The tears would often start in the late afternoon or early morning.
Often, they were accompanied by complaints of a headache, chest pains or tummy trouble. Almost always, the routine would end with a plaintive plea: Can I not go to school?
After the novelty of starting Primary 1 wore off earlier last month, my daughter began struggling with the reality of formal schooling.
Her resistance caught my husband and me off guard.
Our older son, who is less sociable and more inclined to space out, had adapted to school with relative ease when he hopped onto the academic ladder three years ago. So we were expecting an even more painless transition for our daughter.
She had never had problems adjusting to a new environment and got on well with her friends and teachers in kindergarten.
Besides, a few of her close friends are in the same school, so we assumed the familiar faces would help dispel any fears. But she started exhibiting classic symptoms of school anxiety after the first week.
Most of the causes were easy to identify. For starters, she missed her kindergarten friends dearly and the longer school hours were taking a toll on her. She dragged herself up with great difficulty each morning despite going to bed earlier and, by the afternoon, was often listless and cranky.
A girl sitting near her in class wasn’t making things easy for her either. The form teacher made some changes to the seating arrangement midway through the first week, and my daughter came back from school one day more glum than usual.
When I finally managed to coax the details from her, the dam broke.
The girl liked to flop herself onto my daughter’s desk, often while she was in the middle of writing or reading something. Once, when my daughter protested, she mimicked her and called her names.
We discussed things that she could do and say to discourage the classmate’s unsettling behaviour, including alerting the teachers.
“I don’t think she’s being mean on purpose. She’s probably adjusting to the new school routine just like you,” I said, careful not to overreact even as unease crept in.
But things did not improve.
The following week, my daughter reported that her neighbour was helping herself to her stationery because “she said she’s too lazy to take her pencil case out”.
“How did you react?”
“I told her today was the last time I would lend her my pencil and eraser.”
I was glad that my six-year-old was standing up to the girl. “Good. Be polite but firm with her if she’s taking your things without asking.”
The raiding stopped, but the classmate continued to be a source of distraction and frustration.
After two weeks, I asked if she wanted me to speak to her form teacher. I had put this option on hold as I wanted to give both kids time to settle down and see if things would sort themselves out.
As much as it bothered me to see my daughter unhappy, I was wary of acting like the much-derided helicopter or snowplough parent, swooping in right away to bail her out or clear the way for her whenever she faced a hurdle.
She was torn. The classmate’s behaviour bugged her, but she didn’t want to get her into trouble.
“And I don’t want my teacher to think I’m telling tales.”
Next page: How I learned to help my child without saving her