My 14-year old daughter is always in trouble at school. She messes around in class, disrupts other students and is rude and disrespectful to teachers. We recently took her out of her school and moved her to a school with a stronger discipline ethic. In the 8 weeks she has been there she has continued her behavior. Because of the increased discipline she is already on an in-house suspension at school. I cannot blame her friends - she seems to be the ringleader.
She is a procrastinator - if you ask her to do something she always puts it off as long as possible - even with homework and assignments she does the least amount of work to get by. She takes forever to get ready in the mornings, never leaves on time and regularly misses her one and only school bus. Because my husband and I normally leave before she does we never know if she has gone on time and I worry whether she has caught the bus or not. I regularly receive calls from the school about her behavior and I am getting to the point where I just dread the phone going at work in case it's the school.
She has always had a complex that her older brother is much more intelligent than her and that she is dumb. Despite us continually telling her otherwise she plays on this all the time. She fights constantly with her brother, takes things from his room and it has gotten to the point where he doesn't want anything to do with her. When we talk to her about her behavior she can offer no explanation and never believes it is her fault. We have imposed groundings, taken away privileges etc but to no avail the behavior continues. We are at the end of our tethers and don't know what to do with her. We love her dearly and just want her to be happy but she is testing our patience.
Should we persist with imposing punishments and handling this ourselves or should we be seeking professional help? When I have mentioned talking to a counselor she is extremely anti. My husband and I are about to separate and are concerned that this will add to her problems. Neither of the children have a clue as we have endeavored to keep our problems away from them and it is an amicable separation. Will our separation compound her difficulties? Any advice would be gratefully received.
Yes, please take your daughter to a counselor. But please understand that she does not need to be taken to a counselor for her (or her behavior) to be "fixed." You, your husband, your daughter, and your son all need to be in counseling together in order to understand what is happening with your daughter and how to make things better. Usually, when teenagers act out in the way you describe, their behavior is not so much a problem as it is symptomatic of other problems within her but also within the family. Perhaps your daughter is seeking more of your attention. Perhaps the problems between you and her husband, despite your efforts to conceal them, are already affecting her deeply. Usually children are very sensitive and are acutely aware of family dynamics and relationship problems between their parents even when their parents do not believe that they are. Or it's possible that something traumatic has happened to her that she has not been able to discuss with you verbally, and it is showing instead in her actions. It is hard for me to say what the exact reasons for all of her behaviors are without knowing more about your family, but I do know that there are reasons for her behavior. Until those reasons are addressed, her behavior will persist, despite your best efforts to impose reasonable consequences. The consequences are necessary and should continue, but they alone are not sufficient to change the pattern of her actions.
I recommend that the entire family go to a counselor as soon as possible. In the meantime, it is important for you and your husband to try to reconnect with your daughter in a positive way. It is easy to get entrenched in the daily struggles and frustrations and find that you are rarely if ever spending time with her that is purely for enjoyment. Make an effort to spend time with her just talking (not about her behavior, though, as this is likely to lead to more arguments). Ask her about her life, her friends, school, her thoughts and opinions, and listen without necessarily giving a lot of your own opinions. Set aside time for a fun activity with her, and allow that activity to stand as a "freebie" no matter how badly she acts beforehand - in other words, restrict her from other things as consequences for her behavior, but let the activity that is meant to be fun family time stand. Let her pick the activity - it could be going to a movie, going out to eat, going shopping - whatever she enjoys. The importance of this is to break the cycle of constantly being in trouble that she is now caught in and to build a stronger relationship with you and her father and brother, as this is what will ultimately help the situation the most.
I know you are frustrated, worried, and exasperated, and understandably so. Don't continue this way. Get help, and reach out to your daughter now, before things spiral downhill even more. Good luck and take care.
Susan Maroto, LCSW
This question has been answered by Susan Maroto. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker working out of Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She uses an eclectic approach to holistic healing, mind-body relationships, life transitions, depression, and anxiety.For more information visit: http://www.therapywithsusan.com/