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Self-Abusive Step-Daughter


I have a self abusive step daughter she is now 12. When I met her father he had left her mother and we shortly thereafter started living together. After a year the ex signed over the kid and went to Kansas has had no contact other then 7 letters since then and that was 2 years ago. We have had this child in a diagnostic center for 90 days and a therapeutic foster home for a year. We just got her back and the same stuff is starting all over again. She refuses to be any where near a human being. The counselors say she has no values of any kind, that she is a manipulative and destructive girl who lies and steals and cannot be trusted. She has a clean organized home which she has never had before and good food which she didn’t’ have either and she does nothing but rebel. I cannot help this child if someone cannot tell me how. NO ONE SEEMS TO BE ABLE TO DO THAT. WHAT AM I TO DO LOCK HER UP AND THROW AWAY THE KEY. I HAVE A HARD TIME THINKING THAT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO BUT I NEED HELP HERE. SHE has counseling 2 times a week they are trying her on EMDR in another week and still she will not yield. HOW DO I HELP HER?????

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You don’t come out and say it, and I have no way of really knowing, but I wonder if you are expecting yourself to be able to fix this girl, and beating yourself up when your efforts fail. If true, that’s a lot of self-imposed pressure on you (to have a more perfect child), especially when it isn’t clear why your step-daughter acts this way and whether or not there is any real ‘right’ intervention you could bring to bear that could ‘fix’ her. While any number of interventions might help to varying extents, there may be no silver bullet that will erase the problem. Accepting that this problem may be out of your control despite your best efforts may help you to relax a little bit and take the pressure off yourself. I’m not at all suggesting you should stop trying to help make the situation better. Instead, I’m suggesting that expecting and pressuring yourself to quickly find the perfect series of steps that could fix this girl’s difficult situation may be adding stress to your life that you don’t need. By providing ongoing counseling, diagnosis and a foster home environment, you have already taken a lot of steps in the right direction. There may be more you can do, and I’ll try and point you in the right direction, but beating yourself up over this won’t help.

As far as the right direction might be (in terms of other steps you might take to help your daughter become more appropriately socialized), here is my thought. From the way you describe the conselling you’ve gotten for your daughter, it sounds like it is focused on her individually. Individual counseling may indeed be helpful for her, but there are other forms of therapy that are also worth exploring. In particular, behavioral therapy might be a good path to explore. When I was a college professor a number of years ago, I had a senior colleague who provided behavioral therapy to families of behavior disordered children (teens and younger). While involving the child, this therapy was really all about parent training; it taught parents how to influence and effectively discipline their behaviorally disordered children so as to have the best chances of bringing their children around to better behavior. The principles of this parent training were not unlike obedience training for dogs in that there was a discovery period at the beginning of the therapy where you learned what rewarded the child (what the child would work to gain access to), and what punished the child (what the child would work to avoid), followed by a period where the parents would use their control over the child’s desired rewards and avoided punishers to influence the child’s behavior. My understanding is that this type of therapy can be quite helpful in producing measurable positive behavior change especially when goals are limited and when children are young. This type of therapy might be something to look into.

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