How can mom help her 6th grader?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  May 23, 2011 06:00 AM

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Here's my situation:

I have 2 children. Not wanting to brag....but both are academically gifted! They both have some social troubles however. I worry about both of them, as they are not well accepted by their peers. They are both kind and caring to others, but do not always get treated likewise. My 6th grader is overweight...that is one thing that she is teased about, but her biggest "issue" is not that. She is teased about about being smart...the first quarter of school this year she received 3 top academic awards. If this were an athletic achievement, that recipient would have the "red carpet treatment" . This is not the case for a student who is "just a smart kid" She is proud of success, as are her Dad and I.She spent most of her 5th grade year "hating" school---because of the teasing. It was reported that she was being bullied----the students that were "called on it", still are not nice to her this year. She was "counseled" by the (then) principal to just ignore them and go about her business.

What I am wondering is how I can help her and why she has to be the one that has to continue to put up with the crap? She is a part of a rather small class, as we are a small school district. She has attended school with most of the kids since pre-school. She doesn't have many friends--none of the girls in her class are her friend----this is tough, especially at this age. She already has ideals for her future, and that is to be a Marine Biologist! Academically she can do this!! And as an adult I believe she will do fine, but she wants to be a "normal kid"---her words last year were "I just want to be normal, not the fat smart girl"! Any suggestions?

From: Jane, LP

Dear Jane,

One antidote is to expose her to activities outside of school (church, music, arts, sports) where she will have the opportunity to meet a whole new set of girls who might share an interest. Considering that weight is an issue, something physical sounds like a smart option, and summer is a great time to look for a new activity at a day camp, for instance.

Another option is to look for an activity you can do together, from a mother/daughter book group that you organize, to biking or hiking or walking or swimming. Summer is obviously a good time for you -- and she -- to regroup and try to develop some coping strategies, including the possibility of some good counseling.

As for her being the one who has to "put up with the crap," more and more, schools are realizing that these situations need to be dealt with systemically, as a community, rather than as an individual. Doesn't sound like your school is there yet. So consider this: There are plenty of anti-bullying curricula available. If there isn't one in place in her school, get pro-active by urging the administration or the PTO to look into this. In some states, Mass among them , there is now anti-bullying legislation which mandates teacher education, among other things. There also are some up-sides for a child to being a victim, at least according to some. One other thing to consider, is that girls can be really mean to each other. We tend to think of that as a issue that happens when girls are in middle and high school, but it often starts much younger. And being overweight, as you point out, undoubtedly makes her a target.

I've provided a bunch of links for a number of scenarios. Hard to know which one can steer you in the right directions, but I hope one does.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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11 comments so far...
  1. LW, you could have been describing me as a child. It sounds like she is still in elementary school. Hopefully when she gets to middle school/jr. high, there will be some 'new blood' and she'll connect with someone - that's what happened to me. Also agree with Barbara's suggestions to find extracurricular activities - I met other kids like me at a library book club, who were then there at jr. high. One is still my friend now, at 40. Things got gradually better as I got older - jr. high was better than elementary, high school was better than jr. high, and college was fabulous.

    Posted by akmom May 23, 11 06:38 AM
  1. Have you talked to your child's teacher? It might give you some insight about what really happens during the school day, as opposed to your child's perspective.

    This situation might not represent what is happening with your child, but it does have some common themes. Plus, I'm home sick and am bored, so I figured I would post. Last year, I had a very bright student in my class, a boy, but the issues are similar. He wons academic awards, gots good grades, and often spoke up in class about his extensive background knowledge. He is somewhat isolated from his peers. At times, he is teased about being a teacher's pet. His mother called me and asked what was going on. She heard from her son that no one likes him and that he had no friends. First, I reassured her that I see many positive interactions between him and his peers. While he may not feel close to other students, he did seem to be fitting in to the group most of the time. I explained that he isn't always kind or friendly or welcoming to his peers. While his academic abilities are attracting attention, his attitude and social skills are making it more difficult for him to fit in. We began working on coaching him on his social skills- reviewing situations where he felt things did not go well and where he could have done things differently.

    Sorry this is so long. Talk to your child's teacher. If your daughter is being bullied and you live in Massachusetts, the school is legally responsible for dealing with those issues. If your daughter needs some work on her social skills, the school can help with that as well.

