I am the mother of an amazing 9-year old daughter, but she is very negative. She does not take responsibility for her actions, putting the blame on everyone else. She has a strong personality and needs to follow the rules, and she makes sure everyone else does as well. This is causing major problems at home and school. She is becoming rude and disrespectful with us and there is major sibling rivalry with her 5-year-old sister. When I try to talk to her about finding the positive in situations and "going with the flow" instead if controlling every situation, she gets very agitated. Her dad has a similar personality. I have spoken to him a number of times to change his parenting ways. Please help!
Many years ago, I began studying the brain and its role in behavior. The more I learned, the more fascinated -- and the less-judgmental -- I became. I began to understand the enormous influence our wiring has on who we are and how we behave. As I started to see how affected we are by our neurology, the more compassionate I felt for people I would previously have labeled difficult, controlling or contrary.
No one likes to feel judged. My guess is that when you advise your daughter to lighten up, be more positive, or "go with the flow," she becomes agitated because you are implying that she should be different than she is. If she could just "go with the flow," she most likely would! Rather than scolding her for being controlling or inflexible, start by imagining that she is at least somewhat influenced by her neurochemistry -- which is sounds similar to her father's.
Children who focus on the negative may be plagued by anxiety, unsure of how to manage the complexities of life if they -- and those around them -- don't stick to the rules. For them, there is a right way and a wrong way to do nearly everything. They genuinely struggle to feel OK in a world where, in truth, little is controllable.
If your daughter happens to be wired with a leaning toward rigidity, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive tendencies, it would make sense that she would blame others when things aren't going well. She may genuinely believe that because she follows the rules, she is not at fault when there is conflict. And if she feels inadequate or insecure, it is likely that she will push away any suggestion of responsibility for problems with friends or family.
Not long ago, I had a phone coaching session with a mother who was frustrated because her son wasn't following her advice about being friendlier to his teacher. I asked, "Did your son sign up for your self-improvement class?"
When we come AT our children with advice that they haven't asked for, they resist. So often, we decide that our children want our pearls of wisdom when instead they are anything but receptive to our suggestions. When they feel our disappointment in who they are or how they show up in the world, they naturally show little interest in our input.
Help your daughter become more aware of any insecurity or anxiety that might fuel her desire to be controlling. Check your judgments at the door. By letting her unload how things sometimes feel hard, unfair or scary, you will be able to help her become open to your support as she learns how to express her discomfort with things not going her way, rather than becoming aggressive to manage her anxiety.
And the same advice is likely to apply to your husband, as well! Rather than scolding or judging, let him know that he is loved as is, and he may eventually be open to your insights!
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
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