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Help bright granddaughter to balance academics with social life

Question: My 12-year-old granddaughter is a bright, attractive, very mature-looking girl. Though she is quite intelligent (she scored 11th grade comprehension in third grade), she is not performing up to grade in school. She does well in easier courses but is failing math and language arts. Last year she was retained. She was given the opportunity to complete missed assignments during Christmas break but did not. She will not read the required books.

We know that she should have to face the consequences and be retained again if she does not pass her courses. But she looks as though she should be in high school, and we believe that repeating the sixth grade will cause social problems. How can we get her to concentrate less on music and friends, and pay attention to the work at hand? — Norma, Houston

Answer: You might want to rethink your judgments before you try to help her. You sound disappointed in her, and she is bound to sense this. She may be disappointed in herself. If you give up on her, she may give up on herself. This can lead to a cycle of giving up, not trying, and failure. If you can, try to understand what is behind her behavior.

Holding her back in school could lead to more failure if used as a punishment instead of a chance to succeed. Whether she stays back or not, she'll need to understand what went wrong, and she'll have to care about doing better. Testing to compare academic achievement and potential will help pinpoint the problem.

Looking mature at this age is usually an extra challenge for a girl, and it doesn't necessarily mean she's ready for an older group. Though she may seem to be throwing herself into adolescence, she's probably also overwhelmed by the changes she's going through and by what lies ahead. "Music and friends" may be her way to get ready, and they won't necessarily interfere with studies.

Family members will have a better chance of influencing her if they pick battles they can win. They can help her learn to plan her time so that she can balance her social life with schoolwork. Ask her to think about this challenge with you. She'll be surprised and more likely to listen when she hears that her family understands that time with friends is important, even if she must finish her homework first.

Question: We are considering delaying our little girl from kindergarten next fall. Our daughter, whom we adopted from Korea, will not turn 5 until July, but she has been attending a learning center since she was 7 months old, and she loves it. We believe she will be ready for kindergarten, but are concerned about her down the road, when she is 11 or older.

She is shy and small, and we don't want her to perceive herself as being the smallest and youngest in her class. And because of her adoption, she will begin to question where she belongs when she hits puberty. We realize that how she perceives herself will greatly affect her self-esteem and confidence. We know that our decision today will affect the rest of her life. Can you help us? —M.S. and J.S., Blaine, Minn.

Answer: Holding back an immature child who is not ready for the social and academic demands of kindergarten can indeed make a big difference for her future. But when a child is ready, she may become bored and frustrated if she misses out on stimulating new challenges. Small stature and shyness are traits that may be present for several years or more, traits a child may have to learn to accept and to handle. If you can find her a friend her age who is shy like her, it will help her adjust.

Maybe you are also concerned about helping her face being different from her peers. Children at age 4 and 5 become aware of differences. They often tease each other and remark on differences to explore and understand them. You'll want to help her stand up to teasing even if you can't always protect her from it.

Be ready for the questions she's bound to ask, about where she came from, about the way she looks. Be honest and open. Let her know you love her as she is, and, following her lead, help her learn about her background so that she can feel proud. There are support groups for families of children adopted from Korea that offer such help.

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. Joshua Sparrow, care of The New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 609 Greenwich St., 6th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10014-3610. Questions may also be sent by e-mail to: Distributed by New York Times Special Features