Monday, 8 May 2017

Why I do not coach my kids anymore

I have been asked this many times - Do I coach my kids? The answer is no. Not at all. I don't look at their daily homework nor test them spelling. In fact, I tell them not to come to me when they get stuck because I probably won't be able to answer their questions.

I'm not kidding. The way they do Math is different from our time, and don't get me started on Science structured questions. "Mum, you need to answer with key words." When I guided them on their Chinese composition, they came back with a fail grade. It is still a running family joke.

They know my standard answer - go look for an older sibling as they'll have better luck in getting the concepts explained properly to them, with the appropriate key-words thrown in.

It wasn't that I didn't try. When #1 was in P2 & P3, she would come to me when stuck while doing homework and I was able to help her. The turning point came in P4. Every few days, she would need help to finish her Math, Science or Chinese homework and truth be told, I was annoyed that she couldn't independently handle homework doled out to her.

Having 4 other kids on my tail left me scarcely any time to deal with #1's academic demands, and being in a constantly sleep-deprived state must have made me prone to going berserk.

I remember one particular incident when I was trying to help her with her Math homework, and she could not comprehend it. I became angrier and angrier and started yelling at her. I can't remember exactly what I said, but they were unnecessarily hurtful words along the lines of "I've explained to you so many times! What can't you understand? What is wrong with you? Why are you so stupid?" My blood was boiling and I felt like smacking her. 

I was shocked at my own extreme reaction. I am by nature a calm and patient person, and here I was, getting agitated by my own child, over MathI saw the fear in her eyes as she recoiled from my wrath, and there and then, I decided that it was not worth it. I could not let this ruin our mother-daughter relationship. My first and foremost responsibility is to be her mum, and this tutoring job can be outsourced.

I did feel like some kind of failure, but found out that many of my friends were in the same boat. Some have flung school bags out of the house, while others have raised their hands at their children. It is never the right thing to do, and we have no excuse. But the reality is that it is not easy teaching our own children. Some parents are cut out for it, and some are not. I am glad I recognized it early enough before saying or doing things I might have regretted.

When she moved on to P5, it became an almost daily struggle to complete her homework. Being our eldest, it did not occur to us that she might need tuition as she was fairly bright and in a top school so we had the impression that the teachers would prepare them adequately for tests and exams.

Since I had thrown in the coaching hat, the hubs volunteered to do it. The first time #1 went to him with her Math problem sums, he eagerly took on the challenge. 3 hours later, she finally emerged from the room. She revealed that daddy took so long to finish 2 pages of her Math homework and she still has other homework to do. Worst of all, he used the wrong method. His coaching stint ended as soon as it began.

Since then, we have stopped coaching them. Even if they come home with entire worksheets covered in red or if they fail their tests, I seldom nag or scold them. I ask if they had prepared well for it, and what are they going to do about it. I don't want the focus when they get test marks back to be on what mum is going to say, but on how they think they can improve in future.

I keep an eye on the big picture and monitor their grades for their CAs and SAs throughout the year. It is better to find out their percentile instead of looking at the raw score. In her P5 year, #1 barely passed her English mid-year exams. I was concerned, but when I spoke to her teacher she said, "Oh, don't worry, it was a very tough paper and almost the entire class failed. She was one of the top scorers."

They get one-to-one tuition in the P6 year because I find that an effective way to plug the content gaps in topics which they might have missed over the years. The tutors also know how to guide them to phrase their answers to suit the examiners. 

While writing this post, I was chatting with my girls to get their perspective now that they are already in secondary school. I asked them how did they manage without coming to me for help.

"We know that you will tell us to figure it out ourselves or ask our teacher, so we have to pay attention in class. There is a lot of wasted time between lessons, so we quickly get our homework done and if there is anything we don't understand, we ask our friends. Most of them have tuition."

I burst out laughing. They had found their own strategy and outsourced the coaching to their classmates! It's good for their friends too, as the best way to understand something well is to explain it to others. Brilliant win-win situation.

School Stories:

#1 - When your son gets into fights in school
#2 - My son the loan shark
#3 - So kids can't play once they start school?
#11 - How #2 topped her level in English
#12 - DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 - Tuition - First line of attack?
#14 - Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 - First day mix up!
#16 - The day I forgot to pick my son from school
#17 - No more T-score. Now what?
#18 - Tackling the new school year
#19 - She did it, without tuition.
#20 - So who's smarter?

~ - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~


  1. I sound like a greenhorn at this with my recent post on how I coach Sophie with our 30 minutes revision strategy since we opt for the no tuition route for now. That's the difference with 1 child where she gets all my attention to bug her.

    1. Hey Susan,

      What works for one family may not for another and I have nothing but admiration for your dedication. Having said that, after doing what I do, I have discovered a by-product of this "chill mum" method which became the secret of their self-motivation in P5 and P6. Guess I will write about it in another post soon!

  2. I want to hi-5 you... for being the mum who held back tuition till it's necessary. I became a monster mum too with my first kid, and now, only enough strength to be half a monster to my son taking his PSLE this year. I like the part on your review with your kids post exams.. that they will find their own strategies to cope!! That's so much more learnings than being spoon fed with tuition!! Thanks for this article!

    1. Dear Joey,

      Haha, half a monster. You probably understand how I feel after having gone through PSLE with 4 so far! Yes, one definite draw back on giving kids tuition too early is that they become overly reliant on it plus the message we might unwittingly send is that we don't have enough confidence in their own abilities.

  3. I disagree with your method partially. The children's classmates or schoolmates are none the wiser n not capable of teaching unless they are grade A or B students in particular subject. It will be misleading n even foolish to outsource the difficult questions your children face to their schoolmates even if they have tuition. Get the professional tuition teacher yourself if u cant teach well.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I gather you must be a tutor? My kids are savvy enough to know which classmates to ask for help, and they are definitely the A/A* students. They come home and relate how so and so scored 100% for the Math test again. Trust me, these highly tutored kids know their stuff. Even if my kids do get the difficult questions wrong, their teachers will go through them in class (or I would expect them to). To hire a tutor the whole year round for them in the P3, P4 or even P5 years just because of these certain difficult questions seems rather foolish of me, no? Every child is different and every family has different ways of approaching the PSLE, but this method has worked for us and for 3 of my kids to achieve by-the-way straight As shows that I'm not too far off the mark. But again, the main point in this post was for parents who wonder if there is another way besides coaching their kids on a daily basis, which they don't particularly enjoy but feel compelled to.


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