Q: One of my first graders was not a good friend last year. He’s trying to turn it around but other children distrust and avoid him.
Dr. Crandall: Fortunately, children in first grade can still be forgiving enough to allow this child to turn over a new leaf. If you are sure he has the requisite pro-social skills to be a good friend, then try to help him make one or two friends in your classroom. Among first graders, friendships still tend to be based upon shared interests and are less reliant on their having similar personalities than in later childhood. In other words, children at this age often cite their best friends as the children with whom they do the most activities. With that in mind, I suggest that you try to create some ongoing opportunities for this boy by handpicking one or two students for him to spend time with. Can they be partnered for a science or an art activity? Try to pick a task or lesson where you know your student will be successful so that the interactions between him and his partners will be positive.
You also may be able to engage the parents or guardians of your student in helping him to make friends. Are they aware of their child’s struggles in the social domain? If not, you should gently bring it to their attention before you enlist their help. Suggest that they invite another child from class to meet at the playground after school—preferably one of the students you have paired him with and whom he likes.
If you are able to help this boy put together some positive interactions with a few other students in your class, then, over time, the other children should also come to see him as a better option for friendship.
Q: The mother of one of my seventh graders insists her son can’t have a C+ and says I must give him extra credit. What can I do?
Dr. Crandall: First, assess the level of administrative support you will have in holding your ground on the grade. You want to be confident that your school’s policy supports you. Then talk to the parents and explain the rationale behind the mark. Is it reflective of the student’s ability or of his effort?
A growing body of research indicates that it is the ability to persist in the face of challenge that predicts later success much more than natural ability or inclination. One of the most important lessons that teachers and parents can instill in children is to persist, and in order to learn to persist, they must be permitted to “fail.” The best thing for the student at this juncture is to allow him to reap the outcome of his effort: the C+.
You should also provide the mother with clear in-structions and tell her that if her son follows them, his grades should improve.