    Posted by teacherinmass May 23, 11 09:54 AM
  1. Here's the thing: there will always be mean kids. This LW could have been my mother 20 years ago, writing about me. The kids I encountered were horrid and this was long before bullying was recognized as a problem like it is now. To be honest, the way I broke the cycle was moving to a different school, because I was smart enough to get in (and they weren't). I still remember the day I took the entrance exam, when one of the very mean girls told me point-blank that she would get into the top school and I wouldn't. The opposite happened and I never looked back.

    I'm not saying this was a perfect solution, but it helped. Put in an environment with other academically gifted kids, I excelled. Everyone there had to have a little bit of nerd in them and so it wasn't as big a deal. Being smart was the normal.

    This may not be helpful advice, but you may consider looking at private schools that may be academically a better fit and scholarships may be available. No matter what she does, those kids probably won't ever change.

    Posted by RFBF May 23, 11 11:20 AM
  1. LW, your letter could've been about me as a child. I was the "brainy girl," and was treated horribly by my peers. For me, the saving grace was switching from a small parochial elementary school, where I stuck out like a sore thumb, to a large public jr. high and high school, where there were programs for academically advanced students just like me. This didn't solve the problem completely -- the "popular" kids were still horrible -- but at least I wasn't so alone anymore. If you have the opportunity to do something like this for your daughter, I strongly recommend it.

    This probably is not what you want to hear, but you are going to have to help your daughter learn to deal with being treated poorly by her peers, or she will be miserable till she graduates. People can trumpet anti-bullying rules and education till the sun goes dark, but that isn't going to stop kids from being to cruel to one another. Like it or not, her academic excellence is going to single her out, and kids are vicious in ridiculing and excluding anyone that is different. My parents taught me how to take the long view, to realize that my efforts in school would translate into better opportunities down the road. I also, as Ms Meltz advised, got involved in a lot of activities that let me spend time with kids who were more like me. Above all, she must not feel like her intelligence is cause for embarrassment, or that she must hide it if she wants to fit in.

    This may or may not work for your daughter, but one thing I did was make friends with the guys. I was and still am a science geek, and I was often the only girl in my advanced science and math courses. Ditto with the chess team, science olympiad team, debate team, and drumline. I was around guys most of the time, so I made friends with them, and they turned out to be much better friends than the girls I so desperately wanted to fit in with - much less catty and less prone to backstabbing.

    Posted by brainygirl May 23, 11 11:22 AM
  1. I second teacherinmass. Get another perspective on what is going on. I am the mother of 2 girls who do very well in school, and neither one has this problem. There may be something happenning unrelated to your child's academic prowess.

    My older dd in particular is slower to make new friends. I will hear from her that she has no one to play with in this or that activity, but she does have several close friends. I've never heard from her that she is teased about her performance at school.

    Good luck.

    Posted by Jip May 23, 11 12:19 PM
  1. I was kind of wondering along the lines of what teacherinmass said . . . Is this really "everyone elses" problem? PLEASE don't think that I'm blaming your daughter, because I'm not. I too know how hard it is to be left out. Please DO talk with the teachers, though, and get the whole picture. Does your daughter unknowingly put out a vibe that she thinks that she's better than other kids because she is ahead of them academically? Does she maybe come across as a "know it all?" I found out many years later that I was considered a bit of a snob, when I was really just painfully shy and had a difficult time with a lot of the social aspects of middle school. I certainly didn't feel like I was better than anyone, but apparently that's how my shyness came across. It is something that I still struggle with as an adult, but at least now I know that my actions may be perceived a certain way and work to make sure that isn't what happens.
    Good luck!

    Posted by Mary May 23, 11 01:43 PM
  1. This could have described me as a child as well. My intellectual ability was way above my social maturity so I came across as a little freaky. I didn't mean to, but I know now that I did.

    There is alot to be said for inclusion for special needs children, and I do believe being gifted is as much as a special need as being on the other end of the spectrum. That said, I found my socialization improved when I went to an exam school where my peers were on the same academic level as I was (but I am still very shy and unsure of myself). Enrolling her in a gifted program might not be possible in your school district so my suggestion is to try to find her a peer group for gifted children. Even if its an online community, there has to be something out there.

    Of course she needs to learn how to deal with people not in her peer group who don't like her for some reason or another and there is always going to be a person like that in her life. But I think that once she has the self-esteem from being accepted by one group, it won't be so bad when she is rejected by the other.

    Posted by Sandra May 23, 11 02:14 PM
  1. This mild isolation happened 40 years ago to kids that could work a few grades ahead of their age. Very few school systems had any really useful program for gifted children before high school.

