| 19.2°C Dublin

My daughter's destructive behaviour has torn us apart

Close

Destructive behaviour by a daughter has caused difficulties

Destructive behaviour by a daughter has caused difficulties

Destructive behaviour by a daughter has caused difficulties

My 18-year-old daughter's past four years have been coloured with drugs, sex and drinking in epic excess. She has run away for days at a time, stopped going to school and allowed her friends to steal from us.

I have fought with her over all the usual things; please help out around the house, please tidy your room, please do your laundry, please walk the dog. But she has become violent and I eventually had to ask her to leave. She now lives with an older half-brother and his wife. I can't cope with her and I don't know how to repair our relationship.

David replies: It sounds like you have been experiencing real heartache in your relationship with your daughter. I can only imagine the worry, stress and frustration that you have been feeling as you witness her potentially dangerous and self-destructive behaviour.

But for all of your struggle, I can also imagine that her life must have been turbulent, distressing and probably very confusing for all those years. I doubt she has been very happy either.

What a shame it is that you both have had this experience of such negativity and never found a solution, or a better understanding, that might allow either of you to move forward.

I feel like I am missing huge amounts of information about your early experience of her and her early experience of you. I am also missing the broader context of your family circumstances and environment.

These are central to understanding how you and she came to be in such a negative and conflicted place. That old saying of "it takes two to tango" is accurate, in my experience. How you were with her over the years is as important as how she was with you.

You have described some of the delinquent and nasty things that she did. It is very hard, if not impossible, to excuse any of them. But I do believe that her behaviour during those teenage years is likely to be explained by her experiences growing up in your family.

It may not be very palatable, but your husband and yourself will share in the responsibility for why she acted the way she did. You are certainly not to blame, but you have had a role.

For sure she has brought her own personality and temperament into the equation, but it is the interaction of these with her environment, that will have shaped her identity now.

Any mother-daughter relationship needs to change and develop as the daughter moves into her adulthood, if it is to remain healthy. Your relationship with your daughter also needs to change if it is to be repaired and if you are to be reconnected positively.

However, you cannot dictate to your daughter that she must be part of such repair or reconnection. You can only look at your own behaviour and change that, in the hope that your daughter will change in harmony with it.

A caveat, that I will mention, is about her drug and alcohol use. All that I have said up to now is based on your sober interactions mixing with her sober interactions. It assumes that her responses to you (and vice versa) took place with a clear and unimpaired mind.

If she was an "epic" user of drugs and alcohol, as you describe, then it is equally possible that she was so emotionally and psychologically incoherent, for so much of the time, that it was impossible for you to have a "normal" relationship with her.

Certainly during her periods of drug or alcohol inebriation you cannot have had a chance to deal with situations rationally and reasonably. She is unlikely to have been reasonable during the come-downs or hangovers from her drug and alcohol use either.

With that said, your goal now is to mind yourself and let her brother mind your daughter.

I think you can best mind yourself with the help and guidance of a good psychotherapist. You can learn from the heartache with your daughter about yourself, your needs, your strengths and your failings.

You can feel good and positive about yourself.

Then, you can use this learning to relate in a new way with your daughter if she gives you the opportunity, through sobriety and a willingness to talk and to listen.

My nine-year-old's self-confidence worries me. He believes he is no good at anything.

My son has just turned nine-years-old, and has always been a very quiet, shy and retiring boy. He doesn't assert himself in any situation, like school, for example. He has never been 'bold' or misbehaved, and has always done well academically. But his level of self-confidence is through the floor. He seriously believes that he is no good at anything, and when we try to praise him, he gets quite annoyed with us and doesn't want to hear it at all. Are there steps I can take to build up his self-confidence, or is this even something I need to worry about?

David replies: Your child's self-confidence is something that is worth paying heed to. Naturally, it will only be a worry if you feel that he is lacking confidence and that this is impeding him in life.

Self-confidence and self-esteem are often used interchangeably, even though they are slightly different constructs. Self-confidence refers to our willingness to put ourselves forward in situations and to stand up and be counted.

Self-esteem is about how much we value ourselves and consider ourselves to be both lovable and capable. Generally, people who have high self-esteem will also be quite confident in life.

It won't matter if he doesn't put himself forward, confidently, for tasks as long as he feels good about himself with the work that he does. In practice, if he feels good about himself he will be more likely to put himself forward anyway.

With your son, then, a bigger focus for you might be on his self-esteem. Even the way you describe that he believes he is no good at anything, suggests that his self-esteem, in terms of his sense of capability is very low.

There are five easy strategies that you can use to help him build up his sense of being capable.

1. In the first instance you can identify his strengths and abilities. I know you say that he rejects your praise of him. When children have very low self-esteem they often believe that they are useless.

Rather than simply praising him, comment to him about what you saw him do that seemed like a strength or a positive attribute. So, for example, you might say, "I liked the way you helped your Granny lift in the bag of potatoes. That is a helpful thing to do".

2. Secondly, you can give him opportunities to contribute to your family. So ask him to do chores, again commenting positively about what he does. Or let him be in charge of caring for a pet. Maybe give him a vegetable patch in the garden to tend. Or get him to show you how to use some of your technology. Anything that makes him feel useful and needed is good.

3. Be careful about criticism and use mistakes as learning opportunities. Review decisions and their outcomes with a genuinely inquisitive eye to see how could things be done differently or better another time, rather than reviewing them to see how much punishment is required.

4. Encourage his effort rather than just his success at tasks. Notice and comment on the work that he does, again helping him to recognise the effort he makes. It is great to be able to praise or reward success, but it is important that success is not the only thing that is valued in your family.

5. Finally, let him solve problems and make choices. Sometimes children can learn to be helpless, or can feel inadequate if parents make all the decisions and solve all the problems. Unless he has opportunities to discover that he has the capacity to work things out he may believe that he is incapable or helpless.

You could choose to record these positives about him in a scrapbook. I do think that, if you can help him to recognise how much he actually does and how much you really value his contribution to your family, by using these strategies, you should see his self-esteem grow.

When he feels better and more positive about himself, I would imagine that you will see more signs of confidence in his interactions with his peers and in school and other situations.

Beyond my few tips above, there are lots of resources online and in books that might give you other ideas for boosting his self-esteem.

Health & Living