Barbara, How do I discipline my 9-year-old daughter who destroys my valuable things when upset? My daughter is very intelligent and very well-behaved outside her home. At school she is always winning points for good behaviour. At home she argues with me almost over everything and fights with her 3-year-old brother sometimes.
Presently I am 18 weeks pregnant. She told me she is excited about it, but I noticed that after I told her about the baby, the act of destroying things when upset started. She is an adorable child but she pushes me too far sometimes. My husband and I love our children dearly but we are beginning to be concerned about our daughter. Please help.
From: Grace, London
Sounds like.... she doesn't feel like she gets as much attention as she wants. Sounds like.... you aren't great at setting limits and/or following through with consequences. Sounds like... her efforts are a cry for you to do both.
If you recognize that you haven't done a good job of limits/consequences, let her know that and that you're about to change: "Dad and I realize that somethings we don't always mean what we say and we realize that can be confusing." (Her subconscious response: Duh, hello?) "So we're going to try to do a better job with that." Then when you set limits, be clear what they are, establish the consequences in advance, and then follow through. Following through is very important. You do need to say what you mean and mean what you say. When she's pushing you it's because your limits aren't clear. It's as if she's saying, "OK, will they set the limits now? What about now? What do I have to do to get them to set the limits?" Bottom line: kids of all ages feel safer and more secure when they know the boundaries. When they don't know what they are, they will push against them to find out. That's why she's acting out. In a matter-of-fact way -- no hysterics on your part, no begging or drama -- be clear and firm about what is and what isn't appropriate behavior.
At the same time, she's at that weird transition time between child and preteen. She may vacillate between wanting to be treated like a little kid and wanting to be treated like a grown-up kid. It's a tricky dance as a parent to read her signals, but that's the challenge for you. Let her know you know what she's going through: "You may feel like this isn't a great time for us to have another baby, when you're just about to be a teenager. I can understand that......" See where that conversation goes.
Meanwhile, do not -- repeat, do not -- tell her you think she's destroying your valuables as a way of saying, "I don't want you to have another baby; you don't pay enough attention to me as it is." Instead, find a way to dedicate some time each day to her, even if it's just 10 minutes, or to make a point every weekend of doing something special, just the two of you. Caveats: it has to be something she enjoys, even if you don't. It has to be exclusive for her. No little brother. No cell phones ringing, no other obligations interfering.
It's also realistic to think that if she is so well-behaved out of the home, when she comes home she needs to be able to let her hair down, and collapse and just be -- herself? Strike a deal with her: "I notice when you're home, your manners aren't nearly as good as when you're at school/someone else's house/whatever. I understand that some kids need some time to decompress when they come home. How about if we have a deal You can have X minutes when you get home where you can be crabby or grumpy or whatever, and then you need to move on...?"
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