Nurturing Bonds: Maintaining a Strong Relationship with Your Child During Their Academic Journey

Formal school is a milestone filled with excitement and nerves. However, as academic pressures mount, parent-child relationships can be strained. This heartfelt article explores the balance between fostering academic success and maintaining a loving, respectful bond with your child.

The excite­ment of a child’s first day of school is pal­pa­ble, almost tan­gi­ble in the air. It is a momen­tous occa­sion, filled with antic­i­pa­tion, nerves, and bound­less ener­gy. As the sun ris­es on each school day from there­on, it also casts a long shad­ow over par­ent-child rela­tion­ships. The bat­tle between par­ent and child ensues. Let’s be can­did here, who would not love to have a child who excels aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly? Every child has poten­tial right? But at what cost? 

Aca­d­e­m­ic stress affects both par­ties in pro­found ways. Watch­ing them strug­gle with aca­d­e­m­ic pres­sure can evoke feel­ings of help­less­ness, guilt and frus­tra­tion. The heavy sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty for their aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess leads to height­ened stress lev­els and strained inter­ac­tions. Over the years, my bond with my first-born was test­ed time and time again, but aca­d­e­m­ic stress only made up a slice of that pie. 

Mother’s Day 2024 was a qui­et dine-in. I had just stepped out of the war-zone that was my younger child’s first WA (weight­ed assess­ment) and was way too tired to step out for any cel­e­bra­tion. With peace final­ly restored, until the next school exam­i­na­tion, I was more than con­tent with the gift of a pack­et of Chrysan­the­mum tea bought from the school can­teen that my son had proud­ly pre­sent­ed to me a few days ear­li­er. The next gift how­ev­er, brought tears to my eyes. Along with a care­ful­ly cro­cheted whale, my first-born hand­ed me a hand-writ­ten let­ter. A time­ly reminder of what was tru­ly impor­tant and to be cher­ished- my bond with my chil­dren. 

In that let­ter, my 22 year old expressed how much she loved me and how blessed she felt to have me as her moth­er. But the tear-jerk­er was this short line, ‘ are my best friend… thank you for always respect­ing me…” 

As par­ents, we are called to make deci­sions and set the tone for our chil­dren. Being an edu­ca­tor, I have also watched how frag­ile the recip­i­ents who bear the con­se­quences of these deci­sions are. I grew up in a time where chil­dren were seen but not heard and that we were liv­ing tro­phies of parental suc­cess. How­ev­er, times have changed. In this day and age where men­tal and emo­tion­al well­be­ing of the younger gen­er­a­tion are often dis­cussed in hushed dis­tressed tones, par­ents of today need a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. Of course we want our off­spring to have the bright­est future pos­si­ble, to have all doors open to them. At the same time, being a par­ent also means being keep­ers to the oth­er aspects of their growth. It is a daunt­ing task to jug­gle the achieve­ments of both aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess as well as raise a well-bal­anced and hap­py child. I do not claim to have all the answers but I know from expe­ri­ence that it can be done. 

Respect them. Always remem­ber that your child is a per­son in their own right. How we treat them and react to them will direct­ly affect how they see them­selves. 

If a fel­low col­league did or said some­thing you felt was out of line, would you open­ly berate them in an attempt to prove you were right? Why not? Your child is not a slighter ver­sion of a human being just because of their age or size. If any­thing, their emo­tions are more ampli­fied than an adult hav­ing not been desen­si­tised by the com­ings and goings of decades lived. It is impor­tant for them to know that their opin­ions are val­ued and that their voice mat­ters. This can moti­vate them to engage more active­ly and take on chal­lenges with a pos­i­tive mind­set. When I get lost in the fray with any of my chil­dren, they call me out on it. It is nev­er dis­re­spect­ful with either tone nor choice of words and I do not think that it is beyond a par­ent to apol­o­gise for act­ing on impulse. After all we too, like our kids, are but human. So we mend fences and get on with life hav­ing avert­ed what could have been a regret­ful unpleas­ant and hurt­ful exchange.

