Q I am worried about my child’s behavior in the last year or so. She is seven years old and has two older brothers who are teenagers. We have had her in a new private school since September 2010 where she gets good instruction and attention. Although she is very intelligent, her grades aren’t very good right now and she seems quite nervous and depressed. She is not excited about new projects or any competitions at school and constantly compares herself negatively with other children.

Also, recently my husband I have been arguing a lot and, unfortunately, my daughter has been around during our fights. Could this be the reason for her mood? I don’t quite know how to handle all of this, but I want to make sure my daughter feels better and does well in school.

A I am glad you are concerned about your daughter and aware of her unhappiness, as she is young and vulnerable to family discord and school demands. Her well-being and emotional and mental stability ought to be the highest priority for you.

Does she have friends at school that she plays with? At this age play and fun are very important. If she doesn’t feel that she belongs to a group of friends or is a significant member of her class, her self-esteem will drop. Her feelings of rejection will further make her avoid social situations and make her less likely to take risks and challenge herself. Do her older brothers connect with her in a supportive and caring way? If she is South Asian in a predominantly white school it can add a further sense of isolation.

Marital tension around kids is very disturbing for them. They feel insecure and responsible for their parents’ conflict. Try to keep your marital issues private. Working on your marriage sounds like another priority. Are the two of you able to talk through the issues and work through differences without escalating? If not, learning some tools on non-defensive and non-violent communication for couples will help. There are many classes and resources for this. You could also consider facilitation by someone you trust or a marriage counselor.

This is likely to help your daughter, as tensions at home may ease. Reassuring your daughter that you and her dad are there for her, and acknowledging that it has been hard for her to witness your outbursts can help her open up about her sorrow and fears. Encourage her to talk about how she is doing regarding various aspects of her life. Let her know that her happiness is more important to you than her success at school.

Helping her connect with friends she has known prior to this new school may also ease her unhappiness.

Also, talk to her teacher and the school counselor about your concerns and ask for suggestions to help her enjoy her school life.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com

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