills for the new chapter ahead. 

Encourage your child to be patient with themselves and to share their struggles with you. 

Here are 5 practical skills that will help them build a healthy sense of self and adjust well to a new school environment: 

  • Patience and perseverance 

Adjusting to a new school environment – with unfamiliar faces, increased academic load, and a different teaching style, can be challenging for many students. Encourage your child to be patient with themselves and to share their struggles with you. 

  • Good time management skills 

Secondary school often requires kids to juggle multiple commitments, such as homework, co-curricular activities, and social life. Help your child prioritise important tasks and to be track of their progress, so that they can avoid feeling overwhelmed. 

  • Organisation skills 

Secondary school classes may move at a faster pace than primary school classes. Students will need to be able to stay organised by taking good notes, keeping track of assignments, and using their time effectively.  

  • Effective study habits 

Studying for longer periods of time doesn’t necessarily mean studying more effectively. Students will need to develop good study habits, such as minimising distractions, creating a dedicated study space, and breaking down large projects into smaller tasks. 

  • A growth mindset  

Instil in your child the belief that intelligence and abilities can be developed through effort and learning. Students with a growth mindset are more likely to embrace challenges, see mistakes as opportunities to learn, and persist in the face of setbacks. 

Even the wrong turns and side roads have meaning and purpose, if only to teach us which way the path to oneself does not lie.  

– Trauma Specialist, Gabor Mate 

While the leap from primary to secondary school can feel like scaling a mountain, remember, you and your child are not alone. With your support and continued sowing into your child’s sense of self, your child will embrace the journey with a growth mindset, and learn to tackle challenges head-on 

 © 2023 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved. 

What a Mum Wants


In conjunction with Mother’s Day last year, Focus on the Family Singapore conducted a survey from April 5 to April 24, 2022, to allow mothers to reflect on their motherhood journey. The survey received a total of 311 responses, with more than half of the participating mothers being employed full-time.   

Research Findings

Father’s Day Campaign


The willingness of dads to give a lot of time and energy to their kids because it is important to them.

Fatherhood is a race of a lifetime, filled with heart-racing moments of exciting play and sometimes also heart-stopping moments of panic.

This race produces determination and dedication within each father, with the end goal not of winning, but having loved their children the best they knew how.

This Father’s Day, we’re Dadicated to spotlighting the lasting legacies and importance of fathers, shaping lives through generations!

Additionally, a free e-guide, "The Busy Dad's Playbook", for creating unforgettable memories with your child.
Curated bonding ideas, organised by amount of time available
Valuable fathering tips.
Interesting "Did You Know?" facts.

Secure your free resource!

ParentEd is a parent education initiative from Focus on the Family Singapore.

Dive in and discover the joy of bonding amidst life’s busyness. You may also be surprised at how far it can take you in your relationship with your child!

How to Foster Healthy Body Image in Your Child

Primary years (7-9)

Instill Healthy Habits 

For younger children, we serve as the primary influencers through our actions and attitudes.  

At this stage, it’s all about integrating healthy eating and regular physical activity into our family life. This not only helps our children establish beneficial habits but also sends a powerful message about the value placed on our overall well-being.  

We should also steer clear of fad diets and crash programmes, while keeping open conversations about the uniqueness of our body, no matter what size and shape we are.

Tween years (10-12)

Use Language Mindfully 

As we parent our young teens, we must be vigilant about the language we use. Simple comments can have a profound impact on a budding teenager’s self-perception.  

Rather than focusing on appearance, we can shift the emphasis towards character traits and qualities such as resilience, kindness and helpfulness.   

Avoid Sibling or Relative Comparisons  

Each child is unique, and comparisons among siblings or relatives can be detrimental to their self-esteem.  

We should acknowledge and celebrate our children’s individual strengths and qualities. Wherever possible, emphasise that differences in appearance are natural and do not determine a person’s worth.  

By focusing on each child’s unique strengths and gifts, we foster an environment where siblings can support and uplift each other rather than compete based on physical or intellectual attributes.  

Refrain from Weight-Related Comments 

Negative comments about weight, even if well-intentioned, can contribute to low self-esteem and body image issues. Instead of focusing on appearance, keep family discussions around health, balanced lifestyles, and well-being.  

You can encourage healthy eating habits without associating food with weight, by emphasising the importance of nourishing the body through balanced nutrition and regular exercise.  

Teen years (13-15) 

Navigating the journey of teenhood — a period marked by a whirlwind of physical changes and external pressures — can be a complex maze of self-discovery, where a young person’s sense of self is under constant construction.  

