Q: A pretty close friend of my son's moved schools to be part of an IB program in our district (third grade). He was spending the night last week and mentioned that he missed his old school, didn't like his new school and didn't have a choice in the switch. The boys play soccer together, and when we asked his mom how is it going at the new school, her response was: "It's great, we love it!" (This was before the sleepover.) The question is if and how I should approach the other mom about what her child said. As a note, it may have been said in defense of my kids talking about his old (their current) school. Do I mention something to the mom?

A: Thanks for writing, because although I feel there is a pretty clear answer for this question, I know many parents feel torn about how much to involve themselves with other children’s lives.

This child is about 8 years old, and that’s significant. The typical 8-year-old is definitely thinking for and about themselves, but they are also highly affected by their friendships. So, put yourself in the boy’s shoes: He is at his friend’s house with a group of boys (all of whom still go to the same school), and he either is asked about the new school or is expected to say something about it. For an 8-year-old, the worst thing that could happen would be for these friends to judge him and/or ask him to stop coming over. All humans, especially children, do not want to be separated from their most important people, so of course he will say he’s unhappy and that it wasn’t his choice to go to the new school. We don’t know whether it’s true, but it’s safe to say that most 8-year-olds will say what is necessary to keep themselves in their tribe of friends.

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Also, it’s absolutely true that this boy could be both miserable and happy at this new school. It is often the case that children can have quite a bit of ambivalence about being in a new school; one day it is fun and exciting, the next day it is overwhelming and scary. When his mom said the new school was great, she could be speaking the truth. Her son could be, too. In any case, I believe you hit the nail on the head when you write, “it may have been said in defense of my kids talking about his old (their current) school.”

Whether you say something depends on a number of factors. First, how well do you know this boy and his mom? If this were a close, personal friend of mine, I might say, “Ralph was over last night and I overheard him saying he was unhappy about school. I think he was feeling defensive with the other boys. What do you think?” Asking the mom what she thinks as well as admitting it may just be 8-year-old boys talking could open the door for a good discussion. Either way, be casual about it.

Second, if this boy is at your house often, pay attention to his demeanor more than his words. (And if he ever sounds distressed, depressed, highly anxious, etc., immediately tell the parents.) How this boy acts could give you a more accurate picture of what is in his heart; if he is playing and happy and eating but then says “I don’t like my new school,” well, the evidence doesn’t add up to worrying, for me.

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Finally, take a moment to read about the lives of boys, how they interact and their inner emotional lives. I don’t know whether it will give you any insight on this boy, but it will give you insight into your own son as he grows, matures and changes over the years. You will always be balancing when to act and when to let things go.

Some wisdom and theory can help inform your opinions. I suggest reading “How to Raise a Boy” by Michael C. Reichert, as well as “It’s a Boy!” by Michael Thompson.

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