Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How do I deal with an 8-going-on-15 year old?

Ms. Dorothy,
We are having a big issue with ______ right now.  She is 8, and back-talking, and not doing what she needs to do around the house to help out. Everything has become such a huge battle that ends in yelling and tears.  She acts like she doesn't care at all anymore. I can't take it any longer. There is tension with her right now and I don't want it to continue. I am also a little worried about how she is going to act when she is a teenager! Any suggestions about how I can empower her with responsibility and save my sanity?
- Mother of a Daughter

These may be the first hints of what is to come. How you move forward and handle this now is certainly going to shape your relationship with her through those teen years, so it is important to stop and think and make some careful choices.

Your daughter is deciding some things about who she is, and about power right now, and is watching for your reactions.

Here are the two most important rules; they were true when she was a newborn, and they are still true now, but the stakes have changed. 

1. ) Pick your battles (not everything is worth it! It just isn't, and bigger battles may lie ahead!) 

2.) If you decide to get into a battle - do not lose. (and sometimes that means giving up before the fight - see rule #1) 

One way to approach this would be to sit down and re-negotiate what her responsibilities are, and when and how she gets holidays from them, and what it means to not hold up her end.

Write up a contract, and then don't get angry when she breaks it. Be kind and loving and gentle and understanding and just point out that these were rules she agreed to. 

Make sure she gets to have some say in making the new agreements. It can't be all about you setting the rules and her having to live by them. There has to be some space for you to give up something you want or it isn't a compromise, and she won't feel like she got anything out of the deal. 

The bottom line is that she has no choice and no power and no control - except over her emotional outbursts. Give her something else to have power over and then follow through.

The control you give up by raising the conversation to that level will be worth it in trade for what you will get over the long term.  

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