ASK THE EXPERTS

Is My Child Being Bullied?

By Debra Collins, Family therapist

Question:

My fourth-grade daughter has done well in school until the past few weeks. She is very bright, imaginative, curious and sloppy. She copies homework from a blackboard, but always forgets one out of every four assignments. The teacher also says that her attention wanders and she does not focus. My daughter's response is, "The girl in front of me always turns around and kicks me; the class is boring; some of the other children are not smart."

When my ex-wife and I spoke to her teacher, the teacher said that she had some "special" students that she needed to concentrate on and she could not afford to give our daughter special attention. The teacher would not move her away from the girl distracting and kicking my daughter because this was between them and she should settle her own problems. I believe there is a problem here that would be helped by changing classes. Can you give me your opinion?

Answer:

I would like to congratulate you and your ex-wife for both speaking with the teacher. Co-parenting is good modeling for showing your daughter how people can work together even though there are difficulties.

I do think there are things you need to consider before requesting a new class. The problem will follow her if the root is not fully explored. First and foremost, is this a safety issue? Does the teacher say that there is equal provocation, or is it one-sided?

Are these behaviors happening with other peers, or just between the two of them? Has the teacher rotated seat assignments? Some teachers do this regularly as part of their classroom management. What is the schools policy on bullying? If you have safety concerns and are not satisfied that the issue is being addressed, discuss it with the principal.

You may also want to explore how you feel your family has adjusted to the divorce. How parents continue to parent and interact is the key to lowering a child's anxiety. If the divorce was recent, then there may be a long adjustment period for all of you. If it happened years ago, you may want to re-visit your agreements to see if they meet everyone's current needs. What other changes may have recently occurred? Have there been moves or other environmental changes that have changed your routines? Do you or your ex-wife have a new partner?

New relationships are difficult for children to adjust to. Sometimes even if the parents feel that things are going well, some children have longer adjustment periods and are more reactive to changes in their environment post divorce.

Having a better understanding of the underlying issues can help you and your ex-wife plan an effective course of action.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.