Respecting Your Child’s Feelings

Q: My 10-year-old son is receiving counseling services in school from a skilled and caring therapist. Last year, he had a very hard time getting along with his classmates. Although he claimed he was being bullied, the truth is that he probably instigated the problems by showing off, acting in a very immature manner and generally getting on people’s nerves.

This year he has fewer issues with the boys in his class. I feel that credit must go to his rebbi, who brings achdus and a sense of team spirit to the group. He shows interesting educational Jewish videos and frequently raffles off prizes for good behavior. This rebbi only sees the good in his students, and when I ask him about my son’s behavior and relationship with peers, he has very little to report in the way of problems. It is therefore hard for me to know if his social skills have really improved, or if the positive attitude in the classroom has simply influenced his behavior and that of his classmates for the good.

I asked the school counselor to take other boys out of class to join my son during his sessions in order to observe how he deals with peers. My son objected to this idea, insisting that he gets along with his classmates. “They either talk to me here and there,” he explains, “or they leave me alone.” According to him, there is no teasing or antagonism this year, and he doesn’t want to raise issues when they don’t exist.

He also tends to forget his English homework, and has been leaving his jacket in school. (In his defense, when the weather is in-between, you can forget that you brought it to begin with.) When we suggested asking his English teacher to remind him on both counts, he asked us not to. He said that he is not four years old, and he’ll manage.

How should we respond to these situations?

A: The first thing that came to mind when I read your words is how fortunate it is that your son has this rebbi. When a teacher sees a student only in a positive light, it can have reverberations on the child’s soul and self-identity for years to come. One cannot underestimate the gift your son is receiving by being in such a positive environment. In reality, most people (myself included) are not able to maintain such an ayin tovah.

However, this places the issue of monitoring your son’s social relationships entirely in your court. (In any case, it is not the rebbi’s responsibility to be exceedingly involved with this.) If you observe that your son’s responses to cousins, neighbors and friends have improved, you can assume that your son has been learning appropriate social skills. If he feels uncomfortable asking others to miss class and join him for his counseling sessions, you need to respect his feelings. Besides, not all parents would like their sons to miss classwork — even to help a classmate.

It is true that a teacher’s observations about a student’s behavior can help his therapist guide him in developing social skills. For a student who may not be able to pinpoint or verbalize his areas of difficulty, the teacher’s input can help guide the counseling session towards specific goals and desirable outcomes. But since your son’s rebbi does not view students in a manner that would allow for constructive criticism, there are other didactic and experiential techniques for your son’s counselor to use when working to improve his social skills.

In relation to his executive skills training (leaving his jacket and forgetting his homework), you can speak to his counselor about ways to work with behavior modification techniques to deal with this problem. At age 10, most students do not want to be singled out by their teacher to help them improve their day-to-day living skills. Every child has a different level of self-consciousness, and his subjective reality is understandable and needs to be respected. In some cases, a child’s self-consciousness is just an impediment to development. But your son’s response is age-appropriate, and his need to improve his executive skills can come about in another venue, with his school counselor.