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Don't fight your child's performance anxiety

Q. Our 7-year-old daughter does 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 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 non-competitive lap. She says she's not going to the next meet. Just recently, she started violin. Her first recital is coming up 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. Advice?

A: Some parents 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. Sometimes, one just has to learn to live with what can't be solved.

I'm fairly sure your great-grandmother would have said, “Leave well enough alone.” The “well-enoughs” include (1) your daughter doesn't need your help to do well in school; (2) she loves gymnastics and swimming; and (3) she loves learning to play the violin. Last, but by no means least, she is a “generally happy kid.”

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. Tell coaches and violin teachers that their job stops short of producing a performer. When she's ready to perform, she will. Adult attempts to push her will only push that decision further out.

Refusing to obey a physician is different. 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, 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.

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