Instil Positive Food Habits  

Parents, you play a pivotal role in shaping your child’s relationship with food. Create a positive atmosphere around meals, emphasising the enjoyment of a variety of foods for their taste and nutritional value. Avoid labelling foods as “good” or “bad”, fostering a healthy and balanced approach to eating.  

Introduce your teen to the joy of cooking and involve them in meal planning! This can help cultivate a positive relationship with food that extends well into adulthood. Also, encourage physical activity as a fun and enjoyable aspect of daily life, rather than a means of weight control.  

If you notice red flags like frequent skipping of meals, severe dieting or over-exercising, you may wish to ask your child if he or she has concerns about their weight, or consider seeking professional help. 

Cultivate an Overall Healthy Lifestyle 

Promoting a healthy lifestyle encompasses more than just physical well-being.  

As parents and caregivers, we can set the tone by celebrating achievements that are unrelated to appearance and fostering an environment at home that values self-care and a balanced life! 

Written by Nicole Hong, a Sociology and Psychology Undergraduate 

What Is Sexual Grooming?

Preschool (4-6 years), Primary (7-9 years), Tween (10-12 years) 

Sexual grooming can happen to both boys and girls, online or offline. Most perpetuators are known to the victims, so children might be reluctant to “tell on” someone they are familiar with, especially if it is a person they like or respect.  

This is why it is important to teach them that not everyone they meet or know is a safe person, and it is best to always come to mum or dad whenever they feel confused or have questions. 

We also need to teach them that the covered areas of their bodies are private and should not be shared with anyone, even in the form of a photo or video. Teach them that they have the power to speak up when they feel uncomfortable with any form of physical/virtual contact.    

Statistics on sexual abuse show that shock and surprise often keep victims quiet. To avoid this, role-play possible scenarios, for example, “Let’s say someone chats with you while playing a game, and he asks you to send him a picture of yourself naked, what do you do?”  

You can also equip them with easy-to-remember handles to use, for example using SWAT as a mnemonic device: 

1. Shut Down 

2. Walk Away  

3. Talk to A Safe Adult 

Groomers often use social media, gaming platforms, and other online chat rooms to target young people. Sexual grooming can begin in very subtle ways or disguised as a game. The perpetuator might ask the victim to keep what happened as a secret, because it is part of the game or even use threats to scare the child.  

Groomers may start by simply talking to the child, but they will quickly try to build a closer relationship. They may offer compliments, gifts, or other favours. They may also listen to the child’s problems and offer support. 

To pre-empt this, talk to your child about these common tactics and teach them to raise the red flag if they notice any of these things. On your part, be on the lookout for anyone who is giving special attention to your child.   
It is important that you and your child build an open and trusting relationship, grounded in your unconditional love and in your ability to handle whatever is shared with you, for example, by not panicking or becoming upset with them.  

Reinforce that they have done the right thing whenever they come to you with questions or doubts. Your child needs the assurance that you will not fault them or dismiss what they share, but that they can depend on you to support them emotionally and help resolve the situation.   

Teen (13-15 years), Late teens (16-18 years) 

Continue to make yourself a safe place for your children to come to even as they grow into the teenage years 

Even older teens can go into a state of shock when sexual abuse happens. They may passively go along with what’s going on because they do not know what to do, or because of the internal confusion they’re facing. 

If you suspect your teen is going through something because they are suddenly withdrawn, depressed, or fearful of certain places or people, reach out to find out how your child is doing. Let your teen share at their own pace. It may take more than one conversation to get the full story.  

At this stage, some teens may have started romantic relationships, so it is a good time to talk about boundaries within relationships and respectful and consensual physical touch.   
Help your teen see that sexual abuse is any unwanted sexual touch or sharing of explicit/naked photographs. Possessing and/or distributing sexual images is considered a crime in Singapore.   

Any sexual activity that happens when one party is unable to give consent—for example, being incapacitated, asleep or drunk—is also sexual abuse.  

Talk about various grooming methods like buying things and paying for your teen over a period of time so that eventually, your teen feels like he or she “owes” the person and has to repay them.  

Coercion can take many forms. It can range from “If you do not do this, I will…” statements to “But everyone is doing this”, or “I really like it if you do this. Can you do it for me?”  

Empower your children to develop and believe in the power of their own voice. Emphasise that they can say “Stop” or “No” at any time and that it is okay to realise they have gone too far or made a mistake and still demand the person to step.  

