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Finding a New School

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My child is completing third grade in a private school. She has been attending the same school since kindergarten. While she is a very bright child, she has an auditory processing deficit and is shy and has low self-esteem. This has been a very difficult year for her socially, especially the last few months. Her few friends have all but deserted her and are influenced by a group of children who single her out and pick on her.

I find the school and the teacher to lack empathy and we are considering switching to another parochial school. What questions should we be asking of the new school to determine if it is a caring environment? What steps should we take to lessen the anxiety of this transition? What should we expect of the new school to help our child with this difficult change?

A: Your daughter's exclusion and teasing by her former friends is a painful experience for her. She feels helpless and deserted and you are frustrated and heartbroken because you can't ease her pain or make things right. I wonder what you expected from her teacher and the school administration that you did not receive regarding your daughter's social problems. A teacher and a school system cannot force kids to be kind to others or remain friends. But teachers and school administrations can create a supportive atmosphere for all students and attempt to intercede in a situation like your daughter's with the assistance of school counselors. I assume that you have been disappointed in this school and in particular your child's teacher for their lack of initiative and sensitivity in advocating for her.

Before switching schools, I would candidly present the problems that your daughter has encountered to the prospective school's administration and counseling personnel. You may also ask for the teacher your daughter would be assigned next year to be in attendance at a meeting attended by all these people. Does the school have a buddy system, where the new student is assigned a buddy for a period of time? Buddies are usually in the same class as the new student or a little older. What is the school's philosophy regarding difficult social situations? Do they maintain a proactive, hands-on approach or is their philosophy to "just let the kids work it out"? What assistance might the new school offer both your daughter and you in terms of counseling, to focus on building her self-esteem? Are there extracurricular activities that would be appealing to your daughter and serve as an entrée to her meeting children and potential friends?

Neither a school administrator nor a teacher can protect a child from becoming mistreated by other children. The best they can do is to offer a nurturing environment that encourages kindness and friendliness, while being alert to the individual social and emotional difficulties that their students may experience in school. Reassure your daughter that she has not done anything to warrant her exclusion by her former friends and that new friendships lie ahead for her. Explain that there will always be some kids who will pick on others and that when this group who has teased her is through with her, they'll move on to another child to tease.

If some of your daughter's shyness and low self-esteem is rooted in her auditory processing problems, you clearly must enroll her in a school that is equipped to assist her with this special need. Schools that mainstream kids with any learning special needs -- and make every effort not to make them feel stupid, excluded, or isolated -- should be tops on your list.

I am saddened to learn of your daughter's painful experiences but I trust that you will advocate for her in a way that assures her the best chance to thrive in a more nurturing environment.

More on: Expert Advice

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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