Education Quandary

My daughter is in a state about her GCSE coursework, but says we aren't allowed to help her
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Hilary's advice

You say she is not sleeping and is consumed with worry, so the first thing to establish is that no piece of coursework is ever worth a child's health. Sit down with her and talk through the options. Explain that if she carries on as she is, without doing anything about it, she'll get herself in a worse state and her project will suffer more.

Ask what additional help she can get from school. What about her subject teacher? Can he or she offer more support? If she says no, ring the school and ask the teacher to ring you back, so you can explain the situation, drum up some extra help for her, and maybe get some guidance on what steps you can take. It may also be worth talking to her class tutor about the issue.

Try to get her to break down her problems so that she can decide what steps she needs to take to move things forward. Does she need to gather more data? Are there books she should have read that she hasn't? Most importantly, has she got a clear plan of what she is trying to do, and a structure within which she can achieve it?

Then explain to her that, although (as she rightly says) parents shouldn't get too involved with coursework, there is a difference between helping her achieve what she is trying to do, and doing it for her. If sitting down with her and going through things, making some suggestions, and explaining things she is stuck on, will help get her through this sticky patch, you should do it.

Readers' advice

Your daughter sounds like so many girls I teach - conscientious to a fault, and far too willing to slavishly follow the rules. But you have to think that if she is this worried about a little piece of school coursework, how is she going to handle herself when she gets to the much bigger challenges of university?

Tell her the bald truth: lots of other parents will help their children with coursework, and sometimes when you are in a tight corner you need to take help where you can find it. Also, encourage her to have a better sense of perspective.
Rachel Morrison, Suffolk

The thing you should be worrying about is why is she so worried? Are you, as parents, putting pressure on her to do well? If not consciously, then maybe subconsciously? So many teenage girls feel they have to be perfect and please all the adults in their lives, and the results show in many frightening ways including anorexia and bulimia.
Marge Nuttell, London SE1

You should congratulate your daughter on her honesty. Most young people in her situation would willingly let their parents take the strain. She obviously understands that the only way her work will mean anything is if she does it herself.

Your role is to be there for her and encourage her through it in every way you can. There are countless ways of doing this without resorting to actually doing the work itself. Try regular meals, hot drinks and helping her to keep her focus with a written-out timetable.
Geoffrey Badcliffe, Bristol

Next week's quandary

Why are girls so mean to each other? My daughter started at secondary school this year and the emotional pitch of her relationships with other girls is wearing her out. There seems to be very little supportiveness and way too much competition among her "friends", and someone who is a friend one day will turn on her the next.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce by next Monday, 20 March, at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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