Wednesday 29 January 2020

Dear David Coleman: Should my seven-year-old repeat second class to escape the bullies?

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David Coleman

David Coleman

Clinical psychologist David Coleman offers parenting advice in his weekly column.

Q. My seven-year-old daughter is struggling socially in school. She is on her own at break time without any friends to interact with. She says the other girls are bullies, or mean kids, and she would rather be on her own. I have discussed it with her teacher, who has noticed that my daughter is overshadowed by other students. She is the youngest in the class. Would it be advisable to keep her back a year, repeating second class? I'd hope she might click with a different group of children but am afraid it might affect her self-esteem to stay back.

A. I could imagine that it is very upsetting for her, to be going  into school every day, knowing that she is going to be on her  own, and feeling as if it is impossible to change that.

I am glad to hear that you have been in to speak with her teacher. It is interesting that her teacher notices that your daughter is "overshadowed" by her peers, but, from what you describe, doesn't seem to see that your daughter has any particular issue.

If, as your daughter describes, the other girls are bullying, or mean, in their interactions with her, it would be important that the teacher acknowledges this and responds to it. To date, she just seems to think that your daughter is quiet compared to the other girls.

It is a difficult choice, however, about whether to hold her back a year or not.

Whenever we are faced with a dilemma in parenting, we must apply some kind of problem-solving approach to reach a decision. We must look carefully at the positives and negatives in each option and choose the option with the most positives and least negatives.

The nature of a dilemma is that there is usually no simple and clear choice that has only the potential for positive outcomes.

I can't tell you what to choose for your daughter, as I don't know her and her strengths; nor do I know the dynamics of the school and the class behind her. However, I am happy to try to draw out some of the positives and negatives that I can see with each option.

If your daughter stays put, she will continue to face the dynamic of her current class. She already has a very negative perception of her classmates and feels unwelcome in that environment. On a day-to-day basis, this feeling of being excluded will be negatively impacting her self-esteem.

It also seems to me that the teacher could be more supportive of your daughter. Presumably, if she continues into third class next year, she will have a new teacher. With someone else leading the class, your daughter may find some more support to help her connect with her classmates.

On the flip side, if she stays back in second class, could she have the same teacher again? If so, will the teacher be any more helpful to your daughter with settling, socially, into the new class? This is something to explore with the teacher.

Moving to a new class does give your daughter the opportunity to make new friends and feel more included socially in the wider class group. However, your daughter may not have developed great skills at making friends, since she hasn't had opportunity or desire to do so with her current class. Moving may not be an automatically positive experience for her.

Whatever choice you make, there will be positives and negatives for your daughter. Whatever path you choose, it might be important for your daughter to get some therapeutic support, perhaps Play Therapy, given her age, to help her with her socialising skills. Perhaps this may be something to prioritise over the spring/summer with a view to your daughter feeling more confident and able by next September.

Ultimately, whatever you decide, I also think it will be important to get full support from whatever teacher she will have. Even if your daughter feels more confident and able to engage socially, she will probably still benefit from an encouraging teacher who can help create social opportunities for her.

Don't be afraid to ask your daughter which she would prefer. While hers may not be the final say on the matter, it is good to know which option she might prefer.

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