Helping children cope with unrealistic parental expectations

My 17- year-old daughter’s class XII board exam results were not up to my husband’s expectation. Now she is preparing for college entrance exams. During her preparation, which is supervised by my husband, if she slips up, he yells at her and reminds her of her poor exam performance. I cannot change my husband’s attitude because he is very stubborn. How can I help my daughter overcome her depression? — Sharmila Rathore, Jaisalmer

Unfortunately, your husband’s response is immature and likely to aggravate your daughter’s stress and anxiety. She is already struggling with her own disappointment about her perceived academic failure.

This is a challenging time for her, and your need to play a supportive role. Listen to her empathetically without offering opinions or advice and refrain from taking sides. Encourage her to search for solutions and seek professional guidance if needed. Your husband also needs advice and counseling, if he is willing to receive it.

My sister and I are married to two brothers and we live in a joint family. I am a homemaker while my sister works full-time in a company. I take care of her eight-year-old daughter during the day and even attend school meetings when my sister can’t. Of late, her daughter seems to have developed ill feelings about her mother compared to me. My sister is upset about her daughter’s sudden behavioural change. How should I deal with this situation?— Yazhini Shanmugam, Trichy

I understand that your role as caregiver is significant. However, this situation demands that you take a step back and encourage mother and daughter to spend quality time every day — even if it’s for a little while — to bond together and settle differences. It would also be beneficial for your sister to make a conscious effort to attend school parent-teacher meetings and strike a balance between her work and parenting duties. Relationships are built on love and bonding for which quality time together is important. Reason and explanations will not serve any purpose and will further alienate the child from her mother.

I feel that people are taking advantage of my five-year-old daughter’s soft-spoken temperament. For instance, recently at a family gathering, my husband’s aunt repeatedly criticised my daughter but she kept quiet. At last my older daughter came to her rescue by giving her aunt a witty but critical answer. Should I encourage her to defend herself even if it will be perceived as being disrespectful to others? — Shalini Nair, Thiruvananthapuram

Complex communication norms in Indian families don’t have quick fixes. However, before you advise your daughter, you need to find out whose behaviour she is modelling. It’s possible that she is not being assertive after repeatedly observing a significant adult in the family who is timid and introverted. When she observes a change in her role model, she may begin to be more assertive. You need to brainstorm with her for solutions. A counsellor may also help her develop essential communication and life skills.

My 17-year-old son has enroled in a suburban college which involves long daily commutes. While he does not have dyslexia, he is a slow learner. I am apprehensive about letting him travel such a long distance everyday but I feel I should not hold him back. Please advise.— Sunita Arora, Ahmedabad

Dyslexia is used out of context here. Dyslexia is not synonymous with being slow; people with dyslexia have excelled in many professions. Your son needs opportunities and support to realise his potential. Don’t be overprotective and encourage him to become independent and develop important life skills.

(Aarti Rajaratnam is director of the Child Guidance Centre and Counseling Clinic, Salem/Chennai)

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