Nia Goes to “Big Kid” School!

Foreign Service LifeMalawi
August 17, 2017

Ladies and Gentleman- We officially have a Kindergartner in the family!


Nia loved going to preschool, so we made the assumption that the transition to Kindy would be easy peasy. Man were we wrong! We started to notice her behavior deteriorating rapidly about 2 weeks ago, as soon as preschool ended in late July. There were a variety of incidents, but the big shocker was her taking permanent paint and decorating the front of the house! I mean, seriously?! I was flabbergasted. Here’s her masterpiece, in case you were curious:

As we got closer to the start of school, it came out that she was feeling pretty nervous about school. On the day we went to buy her uniform, she said her tummy hurt because she was so nervous. When I asked her what she was nervous about, no fewer than 15 things poured out of her mouth. It was obvious that she’d been thinking about this A LOT. Here are some of her many worries:

  • That she won’t be able to read.
  • She will drown in the pool during swim lessons.
  • That she’ll miss me too much (despite the day being the same length as pre-K).
  • That she won’t be able to do math.
  • That no one will like her, even if she’s being kind.

That last one broke my heart. I mean, what do you say to that??? Ugh. Parenting is so hard sometimes. Pre-child, I imagined I’d have the most brilliant things to say in these moments. Instead, I just find myself tongue tied. Go figure.

When it became obvious that perfectionism was at play here, I hit the books to figure out how to handle this. My friend Kristen recommended the book “The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are” by Kevin Leman, which ended up having some great suggestions about how to support first-born perfectionists.

Much of what we’re seeing is that she’s unwilling to try something if she thinks she can’t do it well. Her recent anxiety was coming from the fact that she knew she’d have to go to school but she DIDN’T know if she’d be able to complete the things they’d ask of her.

One of the tips from the book that resonated most was: “Don’t be an improver”. What this boils down to is that when she tries something on her own (like making her bed or picking up her room) I can’t go and tweak it more when she’s done. That just reinforces her belief that she can’t do it as good as mommy, so why bother.

Little did I know that I would have the chance to practice this tip almost immediately. On the first day of school she surprised me by putting her socks on by herself (something she rarely, if ever does). She was so proud of herself and my first instinct after congratulating her was to straighten them up so they were even. HOWEVER, I caught myself, realizing how that would seem to her, especially on this day when she was already edgy.

So this, my friends, is how she went to school. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to fix them, which clearly shows how much of a problem I still have myself. Old habits die hard… but I’m pleased to say I resisted saying anything and sent her off to school with her socks askew.

She fought us the whole morning as we were getting ready. It was only as we went down to the gate to catch the bus that she started to seem excited. Here she is sitting waiting for the bus. We had arranged for a 3rd grader from the Embassy to take her to her classroom. She thought that was VERY COOL and it had the added bonus of alleviating Dad’s fears that she’d get lost between the bus and her classroom.

Here she is with her teacher, Ms. Bennett.

And here’s a look at the classroom. There are 16 kids in her class with a teacher and an aide. They try to split it so that there are an equal number of girls and boys AND a 50/50 split of Malawians to Expats. The other school in town attracts the majority of Americans and Brits, so the other cool thing about her classmates is that they’re a more diverse range of expats – primarily Asians and Indians. Cool, huh?

So stay tuned as we continue down this new path. Lots of learning for the whole Novak family right now… I’ll try and get a post up soon showing the rest of the campus.

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