Help them avoid the trap of thinking that they are in the wrong for being in a situation and thus, have no right to stop. “You can always stop” can be a very powerful belief to instil in them.  

Do approach these conversations holistically, for instance, as you explain upskirt photos and why they are wrong, teach your daughters to be observant when wearing skirts, and your sons to avert their eyes when noticing something inappropriate.  

Part of our children’s growth into adulthood also include experiencing sexual desires. Acknowledge that this is a normal and healthy part of growing up!  
Sexual grooming/abuse is a huge topic and one we hope our children will never experience. To safeguard our children, regularly have sex education talks at home and remember to be a calm and loving presence in their lives.   

Conversations About Sex Need Not Be So Tough

Research shows that when parents engage their children in topics on sexuality, their children grow to make wiser choices in relationships and sex. To help you overcome your fears in broaching the topic, we have designed a Talk About Sex video series specially for parent and child (aged 7-12) to enjoy, engage with and learn together!

The Big Deal About K-pop Idols And Hollywood Stars

Did your child beg you for permission to attend the Tomorrow X Together concert, or cry over unsuccessful attempts at getting tickets to Taylor Swift’s only stop in Southeast Asia?

Queueing overnight at the post office for concert tickets. Hours spent “camping” on several devices on the day of concert ticket sales. Buying numerous music albums, merchandise and products endorsed by one’s favourite celebrity.

“What’s the big deal about [insert name of singer/band]?” you may ask.

The extent that people would go—just for a chance to see their favourite celebrities and show support—reveal the depth of emotional investment one has in them. Understandably, you may be concerned about your children getting caught up in chasing stars and singers.

Unhealthy obsession, moral values held by the celebrity in question, body image issues, distraction from studies – all these can be worrying.

But what if having a celebrity to look up to isn’t all that bad? How can we guide our teens to navigate the celebrity craze in a healthy manner?

The bright side

As a young adult who spent her teenage years being invested in Taylor Swift and The Hunger Games franchise, and has developed a deep appreciation and love for Korean entertainment (I happen to stan/be a fan of the best K-pop group ever), I would like to humbly suggest that good can actually come out of these seemingly frivolous pursuits.

These include:

1) Encourage hard work and creativity

For starters, most—if not all—of the  celebrities we know have worked hard to get to where they are, and continue to put in lots of time and effort to do what they love and remain in the game.

K-pop idols don’t become stars overnight. They start off as trainees who are put through gruelling training and intense competition, spending years of their youth going through hours of dance, vocal, acting and even language classes every day. They practise for extended hours to prepare for monthly evaluations, where they get graded and ranked for their performance.

Many audition to be trainees, some undergo training, but only a handful of them debut – and that’s when the real work starts.

Tight and long schedules filled with promotional activities, photo and video shoots, performances, ongoing dance and vocal practices – K-pop idols continue to work hard to make a name for themselves. Part of the process also involves discovering one’s style as they grow as creatives.

Other than K-pop artistes, actors, singers and social media influencers also put in many unseen efforts and hours to be where they are and keep improving.

Seeing the blood, sweat and tears poured into one’s craft can motivate young people to also work hard in the things they do and strive to be better. Some of these celebrities also demonstrate humility and a work ethic worth learning from.

While I am not into acting, singing or dancing (I wish I could dance well), the drive, dedication and discipline of the K-pop groups I love inspire me in my sporting pursuits, motivating me to push hard and to become a better version of myself.

Seeing the blood, sweat and tears poured into one’s craft can motivate young people to also work hard in the things they do and strive to be better.

2) Inspire our own interests and dreams

The talents and passions that celebrities have can inspire young people to try new things like acting, singing and different genres of dance.

I know of many people who picked up dance because of K-pop, realise they have a flair for it and branch out to explore other genres of dance. In particular, one of my friends who used to get bullied in school for being overweight, picked up K-pop choreography out of interest and not only lost weight, but also discovered a hobby that she continues to enjoy as a young adult. This greatly restored her confidence and self-esteem.

Having opportunities to discover interests outside of academics helps teens develop holistically, grow in their self-esteem, and can boost their mental wellbeing. In the process of exploring what one enjoys and/or is good at, young people may also unearth dreams.

Having spent a good deal of my teenage years following British and American YouTube content creators, I developed an interest in producing videos – a skill that I use in my job, and a hobby that brings me joy. Making my own videos has also helped me to appreciate creative content a lot more, and I continue to find ways to improve my skillsets.