    Private tutoring has always been a good way to supplement schools expectations. But private tutoring increases the separation between the gifted and the average students...Home tutoring for math and English could work if you buy textbooks.

    It would be best for both parents to take up daily walks with these kids, without any discussion of weight problems. This puts excellent stress-management in place ahead of more stressful school situations.

    One issue with gifted kids is that if they end up in university too early, the physical maturity gap is real trouble. Try to keep her from graduating high school at 15. It would be better to help the teenager find summer internships with a university professor who can act as a mentor. She can do her research and make a short list, and then contact professors to inquire about possibilities. This takes a few years off a university education in graduate school, when the student is old enough to benefit.

    Posted by Irene May 24, 11 08:50 AM
  1. I thought Barbara's advice was great. Having 2 girls, I found that girl meanness starts in 4th grade, peaks in 7th and is usually over by high school.

    One thing I do think is very hard is being in a small school district, where you are essentially with the same kids K-12. Even kids who have friends in these situations usually feel the need to move on by 10th or 11th grade! There usually is someone, even the tiniest peer group, out there for everyone, but occasionally it doesn't happen. Its not clear if this child is still in elementary school or already in middle school, but sometimes the jump to middle school solves some of these problems because there is an influx of new kids you aren't used to seeing every day. So if she's going to middle school, things might change a bit if other elementary schools feed into the middle school.

    One other thing I would add is that girls especially sometimes try to keep befriending the same kids over and over again who just don't want to be friends with them, maybe because they are the "popular" girls or whatever. The teacher can probably help you figure this out. If this is happening, its important to help her find her "girls".

    I do have on additional comment and that has to do with my extreme distaste for the word "gifted". Gifted people are very few and far between. Most people described as gifted are usually just really smart and perhaps stand out sometimes because they are not surrounded by really smart people. Of course, the truly gifted are sometimes socially awkward and if this child is truly gifted, that may be part of the issue. On top of all this, I think its really silly to give out academic awards to 6th graders and I think these sorts of things contribute to the problems some students experience. If you are telling her she is "gifted", I would stop.


    Posted by ash May 24, 11 09:13 AM
  1. Lots of great advice here. Have to second "teacherinmass". My son has some of these problems in later elementary. I know his attitude at school was part of the problem. Kids don't automatically shun the smart kid (though rarely this will happen), often they are responding to the unintentional "know-it-all" vibes that a child is giving off. Definitely part of the problem for my son. He was impatient with kids that weren't getting things as quickly as he could. So a combination of working with him on his attitude and with the counselor on curtailing the bullying from other kids made things better (tolerable at least). He doesn't attend public school anymore and the atmosphere of a school where academics are the focus has been really good for him. If you can't spring for a private school, or be accepted into a charter school, you should consider online classes and summer courses like CTY (Johns Hopkins) for your daughter.

    I know where "ash" is coming from regarding the terminology. Of course you want your kids to know that working hard is just as important as being innately intelligent. But sometime the label "gifted" was all that got me through a tough day at a public school where sports jocks and cheerleaders ruled. This isn't just a problem of bullying, it's an American cultural problem of idolizing sports and movie stars above all else. Glad to hear your daughter at least hasn't bought into it. I hope she realizes her dream of becoming a scientist.

    Posted by momof2 May 24, 11 12:50 PM
  1. brainygirl: I had to laugh. I was in the same position too - reading 6th grade level in 1st grade. My solution was to switch from a large, athletic focused public school to a small, academically/arts focused parochial school.

    I'm really glad that I did. :)

    Posted by phe May 25, 11 02:01 PM
 
11 comments so far...
  1. LW, you could have been describing me as a child. It sounds like she is still in elementary school. Hopefully when she gets to middle school/jr. high, there will be some 'new blood' and she'll connect with someone - that's what happened to me. Also agree with Barbara's suggestions to find extracurricular activities - I met other kids like me at a library book club, who were then there at jr. high. One is still my friend now, at 40. Things got gradually better as I got older - jr. high was better than elementary, high school was better than jr. high, and college was fabulous.

    Posted by akmom May 23, 11 06:38 AM
  1. Have you talked to your child's teacher? It might give you some insight about what really happens during the school day, as opposed to your child's perspective.

