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Helping a Teacher's Pet

When Brian Tharp was in first grade, he often volunteered to stay late to help clean up the classroom, and asked his parents if he could bring his teacher flowers. "He loved her," says Brian's mother, Laura, of Capistrano Beach, CA.

A parent's dream? Not always.

"Enthusiasm for learning is terrific," says Sally Reis, Ph.D., professor of educational psychology at the University of Connecticut. "But if a child seems too eager to earn his teacher's approval, it's a good bet that he's feeling insecure about himself." To make matters worse, Brian's peers repeatedly teased him on the school playground by calling him a teacher's pet.

What parents can do to help:

MEET WITH THE TEACHER See if she has ideas for working together to ease the situation. A good teacher, once she's aware of what's going on and how your child feels, can minimize taunting by making an extra effort to call on other students.

TEACH YOUR CHILD TO SHARE RESPONSIBILITIES While you don't want to squash his excitement about school, you can suggest to him that other kids would like a chance to wash the blackboard or water the plants, too. He's old enough to imagine himself in someone else's shoes, so ask how he'd feel if he never got to do these things.

BOOST HIS SELF-CONFIDENCE AT HOME As a rule, kids in constant need of a teacher's approval look for strokes from their mom and dad as well. If your child, say, draws a picture, he may repeatedly ask you what you think: "Did I stay inside the lines?" "Is this color okay?" "Does this tree look tall enough?" When this happens, turn the tables on him: Have him tell you what he likes about his artwork, and why.

Other things to do: Be generous with hugs and kisses, say "I love you" to him every day, and show him you're listening to him by paraphrasing his words ("I see you're excited about Craig's birthday party").

SIGN HIM UP FOR EXTRACURRICULARS Sports, Scouts, and other after-school activities can help build a child's social skills and boost esteem. When Brian started playing soccer and baseball, he found another way to garner praise, and the effects spilled over into school. While he still liked his teacher, he didn't jump up every time she asked for a helper, and instead of staying late for chores, he was needed at practice. The happy result? The teasing lessened, and Brian gained more confidence.