Social Problems at School: How and When to Jump In

By Amanda Morin
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At a Glance

  • Every situation is different, so there’s no set answer about how involved to get.

  • There are many factors to consider in knowing how to help your child.

  • It’s important for your child to learn coping and problem-solving skills.

If there’s an academic problem at school, you may feel confident about when to jump in. But what if your child is having a social problem? Do you wonder how involved to get? There’s no set answer to that question. Each situation is different. Here are some basic things to consider.

  • How old is your child? Younger kids may not have the experience or maturity to handle social problems on their own. Older kids may be embarrassed to have parents fight their battles for them. (Learn more about developmental milestones for each age.)

  • Is your child in danger? If his emotional or physical well-being is threatened, you need to be actively involved.

  • Does your child understand the situation? If he has trouble picking up on body language and facial expressions, he may not understand a situation correctly.

  • Have you taught your child the skills to handle this? If you’re sure he knows what to do, let him do it himself.

It’s important for your child to learn problem-solving and coping skills. The more you jump in, the less opportunity he has. The trick is to find a middle ground where he gets the guidance he needs from you while learning how to handle situations himself.

Here are some examples of problem situations and ways you can help.

Situation #1: Your child is emotionally bullied.

With bullying, you need to get involved. If you tell your child some kids are jerks and he should ignore them, he may continue to feel like a victim and think he can’t come to you for help. But if you confront the bully or call his parents, your child may keep things from you because he thinks you’ll overact.

How to help: Brainstorm ways your child can defend himself against the bullying. Inform his teacher, who can monitor the situation. This way, your child gets practice standing up for himself, and knows that you’ll get involved if the bullying continues.

Read how one parent handled it when “mean girls” bullied her daughter.

Situation #2: Your child isn’t invited to a birthday party.

You can’t always keep your child from having his feelings hurt. So what do you do when they are? If you tell him that’s just how it goes and not everyone is going to like him, he may feel unlikeable and think his feelings don’t matter. If you call the other child’s parents and demand an invitation, your child may feel embarrassed.

How to help: Tell your child you know this is difficult for him. Then talk about how there are different types of friendships. Ask him what type of friendship he has with the birthday child. Are they close and into the same things, or are they just school friends? This way, your child learns that there are different kinds of friends and he probably can’t have the same expectations from all of them. He also knows that you value his feelings.

Read one mom’s story of why she chooses to be what she calls a “life raft” mom instead of a helicopter parent in this type of situation.

Situation #3: Your child says the teacher is picking on him.

Is the teacher really singling him out, or is your child misreading the situation? You weren’t there to know. If you tell your child to just work it out with the teacher, he may think you’re not on his side. If you run to confront the teacher, your child may think you’ll jump to his rescue no matter what the situation. And he’ll miss a chance to learn how to self-advocate.

How to help: Ask your child for more information. Talk with him about how he can approach the teacher. (You can always intervene later.) This way, he knows you want to get to the truth and you’re willing to help. But he also gets to be part of the solution.

By knowing when and how to get involved, you give your child the chance to learn how to handle problems himself. You can even troubleshoot some problems by role-playing common social situations.

Key Takeaways

  • If your child is being bullied and is in danger, you need to get involved.

  • Being too involved can be just as hard on your child as not being involved enough.

  • Think about your child’s age and skills before helping in a social situation.

About the Author

About the Author

Amanda Morin 

worked as a classroom teacher and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. She is the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education. Two of her children have learning differences.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Elizabeth Harstad, MD, MPH 

is a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.

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