    This situation might not represent what is happening with your child, but it does have some common themes. Plus, I'm home sick and am bored, so I figured I would post. Last year, I had a very bright student in my class, a boy, but the issues are similar. He wons academic awards, gots good grades, and often spoke up in class about his extensive background knowledge. He is somewhat isolated from his peers. At times, he is teased about being a teacher's pet. His mother called me and asked what was going on. She heard from her son that no one likes him and that he had no friends. First, I reassured her that I see many positive interactions between him and his peers. While he may not feel close to other students, he did seem to be fitting in to the group most of the time. I explained that he isn't always kind or friendly or welcoming to his peers. While his academic abilities are attracting attention, his attitude and social skills are making it more difficult for him to fit in. We began working on coaching him on his social skills- reviewing situations where he felt things did not go well and where he could have done things differently.

    Sorry this is so long. Talk to your child's teacher. If your daughter is being bullied and you live in Massachusetts, the school is legally responsible for dealing with those issues. If your daughter needs some work on her social skills, the school can help with that as well.

    Posted by teacherinmass May 23, 11 09:54 AM
  1. Here's the thing: there will always be mean kids. This LW could have been my mother 20 years ago, writing about me. The kids I encountered were horrid and this was long before bullying was recognized as a problem like it is now. To be honest, the way I broke the cycle was moving to a different school, because I was smart enough to get in (and they weren't). I still remember the day I took the entrance exam, when one of the very mean girls told me point-blank that she would get into the top school and I wouldn't. The opposite happened and I never looked back.

    I'm not saying this was a perfect solution, but it helped. Put in an environment with other academically gifted kids, I excelled. Everyone there had to have a little bit of nerd in them and so it wasn't as big a deal. Being smart was the normal.

    This may not be helpful advice, but you may consider looking at private schools that may be academically a better fit and scholarships may be available. No matter what she does, those kids probably won't ever change.

    Posted by RFBF May 23, 11 11:20 AM
  1. LW, your letter could've been about me as a child. I was the "brainy girl," and was treated horribly by my peers. For me, the saving grace was switching from a small parochial elementary school, where I stuck out like a sore thumb, to a large public jr. high and high school, where there were programs for academically advanced students just like me. This didn't solve the problem completely -- the "popular" kids were still horrible -- but at least I wasn't so alone anymore. If you have the opportunity to do something like this for your daughter, I strongly recommend it.

    This probably is not what you want to hear, but you are going to have to help your daughter learn to deal with being treated poorly by her peers, or she will be miserable till she graduates. People can trumpet anti-bullying rules and education till the sun goes dark, but that isn't going to stop kids from being to cruel to one another. Like it or not, her academic excellence is going to single her out, and kids are vicious in ridiculing and excluding anyone that is different. My parents taught me how to take the long view, to realize that my efforts in school would translate into better opportunities down the road. I also, as Ms Meltz advised, got involved in a lot of activities that let me spend time with kids who were more like me. Above all, she must not feel like her intelligence is cause for embarrassment, or that she must hide it if she wants to fit in.

    This may or may not work for your daughter, but one thing I did was make friends with the guys. I was and still am a science geek, and I was often the only girl in my advanced science and math courses. Ditto with the chess team, science olympiad team, debate team, and drumline. I was around guys most of the time, so I made friends with them, and they turned out to be much better friends than the girls I so desperately wanted to fit in with - much less catty and less prone to backstabbing.

    Posted by brainygirl May 23, 11 11:22 AM
  1. I second teacherinmass. Get another perspective on what is going on. I am the mother of 2 girls who do very well in school, and neither one has this problem. There may be something happenning unrelated to your child's academic prowess.

    My older dd in particular is slower to make new friends. I will hear from her that she has no one to play with in this or that activity, but she does have several close friends. I've never heard from her that she is teased about her performance at school.

    Good luck.

    Posted by Jip May 23, 11 12:19 PM
  1. I was kind of wondering along the lines of what teacherinmass said . . . Is this really "everyone elses" problem? PLEASE don't think that I'm blaming your daughter, because I'm not. I too know how hard it is to be left out. Please DO talk with the teachers, though, and get the whole picture. Does your daughter unknowingly put out a vibe that she thinks that she's better than other kids because she is ahead of them academically? Does she maybe come across as a "know it all?" I found out many years later that I was considered a bit of a snob, when I was really just painfully shy and had a difficult time with a lot of the social aspects of middle school. I certainly didn't feel like I was better than anyone, but apparently that's how my shyness came across. It is something that I still struggle with as an adult, but at least now I know that my actions may be perceived a certain way and work to make sure that isn't what happens.
    Good luck!

    Posted by Mary May 23, 11 01:43 PM
  1. This could have described me as a child as well. My intellectual ability was way above my social maturity so I came across as a little freaky. I didn't mean to, but I know now that I did.

