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Dealing with exam stress

Here is a snapshot of how Singaporean families help their children prepare for examinations and what the children do to destress

The whole family pulls together

When Krysh Chainani, 12, finished his final paper for the Primary School Leaving Examination on Tuesday, he celebrated by playing video games, running around playing catch with his friends and watching three movies at home.

His parents had forbidden him to play digital games for about two months as he prepared intensively for the exams. His mother also requested his friends to not ask him to play outdoors so he could focus on his revision.

His younger sister, 10-year-old Kyana, had to cut back on watching television as well, since Krysh was allowed to watch only educational programmes such as Chinese shows to listen to Mandarin, the Mother Tongue language he takes.

"The whole family pulled together," says his mother, parenting trainer Meiling Wong-Chainani, who is married to businessman Tarun Chainani, 44.

  •  Helping a stressed child

  • Here are some ways to help your children if they show signs of examination stress, such as short-temperedness, irritability, headaches, stomach aches, anxiety, loss of appetite or sleeplessness.

    •Parents should acknowledge their children's emotions. If a child is unwilling to open up about his worries, encourage him to write them down instead. Let him know you love him, regardless of his results.

    •Fit some form of physical exercise into the child's daily routine, even during the hectic examination period. Research has shown that exercise helps to reduce anxiety and increase energy levels.

    •Parents must understand that different children handle stress differently. Do not say that examinations are something that everyone goes through.

    •Draw the focus away from the topic of his studies; show your appreciation for the child in what he does, such as being respectful to his grandparents, or playing nicely with his siblings. A hug or saying "well done" can dissipate some of the child's anxiety.

    •Be positive before an exam. Give the child confidence by reassuring him that he has prepared well. Refrain from saying, for instance, "Don't make careless mistakes".

    •Information provided by Ms Sarah Chua, parenting specialist at Focus on the Family Singapore, and Mrs Sarojini Padmanathan, a council member of Families for Life, who conducts parenting workshops in schools

However, even as Krysh, a film buff, was taking the written papers for the PSLE, which Primary 6 pupils in Singapore took between Sept 29 and Oct 5, his parents allowed him to watch movies on four occasions.

Mrs Wong-Chainani, 45, explains: "It was to allow him to do something to help him relax. He's not going to be able to cram it in at this late stage."

Regular movie nights, with ice cream and popcorn, are a way for the family to spend time together.

With the PSLE over, Krysh says he has been given two weeks to do whatever he wants.

After that, life will carry on at a more leisurely pace before school ends next month. He will be resuming guitar lessons, which he stopped early this year to focus on the PSLE.


Memories of examinations in photos

Advertising agency boss Jeff Cheong, 40, took half a day off from work for each of his son's four written papers in the Primary School Leaving Examination recently, to be around for Seth, the eldest of his three children.

He also documented Seth's PSLE preparations in black-and-white photos on his Facebook account.

"I could not remember the last day of my own PSLE. I wanted to create memories for Seth and his buddies," says Mr Cheong, president of advertising agency Tribal Worldwide Asia.

He is also a council member of Families for Life, an organisation that promotes resilient families.

He and his wife, finance analyst Faith Koh, 40, also wanted to have a record to show their daughters.

The couple hope that Beth, 10, and Janneth, seven, will not find examinations that scary if they could see their brother and parents going through the PSLE together.

In the run-up to the exams, while they ensured that Seth did two practice exam papers every day, he could also destress, for instance, by going to have fast food and ice cream with his family and going to church.

Mr Cheong says: "We did not have a special routine for the examinations. We wanted him to keep in touch with friends and family."

After the exams ended on Tuesday, Seth, 12, went with friends to eat roti prata, his favourite hawker food, and played Xbox games for four hours.

Seth is grateful that his parents let him relax and did not go "full Asian".

"The PSLE is not that stressful. People make it out to be extremely hard but it's okay," he says.


Watching 3am football before a paper

During secondary student Jaren Ong's O-level preliminary examinations in August, he watched a football match at about 3am with his father before sitting a paper later that morning.

"My parents give me quite a lot of freedom when it comes to studying. They know that as students, we already have our own expectations. So they don't pile more expectations on me," explains Jaren, 15, who will be sitting his O-level examinations later this month.

He is glad he watched that match as his favourite team, Liverpool, won.

He is allowed to study where he wants, whether it is at home, at his friends' homes or at McDonald's and Starbucks.

Occasionally, he cooks for friends or family members during exams to take his mind off his work. He has taught himself to cook simple dishes from YouTube instruction videos.

Says his mother Thang Leng Leng, 51: "We don't want our children to feel so stressed that they cannot focus. If he wants to relax, we let him decide what he can handle." She is the deputy director of National University of Singapore's Centre for Family and Population Research and is married to a managing director of a construction firm.

Her elder son, 22, is studying liberal arts at Yale-NUS College.

She helps Jaren in Chinese if he asks her. "When the children were younger, I used to get agitated when teaching them. At this stage, I think they know more than us," she says.

"The school syllabus is not easy, we really have to be encouraging and trust that they want to do well."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 09, 2016, with the headline 'Dealing with exam stress'. Print Edition | Subscribe