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How NOT to raise a child with poor study habits

Professional coach Kenny Toh discusses the 3 common misconceptions that contribute to children's learning struggles, and shares tips on how to make sure that kids learn the best way they can and perform well in school.

misconceptions about education Here are some misconceptions about education

As a father of two school-going children, I can’t help but to ponder about the goals of education. As a professional coach, I’m well aware of the power of paradigms and perspectives, and how we see education has a great implication on what we do as parents.

According to Singapore's Ministry of Education (MOE), education does two things: it develops the individual and educates the citizen. The first goal is about nurturing the whole child - developing the child morally, intellectually, physically, socially and aesthetically. The second goal is about developing the child’s sense of responsibility towards community and country. The desired outcome of education is well depicted in an excerpt from a speech delivered by Minister of Education Ng Eng Hen at the 4th Anniversary Public Lecture:

“In the end of their journey in our education system, they must leave it with a sense of wholeness and preparedness, and a desire to preserve, maintain and improve themselves and the lives of those around them.”

The vision is indeed inspiring. There is no doubt that Singapore is known globally for its education system, although it does have its critics. The good news is that it is continuously evolving towards excellence in educational philosophy and practices. The recent shift towards an increasing emphasis on equipping pupils with life skills and values, tailoring to their talents and learning needs, and providing more time and space for their holistic development is certainly encouraging.

From the child’s perspective, “education” is a big word that simply means going to school, learning, making friends and doing things with them. I gave up justifying to our eight-year-old who questions periodically, “Why must I go to school?” The truth is, children don’t go to school to prepare for their future. They go to school because that’s what people of their ages do.

The alternative is either to stay at home (and deal with boredom) or to go to work (which they are too young or ill-equipped for). One could only hope that the process of education is so fun, engaging and exciting that children couldn’t wait to go to school.

Lastly, as a parent, I see education as merely one of the many aspects of a child’s journey towards adulthood, in which the child learns, develops and grow into an independent, socially responsible and full-functioning human being. As such, there is more to a child’s life than attending school, tuition and enrichment classes.

I see school as a place where children learn how to learn and grow personally through the many learning opportunities and challenges that school life offers. These include dealing with a bully, facing rejections, handling stress, working as a team and leading others. These lessons aren’t simply to prepare them for adult life, but to enable them to live effectively as a pupil and to actualize their unique potentials.

Besides school, the family plays a pivotal role in the child’s growth. Parents must not outsource everything to the school, especially moral education.

So, what insights do the above perspectives give us? One common thread that runs through them is growth-oriented learning. The child has an innate capacity to learn and grow. MOE aims to develop the child holistically. The parent hopes for the child to grow into an independent, responsible and successful adult. As such, education is more about facilitating a child’s personal growth than the acquisition of knowledge or mastery of academic subjects.

While most educators and parents recognize that academic competence alone isn’t adequate, many continue to be trapped in the old thinking that a child’s primary task is simply to study. Unfortunately, countless well-intentioned parents continue to struggle unnecessarily with their children over the latter’s homework, study habits and academic performance because of their undue emphasis on academic achievements.

Here are three common misconceptions that can contribute to their struggles, plus tips on how not to raise a child with poor study habits:

1. Good Grades means Good Job, and Good Job means Good Life

Contrary to popular belief, the skills for scoring As in exams are not the same as the skills for living a successful life. Firstly, to the employer, academic results is only one of the many criteria used for screening a candidate during recruitment. Increasingly, greater emphasis is placed on skills, attitude and relevant experience.

Secondly, the definition of "good life" or "success" varies from individual to individual. What is "good" to the parent may not necessarily be good to the child.

Philosophers, sages and scientists tend to agree that the foundation to a good life is virtues. For example, morality determines whether a whiz kid turns out to be a Nobel Prize-winning computer scientist or a notorious hacker. Thus, character education ought to deserve more attention than academic education.

2. Children must excel at their studies

Many parents cannot accept that their children could excel in non-academic pursuits such as sports or arts, and yet do poorly in their studies. As a result, they direct their energy to "fixing their children’s weaknesses" by enrolling the latter in tutorial classes, enrichment classes and motivational camps that promise to unleash their "giftedness."

In the process, they fail to appreciate that every child has his unique set of abilities, talents and limitations. When parents focus excessively on their children’s shortcomings, they risk dampening the latter’s morale and self-esteem, and adversely affect their performance.

Perhaps, we could learn from the corporate sector, in which human resource practitioners have long been advocating: “Play to one’s strength.” By encouraging and supporting the child to excel in non-academic pursuits that are aligned with their innate talents, the confidence, discipline and self-esteem developed in the process can have a far more positive impact on their studies and later in their success in life than extra classes.

3. Good result is matter of hard work

When children don’t do well in their studies, parents often conclude that they have not worked hard enough. They drive their children to study even harder, often disallowing them from playing. As a result, their children become more stressed, both from failing to meet their parents’ expectations and the lack of relaxation that playing provides.

The truth is, effort is only one factor of success. Others include having effective study techniques, exams strategy and state management. State management is by far the most crucial, as any peak performance athlete would agree. It might be more beneficial for parents to help their children uncover and overcome the barriers that are preventing them from learning effectively, and seek to put them in the right mood or state of mind for learning or performing.

Every parent necessarily has his or her own ideas about education and the importance of academic achievements. After all, we are the products of our own history of experiences. But we must not let our biases get in the way of determining what is best for our children. We must be willing to question our beliefs, and eliminate any misconception that prevents us from parenting with greater joy, confidence and peace.


This article is written by Kenny Toh, a professional coach, passionate father and the founder of The Coaching Academy, Institute of Advanced Parentology and International Network for Parents as Coaches.

As a leading advocate for Parents-as-Coaches and Non-Punitive Discipline in Singapore, Kenny is committed to advancing the practice of parenting through a multidisciplinary approach that integrates the principles and practices from various disciplines including philosophy, psychology, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and personal development.

He has been invited to speak at public seminars such as Joyful Parenting Conference 2006 and Great Parenting Seminar 2007, and a wide range of educational institutions including Nanyang Technological University, National Junior College, secondary schools, primary schools and pre-schools. His insights and writings on parenting-related topics have been featured frequently in publications such as Readers’ Digest Asia, Straits Time’s Mind Your Body, Young Parents, Today’s Parents, Family Magazine, Mother and Baby, and Young Families.

To find our more information about Kenny's work, kindly email [email protected] or visit and