Having opportunities to discover interests outside of academics helps teens develop holistically, grow in their self-esteem, and can boost their mental wellbeing.

3) Expose us to other cultures and perspectives

Following celebrities from other countries has given me the chance to learn about other cultures and get a glimpse of what life is like around the world. It has also broadened my outlook on life as I hear perspectives I wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to in my usual social circles. I have grown to appreciate different cultures and my own, develop empathy and a curious mindset when meeting different people.

The thought of your children being exposed to values and perspectives that you may not want them to adopt can be scary. Yet at the same time, we need to recognise that children can’t and won’t always be shielded from external influences.

Allowing room for them to chase celebrities and putting measures in place is a delicate balance that every parent-child pair can navigate through. You can help your teen remain grounded through ongoing open conversations and intentionally passing down values through word and action.

Having a celebrity they look up to can mean a lot to your teen. On our part as caring adults, we can first build a bridge by showing an interest in what they love.

Here are some questions to kickstart conversations with your kids about their favourite actor/singer/band:

1. What do you like about them?

2. What do you know about their life story/band history?

3. What are some of your favourite shows/movies/songs they have created?

4. In what ways do they inspire you? What are some positive traits you can learn from them?

5. Are there any social causes they are passionate about?

6. Are there any values/behaviours you don’t agree with?

Even as a young adult, it gets me excited when my dad shows me news about Blackpink, or when my mum listens to me talk about how pretty and talented they are.

At the same time, I am wary of the dangers and downsides idol-chasing can bring – especially when it is taken to an extreme, such as stealing money to attend a concert, or exhibiting disordered eating behaviours.

As adults, let’s keep the conversation open so we can guide the young and equip them with principles to help them navigate fan culture in a healthy manner.

This article was written by Faith Wong, a gen-Zer who loves gymming, K-pop bands, and coffee. 

Cyberbullying: How can we protect our children?

In today’s digital age, where children are so immersed in technology, the threat of your child experiencing cyberbullying is very real.

Cyberbullying is a form of harassment that occurs online, often targeting children and adolescents through digital platforms, such as social media, messaging apps, and online communities.

Not sure if your child is experiencing cyberbullying? Some signs to look out for include:

  • A sudden change in daily routines and device use habits
  • Deleting of social media accounts
  • Showing strong negative emotions after social media usage or after school
  • Decreased self-esteem, shown through statements like “life is so difficult” or “everything is meaningless”

Encourage your child to share their online experiences, both positive and negative, without fear of judgment.

Here are some proactive steps we can take to protect our children from cyberbullying.

1. Create a safe space for conversation

Encourage your child to share their online experiences, both positive and negative, without fear of judgment. Creating a safe space for conversation allows you to better understand their online interactions and respond effectively when issues arise.

2. Educate and empower

Teach your children about online etiquette, responsible internet usage, and the potential risks associated with sharing personal information. Empower them with the knowledge and skills to recognise and report cyberbullying incidents. Encourage critical thinking and empathy to foster a healthy online community.

3. Set clear boundaries 

Establish guidelines for screen time, app usage, and online friends. Emphasise the importance of privacy settings on social media platforms and the risks of accepting friend requests from strangers. Setting boundaries helps children understand the limits of their online activities and promotes responsible behaviour.

Always be transparent about your monitoring practices.

4. Monitor online activities

While respecting your child’s privacy, consider implementing parental control software and monitoring tools to keep an eye on their online interactions. Regularly review their friend lists, messages, and posts to identify any signs of cyberbullying. However, always be transparent about your monitoring practices.

5. Encourage offline activities

Balance is key, so encourage your child to participate in offline activities like sports, hobbies, and social gatherings. Engaging in fun, non-digital experiences can help reduce the overall time spent online and minimise your child’s exposure to cyberbullying.

6. Teach resilience

Cyberbullying can be emotionally distressing, so one life skill that we should intentionally build in our children is resilience.

Emphasise the importance of not taking hurtful online comments to heart and how to seek emotional support when needed. Teach them to respond to online bullies with a protective phrase like, “So what?” or “They cannot tell me who I am.”

In conclusion, protecting our children from bullying requires a combination of proactive measures, including education, communication, and fostering the life skill of resilience.

By staying involved in our children’s online lives and guiding them through the digital world, we can help create a safer and more positive online environment for our kids, and for many generations to come!

Managing Exam Stress & Anxiety

Exams – one of the most dreaded words in the Singapore parent’s dictionary. Throw in “DSA”, “AL levels”, “math problem sums”, and I am sure we can almost hear a collective groan amongst parents and children across the island.

