Double Take

'When you've seen beyond yourself, then you may find peace of mind is waiting there. And the time will come when you see we're all one, and life flows on within you and without you – George Harrison

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‘My daughter is a nightmare…’

My daughter has become a nightmare child. She was always so easy going and well behaved. She is now 12 and everything seems to have changed. She is moody, argumentative, demanding sometimes and distant the rest of the time, up in her room listening to music and shutting off from the rest of the family. She has become one of those irritable, difficult daughters that I have only heard about, and I can’t believe this has happened to me and my little girl. I have tried reasoning with her, punishing her, shouting at her – but everything I try doesn’t work. I am guessing she is just about to start her periods and this is because of her hormones. I really haven’t got a clue how to be her parent anymore. She is always arguing with her father too, and he just tells me to ignore her, but we both see that doesn’t help either. Advice welcome!

It feels very much as you are upset about losing “your little girl”, but “your little girl” is about to become a young woman – and she is not exactly “yours”, she is her own person. This is a tough time for her – and for you too – because it’s a time of huge change. The fact that she is asserting herself as an individual and starting to go her own way should, in theory, be a cause for celebration, but in reality it is an extremely difficult time for any parent. Reasoning, punishing and shouting, as you have found, don’t achieve anything. Did you really think they would? Expressing your love for your daughter – either by staying distant or getting close, depending on her mood – may be the only thing that will work. Is it possible that you can remember how you felt when you were your daughter’s age and when you were on the verge of starting to have periods? Perhaps by doing that you might find a way to get close to her. Whatever you do, you do need to let her know that she can talk to you – and you probably need to talk to her to give her some practical advice.

Being 12 is a difficult time for young people, particular in this day and age. There are many demands, and it is quite different from when we were young. Our world used to be a much more innocent one, with far less, or perhaps, very different pressures in many ways. So whereas it is useful to identify with our children, as it helps to put ourselves in their shoes and remember what it feels like, it is also very easy to project our own experiences on to them, and this can cause great difficulties as our kids can feel judged by us and misunderstood. This can lead on to what can be perceived by us as ‘difficult behaviour’. I see a great deal of young people in my practice and often the parents present with similar situations and feel it is for the child to resolve and be ‘treated’, they are the one with ‘the problem’. I find that by seeing the issue as a family one, which can be resolved by listening, true empathy, communicating and collaborating, this important part of a family’s journey together can be transcended with ease.

Your daughter is a developing individual in her own right, at a time of huge change in her life. Trying to cajole her into behaving or conforming will not work, as you have found. Somehow you need to let her know you are with her not against her. She is not ‘the problem’ and nor are you; but there is a problem, and it is a family matter. Her father should be part of looking at this too; he may be right in standing back to a degree, but totally ignoring what is happening is unlikely to be the way forward. This is a family problem (and a common one) and somehow the family needs to look at it together. Ideally, sit down and talk and listen to each other. But if that is ultimately difficult for one or all of you, then consider family counselling – if you can all agree on this path. You came into this difficult time together – and you can come through it together.