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We all want what’s best for our children. But our idea of what is best for them might not always jive with theirs. Often parents will give a nudge towards the decision they think is correct, trying to find that delicate balance between encouraging and pushing too hard.

But what is pushing too hard? At its best, getting kids to do things that are challenging for them will teach them grit and flexibility while also widening their world view — whether it’s participating in sports, trying out for a play or engaging in a new social situation. But at its worst, pushing children too far can cause them to retreat inward, become resentful or develop even greater anxiety about trying new things. It can be difficult to determine how much parental pressure on children is healthy and when you should back off.

Why we push

“I think that pushing our kids is a matter of getting them out of their comfort zone, and then pushing the zone to be further and further out,” says Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and the founding president of the Child Mind Institute. “We know that being able to tolerate discomfort is a wonderful life trait, and in addition to that, it makes them grittier and more resilient.”

“I think it gives them a sense of confidence to know that if there is a challenging moment, as a parent you’re helping them to problem solve it through as opposed to completely removing it or taking the problem away,” Dr. Domingues explains. “A child really does feel accomplished and good about the fact that they were able to get through it.”

How to help

Pushing your child to do something doesn’t mean throwing them into the deep end of a pool and hoping they swim. There are ways parents preview, scaffold and support to help ensure that their kids are successful in their endeavors.

If a child is apprehensive about joining a sports team, for example, Dr. Domingues suggests easing them in. So before it begins they can meet the coach, visit the place where practices will take place, talk to someone who is already on the team, and read a book or watch a movie about a sports team. “There’s some legwork to be done upfront to make it doable and approachable,” says Dr. Domingues, “but you’re still pushing them or having the expectation that they can get through it even if they’re anxious about it.”

For many kids having a time limit may help — so saying we’ll try this activity for four sessions and then we can reevaluate and see what you like and don’t like about it.

A lot of it goes back to knowing your kid.

– Katherine Martinelli

Read more: When to Push Your Children