“Fear is a distorting mirror in which anything can appear as a caricature of itself, stretched to terrible proportions; once inflamed, the imagination pursues the craziest and most unlikely possibilities. What is most absurd suddenly seems the most probable.”
- Stefan Zweig
The fear of losing out is one that Singaporeans are familiar with. The word “kisasu” is often used to describe this fear. Particularly, Singaporean parents are often labeled as “kiasu” because we are known to go through extreme means to ensure that our children top their classes.
I, for one, would like to confess to allowing kiasu-ism to grip me at times. Don’t get me wrong. It is not that my children have to emerge first in class but I have every intention of helping my children with their subjects, especially those that they are weak in. For good measure, this will mean helping them get average or reasonable grades in school. And since the education system here is known to be tough with an emphasis on academics, even doing reasonably well can come off as pressure – or so it seems – to my children.
Literally, “kiasu” means afraid to lose in the Hokkien dialect. I did not realize this until the writing of this post: apparently, kiasu has already been officially accepted in the Oxford dictionary.
Being kiasu does not apply to people who are parents alone. Kiasu-ism simply describes the general attitude of being afraid to lose out in a competitive setting. The problem with being kiasu is that it can lead to ungracious behavior and unconsciously reduce the quality of our relationships with the people around us.
Some specific acts of being left behind include:
- barging into trains or buses without waiting for alighting passengers to leave first;
- piling up the plate with lots of food, more than what one person can eat, in a buffet;
- jumping queues;
- sending children to more than one tuition class for one subject outside school hours (for instance, 2 to 3 classes for Maths, 2-3 classes for English and so on);
- sending children to multiple academic classes before formal school at Primary One.
While kiasuism may apply generally, I hope to share more about my experiences and thoughts as a parent living in a competitive environment.
The Kiasu Education Scene
Things have gotten overboard in the recent months. In some articles like here and here, it was reported that parents can hire tutors-on-call to do children’s school homework and tuition assignments. Some tutors even impose an additional surcharge if they are asked to complete the children’s home past midnight.
I also know of children who are allowed very little or no free time at all because they are piled with school work and extra classes over seven days a week. Some even has classes that are all academic, with none of an activity-driven nature.
Last week, the tuition center that my children are currently enrolled in wanted me to confirm their places for next year. I was asked to make an advance deposit for reservation and that I had to agree that classes would start from December this year in preparation for the academic year of 2013. I was told that if I did not make a reservation, their seats would be given up immediately. Although I was annoyed about having to make a decision so quickly (hey, it is now only September!), I realized that I had little choice but to secure a place. I gave in to kiasu-ism and grudgingly registered my children.
Confessions As a Kiasu Parent
Then again, I don’t believe that I am an extremist either. My children are currently not given tuition classes in all subjects, nor do they have more than one tuition class for each subject that they are weak in. They are also not sent to the most expensive classes in town. Even then, they are already feeling overloaded. They have been complaining that there is not enough time for play.
It can get competitive when mothers get-together. Thus, I prefer to avoid meeting parents who spend their time comparing the performances of their children. But every once in a while, I would attend such outings. During some of these, I found myself experiencing a wave of panic when I discover that their children were doing much more, achieving much more, attending more classes and scoring more As.
It is not just academic results alone. The list can get pretty endless, for children are additionally being sent for all kinds of activities such as competitive ice-skating, art, and gymnastics. Parents are willing to pay to get some of the best teachers for extra training. (Note: It is not that competition is no good but a child can crack under excessive pressure.)
Fortunately, I have been able to rein in on much of my fear by talking things out with my husband. As I later discover, it is not just a female hormonal thing that drives many mothers to panic and applying irrational pressure on their children. Another secret that I would like to share: my husband gets his turn with anxiety attacks regarding our children too. What is great is that we are able to see from each other’s perspectives and help the other alleviate unnecessary anxiety when phobia strikes without warning.
Suggestions To Address Kiasu Parenting
Contemplation for Parents. Let us acknowledge that happiness or success is not derived from the number of skills or subjects learned in school. There are more important values such as respect, unconditional love and integrity, to emphasize on. And not all these can be developed in a classroom setting.
A number of parents take pride in their children. They give their children the best, things that they did not have in their own childhood. They hope that their children will shine in glory from their achievements. They hope that their children can help them gain some “face”. They long to know that all their sacrifices have finally paid off. By having a trophy-child, they have something to “boast” about and be proud of.
Unfortunately, setting unrealistic goals can bring about negative consequences. Not all children are born with the gifts that parents hope they have. Children may be pressurized to take on roles, dreams, aspirations and responsibilities far before they are ready. They may even grow up to resent their parents for pushing them to excel in something that they have no innate passion for.
Here is a poem by Khalil Gibran that I would like to remind myself with:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love, but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
Raise and not Lower Self-Esteem. The fear of losing out creates a distortion in thinking. The root core is based on low self-esteem. It creates the fallacy that our worth can only be derived from being at the top or achieving good grades. It also results in the perception that we can only be loved and accepted if we perform well in school.
Children will be fed with the wrong message if we don’t at the same time give them unconditional love and acceptance. They will grow up believing that they will never be good enough. This can have negative consequences such as developing low self-confidence throughout their life.
If we truly love our children, let’s do things that will help them boost their sense of self-worth. Give them plenty of hugs and kisses – whether or not they do well or not. Instead of putting them down, use positive affirmations on and with them. Also, allow them time to climb trees in the park
Parents are the best role models for their children. If you have an issue with self-esteem, then maybe you would like to consider working on yourself first.
Give Space For Retreat. While it is great to encourage children to do well, it is important not to tip over to pressure. I cannot profess to saying that we have found the magic formula on what this balance is. There have been times when my daughters would point out that I have gotten overboard. This stops me in my tracks and lets me know that it is time to retreat from my stance.
The opportunity to lay off pressure is precious for it enables me to introduce grace into the moment of madness. I am grateful to my children for their reminders. Thanks, girls I would usually spring back with an apology, hug and even laugh at myself for having gone bonkers.
Recommendation to Eliminate Stress and Worry
To allow the fear of losing out run our lives is ridiculous because academic performance or being perfect is not everything. We don’t want to wait for years to discover this truth. Let’s avoid ruining the relationship we have with our children and let’s not rob them of their childhood, before it is too late.
I cannot claim to be a parent with a pair of angelic wings on my back. As a concerned mother, I do encounter stress with matters concerning my children. Luckily I have access to a few energy tools that allows me to release my worries. Meditation helps greatly too. I have been a much happier parent ever since applying these.
Every child is different and unique. Therefore, it is for the parents to decide what classes and how best to help their child. I believe that ultimately, all parents – with few exceptions – would like their children to be happy. What is helpful to remember is that when we relax and become happier people, we create the best environment for our children to thrive in.
And so, if you are a parent but have difficulties coping with fear and stress, consider doing something that can help you shift your beliefs and emotions. I began my journey with the Emotional Freedom Technique some 5-6 years ago. I have benefited from it greatly. Click over here to find out about how you can reduce stress and address your fears here!
Love and Abundance Always,
Author. Adventurer. Life Coach. More About Me.
Share Your Comments on Kiasu-ism or the Fear of Losing Out
Are you a kiasu parent? If so, how do you cope with the stress of your children being in a competitive school environment?
Or are you someone who has immense fear of losing out? What behavioral symptoms allow you to know that you have this fear?
Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.