Q: One of my third-grade students used to talk and laugh. Lately, she’s become secretive and introverted. I’m worried.
Dr. Adele: How is she doing with schoolwork? Does she focus well and move easily into new projects? Does she work well with classmates, have friends? Is the main change in her behavior the way she relates to you, or toward everyone? If it’s you, perhaps someone called her “teacher’s pet,” and she’s pulling back. At your next parent conference, you might find a gentle way to raise the question: “Your daughter is a delightful girl. Lately she has seemed more serious, not as playful as before. I have wondered if anything is worrying her.” If there is a source of worry—a family issue, illness—the parents are likely to let you know, directly or indirectly. On the other hand, they may simply say, with a smile, that she doesn’t seem so serious at home but they are glad she is taking school seriously.
Q: Max, one of my fifth graders, is worried about the future. He worries about every missed point, and talks about college and career plans. I’m all for kids being forward thinkers, but he’s growing up too fast. I want him to get to be a kid in my classroom.
Dr. Adele: Is there an older sibling applying to college? It’s possible this boy is overhearing adults talk about what’s next for a teenager. Or, there may indeed be pressure on your student to get ready for college and a career. We really can’t blame parents who themselves are influenced by a social context that is high on worry and low on enjoyment of the moment. There’s also the possibility that one or both parents have lost a job or missed out on opportunities because of mediocre grades or a decision not to continue schooling. Although it isn’t wise, it is certainly understandable that some parents want their children to learn from the “mistakes” they made themselves. Still, every generation is bound to find its own way.
As to what you can do, the options are fairly limited. At every opportunity, you might praise the boy’s work and suggest that his academic achievement is excellent and bodes well. Assure him that he doesn’t need to work all the time and that it’s important for him to pursue other areas of enjoyment, such as sports, music, clubs, and informal social activities. You might decide to have a class assignment to write an essay about “having fun.” Maybe this boy could come up with a wonderful topic, such as sailing or fishing with an uncle who has a boat. There are so many wonderfully simple ways to have a superb time, and getting that idea across is a fine goal to have. I leave the specifics up to you and your fifth grader who is so eager to succeed. You will have primed him for at least this sort of success.