Photo Credit: Rifka Schonfeld

Back to school is a stressful time for children, parents and educators. In order to alleviate some of that stress, I’ve put together some of the most frequently asked questions regarding bullies, friendship and learning disabilities. Let’s start the year off right!



Q: I’m worried about my son because he was bullied last year. What do I do to make sure that he doesn’t get bullied again this year?

A: Let’s talk first about how to break the bully cycle and then how to make friends.

            Talk to your child. Tell him that you are concerned and would like to help. Ask direct questions like, “Are there any kids at school who are mean to you?” Or indirect questions like, “Are there any kids at school whom you really don’t like? Why?”

            Keep your emotions in check. Of course, you need to empathize, but if you become overly emotional, your child will hesitate before speaking with you about it again. Stay calm so that you can act as a supportive figure in your child’s life.

            Talk to the staff at your child’s school. Set up an appointment and explain that you are concerned. Ask questions about what you can do and what measures the school can take to prevent bullying.

            Teach your child to walk with confidence. If your child appears confident and walks away from the situation, he is signaling that the bully cannot hurt him.

            Encourage other friendships. Promote true friendships by telling your child to invite other children for play dates or study dates.

And, after we address the bullying crisis, we must teach them how to make long-lasting relationships. Through a child’s interactions with even one or two friends, he will develop necessary social skills.

Regardless of their age, one great way to help your child make friends is to build his self-esteem. Self-esteem is an integral part of lasting friendships. Why? In their book Self Esteem, Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning explain that when you reject certain parts of yourself, you are damaging psychological structures essential to healthy living. For example, in the same way that you protect a physical wound, when you are critical of a part of yourself you will avoid anything that might aggravate the pain of self-rejection. Therefore, you will take fewer social, academic or career risks.

To that end, your child might erect barriers of defense to protect himself. Those barriers can include blaming others, bragging about things he doesn’t truly like about himself, getting angry, or making excuses. You can imagine how damaging this kind of behavior can be to friendships.

Point out your child’s strengths and encourage him to use them in many different situations. This will help him feel better about himself.

Another way to encourage friendship is to pass a smile. Before your child leaves to enter a stressful situation, give him a great big smile. Then tell him that his job is simply to “pass” that smile to someone he will see that day.

            Getting involved in community service or chesed can be a wonderful way to make friends. Being in a group of like-minded people who are looking to help others can provide great opportunities for quality friendship.

Like getting involved in community service, joining an after-school activity can provide relaxed opportunities that support friendship. Sports and games encourage teamwork and companionship. Your child might also learn skills that will help him in school.


Q: My child has trouble focusing and sitting still. She was diagnosed with ADHD before the summer, but I am still trying to understand that diagnosis and what to do with it when school starts. I know it makes it hard for her as a student, but does this diagnosis have anything to do with her struggle to make friends?

A: Current research shows that ADHD children are often socially immature. Their interactions with others often appear unfriendly, awkward, remote, abrasive, domineering or insensitive. They tend not to be able to read social cues and to be rebuffed by peers for inappropriate behavior.

Social rejection provokes negative behavior that triggers more rejection, which in turn can reinforce the child’s social isolation.

Although medication has been used for years to improve control over behavior and to stimulate and increase attention, medication does not erase negative feelings or low-self esteem. It does not reverse ingrained habits and behavior in ADHD children that tend to alienate their peers.

            Many experts believe that helping ADHD children rebuild self-esteem and master social skills should precede, or at the very least, accompany the use of medication. Only when ADHD kids can truly believe that they are important and worthwhile, and can exercise control over their lives, will they be able to succeed.

The best way to insure long-term success and compliance with treatment is to get ADHD children personally involved in the process early. An ADHD “coach” works with a child, often on her own turf, to analyze what specifically is contributing to her social difficulties, and to generate behavioral strategies to improve social interactions.

            ADHD coaching also helps children

  • Understand that the source of many of their challenges is ADHD, notpersonal shortcomings.
  • Safely examine areas of failure for clues as to how to implement change.
  • Heighten self-awareness and self-observation skills, and use those skills to improve decision-making and performance.
  • Change perspective when “stuck” (i.e., learning new ways to work with procrastination, staying on task, or being more productive).
  • Become aware of their own learning and processing styles so they can enhance their ability to comprehend information and situations.

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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at [email protected].