Newly moved from India, this mom's 5th grade daughter struggles

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  September 28, 2009 06:00 AM

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Question: My daughter is in 5th grade. We moved from India last year.She has difficulty doing her homework, taking notes in class. She gets angry and is not willing to be helped. She got all 4 in her homework with my help last year. What can I do to help her? My husband is a verbal abuser and keeps calling her names.

From: Uthara Ram

Hi Uthara Ram,

You're right to be worried; 5th grade is when work gets ramped up in preparation for middle school. Here's what I would do:

1. Make an appointment to meet with the teacher. Let her know all the difficulties your daughter is having, including about her father. Just by making the teacher aware and by bringing her into the loop, the teacher will be more invested in your daughter and will be more interested and able to help her.You can also expect the teacher to give you some suggestions on how you can be helpful. Also: don't wait for the regularly scheduled parent teacher conference. Do this now, OK?

2. You don't mention whether your daughter has any friends, but I'd also talk to the teacher about how she's doing socially. Does she have a friend or two in class? A good teacher can help facilitate friendships. This is critical to a 5th grader's sense of herself, so it's very important.

3. Rather than constantly offering your daughter help or hovering and worrying when she's doing her school work, sit down and have a conversation in which you tell her that you want to be respectful of her and her work. You could say something like this, "I know your school work is your work and I have not gone to school in the United States so I don't know exactly what you are experiencing or how I can best help you. And I want to be respectful of you and your learning." If she doesn't have a desk and/or drawers for keeping her work, help her to set up a work place with her materials, where she can keep things without worrying where they will be. Many children like to do their homework at the kitchen table, and that's fine, but they still need a place to keep their tools, markers, paper, etc.

4. Suggest to her that you'd like to make a homework contract: "My part of the deal is this: I won't constantly ask you every night how I can help you.Your part of the deal is this: To let me know how I can be helpful when you think I can be helpful, and to show me your work every X night (or nights) so even if I'm not helping you, I can know what you are learning."

5. Check out New Moon for girls and daughters.com. The first is a great resource for girls and may be just what your daughter needs as she navigates in a new country, new culture and new school. The second is for moms of girls your daughters age and may be just what you need! Your daughter is reaching a new stage of development where she doesn't want to be treated (in her eyes) like a "little girl," so by showing her that you are being respectful, she will likely be more open to your help.

Needless to say, the part about your husband verbally abusing her is very troubling. Obviously if you can get your husband to back off, that would be a good thing. Equally obviously, it must be very difficult for you to be in the middle of this dynamic, whether you are an observer, a buffer or a victim yourself... or maybe all three roles? I won't presume to give advice about this except to hope that by helping your daughter, you can alleviate the situation in general.


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7 comments so far...
  1. Sorry, Barbara, I don't think you worded this strongly enough.

    Ms. Ram, you are this girl's mom. Your JOB is to see her safely though to adulthood. By permitting your husband to abuse her verbally, you are failing at your job as a mother. How can she do her homework or navigate through life as a teenager knowing that the most important man in her life thinks she's a piece of sh*t! No wonder she is angry!

    Get counseling for both of you. If you don't fix this first, the homework won't matter, as she will look for acceptance and love from the first boy who treats her nicely!

    This abuse is NOT ACCEPTABLE. Make sure it stops now!

    Posted by just_cos September 28, 09 08:40 AM
  1. I agree with just_cos -- the verbal abuse issue should not have been a mere afterthought to the advice. How long has the verbal abuse been going on? If it has been a while, the girl's anger and school issues may be the result of that abuse. And regardless, verbal abuse is damaging to children. Getting the child away from the abuse, or getting the abuser in therapy, or getting the child in therapy so she has a safe place to discuss it -- there are many paths this mom could take. It *should not* be relegated to last place in a list of things to do.

    For what it is worth, true verbal abuse may also lead to physical abuse, or go hand-in-hand with it. Getting to the bottom of the abuse needs to be the primary goal. Safety first. Homework second.

    Posted by jlen September 28, 09 12:05 PM
  1. okay just_cos and jlen please remember she just moved from India, she probably does not hav emany friends and women and female children are always treated like third class citizens in those cultures. If you have been raised in culture where this is the norm or acceptable then you have a hard time trying to do the right thing. If he is verbally abusive to his daugther you don't know what happening to her. She may not have friends and she is trying to do the best for her daughter.

    Posted by really!! September 28, 09 03:54 PM
  1. really!! -- that is why the advice should have been more explicit and on-point about the abuse. She is likely alone and isolated, with few resources. The last thing she needs, then, is to have that issue brushed off as an aside!

