Children today live in an intensely competitive environment, unlike carefree childhoods of the past. A parent is naturally predisposed to strive to ensure that their child receives the best in life. Yet this often equates to extra tuition and intense parental pressure to do well academically, which compounds an already stressful environment for children.

The home is where a child learns in a loving environment how to care, share, love and how to give. What children learn, not only at school but even more importantly at home, is what enables them to be a positive contributor to society and the world at large in their adulthood.

However, many homes have transformed into a second tuition class, where parents feel compelled to review yet again the lessons learned at school and at tuition classes. In order to ensure she does this properly, the mother equips herself with teachers’ guides from NIE, buys printed textbooks and teaching aids on each subject and prioritizes being a ‘teacher’ over a loving and supportive caregiver.

Most children have a six-hour-school day followed by tuition, which consumes around two to three hours including the commute. The child eventually arrives home only around 5.30 pm, not to playtime but to move on to the next ‘class’ with his or her parent. Homework and assignments take the child up to dinner time, after which it is bedtime before an early start the next day.

This way there is little time for play, talk, caring or sharing. The child’s time is consumed by academics gleaned from three different places at the expense of absorbing the moral lessons usually learnt at home.

As children grow up and move away from the direct guidance of parents, the effects of this lifestyle show up in bad life choices, violent tendencies, and sometimes stress-led suicide, which leave families inconsolable.

When parents focus their energies on such a competitive lifestyle, the child who is deprived of a real childhood cannot be blamed for their resulting behavior. The foundations of love and security provided at home are irreplaceable.

Fortunately there are several steps parents can take to help:

1.‘Being there’ emotionally
During times of stress, children usually need extra nurturing, comfort and understanding from their parents and caregivers to help them feel secure and confident. Be open and receptive to how your children are feeling, and provide comfort and attention when needed. Make them aware that you understand what they are feeling and are going through.

2. Discuss feelings
Encourage children to talk about how they feel. Listen with empathy so that they feel understood and know that their feelings are normal. Help your children understand that talking about feelings can help manage them.

3. Support your children’s confidence
Teach children to be brave by showing them you believe they can do it and encourage them to ‘have a go’ even if they are feeling nervous. Providing positive feedback for effort, celebrating successes and encouraging them to keep trying will help your children feel confident in approaching assessments.

4. Help with relaxation skills
Breathing slowly to calm down and helping them imagine themselves coping well during a test are really helpful ways of managing anxiety. Doing it with them is a fun way to start.

5.Teach helpful thinking
Instead of telling themselves, “I can’t do this”, encourage them to say, “I’ll give it a go”.

6.Lead by example
Show your child how you cope positively with anxiety or stress by thinking out loud. For example, just saying: “I feel a bit nervous but I’m going to try my best.” Remaining calm and positive when your child is feeling anxious can help them feel more confident.

7.Help your child have clear expectations
Talk them through what could happen. You may even wish to talk to the school about where the test will take place and see if you can visit the location beforehand. Many big tests are held in the school hall or even off-campus.

Facing exams can be taken as an opportunity to strengthen a child’s personality if taken in the correct perspective, so make it an opportunity to help your child develop a balanced attitude towards the ups and downs of life he or she will face in the future.

The Grade 5 Scholarship Examination is the first major examination most Sri Lankan children face. Therefore parents should pay close attention to the stress caused by it. The Atlas ‘Manasalokaya’ initiative endeavours to spread awareness about this and to equip parents with information on how to offer the appropriate support to ease the mental burden on the child.