My relationship with my daughter has become worse and worse. I look at her and wonder who she is. She screams at her father and me, has become rebellious, and is embarrassing when she is with us in public. We have had the same arguments many times over, to the extent that I don’t look forward to being with her anymore. Where is the guidebook for dealing with kids at this age?
Take heart, Martha.
When your child was a toddler and into her elementary school years, you and your husband were the objects of all of her attention. You two became the role models for how to perform actions, interact with others, and interact as a family. Your daughter had eyes only for you. To use a metaphor for visualization:
As she transitioned through elementary into middle school, outside influences began to creep in, but in small doses. Maybe she realized that her best friend’s parents do things differently, and indeed that this was even a possibility!
Once she transitioned into high school in her teenage years, I can see from your e-mail that you realized that you were in a dogfight. What happened in this last transition from middle school to high school?
What happens to children at this time is critical to the ultimate definition of what and who they will become as adults. Now that your child is older– and a bit wiser– she has fully realized that there are indeed options as to how she can live her life. This means influences are prime to affect your daughter, for the good and for the bad. The strap that kept her safe in her developmental years is still there, and it is longer yet. The problem here is that since your daughter has awakened to her ability to choose, there are other straps that seek to ensnare your daughter, and pull her to the beliefs and values of whomever “holds the reigns.” You pull, and they pull– and your daughter is in the middle.
The trick here is to allow your daughter to develop her independence WHILE still guiding her to make choices that she will not regret later in life.
Easier said than done.
WHAT TO DO
Learn when to say “no” and when to say “yes” to your child – and listen to what she says in response.
The yesses are obvious, even when they are not always easy with a rebellious child.
· Say “yes” to getting to know your child as a lifelong process. Throw away your preconceptions and spend time together to learn the person your daughter has become. Plan a special event that the two of you enjoy, whether it is a sport, hobby, or just window shopping.
· Say “yes” to honest, two-way communication. Families that end up screaming at each other in public might not be spending enough time really talking to each other privately. Set aside your fear and pain, even if you need to start by talking only about “safe” subjects like the weather. Set ground rules that the conversations will not be negative or abusive.
But parents must also learn when to “just say no.” It might be the hardest thing you have to do, but unless you say “no” to your child, you must say “yes” to the consequences.
· Say “no” to negative outside influences that you can control. You are still your child’s first teacher, and you have the first right of refusal on other “teachers”
· Say “no” to actions and activities that violate family rules.
Do not assume that your daughter knows what the family rules are; put them in writing, in a place where you can refer to them often. Make sure that for each family rule, there is an appropriate consequence for not observing that rule.
For example, if a family rule is that your daughter will wash dishes each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then consequences for not doing the dishes is TO DO THEM!
As parents, we must learn to say “no” with love and assurance: “No, this is not what you will become.” There is no easy process, and there are no instant successes. But we are all in this for a lifetime; our children need us for a lifetime. We cannot stop loving each other. We cannot stop learning from each other.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER
Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at firstname.lastname@example.org.