    Posted by jlen September 28, 09 05:36 PM
  1. I think there should also be more attention to the cultural aspects of this. They just moved a year ago -- how is the daughter's reading, writing, speaking and comprehension with the English language? This could be a huge issue.
    Beyond that, if she is in a place where there are not many other kids from India, she could benefit from a social group with other kids in similar circumstances, and she could also benefit from knowing adults from her culture who are kind and successful in the US. The mom could benefit from these sorts of interactions too!

    Posted by child_dev_student September 28, 09 06:37 PM
  1. really!! ,

    Women are treated wonderfully in your culture. Wish all savages could learn from a "civilized" master like yourself. (Dugard case and others like that excepted of course)

    Posted by northeast_ice_box September 28, 09 08:24 PM
  1. I don't know much about Boston or this, but I get the feeling the cause is that she faces a lot of mocking insults and is humiliated in school due to her religion, culture and accent. You should ask her if she is being mistreated in school due to these reasons. Sometimes immigrant minority kids are so humiliated that they find it difficult to talk to their parents about it as they think (probably rightly) that since their parents didn't have the same experience they wont' understand (or if the father is a screamer, he won't listen anyway). If you know other kids/ or adults who went through the same experience, maybe they can talk to you and your daughter?

    Posted by northeast_ice_box September 28, 09 08:30 PM
 
7 comments so far...
  1. Sorry, Barbara, I don't think you worded this strongly enough.

    Ms. Ram, you are this girl's mom. Your JOB is to see her safely though to adulthood. By permitting your husband to abuse her verbally, you are failing at your job as a mother. How can she do her homework or navigate through life as a teenager knowing that the most important man in her life thinks she's a piece of sh*t! No wonder she is angry!

    Get counseling for both of you. If you don't fix this first, the homework won't matter, as she will look for acceptance and love from the first boy who treats her nicely!

    This abuse is NOT ACCEPTABLE. Make sure it stops now!

    Posted by just_cos September 28, 09 08:40 AM
  1. I agree with just_cos -- the verbal abuse issue should not have been a mere afterthought to the advice. How long has the verbal abuse been going on? If it has been a while, the girl's anger and school issues may be the result of that abuse. And regardless, verbal abuse is damaging to children. Getting the child away from the abuse, or getting the abuser in therapy, or getting the child in therapy so she has a safe place to discuss it -- there are many paths this mom could take. It *should not* be relegated to last place in a list of things to do.

    For what it is worth, true verbal abuse may also lead to physical abuse, or go hand-in-hand with it. Getting to the bottom of the abuse needs to be the primary goal. Safety first. Homework second.

    Posted by jlen September 28, 09 12:05 PM
  1. okay just_cos and jlen please remember she just moved from India, she probably does not hav emany friends and women and female children are always treated like third class citizens in those cultures. If you have been raised in culture where this is the norm or acceptable then you have a hard time trying to do the right thing. If he is verbally abusive to his daugther you don't know what happening to her. She may not have friends and she is trying to do the best for her daughter.

    Posted by really!! September 28, 09 03:54 PM
  1. really!! -- that is why the advice should have been more explicit and on-point about the abuse. She is likely alone and isolated, with few resources. The last thing she needs, then, is to have that issue brushed off as an aside!

    Posted by jlen September 28, 09 05:36 PM
  1. I think there should also be more attention to the cultural aspects of this. They just moved a year ago -- how is the daughter's reading, writing, speaking and comprehension with the English language? This could be a huge issue.
    Beyond that, if she is in a place where there are not many other kids from India, she could benefit from a social group with other kids in similar circumstances, and she could also benefit from knowing adults from her culture who are kind and successful in the US. The mom could benefit from these sorts of interactions too!

    Posted by child_dev_student September 28, 09 06:37 PM
  1. really!! ,

    Women are treated wonderfully in your culture. Wish all savages could learn from a "civilized" master like yourself. (Dugard case and others like that excepted of course)

    Posted by northeast_ice_box September 28, 09 08:24 PM
  1. I don't know much about Boston or this, but I get the feeling the cause is that she faces a lot of mocking insults and is humiliated in school due to her religion, culture and accent. You should ask her if she is being mistreated in school due to these reasons. Sometimes immigrant minority kids are so humiliated that they find it difficult to talk to their parents about it as they think (probably rightly) that since their parents didn't have the same experience they wont' understand (or if the father is a screamer, he won't listen anyway). If you know other kids/ or adults who went through the same experience, maybe they can talk to you and your daughter?

    Posted by northeast_ice_box September 28, 09 08:30 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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