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MomTalk.com November 24, 2017:   The women's magazine for moms about children, family, health, home, fashion, careers, marriage & more


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Should I Snoop?: Good Enough Moms

Q: I am a single parent to a ten-year-old girl. We have recently moved to a new city, where my daughter has started fourth grade at a new school. I am concerned that she is not happy at the new school, but when I ask her about it she says she is doing fine. She hasn't made many new friends, which is not typical for her. She has always been very social and had lots of friends at her old school. She has kept a diary for several months (she got it for her 9th birthday) and I recently discovered where she hides it when I was putting away her laundry.

Q: I am a single parent to a ten-year-old girl. We have recently moved to a new city, where my daughter has started fourth grade at a new school. I am concerned that she is not happy at the new school, but when I ask her about it she says she is doing fine. She hasn't made many new friends, which is not typical for her. She has always been very social and had lots of friends at her old school. She has kept a diary for several months (she got it for her 9th birthday) and I recently discovered where she hides it when I was putting away her laundry. Would it be wrong to read her diary to try to find out how she is really doing? I am concerned and want to help her, but she does not seem to want to talk about it with me.

Erin: To snoop or not to snoop? That is a question most parents will face at some point. You are right to be concerned about your daughter, but I don't think you have a right to read her diary – at least not yet. The worst thing you could do is to undermine the trust she has in you. Her diary is a special place for her to write about her feelings, and her privacy should be respected – especially if you want her to trust you enough to feel comfortable coming to you when she has a problem. I think you should try talking to your daughter more about the situation. Have you asked her if there are any specific reasons she hasn't made many friends yet? Maybe she is afraid that you will move again and she doesn't feel like it's worth it to make friends that she will have to leave. You don't mention how long she attended her previous school, but it sounds like she was there long enough to make many friends. Maybe she doesn't feel like she fits in at her new school? She is at an age where she is likely to be self conscious or embarrassed about being the “new girl.” And it's normal for a child to go through an adjustment period after a move, but I think I'll let my mom, Marti, talk about that!

Marti: Yes, changing schools is a big adjustment for most kids. Girls your daughter's age often have pretty tight cliques that can be hard for a newcomer to break into. Add to that the fact that your daughter probably is grieving the loss of her previous friends, which is no small thing. Perhaps you can help her make some connections with peers by reaching out to some other moms and arranging some mother-daughter outings with them. You also might help your daughter find a special after-school activity to join, such as a sports team or theater group, which can lead to strong connections among the participants. At the same time, I urge you to make a special effort to join your daughter in some fun one-on-one activities several times a week. While you're focused on a game or other shared activity, she might be more inclined to open up about how she feels – especially if you're careful not to interrogate her. Kids her age are least likely to talk when they feel pushed. It might help her open up if you share some of your own feelings about leaving your old friends behind and trying to find your place in a new city. Moving is stressful for adults as well as kids. (By the way, I absolutely agree with Erin that it's better to talk with your daughter rather than violate her trust by snooping in her diary.)

Betty: I guess we have a generation gap here because I'd be tempted to look in the diary. But I think you should first go and talk to your daughter's new teacher and try to find out anything you can about what is happening at school. If you aren't able to find out much from the teacher and your daughter continues to avoid the topic, then I think you may need to look in the diary as a last resort. Although this might upset your daughter, it's important for her to be happy and make friends. Anything you can do to help her make friends will probably help her adapt to her new school. Marti had some good suggestions about that. Maybe you could start by inviting some neighborhood kids over.

All: The most important thing you can do for your daughter is support and encourage her as she tries to find her way in her new school and get through the sadness she must feel about leaving her old friends and familiar school. We also think you should respect the privacy of her diary unless you have serious concerns about her health or safety and all other options for understanding the situation have failed. If you do decide to read her diary, you may not learn anything new and you may undermine your daughter's trust in you. If you are concerned that she is depressed or having an abnormally difficult time dealing with the move, it may be useful to find a counselor (maybe even someone at her new school) who can help her through this rough time. We all agree that it would be helpful if you can make connections with other families of children at her school. And we think it's worth giving your daughter a little nudge to get involved in some extra-curricular activities. With your support, she hopefully will return to her social self and begin to feel at home in her new surroundings.


Marti Erickson, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist and director of the Harris Training Programs at the University of Minnesota. A well-known public speaker, writer, and media commentator, Marti also is the mother of two adult kids and three young grandchildren.

Erin Erickson Garner, Marti's daughter, is a writer and a specialist in maternal and child health. She currently is home with her two young children except for Saturdays, when she and her mom co-host the Good Enough MomsTM radio show on WFMP-Radio, FM107.1 in the Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Betty Farrell, Marti's mom, lives in Houston, TX, and is known fondly as “Grandma Betty” to Erin and her kids.



Categories: School-Age, Advice, Ideas & Stories, Children,


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