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Dear Dr. Smith

Published September 03. 2011 09:01AM

Dear Dr. Smith,

What is your opinion about relatives being assigned to the same classroom in elementary school?


A Mom Who is Worried

Dear Mom Who is Worried,

Your question is an interesting one. Apparently, your child might be assigned to the same classroom as a relative and you're not sure it's a good thing.

It's hard to make a generalization about this topic. A lot depends on the children involved. If the kids are mentally well balanced and there is no family jealousy involved, then sharing a classroom with a relative should be fine. If the teacher is fair and accepting, both children should flourish in that environment.

However, if any one of the adults involved begins to compare and contrast the children, then negativity arises.

Let's give an example of what can go wrong

Johnny and Billy are cousins. They are the same age and assigned to the same grade level. They are just about equal in brainpower and have the same socialization skills. They like each other and spend time together at family gatherings. Both sets of parents encourage their boys to do well in school.

That scenario sounds as though everything will be fine if the boys share a classroom, right? Well, maybe not.

No two kids can possibly get the same grade on every project, every test, or every essay. There will come a time when one of the boys gets a higher grade than the other one. At that point, if the parents of the boy with the higher grade say anything smacking of comparison, all heck can break loose.

It's usually not the kids who have the problem. It's the adults who create the negative situation. When Billy comes home with a "C" while Johnny gets an "A," The green monster infects Billy's parents. Why did their son do worse than his cousin? What are they doing wrong as parents? Will Johnny's parents have a superior attitude about it?

Pity poor Billy. For sure, his parents will push him harder to 'keep up' with his cousin. Never mind that Billy might not be as good in a certain subject. Never mind that Billy might be better than Johnny in something else sports, for instance. The fact that Billy seemed like the lesser able student will drive his parents crazy.

If Billy and Johnny were in different classrooms, this particular event wouldn't happen. Having a different teacher means that the instruction varies and tests are not the same. There can be no comparison in that instance.

So, Worried Mom, here's my answer. If you and your husband can keep the jealousy at bay, and if your relatives can do the same thing, then the boys can enjoy being together in the same room.

On a cautionary note There is one big reason why having relatives in the same classroom might not be a good thing the kids have a tendency to stay together and not make new friends. There is a comfort in having a family member nearby. But, especially in the early elementary years, that fact might prevent social growth.

When I was a principal, at the end of a school year I asked the children how they felt about being in the same room as a sibling or relative. Most of the time, they had a positive response. One little guy will always be in my memory. His response was "I wanted my own friends, but my cousin always took them away from me."

Another comment from a child sticks in my memory a set of twins entered kindergarten and their mother demanded that they be placed in the same room. She dressed them alike daily and they were so similar in looks that it took their teacher quite a while to distinguish them. As the year progressed, one of the boys began to show some discipline problems. When I talked to him, he said, "I'm the bad one." Apparently, he had decided that his only claim to individuality was to create chaos. That would surely help the teacher know which one was which.

Good luck with the new school year!


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