Care and Feeding

My Daughter Has Had It With Her Classroom Job

An 8-year-old girl crosses her arms and looks upset.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by yalayama/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My ten-year old daughter, “Bella,” was made the “classroom buddy” of an eight-year old girl, “Trisha,” who skipped from third to fifth grade into Bella’s class. She is supposed to help show Trisha the ropes and make sure she’s included in the class. Trisha lives nearby, and I know her mother, who was delighted to find out that Bella and she were buddies, as Trisha was being bullied and excluded in third grade by several kids and had no real friends. Trisha is very advanced academically, but has the maturity level of a third grader, and Bella has told me this makes spending time with her very irritating.

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She says that Trisha is very whiny with her at recess, always insisting they play pretend or hopscotch. Bella wants to talk or read with her friends, but Trisha gets very jealous of them and asks them to not play with Bella. This has made Bella frustrated and she no longer wants to be Trisha’s classroom buddy or her friend, but she’s not sure what to do next. She asked her dad and me what we thought. My husband thinks she should immediately (privately) explain to her teacher why she no longer wants to be Trisha’s buddy, but I think she should stick it out for a little longer. Based on what Trisha’s mom has told me, she considers Bella her first real friend, and dropping her not only as a classroom buddy but also as a friend could make her feel more bullied and excluded, something Bella hasn’t really dealt with. That said, I also don’t want my daughter to constantly feel annoyed dealing with a younger kid, especially since it’s her first opportunity to get to spend time with friends at school since the pandemic started. How should we deal with this problem? Is there any solution where Trisha doesn’t feel abandoned and Bella gets to enjoy recess and school again?

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—Classroom Boundaries Without Boundaries

Dear Classroom Boundaries,

Your daughter was forced to be a companion for this kid? She didn’t have a say in this? Even if the responsibilities are relatively minimal, it seems like an unfair burden to put on her if she’s an unwilling participant.

I agree with your husband: Have your daughter approach the teacher in private to say that she doesn’t want this responsibility anymore. That’s how I would advise my fifth grade daughter if she was in a similar situation. Maybe the teacher can rotate these duties, or find someone else in the class who would be better suited or more willing to take on the task. And my guess is that the teacher can finesse this in a way that Trisha is none the wiser and doesn’t get her feelings hurt.

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While it sounds like this has been hard for Bella, it’s a good opportunity for her to learn to advocate for herself. And while yes, there will be times when she’ll have to do things that she doesn’t like, or is unwilling to do, it seems like she’s taken on enough of this task, she’s been a good sport about it, and it’s fair for the teacher to assign it to someone else.

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Ultimately, it’s the teacher’s job to help Bella feel safe and included in class, not a 10-year-old’s. While you of course want your daughter to continue to be kind and friendly to Trisha, I think Bella’s teacher should step in now. Hopefully Trisha will find a more suitable companion and Bella can go about being a happy fifth grader again.

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From this week’s letter, “My Ex Has Gone Anti-Vax, and He’s Taking Our Teen Daughter With Him:” “She’s started to repeat some of what her dad is spouting and no longer trusts mainstream media or doctors.”

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am the mom of an amazing three-year-old daughter. I’ll call her “Amelia.” My husband, Amelia, and I are all white, and we live in a rural, very white region where diverse spaces are hard to come by. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I have no close friends of color who live nearby, and due to the pandemic Amelia has not really spent time with any children other than her (white) cousins from the time she can remember. However, my husband and I are committed to exposing Amelia to media containing characters of all races and ethnicities. We read her books containing diverse characters and watch TV shows and movies with diverse characters as well. We’ve talked with her about how different people have different skin colors just like how people have different colors of eyes and hair, and how they’re all beautiful.

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I thought this message had sunk in. Yesterday, I took Amelia to the city. As we walked down the street, a dark-skinned Black man passed us. Amelia pointed at him and asked very loudly, “What is that?” There was no mistaking that she was talking about him. The man most certainly heard, but he continued walking as if he hadn’t. I was momentarily stunned, completely shocked and mortified. I could see several people staring at us. I didn’t reply to Amelia, I just walked back to the car. Once inside, I spoke to her angrily and said that what she had said was unacceptable and mean, she knew better, etc. Amelia didn’t understand what she had done wrong and started crying. I decided to just drive home because the trip had been ruined and I needed to cool off. I know that I didn’t react appropriately, and I have since apologized to Amelia for my behavior. I also explained that the “thing” she had seen was just a person who has darker skin than hers. But I am very concerned by Amelia’s question and her inability to recognize that Black man as a person. I feel like I must have done something wrong in my attempts to teach her about race, and now I’m extremely worried that something like this will happen again. So, short of moving (which is not currently possible), what more should I be doing to teach my daughter about race and racism? And if a similar situation were to happen again, how should I react next time?

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—Trying to Raise an Anti-Racist

Dear Trying,

Yeah, you definitely didn’t handle the situation well, but at least you owned it, and I respect that. As I’ve said before in this column, you can’t expect a 3-year-old to understand racial nuances that a significant amount of adults in America have no clue about. We need to give kids some grace as they clumsily navigate through life.

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I’m not the spokesperson for all people of color, but I’ll go out on a limb to say most well-adjusted Black people can tell the difference between an inquisitive child and a downright bigot. I dated a white girl who lived in Maine for many years, and if you’re unfamiliar with the Pine Tree State, there are like 17 Black people who live there. Whenever I went to visit, I would hear kids say things like, “Why is his skin burned, mommy?” or “Hey, it’s Michael Jordan!” Similar to you, the parents were mortified, but I laughed it off and went about my business.

