When we Thrive, we can show Empathy

My eight-year-old daughter used to be such a happy child. She used to thrive in any situation and show such optimism. She has a natural sense of generosity that is often surprising to those around her. She has always relished her sister’s birthday and has made such an effort to give her a special day and celebration.

This year is different, however. She is showing jealousy and is having emotional outbursts that are most unlike her. One could argue that kids change as they get older and they go through various phases of development. For me, it seems out of character.


She is extremely unhappy at school at the moment. She is in a school that has a high focus on academic achievement. There is a great deal of pressure to cover a lot of schoolwork, with piles of homework each day and her teacher complains that she is too slow. She is a creative child and a highly intelligent person. But she is very young for her year in that if she were born twelve days later she would be in a different grade. She is also an older sibling so has to be the trailblazer and has no one to copy in terms of school life and training her parents. (Yes, we do get better as time goes on.)

My assessment of the situation is that she does not belong at the school. She is not in an environment where she can thrive and be herself. She is not being nurtured and encouraged by teachers and peers who actually believe in her. Of course she is nurtured and encouraged at home but I cannot be in the classroom with her making sure she gets treated with patience and respect. She has become so unhappy and stressed that her health is affected.


I have realized that I have to get her out of the environment. It’s difficult because the school does make every effort for families to stay and to give the school a chance. They also insist on a term’s notice and threaten to charge for a full term if you don’t communicate your intentions of leaving in time. The school fees are very expensive and I would certainly not like to waste any money, especially considering the fact that I haven’t been earning income for a few years.

I find myself torn between my child’s happiness and the practicality of not throwing thousands away. It is a difficult place to be. I know that my child’s happiness matters more than money. I know that this will not be a concern in a few year’s time and we will look back grateful for having made this change for her. But it is difficult nonetheless.

I have come to realise that her lack of generosity and kindness at the moment is linked to her happiness level. I know people who seem to have such difficult lives. They complain about the smallest things and everything is so hard for them. I think it’s because they are unhappy within themselves. I have noticed that it’s far easier to be kind and to show empathy towards others when you are happy within yourself. Once you find more joy, the small things don’t seem to matter that much.

I experienced a burnout about three years ago and have been recovering since. I decided to research happiness and to apply science-based strategies to make my life happier. It worked. I now do work that I love, my relationships are better (not perfect, but better) and I actively work on enhancing my quality of life. Of course, I share these lessons with my family and encourage my children to be mindful, grateful and to savour the joy of small things.

I also know from my experience that it’s impossible to build our happiness if our environment is negative and unhappy. If we feel rejected and disliked by those around us, we can’t thrive. My child is not thriving because because of her environment and a lack of fit between her and the school culture.

My only logical action is to move schools so that my child can be in an environment that is more aligned to her character. And the sooner, the better. I’m hoping she will thank me for it later, that we are avoiding depression, teenage suicide attempts, and eating disorders by listening and acting on her needs now. I don’t want to be filled with regret later because I failed her now. As difficult as it is to spend this money and take on the stress of such a change, it’s worth it in the long run.

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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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