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Teacher to Parent: Help your children to advocate for themselves

My elementary school daughter’s seat has been moved near a boy who is known for disrupting the class. She’s a good student who pays attention, but the boy is a continual distraction – trying to talk to her, pushing his face against the plexiglass, passing notes, etc. She’s asked the boy to stop but he hasn’t. The teacher doesn’t do much to control him (I don’t know why). I want her to advocate for herself, so I told her to ask the teacher to move her seat, but she doesn’t want to because she feels bad for the boy. He apparently has few friends because of his behavior. What should I do?

There could be a dozen reasons why the teacher doesn’t appear to have done much to control the boy. Perhaps she doesn’t see his behavior, especially behind plexiglass (which is “see-thru” in the same way Juicy Fruit is “long-lasting”).

The teacher may have even moved your daughter near the boy precisely because she is a good student. A favorite strategy of mine for dealing with disruptive, unfocused students is to surround them with the quietest kids in the class. Once the disruptor realizes he’s playing to an unamused crowd, he shuts the act down. So your daughter might find that after a few days of ignoring the boy, he’ll leave her alone.

Then again maybe not. Some disruptors are more persistent. If it continues, the situation presents an opportunity to teach your daughter a valuable life lesson: you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Or, to modernize the adage, you can’t eat your cake and keep your waistline.

“Cake hoarding” is rampant in today’s society. We want what we want without any cost or consequences. For example, they want the convenience of buying everything online, but they don’t want local businesses to disappear.

The most egregious example for parents is the smartphone. They don’t want their kids to feel “left out” by not having one, but they don’t want it to negatively affect their child’s personality. Good luck with that.

Proliferation of cake hoarding may be tracked to the surge of so-called “lawnmower parents” clearing away any obstacles in their children’s path. The widespread practice is making us forget that actions – even good ones – have consequences, and sometimes those consequences aren’t positive.

How does this relate to your daughter? Because if she doesn’t tell her teacher about the boy’s behavior, there will be a negative repercussion: he’s going to bother her. She needs to understand that. Of course it would be easy for you to call the teacher and request a move; then your daughter could keep both her pity and peace. But she also might get the notion that if she lets you sweep away her anxieties, she can have her cake and eat it, too. As soon as she becomes an adult, however, the real world may have something to say about that.

Better for her to start preparing now, but not without your coaching. Let her know that you want her to learn to speak up for herself. Affirm, too, that her pity is noble, but it’s useless unless there is action behind it. If she really feels sorry for the boy because he doesn’t have friends, help her to see that allowing him to continue in his annoying behavior only makes it harder for him to ever have any. This may convince her to seek help from the teacher who can help him change.

If she agrees, encourage her to give the teacher the problem, not its solution. Instead of asking the teacher to move her seat, just have her tell the teacher the issue: she feels badly for the boy, but she’s having a hard time paying attention. The teacher might have a better answer than just moving seats.

The easiest thing to do is call the teacher and demand a move. But the easiest thing isn’t always the best thing. You are wise to see your child’s dilemmas as opportunities – chances to give her genuine, on-the-job experience in maturing and being independent. Stay the course.

Of course if the problem doesn’t change or worsens, you’ll have to get involved. My guess, though, is that this one can be solved with everyone’s feelings intact, the problem corrected, and your daughter getting important practice in standing up for herself.

Come to think of it, with a little effort, she might get to have her cake and eat it after all.

Jody Stallings has been an award-winning teacher in Charleston since 1992 and is director of the Charleston Teacher Alliance. To submit a question or receive notification of new columns, email him at JodyLStallings@gmail.com. Follow Teacher to Parent on Facebook at facebook.com/teachertoparent and on Twitter @stallings_jody.

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