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The problem with your reaction is now Amelia could start to believe people who look differently should be feared, because instinctually she’ll think, “I can’t say anything or else mommy will yell at me.” Going forward, you should encourage her to share her candid thoughts about skin color differences with you, knowing that it’s safe to do so. She should be taught that differences are things to be celebrated and learned about. She’ll grow up to view those differences as normal instead of something to be hated or feared.

That said, her questions should be made privately so as not to offend someone. In the meantime, don’t beat yourself up too much about this. The fact that you wrote in to share your concerns is way more than many parents would do in a similar situation.

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• If you missed Monday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are in our early 30’s, no kids, and moved into our first home last summer. One of our next door neighbors is an older man who has his daughter and grandkids back living with him. The kids (a boy about 6 and a girl about 8) spend the majority of their time playing outside unsupervised, and the little boy is quite precocious. We’ve had many chats over the fence, he climbs a tree to get to the top of the fence (which makes me super nervous) and then yells, “Hey neighbor, I have to tell you something” over and over at max volume until we walk over. He’s a sweet kid and strikes me as lonely. Sometimes it is slightly annoying, especially if we have company, but I try to indulge him for at least a few minutes before making an excuse and walking away. He tells me stories about school, his sister, his mom, his cat, cartoons, etc.

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I finally met the mom last week (though I have heard her yelling through open windows many times before), and was surprised that she started by telling me she’s asked her kids to stop speaking to me, and could I please respect that. I told her I’ve never approached them, I’ve never even talked to her daughter, and that her son likes to yell over the fence at me. Her response was that he tells too many stories, and that I should be aware if I’m going to speak to him that he lies. The six-year-old lies? I don’t know why exactly, but my spidey senses started tingling immediately. Am I right that this interaction was bizarre, if not alarming? He has never hinted at abuse or anything that would paint his mom in an overly bad light, but why would she approach me this way? What should I do?

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—The Friendly Neighbor

Dear Friendly,

I agree that the mom’s behavior is bizarre, but I don’t think it’s necessarily alarming. As I’ve said before around here—you can’t put your cape on and save everyone, especially when there’s no evidence that they need saving. Plus, plenty of 6-year-olds do tell tall tales or even just divulge a bit too much about normal private family life than parents would like.

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There are many weirdo parents in America who pose no threat to their kids, so unless you’re observing downright abusive behavior or child endangerment, you have to respect her wishes. Additionally, you should tell the mom to coach her son not to poke his head over the fence to start conversations with you.

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If he yells over to you again, you should feel free to tell the boy that his mom prefers that you don’t chat. I know that your intuition tells you to do more, but right now you can’t do anything other than stay aware without being nosy.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’d love advice on how to balance children’s interests/passions with maintaining some semblance of family calm. I was pushed into a sport I hated all through middle school and high school; it destroyed my self-esteem and caused me to hate exercise for years until I finally discovered my fitness passion later in life. I always swore I’d let my kids choose their sports/activities and let them quit after they gave it a solid chance. Well, fast-forward to now. We have three children ages 7, 9, and 13. We let them try out different sports and activities and…as it turns out, they have three very different passions! My oldest is a rock climber who made the competitive travel team. My middle child is into soccer, and the youngest can’t get enough of gymnastics. All three sports have different practice schedules, weekend expectations, and various time-related “non-negotiables”—and it’s driving our family up the wall.

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My husband and I spend entire weekends shuttling our children to their various games/practices/tournaments. We didn’t realize the toll this was taking until the pandemic brought in-person activities to an end and we spent extended time together as a family. We loved it! All five of us were calmer and happier. Now that sports have started up again, we’re stuck. On one hand, I don’t want to force all three kids into the same sport for ease of carpooling. That’s what my parents did to me, and I hated every minute of it. On the other hand, I think there is tremendous value in unstructured family time—which seems at odds with the constant treadmill of practices, games, and team events. We are exploring carpooling with other families but that adds another family’s logistics and chaos to our own! Do you have any thoughts on a solution here?

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—So Many Sports

Dear So Many Sports,

Yours is a common struggle, especially since sports seem to be taken way more seriously at a way younger age than they were when we were growing up. I think what you need to determine is how serious your kids are about these sports. You mentioned the word “passion” in your letter, but a passion for playing a sport to hang out with friends and a passion for the game itself are two completely different things.

If it’s the former, then I would suggest finding other ways for your kids to have fun without the endless schedule of practices, games, and events. Most sports have recreational teams in addition to competitive travel leagues—maybe a clinic or a rec team would fit the bill for at least one of your kids, which would mean a much lesser commitment than multiple faraway practices and games that travel teams entail. If your kids do really have passion for the game, then you’ll probably have to suck it up for the sake of your children—and as a youth coach and father of two basketball-obsessed kids, trust me when I say that I feel your pain on this.

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I noticed that you wrote off carpooling with other families as potentially chaotic, but (depending on Covid) I highly recommend it as way to regain some time and sanity, as you won’t be responsible for every trip to the sports field.

Last, a great way to bond with your kids is to participate in their activities when you’re at home with them. I know performing back handsprings and rock climbing may be challenging in your backyard, but there are plenty of strengthening and stretching exercises you can do as a family to help them perform at a peak level and stay connected at the same time.

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I’m a firm believer that sports are great for teaching kids valuable life lessons such as teamwork, dealing with adversity, mental/physical toughness, and much more. Once you find a routine that works well for you, I think everyone in your family will win.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

My oldest daughter is 15 years old and is a straight-A student. I asked her the other night what her ideal job was, and she said, “Anything that makes me a lot of money so I don’t have to only wear bad clothes and won’t have to do dishes.” I first dismissed it as teenage snark, but then I realized that this materialistic attitude is pretty common for her. Where have I gone wrong?

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