Parenting Tips for Raising Children in a Meritocratic Society
By Dr Wilson Chan, Principal Educational Psychologist
For a long time, meritocracy has defined Singaporean society. Even though meritocracy as a principle upholds fair opportunities for all, it has come to mean different things in the everyday experience of parents with school-going children. While parents of children who are academically inclined might likely have a positive experience, those whose children who are struggling with the academic demands in school might find their parenting journey somewhat more arduous. Even with the significant changes to the education system over the past few years to create a more diverse meritocracy through multiple pathways for children with different aptitudes and interests, parental anxieties persist. Here are some useful tips for parents:
Tip 1 – Help Children to Develop an Authentic Sense of Self
Children need to develop an authentic sense of self through knowing that they are precious and enough in themselves regardless of their aptitudes, accomplishments or limits. A self-portrait that is authentic and empowering often begins with an honest evaluation that every child is uniquely endowed with gifts, talents and limits. While gifts and talents present a plenitude of opportunities, limits are as important in creating the optimal space to allow each child’s unique contributions to be at his or her best. Learning more about the possible underlying causes of a child’s limits in school performance such as having learning difficulties of dyslexia (specific to reading), dysgraphia (specific to writing) or dyscalculia (specific to mathematics) makes it easier for parents to understand their children’s challenges and embrace their differences.
Tip 2 – Help Children to Develop Anchoring Values
Values are the fundamental beliefs that guide and motivate children’s behaviours and choices. Children having a strong value of respect for self will appreciate and make use of their gifts and talents to realise their potential. Children with a strong value of respect for others will honour the gifts and talents in others and see differences not as less but as an opportunity to embrace and celebrate diversity. Children who acknowledge the value of continuous effort as the key to unlocking potential will respect hard work in all their endeavours. Children who recognise the value of personal excellence, not perfection, will always put their best foot forward to strive to do everything to their personal best, not just only for themselves, but also to make a positive difference to the community they are in.
Tip 3 – Help Children to Strengthen Personal Competencies
Research shows that parents can greatly influence their children’s chances for success in school through strengthening their sense of personal competence and positive work habits. Fostering a mastery goal orientation where achievement is based on intrapersonal standards of learning rather than a performance goal focus where achievement is based on normative standards of performing is beneficial in developing the child’s sense of personal competence. When embarking on tasks, greater emphasis should be on effort and the process instead of the outcomes. To strengthen positive work habits, focus on helping children develop essential planning and organisational skills, handle distractions and crises of confidence, as well as to affirm their effort and persistence. Over time, these are the attributes that will gradually build solid foundations for ongoing school and life success.
Tip 4 – Let Go of Fears and Work on Unconditional Acceptance
When parents find themselves constantly criticising their children, it may often be due to their own fears. Perhaps, it is the fear that they are not doing a good job as a parent or a fear of being judged by others or a fear that their children will grow up not being able to secure a good job. Parents need to learn to let go of their own fears and not use their children as a proxy for them to feel good or prove themselves.
Unconditional acceptance is one of the greatest gifts parents can give to their children. If parents are able to accept themselves better regardless of their aptitudes, accomplishments or limits, then it will be easier for them to accept their children in the same way. According to Brene Brown (2015), “we judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing…we’re hard on each other because we’re using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived deficiency”. Judging somebody else’s attainments or situation as a way to measure oneself is the surest way to be perpetually anxious. Hence, parents should stop comparing their children with others and learn how to accept their children for who they are. Truth be told, each child is a unique masterpiece and is as worthy as everyone else even if parents do not view or feel it to be so.
The role of parents will continue to be pivotal in helping children discover their own ingenuity and celebrate the diversity of their abilities and talents even as schools in meritocratic Singapore put in their effort to broaden definitions of success. Having an authentic sense of self with its unique qualities, anchoring values to guide choices, competencies for effective action and unconditional acceptance from parents, all children can be empowered to become the best version of themselves to face the challenges in an ever-changing world and forge their own pathways to success.
Brown, B. (2015). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. Avery.