Just how much should you help your children?

My eight-year-old daughter is very unhappy at her school and she has been experiencing high levels of stress in the past few months. We have managed to get her into a new school from next year and she’s excited to move. She is dealing with a lot of feelings at the moment in this struggle: anxiety and sadness about leaving her school and friends, coupled with the disappointment that her school didn’t meet her needs.

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I am doing my best to provide her with methods of reducing stress and increasing happiness. I learnt a great deal during my experience of burnout, so much that I wrote a book about it. I’ve realized through this period in our lives that I need to share my lessons with my family. I’m teaching both my girls a regular gratitude practice that we do on the way home from school every day. I have taught my eldest breathing exercises to do when she’s feeling overwhelmed in the classroom.

There’s not much more I can do for her in these last few weeks of the school year. I don’t like the concept of crossing days off the calendar because it seems like we are wishing time away and I like to promote being in the moment. However, I’ve started crossing off the calendar to provide her with a visual cue of just how little time is left. I’m hoping it offers her hope that the end of her struggle is near.

I’ve also spoken to her about how struggle makes us stronger. I’ve talked to her about the concept of God giving her this struggle as a way to prepare for bigger struggles later in life. It is my belief that our children choose us and that we are all here to learn lessons. I believe that she chose us as her parents for a reason. When I saw how stress was affecting her health, I immediately began to help her every way I know how. This is what I can offer her.

But how much must I help her and how much is she meant to struggle through on her own? As a parent we want to remove pain and suffering. I’ve felt tempted to pull her out of school altogether. But perhaps she is learning how to persevere through hardships and I don’t want to take that away from her. The trouble is that she is really unhappy and it shows even in her body language. All weekend she is happy and bouncy and on Monday morning her shoulders slump and she’s tearful at the drop off.

It’s one of the hardest things to do as a parent to watch your child suffer. I really feel for parents who are enduring such difficulties as drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, depression and self-harm. We want our children to make their own decisions and to learn how to cope with life’s challenges. But we also want to save them from pain. Sometimes we can take away the lessons in taking away the suffering.

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I’m finding it very hard to help her because I’m not in the classroom and I can’t be there to comfort her and reassure her when she’s drowning. The frustrating part is that she is doing so well academically and doesn’t seem to realize it. How do I get across to her that this too shall pass and that being perfect is an illusion? I have an inkling of where this perfectionism comes from and I know that children don’t do what you say but rather what you do. I thought I’ve come a long way in the past few years as I changed my life for the better. But perhaps she’s still seeing my desire to achieve and my frustration of how stress affects my output.

Parenting becomes so much more complex the older a child gets. It pushes us to evolve and to find better ways to model good behaviors. I don’t have the answers about how much we intervene to  mitigate the pain and how much we wait to see how they grow from struggle. It’s a fine balance to provide enough support and encouragement and to allow them to grow as people. I’m not sure I’m getting it right but I’m doing everything I can do to help her through this difficult patch.

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Kathy

I am a champion for living your passion. Writing is my passion, my destiny and my calling. I am a mother of two beautiful daughters and a wife and live in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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