Thursday 29 September 2016

Dear David: I want my daughter to drop her possessive, clingy friend

Published 02/06/2015 | 02:30

Illustration Maisie McNeice
Illustration Maisie McNeice

Yours is a common situation for parents to find themselves in. We watch the development of our children's friendships, from the outside, and really wish we were there in the thick of it so that we could influence the way those friendships go.

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If we had our way, we would protect our children from every possible friendship/relationship problem. We would ensure that they have "good" friends who are kind, reliable and trustworthy.

However, life isn't like that. We don't get to choose who our children befriend and we often can't influence how those friendships develop or dwindle.

Any friendship will thrive and deepen if it is mutually satisfying and fulfilling. At different stages, however, we do come to realise that our needs and those of our friend might differ and so we can end up dissatisfied and the friendship might decline.

It is interesting that your daughter has come to you with her complaints that she doesn't like the way her friend tries to block her from expanding her social circle. This certainly suggests that your daughter is struggling with this challenge of balancing her friend's needs and desires with her own.

It is great that your daughter is doing this. It is always healthy within relationships to question if the friendship meets our needs. Typically, when it doesn't meet our needs, we will do something to address the lack of fulfilment.

What you don't know, yet, is if the "possessiveness" that you describe is enough of a negative factor to counteract the positive aspects of the friendship that your daughter must also experience.

You seem to have jumped ahead and assumed that this friendship isn't good for your daughter, or is problematic for her. You have also created a cut and dried solution, which is to just "drop" this friend and move on to make new friends. Your daughter, however, hasn't actually asked you for a solution.

It may be that she has strong emotional ties to her friend that she isn't ready to break free from. It may be that the "exclusivity" that is demanded of her is only a minor irritant in an otherwise satisfying friendship.

Your daughter's reaction, of getting cross when you suggest dropping the friend, does indicate that your interpretation of the quality of the friendship doesn't match hers.

Your daughter is using you as a sounding board to try to name and identify a challenge that she is experiencing in her friendship. She isn't asking you for advice.

Your daughter may just want to be able to share the problem, to lighten the load that it presents to her. She may just need you to listen and to empathise with the struggle she faces to balance her desire to broaden her friendships, with her friend's desire to keep it tight and exclusive.

This is, potentially, a very powerful learning experience for your daughter. How she resolves it could teach her lessons about loyalty, about assertiveness, about minding herself or minding other people. She has a dilemma in her friendship with this girl. It has positives and negatives for her. But she won't learn anything if you meddle or take over.

Rather than telling her what to do with her dilemma, help her to explore the full extent of it. Help her to see the positives and the negatives of the situation she is in. Guide her to see the potential outcomes of various possible routes she could take.

Try to move away from your own fixed opinion about this friend and help your daughter to get a rounded and balanced view of what might be going on within the friendship. Let her decide if her friendship is healthy or not.

I have a bit of a dilemma with my 13-year-old daughter. Since she started secondary school she has become really close to one girl in her class. Ordinarily I'd be glad that she has a close friendship, but this girl seems really possessive and clingy. She insists that it is just my daughter who comes over, or that it is just her who comes to our house. My daughter complains to me that she "isn't allowed" to be friends with some others in the class even though she wants to be. I'd like her to drop this girl, but when I suggest it my daughter gets cross with me.

My four-year-old was toilet trained but has  regressed to wetting almost every day

Wetting, or "enuresis" as it is properly known, typically falls into two kinds of situations. The first, primary enuresis, which describes a child who has never managed to get into the habit of using the potty or toilet and has always had wetting accidents since toilet training began.

Primary enuresis may have some kind of medical explanation and sometimes it corrects itself as the child matures and develops physically. Re-establishing a robust behavioural reward system for using the toilet is often the best way of dealing with the wetting accidents.

The second type, known as secondary enuresis, describes wetting accidents that begin to occur some time after a child has gotten into a regular and successful habit of weeing in the toilet. Sometimes this too can be associated with a medical issue, like a kidney infection, but more commonly it occurs because of some emotional upset for the child.

From what you describe in your query, your daughter seems to be experiencing secondary enuresis. As you have had your daughter checked out by the paediatrician, you can be reassured that there is nothing physically wrong.

Given that the other likely explanation for her wetting is some kind of emotional upset, you are certainly making a good start at helping her, by considering possible reasons why the wetting has started in the last few months.

Perhaps, since the house move, she has not quite settled back into her routine. We know that change brings unpredictability for children. Often, when they don't know what to expect next, they can become anxious. Such anxiety would, indeed, be a possible reason why she might have wetting accidents.

In the eight months since the house move, I would hope that things have stabilised for your family, and for her. With any such stability, I'd have expected the wetting to resolve, if the change in house had been the trigger.

So, either the wetting itself has become reinforcing for her, such that she gets attention or something like that, from the adults around her, or there may be another explanation for the accidents.

Possible areas to explore include her experiences in crèche. Did she have to move crèche since the house move? Have any big changes occurred in the crèche, either with new carers or children joining her room? Talk to the crèche staff to find out if anything is significantly different or upsetting for her.

Another area worth considering is her relationship with her little sister. Has that changed in recent months? How has her little sister coped with the house move?

If her sister has been more needy since the house move, then your older daughter may have felt a little left out. The regression in her toileting may have been an unconscious attempt to generate more care from you and her dad.

If her little sister is toilet training, or showing increased interest in toileting, this too may have led to an unconscious response from your older daughter, where she seeks to get the same kind of engagement with or "minding" from, you.

If it is simply a case that she has fallen out of the habit of using the toilet then the re-establishment of her toileting might also involve a renewed behavioural programme, where she gets rewarded for sitting on the toilet, and for using the toilet to do a wee.

Mostly though, consider any and all possible sources of emotional upset. Because, if there is an emotional upset that has led to the enuresis then resolving the upset should help her toileting to become re-established.

I have two daughters, one almost four years and the other is 21 months. The eldest had been successfully toilet trained, day and night, but in the last few months has regressed with daily wettings at home and in crèche. Sometimes I think she's lazy and other times she gets too distracted. I did get the paediatrician to check kidney function in case I was missing something but nothing showed up. The most significant event was a house move last September, which definitely threw her. Is there anything I can do to help her?

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