I've enjoyed reading your column so I hope you can help me. I have 2 kids, ages 8 (boy) and 10 (girl). They generally get along but, of course, sometimes fight. My daughter can be very mean to my son in the usual ways (e.g., telling me she wishes she were an only child). He doesn't say this kind of thing to her, but sometimes he will respond by hitting her.
What's new is that now my daughter will sometimes go into extended soliloquies of, "You don't love me, nobody in this family appreciates me, I'm going to run away and you won't miss me," and then she hides under a blanket and cries. I'm just wondering what the best way to react is. Should I ignore this? Or try to comfort her? Provide her with evidence to prove what she's feeling isn't true? Or just tell her we can talk when she's calmed down? I remember feeling the same way when I was a kid, and I recall my mother saying to me "stop feeling sorry for yourself." But times have changed and maybe I should be reacting differently than my own mom. Any advice would be appreciated.
From: Somervillle Mom
Dear Somerville Mom,
Boy, yes, I can remember feeling that way, too. Sigh. Some things never change! Except, as you say, maybe the way we react. I didn't find my mother's response particularly comforting, and I suspect you didn't, either. I'd like to think our generation's more psychologically-minded responses are more helpful but, just to be sure, I consulted with psychologist Sharon Lamb of UMass Boston. She's the author of "The Secret Lives of Girls," one of my go-to books.
"I would reassure this mom that she’s thinking along the right tracks," Lamb writes in an email.
Here's the "put yourself in her shoes" developmental/psychological thinking that she and I agree on about your daughter:
When she goes through her soliloquy, she's not thinking that you don't love her. More likely, she having a whole bunch of thoughts that boil down to: "Why would anybody love me!?" Sometimes this is puberty-driven/hormonal, sometimes it has to do with the mean and nastiness that girls this age can inflict on each other.
Even if reassuring her that you do love her doesn't feel like it helps, do it anyway. It does help; she needs to hear it. You can also point out all the tangible reasons that make her someone you love (as opposed to the intangible one that you love her unconditionally because she's your daughter) because those qualities are the ones that can reassure (remind) her that she is a person of worth. Be as specific as you can be: "I love you because you are someone who is creative; who is kind to animals; who is brave enough to run right into the ocean instead of going in inch by inch" ... etc.
What's also helpful is to not just dismiss her concern. Ask her what makes her think she's unlovable or unhappy (even though those aren't the words she's using), by listening to her feelings -- about her brother, about her friends, school.
I love this thought from Lamb: "I also have to remind you that moms are like teddy bears – when things go wrong in life, we bop them around – because they’re there!"
Generally, these feelings and reactions of your daughter's will come and go; that is, there will be periods of time when she seems like her old self. If they persist without relent, Lamb says, "I would definitely try some therapy."
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