With the year-end exams drawing near yet again, it’s common for exam fever to hit our homes. Parents either do their dutiful obligation to support their children with tuition classes or spend extended time over weekends and weekday nights mulling through schoolwork together in solidarity with their child. Many parents do both – it is hard to assuage the niggling anxieties we may have for their future at the back of our minds.

Despite moves in recent years to deemphasize exams in Singapore by the removal of mid-year exams across levels, the pressure cooker lid does not seem to have fully lifted. The statistics are concerning. In a 2020 survey by Focus on the Family, 7 out of 10 children felt negatively about upcoming school exams, choosing words such as “angry”, “worried” or “sad”, and more than three in five felt worried.

Quite significantly, the study also found that parental support could be one factor to help mitigate the negative effects of test anxiety on students. Of the three in five children who were worried, 38.1% indicated that they do not receive consistent parental support. This begs the question: How do we know if our child is feeling stressed?

Tune in to some of their verbal cues that may be indicative of fear or feelings that they do not measure up.

Tackling the signs of stress

It’s important to be aware that stress may not necessarily be a bad thing. In the right amounts, stress can be a form of extra energy that the body uses to prepare for and overcome challenges. However, when stress presents in more extreme or long-lasting forms, we may have to watch for tell-tale signs such as:
  • Struggling to pay attention to schoolwork or activities
  • Finding excuses to miss classes or activities
  • Loss of energy/appetite/sleep
  • Rebelliousness/sulkiness/mood swings
  • Withdrawal from others/ spending more time on mobile devices and social media
In addition to watching out for these signs, we should try to uncover the root causes of such behaviour. A fear of failure can be very real for many children as they struggle with meeting the expectations they know are quietly imposed or sometimes articulated to them by well-meaning parents, teachers and peers. Tune in to some of their verbal cues that may be indicative of fear or feelings that they do not measure up.
  • “I need to do well, or I will have no future.
  • “I am not good at anything/not talented/ useless.”
Refrain from adding to an atmosphere of tension that may trigger more stress and tears.

Exam season tips for parents

Parents would also be wise to learn coping ways for our own stress and expectations to prevent them from spilling over. This is significant when we play such a pivotal role in ensuring their social and emotional well-being and especially so when we are our children’s closest support.

Here are some pointers:

1. Be aware of your child’s needs

The gift of our supportive presence can be second to none. This means not needing our children to perform to our expectations for them but appreciating our children for who they are and where they are at – giving them the needed encouragement and a safe space to learn, grow and make mistakes.

2. Pay attention to what they are saying and doing

During stressful periods, it is more important to listen to what they say and observe their non-verbal cues. When your child is upset, accept their feelings, whatever they are – anger, embarrassment, bravado. Avoid immediate judgment, or solutions, or even reassurance. It is important to observe without feeling a need to comment, nag, remind or get the last word in. In essence, we need to refrain from adding to an atmosphere of tension that may trigger more stress and tears. Pick up on conversations later when there has been time to process these thoughts and feelings.

3. Communicate in an open and supportive manner

Keep usual conversation topics open and not just zoom in on academics no matter how hard-pressed for time we are. “How was your day?”, “What are you looking forward to this weekend?”, “Is there anything we can help you with during this period?” are all important questions to balance perspectives so things don’t get overwhelming.

4. Fuel them up

Nutritious meals, healthy snacks, and adequate sleep can go a long way in smoothing through rough days. Carve out scheduled breaks to unwind and plan something enjoyable that your child enjoys so he or she can recharge and be rejuvenated.

5. Reassure

Let your child know that they are loved and accepted regardless of their examination performance. Prepare cards, special treats and gifts for motivating and cheering him/her on for every effort. Help your child to plan a realistic revision timetable, which breaks the days and subjects down into manageable chunks. This will reduce their anxiety by increasing their sense of control and confidence.

6. Regulate ourselves, not just our children

We set the tone and atmosphere in our homes by what we say, our reactions and body language we display. Be watchful not to invoke undue pressure, comparisons or unfair expectations. As parents, we need to avoid being easily triggered and focus on calming our own mannerisms to keep stress levels low.

With these exam season tips, you can be a safe and consistent anchor for your child while navigating this stressful period together!

How to Avoid Sibling Rivalry

“It’s not fair!” exclaimed the 17-year-old boy, “My mother is always siding with my brother.” 

Alex* was almost in tears when he broke down in the counselling room. He had been meeting me on a regular basis to discuss various issues related to his identity and sense of self-worth. 

