Why does 12-y-o pretend she's 8?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  September 7, 2012 06:00 AM

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My friend's daughter is 12 years old, but she believes she's only 8 and has behaved like a 8 year old since 1/2 year ago, by talking with [a] baby voice, refusing to go to the 7th grade because she thinks that's for older kids. Also, she thinks she's not pretty so that she asks her mom not to look at her when she's talking to her. She got her first period when she was ten, she's tall for her age for Chinese. Her grandmother, who lives with her, often tells her that it's too early for her to have her period. I wonder if that has anything to do with her acting. My question is how to help her to accept that she's 12 and why she refuses to grow up.

Thank you very much for your time.

From: Nini, Beijing China


Dear Nina,

It's not unusual for a child to move back and forth between the developmental stage she's coming from, the one she's moving toward, and the one she's chronologically in. When a child regresses, it's often because something has made her feel insecure or unsafe.When a child acts more grown up than her age, it can be because she's recognized a new ability or achieved a new level of cognition and she's feeling proud. Typically, these periods come and go, lasting hours, days, sometimes longer, and they are generally part of childhood.

What you're describing is an extreme, not only because she's regressing to a stage of development far removed from her current stage, but also because it's lasting for a long period of time. It sounds like something is bothering her very much; it could be that she's embarrassed by having her period at an age younger than her peers, but the behavior with her mom makes me wonder if she is ashamed of something even beyond that. Did something happen at school? With her friends? With a teacher, or a boy?

Empathy may be helpful. ("I can see how much you don't like being 12 years old.....") Talking about it could help, too. Has her mother asked her, "Why do you want to be 8 instead of 12?" In America, when a child doesn't want to go to school, it's considered a very serious problem (it's called, "school refusal"), and generally the school psychologist would get involved to help figure out the source of the problem. Is that possible? I also recommend a professional consultation with a child psychologist or psychiatrist. No matter what, you're right to want to reach out for help. The longer this goes on, the harder it may be to help her.

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3 comments so far...
  1. Given the Chinese government's international record on human rights, I do not think getting the school involved is going to be helpful. Depending on the situation, it might result in harsh punishment or repercussions like institutionalization. I do wonder, though, if there is something in the curriculum of the school that violates the privacy of or otherwise intimidates developing girls. Are there scare lectures on the One Child Policy? Do teachers handle sex ed without tact? Are girls humiliated for or prohibited from accessing the restrooms?

    Unfortunately, without any knowledge of Chinese resources and expectations, I don't think there's a way to solve this one.

    Posted by AP September 7, 12 03:52 PM
  1. Is no one going to comment of the totally inappropriate comments from the grandmother? This poor girl has no control over when her period started, and while 10 is young, it isn't her "fault," and is something that can be difficult enough, even if she was "old enough." It sounds to me like she is being made to feel bad about herself at home, regardless of what may or may not be going on at school. Someone needs to tell grandma to back off, which I know could be very difficult in a Chinese family, and anyone else that is giving her a hard time about things that are out of her control (her height, for one) needs to stop that, too.

    Posted by Mary September 10, 12 11:27 AM
  1. I got my first period at the age of 11 more than 40 years ago. Ten is perfectly normal. Better nutrition is the reason--Chinese girls are no longer starved as they were in the grandmother's generation.

    I would be VERY concerned that this child is feeling pressured to "obedience" to the hurtful and ignorant comments from the grandmother. The reputation that her culture has acquired for hostility towards females seems to be well earned.

    Posted by Irene September 11, 12 05:15 PM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. Given the Chinese government's international record on human rights, I do not think getting the school involved is going to be helpful. Depending on the situation, it might result in harsh punishment or repercussions like institutionalization. I do wonder, though, if there is something in the curriculum of the school that violates the privacy of or otherwise intimidates developing girls. Are there scare lectures on the One Child Policy? Do teachers handle sex ed without tact? Are girls humiliated for or prohibited from accessing the restrooms?

    Unfortunately, without any knowledge of Chinese resources and expectations, I don't think there's a way to solve this one.

    Posted by AP September 7, 12 03:52 PM
  1. Is no one going to comment of the totally inappropriate comments from the grandmother? This poor girl has no control over when her period started, and while 10 is young, it isn't her "fault," and is something that can be difficult enough, even if she was "old enough." It sounds to me like she is being made to feel bad about herself at home, regardless of what may or may not be going on at school. Someone needs to tell grandma to back off, which I know could be very difficult in a Chinese family, and anyone else that is giving her a hard time about things that are out of her control (her height, for one) needs to stop that, too.

    Posted by Mary September 10, 12 11:27 AM
  1. I got my first period at the age of 11 more than 40 years ago. Ten is perfectly normal. Better nutrition is the reason--Chinese girls are no longer starved as they were in the grandmother's generation.

    I would be VERY concerned that this child is feeling pressured to "obedience" to the hurtful and ignorant comments from the grandmother. The reputation that her culture has acquired for hostility towards females seems to be well earned.

    Posted by Irene September 11, 12 05:15 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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