“All this while, as a mum of three boys aged 6 months, 6 years, and 7 years, I thought getting my sons into good daycare and preschools was the biggest challenge I would face. Little did I know what I was getting myself into when my eldest, Aaden, started Primary 1 this month.
As Christians, my husband Steven and I, were quite adamant about getting Aaden into a mission school. So, when he was offered a place at St Gabriel’s Primary School, we snapped it up immediately, even though it’s in the north-east and a fair distance from where we live in Woodlands.
Allowing Aaden to take the school bus would mean he’d be one of the first students to be picked up ― probably at an ungodly hour. So, we decided to let him stay at his maternal grandparents’ place in Thomson and have my dad send him to school every morning, since it’s nearer.
When we told Aaden our plan, he was hesitant. While he’s used to staying with grandma and grandpa during the weekends with his brothers, he’s never stayed there alone for a long duration. While we would have preferred to have seen an excited Aaden, Steven and I understood it was too much information for him to digest and gave him some time to get used to the idea.
“I was also feeling emotional knowing that my little boy is now a big boy and is moving onto a new phase in his life.”
However, Aaden showed a lot of excitement leading up to his first day in Primary school. He was eager to pick out his school bag, shoes, uniform and books. However, the day before school was going to start, he got all quiet, which was unusual for him as he’s usually the complete opposite. We could sense that he wasn’t looking forward to the “big day”.
I wasn’t doing any much better myself. I kept waking up throughout the night, feeling nervous. It felt like I was starting school or a new job. I was also feeling emotional knowing that my little boy is now a big boy and is moving on to a new phase in his life.
The next morning, Aaden woke up pretty stoked to go to school. Although we were allowed to report a little later at 8am just for that day, he kept hurrying us to get to school on time, which according to him is 7.25am!
Once there, Aaden looked happy to have found a classmate he made friends with during orientation a few months back. He was then ushered into class by his teachers and I didn’t get to speak to him again until the end of school.
I decided to take three days off work to help ease Aaden (and myself!) into the new routine. The school had prepared a series of talks and activities for parents for the first two days. Even as I participated in the activities, all I could think about was how Aaden was in class.
When I picked him up after school, Aaden had again retreated into his quiet corner, refusing to share anything about his day. He was also unusually sticky and very tired, although that was to be expected.
My firstborn was still his stoic self on Day Two, but something unusual happened that evening. After dinner, he started crying suddenly and threw up twice. Feeling worried, I asked him what was wrong, he replied that he was scared and felt overwhelmed, but he didn’t offer any more details. The next day, he said he wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to go to school.
How did Joanna handle this delicate situation? Read on…
It broke my heart to see my little man feeling that way and it made me emotional, too. But I knew deep down inside that it’s a transitional phase and that I have to stay strong in order to help him get over this hump.
I told him gently, but firmly that since he had no fever or any obvious symptoms, he had to go to school. On the way there, I reminded him to look forward to playing with his friends and just to have fun. I think that might have done the trick, because things have gotten a bit easier since.
Now that I’m back at work, it’s been challenging getting used to the new routine. Aaden stays with my parents Monday to Friday as my dad sends him to school every morning. Every morning, I leave for work from my place at Woodlands, dropping my two younger boys, Jacob and Caleb, at daycare and preschool along the way. My dad picks up them up in the middle of the day and brings them back to his place at Thomson.
“I know I’m doing the best I can for my boys and that things will get better eventually. And that’s what keeps me going.”
Aaden stays on in school at after-school care until 6pm. I’ll pick him up after work, take him back to my parent’s place and have dinner with the boys. Then I will help Aaden with his homework, tuck him into bed, then drive Caleb and Jacob home to Woodlands. On a good day, I’m home by 9pm.
My husband does shift work in the air force, so unfortunately, he’s not around all the time. On the days that he is, Steven does a great job helping me out. Needless to say, my parents have been my lifesavers ― I wouldn’t know how I would do it all without them.
Yes, things are hectic at the moment and saying I’m tired would be an understatement. But I know I’m doing the best I can for my boys and that things will get better eventually. And that’s what keeps me going.
Joanna Mary Sivaraj, 34, is married to Steven Barter. She is mum to Jacob, 6 months, Caleb, 6, and Aaden, 7.
Ways to ease your child into Primary 1
Psychologist Daniel Koh has valuable tips on ensuring that junior’s entry to school is smooth.
1. Start your child on a simple routine in the mornings and after school to ease anxiety. Knowing what to expect will give them a sense of security and familiarity. An example of an after-school routine could be study time, relaxation, family time, fun time and dinner, followed by winding down before bedtime
2. Keep the communications lines open And be non-judgmental at all times, so that your child feels comfortable venting or asking for help. Knowing how he or she feels can also help you monitor their progress.
3. Don’t start your child on any extra classes or activities Not until he has mastered going to school. Overwhelming the child can cause them stress and anxiety.
4. Be gentle in your expectations for your child When he fails or doesn’t do well in a test, avoid scolding or punishing him. Instead, listen to what junior has to say about their performance and discuss how they can improve. This shows you care enough to listen to them and value them. Plus, it will not burden them with more unnecessary stress.
5. Bridge any gap between your child and his new school surroundings By introducing him to it before he starts there. The same goes for new tasks, such as waking up early, packing the bag and putting on the uniform. The more practice they have, the more familiar they will become.
Daniel Koh is a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre.
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