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Should I Push My Daughter to Excel or Back Off?

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From the U.S.: I have a daughter who does competitive Irish dance. From 8-12 she competed regularly and won consistently (13 now). When she hit the highest level within the sport, she started to not do as well. This sapped her confidence and in turn, her desire to compete. She has a natural talent that has gotten her to the place where she is. Now, she has to put in the work to compete against the girls at her level. If she did put in the work, she would dominate. But she doesn’t want to do that and I’m not sure if it’s because she’s lazy or is afraid of putting in the work and still losing. In reality, she still does well, but just not placing within the top 3 like she used to.

So my question is, when is it right to push her and when is it better to back off? Backing off is what I have been doing and I feel it’s making her more lazy because she doesn’t have a goal. She is not interested in any other activities. I’ve asked her about all sorts of different team and individual sports.

My gut says I should push her, but I know it will become a daily fight and I don’t want that for either of us. But I do think pushing her would get her to winning and that might change things for her. If you think she would benefit from talking with someone, how do I approach her about that? And what type of dr would be best?

Should I Push My Daughter to Excel or Back Off?

Answered by on -


This is such a good question. Many parents find themselves in the same delemma. To push or not to push. The first priority is to preserve your relationship with her. She is a young teen with the challenging teen years ahead. It’s more important that she feel she can talk to you than win another ribbon. But I don’t think it has to be an either/or.

I don’t think the issue is laziness. A lazy kid would not get this far. It may have more to do with thinking that if she isn’t sure she’ll be the best, she doesn’t want to try. Her self-esteem may be so tied up with winning that she can’t risk losing. By pulling back, she can always tell herself that she would have won if she had put in the effort. It’s a “face-saving” tactic.

It’s normal for kids to want to try out a number of activities before finding the one that grabs their heart and attention. Many a kid has started an instrument or dance or sport with great enthusiasm, only to drop it later for something else. What concerns me about your daughter, though, is that she isn’t pulling back at dance in favor of something else. That also suggests to me that self-esteem issues may be at work here.

You didn’t mention what your daughter’s coach or teacher thinks. Is her teacher frustrated, too? Do you think the teacher has the kids’ best interests at heart — not just winning? If so, perhaps a talk with the teacher will be helpful. Often a teacher or coach can inspire a kid when the parent can’t. If the teacher is too invested in “winning”, don’t go that route. You may be able to address the self-esteem issues on your own or it may be that you can think of another relative or older friend who can talk to your daughter about it.

If those aren’t options, then I suggest seeing a family therapist with your daughter. This is not because I think you aren’t being a good mother. Quite the contrary. I think it’s better for a therapist to help you and your daughter solve to problem together as a way to lay the foundation for other difficult talks as she moves through the teen years. I don’t think it is helpful for a counselor to become a more important sounding board than her mother.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

Should I Push My Daughter to Excel or Back Off?

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). Should I Push My Daughter to Excel or Back Off?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 27 Mar 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
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