    There is alot to be said for inclusion for special needs children, and I do believe being gifted is as much as a special need as being on the other end of the spectrum. That said, I found my socialization improved when I went to an exam school where my peers were on the same academic level as I was (but I am still very shy and unsure of myself). Enrolling her in a gifted program might not be possible in your school district so my suggestion is to try to find her a peer group for gifted children. Even if its an online community, there has to be something out there.

    Of course she needs to learn how to deal with people not in her peer group who don't like her for some reason or another and there is always going to be a person like that in her life. But I think that once she has the self-esteem from being accepted by one group, it won't be so bad when she is rejected by the other.

    Posted by Sandra May 23, 11 02:14 PM
  1. This mild isolation happened 40 years ago to kids that could work a few grades ahead of their age. Very few school systems had any really useful program for gifted children before high school.

    Private tutoring has always been a good way to supplement schools expectations. But private tutoring increases the separation between the gifted and the average students...Home tutoring for math and English could work if you buy textbooks.

    It would be best for both parents to take up daily walks with these kids, without any discussion of weight problems. This puts excellent stress-management in place ahead of more stressful school situations.

    One issue with gifted kids is that if they end up in university too early, the physical maturity gap is real trouble. Try to keep her from graduating high school at 15. It would be better to help the teenager find summer internships with a university professor who can act as a mentor. She can do her research and make a short list, and then contact professors to inquire about possibilities. This takes a few years off a university education in graduate school, when the student is old enough to benefit.

    Posted by Irene May 24, 11 08:50 AM
  1. I thought Barbara's advice was great. Having 2 girls, I found that girl meanness starts in 4th grade, peaks in 7th and is usually over by high school.

    One thing I do think is very hard is being in a small school district, where you are essentially with the same kids K-12. Even kids who have friends in these situations usually feel the need to move on by 10th or 11th grade! There usually is someone, even the tiniest peer group, out there for everyone, but occasionally it doesn't happen. Its not clear if this child is still in elementary school or already in middle school, but sometimes the jump to middle school solves some of these problems because there is an influx of new kids you aren't used to seeing every day. So if she's going to middle school, things might change a bit if other elementary schools feed into the middle school.

    One other thing I would add is that girls especially sometimes try to keep befriending the same kids over and over again who just don't want to be friends with them, maybe because they are the "popular" girls or whatever. The teacher can probably help you figure this out. If this is happening, its important to help her find her "girls".

    I do have on additional comment and that has to do with my extreme distaste for the word "gifted". Gifted people are very few and far between. Most people described as gifted are usually just really smart and perhaps stand out sometimes because they are not surrounded by really smart people. Of course, the truly gifted are sometimes socially awkward and if this child is truly gifted, that may be part of the issue. On top of all this, I think its really silly to give out academic awards to 6th graders and I think these sorts of things contribute to the problems some students experience. If you are telling her she is "gifted", I would stop.


    Posted by ash May 24, 11 09:13 AM
  1. Lots of great advice here. Have to second "teacherinmass". My son has some of these problems in later elementary. I know his attitude at school was part of the problem. Kids don't automatically shun the smart kid (though rarely this will happen), often they are responding to the unintentional "know-it-all" vibes that a child is giving off. Definitely part of the problem for my son. He was impatient with kids that weren't getting things as quickly as he could. So a combination of working with him on his attitude and with the counselor on curtailing the bullying from other kids made things better (tolerable at least). He doesn't attend public school anymore and the atmosphere of a school where academics are the focus has been really good for him. If you can't spring for a private school, or be accepted into a charter school, you should consider online classes and summer courses like CTY (Johns Hopkins) for your daughter.

    I know where "ash" is coming from regarding the terminology. Of course you want your kids to know that working hard is just as important as being innately intelligent. But sometime the label "gifted" was all that got me through a tough day at a public school where sports jocks and cheerleaders ruled. This isn't just a problem of bullying, it's an American cultural problem of idolizing sports and movie stars above all else. Glad to hear your daughter at least hasn't bought into it. I hope she realizes her dream of becoming a scientist.

    Posted by momof2 May 24, 11 12:50 PM
  1. brainygirl: I had to laugh. I was in the same position too - reading 6th grade level in 1st grade. My solution was to switch from a large, athletic focused public school to a small, academically/arts focused parochial school.

    I'm really glad that I did. :)

    Posted by phe May 25, 11 02:01 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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