Monday 25 September 2017

David Coleman: Daughter's behaviour is out of control

David Coleman

David Coleman

I HAVE six children, almost in two families, with three older ones from 20 to 27 and three younger ones, from ages six to 10. I'm a stay-at-home mom and am recovering from breast cancer.

Our youngest daughter, aged 10, is getting out of control. She is bullying, telling lies and hurting people. She tries to explain it away by saying it was accidental and that she is sorry. She has been called to the principal's office and reprimanded, with verbal and written warnings. She has explained to him she is angry and she can't help herself.

When we try to talk to her, she ignores what we're saying. One time she told me that I don't like her, and I don't love her.

I don't know what to do or how to get through to her. What she is doing and saying is unacceptable, but we can't get her to stop. We need professional guidance.

 

DAVID REPLIES

I CAN imagine it is very hard to deal with your daughter, especially since you are recovering from breast cancer.

I notice that you described that her behaviour "is getting" out of control. This suggests that either it was always a bit challenging, but now is getting worse, or her behaviour is only getting bad now.

I wonder if the timing of her behaviour worsening coincided with your cancer diagnosis or treatment?

I do hope that your recovery is going very well for you. I can only guess, however, that, if you have such great responsibilities for the home and for rearing the children, your illness must have turned the family routines upside down.

Not only was everyone, probably, terrified about your ill health and your prognosis, but you perhaps had to step back from the 'mom' role to be able to get through your treatment and healing.

Naturally, everyone in the family would have tried to cope with this turmoil in their own way. It may be that your daughter's coping strategy was to withdraw from you. She may just have been overwhelmed by her own distress at seeing you sick. If it was the case that you also were entirely taken up with your own health – as is natural and to be expected – then she may have experienced you as emotionally unavailable, while you tried to deal with your own response to the breast cancer. This may have seemed to her like some form of rejection of her.

Your other children may have dealt with, or experienced this, differently.

This might explain her comments about you not liking or loving her. Even though it seems unfair, she may blame you for getting sick and for not being able to be the same kind of mom to her that you always were prior to getting sick.

Many children deal with their own emotional upset by acting out their distress in "bad" behaviour. In many ways, they are subconsciously trying to show us, with their behaviour, that they are scared, angry or upset. In fairness, your daughter does acknowledge that she feels angry. She just doesn't yet understand why.

My best guess is that it is related to your breast cancer and all that has gone with it.

So, I'd suggest that you talk with her about your illness, and what it meant for you and how you felt during the time and now.

Then, you can guess – probably quite accurately – about what it might have meant for her too.

I think that if she has a chance to process her feelings about the cancer, it will free her up, emotionally, and reduce the anger – and the behaviour that follows from being angry.

If, as you have also mentioned, you think that it might be beyond your capacity to talk with her in this way, then do follow your other instinct which was to get professional help for yourself and your daughter.

A skilled therapist, who understands the dynamics of how traumas (and your breast cancer counts as a trauma for you and your family) can affect children, should be able to help her directly to understand and deal with her feelings.

That therapist should also be able to guide you with how to continue to help your daughter.

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