Q | One of my fourth-grade girls is friendly, but the other girls reject her conversation starters. How can I foster interaction?
A | It’s important to figure out what might be going wrong for her when she is starting conversations with others. Are the topics she’s raising appropriate? How is her timing? Is she joining conversations too late or interrupting ones in progress? You mentioned that she’s talkative. Does she become too talkative and take over? How long has she been at the school relative to the girls with whom she is trying to start a conversation? Have they established a peer group already, making it harder for her to join?
Listen for clues during periods like lunch and recess, when there are more open-ended conversations. As what may be interfering with your student’s social success becomes clearer, try taking her aside to offer some subtle coaching. When you observe an appropriately timed, strong conversation starter, praise her. When you see effective turn-taking, let her know. Give the feedback in private. At the same time, make an effort to compliment all students—girls and boys—when they engage in “welcoming” or other tolerant behaviors with their peers.
Also consider designing some small-group or even paired activities, with incentives to groups that work kindly and well together and achieve their goals. Such activities have been shown to reduce conflict and enhance friendship formation.
Q | A new student is late almost every day. His parents say he cries and refuses to go to school. He had a tough time adjusting to his previous school as well. How can I help?
A | It’s not easy for anyone—teacher, child, or parents—when late arrival is a consistent problem.
First, I recommend that you keep track of on-time arrivals each week. When you keep your own weekly tallies, you can see improvement over time. And you can use the data to talk about whether more support, such as a professional evaluation, would be beneficial for the parents.
You know that your student had a hard time adjusting to his previous school. For some children, it may take an adjustment period of several weeks before they feel calmer, especially if they are experiencing yet another change.
For your part, avoid drawing attention to his tardiness when he arrives late; it could be exacerbating negative perceptions about school. Instead, speak to him privately and ask what makes it hard for him to arrive on time. He may be able to offer insight. Any day he arrives on time, praise him enthusiastically. It may even be appropriate to offer him a reward or privilege for his efforts. If the problem persists, share your concerns with his parents and encourage them to get more support.
Question for Dr. Fernandez?
Melanie A. Fernandez, Ph.D., ABPP, is board certified in clinical child and adolescent psychology and is director of the Parent-Child Interaction Therapy Program at the Child Mind Institute (childmind.org).
Image: Adam Chinitz