I am very frustrated by my preteen daughter. She challenges me and my husband on just about everything. She’s beginning to say very hateful things to me and blames me the most. She doesn’t want to take responsibility for her actions even if she is caught red handed! She’s starting to lie and get in trouble at school and a lot of the kids she hangs with are not very good influencse. I feel like I am at my wits end. Her attitude is starting to rub off on her younger sisters. Even my husband and I are arguing more and can’t seem to agree on how to handle her constant bad attitude. I’ve tried going to counseling with her, but she wasn’t honest with the counselor either, so there wasn’t any real improvment. I just want to know if there are some things I can do to help our situation. I’m feeling very hopeless and frustrated.
Dear “Hopeless and Frustrated:”
I can sense your tiredness and desperation for an answer, but the reality is that this may take some time to see the fruits of your efforts.
First of all, since you did not mention if you’ve sought God’s help on this issue, that would be the place that I would start. If you and your husband are not plugged into a healthy Bible believing church, then that would be the first order of business. And I’m not talking about going just on Sundays, but finding a small group Bible study where you can experience biblical community and the opportunity to be loved, supported and challenged on a personal level. If you are already doing that, then my next question would be are you continually turning this over to God and asking Him to intervene in your situation? And this not only means praying daily, but praying moment by moment, and asking God to reveal to you the ways you hold back from trusting Him in the situation.
A general rule of thumb I follow is: whenever I am facing a struggle in life, I enlist the help of others to provide additional support. If I were you, I would look for healthy Christian friends who can pray for you, with you, and help you to sort through your feelings and concerns. Maybe you could meet with that friend(s) on a regular basis until the frustrating situation subsides.
My next suggestion would be to work out the differences you and your husband have. It might be better for the two of you to go to counseling to sort through those issues with a neutral third party who can also provide fresh ideas for handling the situation. And then always, always, always present a united front when dealing with your daughter. If you disagree with something your husband says or does, then talk to him about it later in private and come to some agreement about it when your daughter is not in earshot. If she senses that the two of you are not united, she will use that as a tactic to manipulate you–divide and conquer!
Another suggestion would be to spend time with your daughter. You and your husband could take her out together and/or individually at least once a week. Maybe you could meet with her one week and your husband the other. Make this time a fun time. Do things she would enjoy and do things that involve talking. You might want to start to do this with all of your children, so she doesn’t feel singled out–besides it sounds as if your other daughters need more attention from you right now, as well. If talking is difficult, maybe you could go to a movie and out to eat afterward, then start by asking some questions about the movie you just saw. Or play games as a family that involve sharing. Or begin doing short devotions together at dinner time, then ask questions about the devo. You can even buy a book of questions, (they have many versions at your local book store). These books often start with non-threatening questions that prime the pump for deeper questions later on. The point is to take a positive interest in her. Find ways to affirm her when she is doing well. And above all else, listen, listen, listen whenever she opens up.
Also, consider what might be triggering her rebellious behavior. Is there something going on in your family that is causing her to feel insecure or angry? Evaluate that, and if you find something that is out of balance or causing a problem for her, then work on what you can to help that situation.
Finally, when you catch yourself in a power struggle or argument, ask questions instead of telling your daughter your thoughts. The more you can engage her thoughts in the process, the more she will drop her defenses and take ownership for her thinking and choices. In fact, you might want to ask questions when dealing with her in discipline, as well. For example, if she is clearly disrespectful or disobedient and you need to discipline her, then ask her, “How do you think we should discipline you?” If she has no suggestions, then provide some for her, “Would you rather be grounded or have your cell phone taken away for a certain amount of time?” The more she is allowed to participate in the process, the more she will feel respected and heard which will help to lessen her defensiveness and resistance.
Again, remember this takes a lot of prayer, time and effort before you will see the results. It may take you years before you will feel you are out of the woods. But I think you will agree, your daughter’s life and sense of well-being are very much worth it!
My prayers are with you!