- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 8, 2009

Q. Our 7-year-old daughter does very well in school without our help and is a generally happy kid. Her only problem is an incapacitating case of performance anxiety.

When she was younger she wouldn’t participate in basketball, T-ball or soccer because “I don’t like people watching me.” Thankfully, she absolutely loves and has stuck with gymnastics and swimming. At her first swim meet, however, she took one look at the crowd and refused to even do the noncompetitive lap. She says she’s not going to the next meet.

Just recently, she started violin and her teacher is amazed at what a fast learner she is. Her first violin recital is coming up soon, and I dread the battle over performing. She also wouldn’t let her doctor do a strep swab on her throat because she remembers that the last one “hurt.” Her head was buried in my shoulder for over an hour. Can you give us some helpful advice?

A. Today’s parents - mothers especially - seem to think it’s their responsibility to solve all of their children’s problems. That’s fairly unrealistic, don’t you think? The fact is, some problems are worth trying to solve and others are not. The further fact is parents can only do so much. Some problems only children can solve, in their own way, in their own time. The even further fact is that everyone grows up with imperfections. Some get solved. Some don’t. Sometimes, one just has to learn to live with what can’t be solved. That’s simply the way it is.

In this case, I’m fairly sure your great-grandmother would have said, “Leave well enough alone.” The “well-enoughs” include: Your daughter doesn’t need your help to do well in school, she loves gymnastics and swimming, and she seems to have musical ability and loves learning to play the violin. Last, but by no means least, she is a “generally happy kid.” Yes, your great-grandmother would have seen the wisdom in not pushing your daughter to perform in front of other people, but then women of her generation were grounded in common sense where their children were concerned.

Like your great-grandmother, I would not push your daughter to participate in performance events. You’ve already discovered that you can’t force her to do so. So just “leave her be” another great-grandmother-ism. Tell coaches and violin teachers and the like that their job stops short of producing a performer. When she’s ready to perform, she will, but adult attempts to push her will only push that decision further out into the future.

Refusing to obey a physician is a different story. You need to stop letting her bury her head in your shoulder when it comes to medical procedures. The next time you head for the doctor’s office, you need to tell your daughter, in no uncertain terms, “You will do what the doctor says today, and you will do it right away. If you don’t, then we are going straight home and except for school and other necessary things, you will stay in your room, without anything entertaining, until you decide to follow the doctor’s instructions. And if you’re confined to your room, I’m going to relieve your boredom by putting you to bed at 7 o’clock. Not wanting to play violin in front of people is one thing. Not obeying a doctor is quite another, young lady, and I will not allow it.”

I’ll just bet that your generally happy, intelligent daughter is going to quickly see the wisdom of doing what the doctor tells her to do.

* Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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