So before hard­en­ing that tone or allow­ing those choice words of upset to leave your lips when you see red cross­es on test papers, stop and think. Is this help­ing? Fos­ter trust instead of fear. Your child will be more open and will­ing to accept the assis­tance you want to pro­vide them with.

This encour­ages effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion. An abil­i­ty that is para­mount under the duress of aca­d­e­m­ic stress.

The antic­i­pa­tion of know­ing that one would receive an ear­ful or a sting­ing smack is more than enough to stop any child from want­i­ng to share open­ly with a par­ent. We are their safe space, their com­fort and guide. How many times do we need to hear sto­ries about oth­er chil­dren turn­ing to their peers for advice and things go hor­ri­bly wrong from there? Thank­ful­ly, that is some­thing I have not had to deal with both my chil­dren. I know I am their first port of call because I do not jump to react quick­ly. Over the years, I have also had my daughter’s friends ask for my opin­ion because they felt that they could not share with their own par­ents. And I feel for­tu­nate that such trust is extend­ed to me so I can help anoth­er young per­son avoid poten­tial­ly bad sit­u­a­tions. Such trust takes time and loads of patience to build. And if we can­not be expect­ed to lis­ten with­out judge­ment on some­thing as basic as our child’s aca­d­e­m­ic strug­gles then we are putting our­selves at risk of being left out of the loop when it real­ly mat­ters.

 Hence it is essen­tial to cre­ate an open and sup­port­ive envi­ron­ment where both par­ent and child feel com­fort­able express­ing their feel­ings and con­cerns.

Next, man­age your expec­ta­tions. Know­ing and accept­ing your child is essen­tial to set real­is­tic goals. Also be ready to cel­e­brate their efforts and progress, regard­less of the out­come. 

M, my first­born, was nev­er a high-scor­ing stu­dent with most of her sub­jects oth­er than Eng­lish and Lit­er­a­ture at both Pri­ma­ry and Sec­ondary school. On her own, she would have only man­aged to cliche Cs. How­ev­er, with the tuition class­es I pro­vid­ed, she did man­age to attain some Bs. Every­time exam­i­na­tion results were brought home, she would always glance up at my face to see how I would react before allow­ing her­self to com­ment on how she felt she had done. There were occa­sions when I real­ly had to bite my tongue but the want to be sen­si­tive towards her feel­ings always stopped me. Know­ing that one has dis­ap­point­ed a loved one is pun­ish­ing on its own. It brings out the insipid ‘I’m not good enough’ and this would be yet anoth­er dent in a child’s self-esteem. So instead of fret­ting over what I knew was a los­ing bat­tle, I redi­rect­ed my ener­gy and hers into pur­suits that she excelled in. I took on an active role in her CCA (which she even­tu­al­ly became chair­per­son for) as a par­ent vol­un­teer and encour­aged her love for music. The end result was a hap­py, ful­filled child who accept­ed her­self. That made all the dif­fer­ence in the years to come.

They have their own strengths and weak­ness­es just like any oth­er grown-up per­son. Go all out and nur­ture their inter­ests even if it is not aca­d­e­m­ic. Neg­a­tiv­i­ty will always seed self-doubt and we want our chil­dren to be able to be con­fi­dent indi­vid­u­als who have been taught and empow­ered to make the right choic­es. 

I do not claim to have chil­dren who ace all their sub­jects and who do not also resist the gift of extra tuition and enrich­ment class­es. I have one I still strug­gle with despite my best efforts but I also have one who helps me keep my eye on the prize. My eldest is fin­ish­ing her Bach­e­lors and will be apply­ing for a Mas­ters pro­gramme soon. The jour­ney to get here will not be remem­bered  by the bat­tle scars of aca­d­e­m­ic stress but by a strong par­ent-child bond for­ti­fied with respect, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and most impor­tant­ly, love. 

Hav­ing said all this, I too recog­nise the fear of not hav­ing done enough. The ‘What ifs’ of not push­ing them hard enough and of not being firm enough to make them see my best inten­tions have made me ques­tion myself more times than I would care to admit. But think about it this way, if the foun­da­tion is firm, built with uncon­di­tion­al parental sup­port, imag­ine the dreams that can be built on that alone? 

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