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5 Red Flags That Signal School Trouble

My daughter was having a wonderful first year of elementary school. She loved Kindergarten, her teacher and her classmates. She was building strong relationships, as well as her skills in every area.

Then, seemingly overnight, everything changed. Red flags began to appear that told me my daughter was having trouble:

1. Change in personality

For most of the school year, my daughter would climb into her booster seat at pick-up and breathlessly tell me every detail of her day. I would purposely take the long way home because I loved hearing her. Then, instead of being her bubbly, talkative self, my daughter was suddenly silent, sullen. When I asked about her day, she'd just look down at her lap. The drive home had an entirely different feel.

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2. Sleeplessness

My daughter has always been a great sleeper. But I began to notice she was always tired during the day. She was harder to wake in the morning and spent the day in a fog. She was always yawning and had difficulty concentrating or participating in physical activities. I asked her if she was having trouble sleeping or experiencing nightmares. She didn't directly answer those questions but did admit she wasn't sleeping well.

3. Poor appetite

After taking only one bite, my daughter would push her plate away and declare herself, "full." My husband and I would insist she could not possibly be full, that her body needed more, "fuel." But she would not take another bite. We worried about how she could function on so little food. She also began to develop more illnesses than normal.

4. Reluctance to go to school

She began begging me every morning to let her stay home. And counting down the days, not to summer but until she didn't have to see a specific classmate every day. She asked me if it would be possible to change schools. This was the sign that told me something was very wrong. My daughter had loved school and, in particular, the elementary school she attended.

I realized it was time to intervene and reached out to her teacher.

5. Emotional outbursts

My child is deeply emotional. But we began seeing outbursts at home that were completely out of character for her. At one point, my daughter said she was going to kill herself. My husband and I were shocked. We sat down with her immediately and calmly asked (a) if she meant what she said (she didn't) and (b) if she understood the meaning and seriousness of those words (a very obvious no).

That's when we found out she'd heard them from a male student, who apparently said that any time his classmates threatened to report him for his behavior. Slowly, we were able to get her to open up. One of the reasons she stayed quiet was because this student told her he would commit suicide if she got him in trouble.

He had been taunting her for weeks, making her days at school absolutely miserable.

They were in the same "work group," sharing a table in the classroom. He spent the day telling her she had no real friends. That no one liked her. That they just pretended to, so they wouldn't get in trouble with the teacher. He claimed all her classmates talked about her behind her back, saying she was annoying.

At recess, he would place himself between her and her closest friend, insisting they could not play together. If she would ignore him and try to play anyway, he would get in her face and scream, "I told you to stay away from him!" He stopped short of physically touching her.

She had mentioned his teasing a few times in the past. And I had worked with her on the best ways to respond. But the extent of his behavior had not been known to me until recently.

I realized it was time to intervene and reached out to her teacher. The first thing she did was put the student in question in a different work group, so he and my daughter would not sit together. Beyond that, she simply told me he had been "disciplined."

I don't know what that involved, but I expressed concern that he receive support and potentially counseling, as I found his behavior at only 6 disturbing. As I tell my daughter, often when a child acts as he did, it is because they are hurting inside, or someone has treated them that way. I wanted him to get help, too.

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As for my daughter, within days she was back to her old self. Whatever discipline the other student received worked in that he left her alone. I ask her every day at pick up about her interaction with him. She is no longer afraid to go to school and has been able to enjoy her days there again. Although she has expressed hope that they not be in the same classroom together next year.

We'll deal with that in the fall if we have to. For now, we are looking forward to summer. My daughter needs a break from school in more ways than one.

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Image via Twenty20/thdrewhorne

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