Wednesday, January 30, 2019

"It Takes a Village"

My children attend a local school in Hong Kong. This means so much more than simply Chinese being the language of instruction, because "local school" implies rote learning and standardized testing. And with that comes the stress of being tested. 

In Finland, students are tested at the beginning of a subject module to see what they know and don't know. Then they are quizzed at points over the ensuing weeks to check that they are learning the things that they don't yet know. But enough about Finland. I have not posted on my blog for more than one year, and what has spurred me to action is not a desire to do a comparative study of education systems. 

The reason I feel compelled to write is that kids at my children's school are feeling stress because this week they receive their exam results, and I want to share my thoughts with other parents.

If my child does better than expected, I will praise his efforts, not his IQ or talent. Yes, of course I will be happy and proud, but instead of "Wow, my awesome boy, so good, so smart!", experts suggest saying to him, "Wow, you really tried and your efforts were rewarded. You're lucky the exam covered things that you studied hard for, and good for you for getting such a good mark!" 

If my child does worse than expected, it's okay to be unhappy. But my unhappiness will be expressed with concern rather than with anger. It's okay to share my worries and my lack of knowledge with my child: "I worry that this will affect your acceptance to high school." "I don't know how to help you prepare for exams, can you tell me how I can help you do better on the next exam?" “Let’s talk about what happened and how you can improve your score on the next exam?”

After my child and I review and discuss exam results, I will move on to the important things in my life and my child's life: weekend plans, holiday plans, what my child has created in art class or has read during Reading Time... I have many things to focus on, and won’t let exam scores affect my time and relationship with my child.

If the school calls to tell me that my child was so upset with his exam result that he attempted suicide during recess, what would be my reaction? Shock? Premonition? Embarrassment?

(1) If I feel shock, then I don’t know my child very well. Yes, maybe my child is a skilled actor purposely hiding his feelings. But if I spend quality time with him, I should know his personality, capabilities and coping skills. If I feel shock, then it means that both of us need professional help.

(2) If I had a feeling this may happen, then I must already know that my child is over-anxious and/or capable of suicidal thoughts. If I am not surprised to receive this call from the school, then it means that I need to find professional help for my child right away. 

(3) If I feel embarrassed about what happened, then I am only focusing on what the school and other parents will think of me. If I think about my own reputation more than my child’s attempted suicide, then I need professional help.

So, it seems that, no matter what my reaction is, the answer is professional help. Seeking professional help doesn’t mean that I am a bad parent or that my child is defective. Seeking professional help means that I am willing to admit that I cannot handle everything by myself, that I want to improve: my parenting skills, my child’s emotional state, and our parent-child relationship.

I cannot wait for something serious to happen before seeking help. I should not let “face” prevent me from seeking help. 

Foodies love recommendations about good restaurants. Yoga enthusiasts love to improve their technique from good teachers. Feng shui believers want advice from masters. If I love my child, if I am enthusiastic about my child and if I believe in my child, then I need to talk to people. 

"It takes a village to raise a child." Reach out, learn, seek advice. 

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