Monday, March 1, 2010

A Disrespectful 11-year-old?

The Question:
Dear Jane-

I have an 11 1/2 year old daughter who has a nasty temper. She gets upset when we ask her to do simple things like brushing her teeth all the way up to completing her chores. When she doesn't get her way, she tends to take it out on her 3 younger siblings by hurting them, yelling at them, or anything else she can think of. She also takes it out on her father and I. Sadly, the terms "I hate you" and "You are the meanest parent ever" are common place in my home. She has no respect for my husband or I.

I have tried dealing with the situation every way that I can...nothing I do seems to work. Thinking that she needed special one on one attention, I've taken her out for one on one mother daughter time, I've treated her to special things. My husband has done these same things but they haven't worked. On the flip side, we have grounded her, put her in time out, made her skip out on doing things she really wanted to. Once again, these things have not worked. She tells us she is sorry but 5 minutes later, she is back to her old ways.

The worst part is that I am starting to see her siblings exhibit some of her behavior problems as well. I feel like a horrible parent because I didn't start teaching them a lot of the things I should have when they were young. Now that they are getting older, I see what that lack of teaching has done and it really bothers me. How can I teach my child(ren) to not only respect her parents but to do as she is asked without throwing a fit every time?

Thank You-

The Answer:
Dear Patti,
I have thought long and hard about your situation.  In some ways, I am at a loss.  As you know, I'm not a professional and my expertise in this area (and many others) is limited to my own experience.  One thing I've always known about myself is that I am much better at preventing problems than solving them.   So, truthfully, I haven't experienced what you're going through. 
But I can tell you what I would do if I did. 
My world would grind to a halt until I reconstructed my relationship with my daughter.  I would make her my focus.  It is going to take much more than regular nights out and treats.   You are going to need to start at the foundation and ask yourself the hard questions.   Why is she so angry?  What is she really feeling inside?   What are your true feelings toward her?  I suspect that you don't like her very much right now.  Who would?  She's destroying the harmony in your home.  But if, fundamentally, she doesn't feel your love, she will contiue to make your life a nightmare. 

Deep feelings of being loved and accepted are the feelings that heal.  You will need to go deep.
Perhaps it may involve counseling.  A third party might be able to help you see the dynamics that have brought you to this point.  Prayer and fasting are powerful tools--if you're asking the right questions.  Not "please help her to change", but "help me to deeply love this girl and help her to feel it."   Approach the whole situation with the humble attitude that you expressed in your letter--the realization that there are things you might have done better and the desire to repair the breech in this precious relationship.  
You can make all kinds of rules about the things she can and can't say to you, about her treatment of siblings, about obedience.  But these rules will never hold up as she grows older.  You want her to treat you with respect because she respects you.  You want her to obey you because she wants to.  This, I truly believe, only happens when a child feels genuinely loved and cared for--and that her feelings are important to you.  Buying her things and taking her places are just soap bubbles.  They're gone in a few minutes.   Laying next to her on her bed, looking at her, playing with her hair, being in no hurry, listening without lecturing til true feelings start to come out--investing in this bond for as long as it takes.   She won't respond over night, but as she sees that you love her and you mean it, she'll begin to give back.
She is still young.  But if you keep doing what you're doing, she'll keep doing what she's doing and things will unravel.  Now is the time to turn the tide. 
I really did appreciate your letter.  You are probably doing many good things in your home.  I only got a slice of the negative.   Take the holy spirit as your guide and work with your husband as you face this challenge.  The rewards are inestimable.
With love,


  1. What a perfect answer. I love it. Many children grow up angry, and then become self destructive adults. I've always believed there is no such thing as a bad child, only an unhappy one.

  2. Thank you so much for the advice!! I totally needed to hear what you had to say! I think I need to treat her the way I wanted to be treated and that is with respect and love. She is a good kid but I just don't tell her that enough and I think it's high time I do. I am definitely going to take your advice and make a plan of action.

  3. Thank you for this thoughtful response. I needed this, as well. Kids are smart. Even the little ones that seem to be easily molded. If you're just going through the motions with them, they will sense that. I know I'm always on the go and don't take the proper amount of time to just listen, hold, and talk with my kids. On occasions, when I do, I see a DRASTIC difference in my children's behavior--a real positive change. LOVE is the answer, it really is! (:


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