Ask Amy: Fourth-grader should “re-frame” irritants

Dear Amy: I’m in fourth grade. My classmates are very nosy. They always show off. They ask questions about my personal life and brag about how fast they read, among many other things.

I don’t know how to respond to personal questions, and hearing everyone bragging makes me so mad.

It’s hard to learn with my rude classmates. I know this will keep happening in life, so I want to find ways to shut down their constant questions.

My parents say that adults can act this way, too, so learning to respond to rude people is a life skill that I need.

— Frustrated

Dear Frustrated: Your parents are right. People all through life will behave in ways that might confuse or upset you. Sometimes they’re being rude on purpose, but a lot of the time, they’re just being annoyingly human.

It’s important to understand that your classmates all have different personalities, strengths and weaknesses — just like you do.

Kids tend to talk about their families a lot, because these are the people they know best, and talking about their families and asking questions about yours are one way of getting to know you better.

I try to do something called “re-framing” when another person’s behavior confuses me. It’s a way to see things from a different angle.

For instance, that classmate who is bugging you with personal questions might be “nosy” or “rude,” or he might be “curious” and “interested” in learning more about you.

A classmate boasting about speed reading might be bragging and competitive, or she might be proud because she’s made a lot of progress — and wants to tell you about it.

Everybody’s brain works a little differently and because you sound like a smart and thoughtful fourth-grader, you could work with a counselor and your folks to figure out what your brain is telling you when other kids behave this way.

One way to respond when someone asks a question you don’t want to answer is to change the subject by asking them a question: “Hey, how do you think you did on the math quiz?”

And here’s my secret tip for when somebody asks me a nosy personal question that I don’t want to answer: I give them a compliment!

For example: “Hey, Amy, is it true that you didn’t get good grades in school?”

I respond: “Wow, I love your scarf. It looks so warm. Did you make it yourself?”

You can practice these and other responses with your parents.

Your teacher also might want to move your seat to sit near classmates who won’t be quite so noisy and distracting when you’re trying to concentrate.

I hope you can find kids to hang out with who aren’t quite so overwhelming, and who will give you all the time you need to get to know them, and for them to get to know you.

Dear Amy: My friend and I decided to bring her dilemma to you.

The issue is this: She knows her sister “Julie” is in quite a bit of trouble financially and with the IRS. The sister’s husband, however, does not.

We are 100 percent sure that the brother-in-law doesn’t know about his wife’s financial problems.

My friend isn’t normally the type to interfere in anyone’s life choices or try and cause any sort of trouble for people, especially those she loves, but she feels strongly that her brother-in-law should be made aware of the situation.

Her sister hides mail, gambles, and comes and goes as she pleases because her husband adores her and is willing to overlook these things, but he doesn’t have all the facts.

We would value your opinion. Should she speak up?

— LA

Dear LA: If your friend’s brother-in-law is “willing to overlook these things,” then he has some awareness of the existence of “things,” which he would choose to ignore.

The most I would suggest your friend do is to communicate: “‘Julie’ recently disclosed to me the extent of her financial trouble; I can’t be helpful other than to urge you two to talk about it. I hope you will.”

Dear Amy: I was really moved by your response to “Son Holding a Grudge,” who was unable to forgive his father for abandoning the family 35 years ago.

Thank you for urging this man to release his anger; his dad has been living rent-free in his head for all this time.

— Been There

Dear Been There: Thank you. I’ve been there, too.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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