With pain in his eyes and a quivering voice, he described all the instances when he felt that he was treated unfairly by his mother. This included extra Japanese classes, an overseas exchange programme in Japan, and even money to buy a new car – for his brother, Joseph*. 

“I just don’t understand why she can give him anything that he wants. But when I ask her for anything, her answer would always be ‘no.’ It’s so frustrating.” 

Alex shared that the rivalry with his brother had gone back as far as he could remember, and this has affected his perspective of himself. He had always felt inferior to Joseph, who seemed to do much better in everything that he did. 

Alex’s story is a good example of how intense sibling rivalry can be; especially if there is perceived injustice. 

From sibling rivalry to sibling love 

But not all siblings engage in such competitive behaviour. Amanda Ng is one such individual. She recently won the Singapore Patient Caregiver Award, which honours persons who have demonstrated strength, resilience and unwavering dedication in caring for another person who requires support. Amanda’s sister, Amelia, suffers from a rare genetic disorder which requires her to rely on a ventilator to breathe. 

Speaking to Focus on the Family Singapore, Amanda shared that she and Amelia were very close growing up, and often played together. However, as Amelia started losing her abilities, Amanda’s mum made an effort for her to play a part in her sister’s care. This helped her realise that despite relying on a tube, Amelia was her own person and that she had her own abilities too.  

“It hasn’t been the easiest. We have watched Amelia gradually lose every one of her abilities. From the ability to call me “Jie-jie” (which means Chinese for sister) to now not even being able to breathe on her own.” 

When asked if there is any sibling rivalry with Amelia, especially since her sister seems to get so much more attention from her parents, Amanda said the closest to this was when she asked her mum if she could have another sibling who was more “normal.”  

In spite of her sister’s disabilities, Amanda truly loves her sister, and the siblings remain close. She shared, “Amelia has a heart of gold. She would wait for me to come home every night from school and hear all about my day.”  

The story of Amanda and Amelia is one where sibling love triumphs over self-centredness.  

But how can everyday parents avoid sibling rivalry? What can they do to help their children feel loved and secure? 

Our children need to know that they are loved beyond the shadow of a doubt. 

Parenting principles to encourage sibling love 

I have two boys, aged 10 and 12, and have experienced times when both boys jostle for the attention of my wife and myself.  

Yet there are other moments which depict the true nature of their relationship – one where they love and support each other in moments both good and bad. During the process, I have learnt three parenting principles to help my children steer away from sibling rivalry and towards sibling love. 

  1. Give your undivided love and attention to each child

    Our children need to know that they are loved beyond the shadow of a doubt. For them to experience this, we need to provide them with our undivided love and attention. This can be when they come back from school or during an outing, when they’re brimming with excitement over something that they had experienced that day, or after watching a movie, talking excitedly about the movie characters and various happenings during the show. 

    For instance, my younger son loves sailing, and I often spend the car ride home talking about the things he learnt while at sea. 

    As for my older son, there are times when he would share excitedly about his latest Nintendo Switch game. During such times, I try to listen attentively to him as he describes all the various characters in the game. I know they appreciate that their Daddy ascribes importance to the things that they love. 

  2. Celebrate your children’s strengths, empathise with their weaknesses 

    We need to know what our children are good at, and continually affirm them in these areas. Likewise, it is important to be aware of what is challenging for them and be extra gentle with them when they fall short. 

    For instance, my older son is particularly kind and attentive to the needs of others, and I often affirm him when he makes other people comfortable just by expressing concern for them. 

    As for my younger son, he is good with his hands, often using his tool kit to do repairs around the house. I often praise him when he manages to fix or restore something. 

    There is a misconception that parents need to love each child in exactly the same way. 

  3. Love your children differently; not equally

    There is a misconception that parents need to love each child in exactly the same way. This is due to the notion that when you treat them equally, they would also feel equally loved. 

    But it is far more important to love your children unconditionally, which means that we understand their needs and acknowledge that each child is different. And we then love them in a way that they would understand. 

    For example, I know my older son’s favourite dish is sambal kangkong, and I would specially cook the dish for him during our meals. 

    As for my younger son, he loves hotdogs and French fries, so I would sometimes stop by the snack stall to buy a couple of sausages for him on the way home.  

When our children know that we love them regardless of what they do, they will develop healthily as
secure individuals, and sibling rivalry and comparisons will also tend to affect them less. 

*All names and identifying features have been changed to protect the anonymity of the persons involved.