Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Seeking help

This post took me a long time to write. And to write this post, I had to seek Jordan's permission.

It's about her, in a way that none of the other posts ever were.

It's about her struggle with school this year.

She was all eager to start Primary One at the end of last year but by the end of the first full week of school this year, she hated it. Muchly.

She cried. She was withdrawn. She stopped smiling and laughing. The weight of the world seemed to be on her little shoulders. Then she stopped drawing. That was when the alarm bells started ringing, Loudly.

And it was heartbreaking for us. Every time she sighed, my heart sank. Every time she cried, my heart shattered. 

It would have been easy to just blame it on school or the teacher or the students. But even if we did that, it wasn't going to help her get over it. And that was more important.

So as taboo as it was to do so in Singapore, we found a counsellor to help her. And she did. Every week, I would pick her up from school, give her lunch and take her to the counsellor, where for one hour all she seemed to do was play. With most 7 year olds, her vocabulary wasn't sophisticated enough to describe what she was going through in school. Jordan's sessions weren't about trying to get her 'better' or 'curing' her. The play became the medium to communicate her struggles. They were to give her enough space to sort through whatever was bothering her and to provide insight for us as to how she ticked and what was bothering her.

7 months into it, Jordan has been 'discharged'. We've had our last summary session with her counsellor and we all agree that while she still does. not. like. school, she's learnt to deal with it and she's okay about it.

Here's what we learnt about Jordan through the sessions.

1. High expectations
Jordan has high expectations. Not just of herself but of others around her. She expects others to be as polite as she is or as obedient to rules as she is. Part of her dissonance with school comes from the fact that she's got classmates that upset her because she thinks they  are rude, inconsiderate to the rest of the class or unkind to someone. It isn't a bad ideal to have but because her world is still very black and white, she is unhappy that she has to be in class 24- 7 with girls she sees as 'rude'.

We're teaching her to accept that while those are standards she sets for herself, it doesn't matter if others around her don't adhere to them. We tell her that she can just go on behaving how she has been and that acts as an example for others. We've also told her that however the girls behave, she is to be nice to everyone but she doesn't have to be friends with everyone.

We're seeing that with her now. She talks about many girls in her class, complains about some but hangs out with the ones whom she says are 'kind'.

2. Resourceful
One of her strongest traits and strengths is that she perseveres. She doesn't give up. She tries and tries. And that's what she did when she started school and had to sit at the desk and do table work for hours on end even though it wasn't her strong suit. Once again, that in itself, is not a bad thing and in fact, a very good thing. The challenge is to teach her when it is futile and to try a different method. It's akin to realising that you're banging your head against a brick wall and then deciding to shake it off and find another way round the wall. At the same time, she's also adaptable. She can switch paths and figure out alternative methods. But because of the perseverance, she takes a little bit more time to adapt.

This was why school was tough at the beginning. She kept trying to fit primary school into the mould of her kindy and it took her a while to realise that because it wasn't the same, she had to figure out a new mould for it. Now, to make sense of the overwhelming amount of information and things she has to do after 6-7 hours of school, she's figured out that making check-lists help. She ticks them off and she feels a sense of accomplishment and doesn't feel so overwhelmed.

3. Creative and Kinesthetic
Jordan is a very creative, aesthetic and kinesthetic child. That means, her learning strengths lie in those areas too. She learns by moving, touching, doing and drawing. Unfortunately, the Singapore school system is neither creative nor kinesthetic and minimally aesthetic.Thankfully because she has it in her to try and adapt, she keeps up with her classes. But that also means she has to force herself to learn in an unnatural fashion for the larger part of the day, which was what was causing her to droop and wilt. Her teacher in class pointed out that she would swing her legs about while sitting down or take off her shoes (kept her socks on though!) and we realised it was really her just trying to move about without actually doing so.

The classroom demands of her haven't changed much but we make sure that if she needs help with work at home, we help her in a way that is a little bit more up her alley. We get her to draw out pictures for her spelling words to label them; comic strips with speech bubbles to do sentence construction, manipulatives for Math and whatever time outside all of this, we chase her out of the house to play and run amok with the neighbours to decompress. It has meant on occasion, telling her to leave her homework till the next day (though as a rule, we tell them to get everything out of the way) just to give her the space to find her centre again. I do worry how we are going to continue to balance this as the homework demands grow greater. My hope is that she gets more used to it by then and it won't suck as much life out of her.

4. The introspective social butterfly
Jordan is a contradiction in herself. She's a social butterfly. She can play with anyone she meets and has declared someone her best friend after a 2 hour gymnastics session with her. In kindy, walking her to class meant hearing a cacophany of "Hi Jordan!". So it was a total mystery when she said she didn't have friends in her P1 class and even when she did, she often spent recess in the library. It was a concern because we worried that she was withdrawing.

Then, what crystalised was that while Jordan was an active and sociable girl, there was also an introspective side to her. Her counsellor told of sessions where she would immerse herself into something for lengths of time where she would forget the world around her and also where she could play in complete silence and other times where the whole session was interactive.

So when there is too much for her, as possibly lessons were, her retreat to the library and to the books was how she coped. When she was ready, she would go play. And that was how she functioned.

We've taken cue from that, to giving her sometimes half an hour where she curls up in my bed with the blinds drawn, not necessarily sleeping but just by herself.  We do this especially when she comes home looking dejected or drained and declaring herself tired.

So there, 4 things that I now know more about my daughter.

Would I have wished an unhappy start of school for her? No. But it did give her the opportunity to experience life not being fine and dandy and coming up with ways to be okay with it. She's the Jordan we know and love now but a little bit wiser, a little bit more mature and a little bit more resilient. She laughs a lot more now and she is okay and sometimes even excited about going to school. When you ask her about school, there is still a long litany of reasons she dislikes school. Some are typical of any school going child (I don't like the homework), some have a bit more depth in it (I don't like my class because they are loud and don't listen to the teacher and all of us get scolded) and some are just Jordan being Jordan (The toilets are wet and dirty). She still wishes she were some place else but she isn't as vehement about her detestation of school any more.

And I count that as a blessing and give much thanks for it.


  1. Your post tugged at my heart and I can only imagine what it would be like... My son will enter P1 next year. He also has high expectations of himself and others which makes him very easily upset by others. I think you're doing the best you know and what you can here... Press On!

  2. Thank you for sharing so candidly and a BIG THANK YOU to Jordan for allowing this post to be published.

    Your experience is both thought provoking and inspiring to me.

    I am so please and relief that through counselling, awareness and strategies were birthed. With the champions in you as parents, Jordan will continue to flourish and soar with happiness, resilience and kindness.

  3. It's not easy on Jordan to weather the transitions of P1 and having to realign her expectations of the world, of school and of how people should be in general. Thankfully you are sensitive to the early "warning signs" and found alternatives to help her meet her need to decompress, to be quiet and find her CORE. My heart goes out to Jordan, but I believe with your loving support, she will continue to blossom and grow to find little joys in her schooling journey. Big hugs and JiaYou!