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A Child With A Bad Attitude

Question:

Dear Dr. Schwartz, I have a 12 year old daughter who is a great student. She works hard and has a great group of friends as well. The problem is that she has been developing a bad attitude and tone of voice with the entire family. She becomes rude and disrespectful many a time. I have tried everything from talks to "you name it" but nothing seems to help..the attitude continues. Sometimes I wonder if she is spoiled since she always seems to have whatever she wants since she is a hard worker in school and juggles her schedule very well with her extra-cirricular activites. However, I am at my wits end and don’t know how to handle her constant disrespect and bad tone of voice. Can you suggest anything that might help us? Thank you so much.

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Answer:

Your daughter is beginning her entrance into adolescence. I suspect that she is showing secondary sexual charactersitics such breast development, menarche, curves and all the physical characteristics associated with adult female development. Even if she is not there completely, the process has begun because the hormones are flowing.

It is very common for many boys and girls at 12 years of age and onward to become difficult at home. Having raised two girls myself, I suspect this "rebellion" is more charactersitic of girls than boys at that particular age because boys mature more slowly than their female counterparts.

In many ways this show of disrespect reveals a healthy and normal developmental achievement even though parents find it painful. What I mean is that, through this moodiness and disrespect she is letting you know that she is "testing the limits," beginning to declare her independence although in ways that are halting and uneven and, most probably, is feeling scared and mystified about the many things that are happening to her.

Great!!! "So," I can expect to hear you say, "what does all that wisdom do us any good, especially since I know it anyway?" And, you would be right!

From this point on it is important that you and her father be very firm and consistent in how you treat your daughter. For example, the two of you must agree on what the rules are and are not at and away from home. If one of you says "no" to her the other must agree. If either of you feel tempted to make a decision please tell your daughter that she will have to wait until you speak to her father (or vice versa). In doing this remember to be very patient. Also, never allow her to say something like, "I already spoke to Dad and he said OK." Do not take her word for it, do not allow her to divide and conquer. Always consult one another.

All of this is true with regard to discipline, as well. One of my daughter’s thanked me for grounding her for a weekend when she was caught smoking cigarettes. The rule had been set about smoking and she was keenly aware of it. That particular weekend there was an important school social even she wanted to attend but she was prohibited and, she was kept home with Mom and Dad. She was 13 years old at the time. Twenty years later she thanked us because that discipline was a key event in keeping her from becoming a smoker.

However, at the time she was very resentful, as you could well imagine. Thereafter, she earned the right to attend other and equally important social events.

It is not that your daughter is "spoiled" but that she needs to earn some of what she has. You and your husband (assuming you are still married and I cannot take that for granted with anyone anymore)can take things away if serious infractions occur, such as the way she addresses the two of you. But, she needs to know that this can be earned back by speaking properly. Avoid making silly punishments such as, "you cannot leave the house for six months," etc. Be clear what is being punished and what can be done to earn priveliges back again.
If you are divorced you and your ex husband must still consult with each other and not allow her to play you against one- another.

Finally, if you want your daughter to treat you with respect, as she should, you and her father must treat her with respect, as well, and mother and father must be mutually respectful. Children learn as much from example as from rules and regulations.

Be careful to listen to what you daughter tells you. Many parents make the mistake of believing that having a talk with their child means the parent doing the talking and the child listening. No, do not just talk to her but listen and listen carefully and refrain from being judmental.

All of this is really quite easy. You simply must have the patience of a Saint, the wisdom of Solomon and heart of a Lioness. (Just joking, of course).

Best of Luck

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