Q: For the first five years of her life, it was just me and my now 13-year-old daughter. I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing. I wasn’t consistent; I didn’t hold her accountable; I was an enabler. Her behavior toward me became increasingly disrespectful. My second husband tried to open my eyes, but I was in complete denial. Finally, in her pre-teen years, I started to hold her accountable and tried my best to be more consistent. Now, when she disrespects me I take privileges away, assign her extra chores, and send her to her room for the rest of the day. That seems to work, but only for a few days. Then it’s back to square one.
Things are especially awful after she spends time with her dad. Lately she’s been yelling that I don’t love her and she’s going to live with her dad once she turns 14. I recently went to take away her iPod for a day for defiant behavior. She threw the iPod down, causing it to break, which she blamed me for. Considering I can’t take her iPod away anymore, should I come up with a different consequence or is not allowing her to replace the broken one enough? I’m tempted to empty her room of everything she owns, but I wonder if that’s going too far, if it will completely destroy any chance of a relationship with her. HELP!
A: You’re obviously suffering from what I call “interFEARence,” meaning that you are allowing fear to interfere with making good parenting decisions. The fears include her going to live with her dad, her hating you for life, and imposing unreasonable consequences.
Your fears are actually causing you to use consequences in an ineffective manner. Taking her iPod away for ONE WHOLE DAY is a good example. I refer to this sort of disciplinary approach, which is commonplace these days, as “trying to stop a charging elephant with a flyswatter.” Pulling your disciplinary “punches” in this fashion gives your daughter permission to abuse you and generally run roughshod over you.
Predictably, her defiance and disrespect are worsening and will continue to do so until you put the proverbial hammer down. And yes, when you put the hammer down, things will get worse — for a while. After all, she has learned that if she ramps up her disrespect, you act fearful and insecure and begin questioning your own judgment.
The old adage applies: Things get worse before they get better. Your daughter needs to see that you (1) will no longer tolerate her disrespect and defiance, (2) have no problem using large, meaningful consequences, and (3) stand your ground proudly in the face of her irrational reaction. You already know what you need to do, but fear is holding you back. When she’s at school tomorrow, strip her room down to bare essentials. Remove everything and anything that she highly values, including favorite clothing and take her door off her room. When she comes home, tell her, calmly but firmly, that this is the way she is going to live until she has demonstrated respect for your authority for one straight month. That’s one entire month of no episodes. When the firestorm begins, just shrug your shoulders and walk away.
If my experience serves me well, this will begin to slowly turn things around. It will create a situation where she begins to develop new habits toward you and feel grateful for all the good things you represent in her life.