My daughter is angry, difficult and unmotivated. She has been breaking rules and I suspect she is making some really bad choices when she is away from home. I hate that I have no relationship with her except to try to enforce rules because she won’t talk to me. Every interaction with her is strained right now, and I don’t know how to change this and get my sweet daughter back.
She is still your sweet daughter, she is just scared and in pain. When someone is functioning from fear and pain, they often aren't very nice and get defensive easy. It also sounds like you have reached the stage where she is doing whatever she wants, so the days of trying to control her are over. The more you try to control her, the more she will pull away from you emotionally.
What works at this stage is to become a “side by side” partner in figuring life out with your teen. But the key to creating this connection is to respect them, trust them and give them a heavy dose of unconditional love and appreciation. If you can do these things, she will let you be a partner and even talk to you.
Shefali Tsabary, author of "The Conscious Parent," says, “If our teens are failing at school or are unmotivated, it’s because they are trying to tell us something is wrong … if you respond with control or dogmatism, you will only push them further away. The less rigid you are with them, the more likely they are to maintain a relationship with you. If you are overbearing and possessive, this will only serve to catapult them further into negative behavior. … At this point we have to remove ourselves from any illusion we can control their life. The only way to gain access to them is through rebuilding our lost connection.”
Rebuilding your connection is going to happen through acceptance, trust, respect and unconditional love.
You must accept her as she is right now. This is not about accepting her behavior, it is about accepting her as a human being as she is, where she is. You must set aside your expectations for how you wanted her to be and show her that who she is now — is good enough for you. You must show that her bad behavior doesn’t scare you, because you know she is gold inside and will figure the rest out in time.
Acceptance means focusing on your child’s intrinsic qualities more than on her performance. This may mean you get to learn how to be in awe of every human soul and their goodness, potential and intrinsic value, more than you ever have before. We are all one-of-a-kind, powerful, unique, irreplaceable, amazing, divine, infinitely valuable beings even if we are not acting like one right now. You are truly lucky to have this amazing soul in your life. She is in your life to teach you lessons and she deserves your admiration, appreciation, love and acceptance as much as you or any other person on the planet does. Shefali Tsabary recommends saying things like:
You amaze me.
I'm so lucky to be your parent.
I am in awe of who you are.
I am amazed by your spirit and spunk.
Your capacity for kindness and fun are so beautiful.
Your ability to imagine is extraordinary.
You have greatness in you, kid.
You are a special person.
I see such huge potential in your future because of your strength and fire, or quiet mindfulness, or interesting creative ideas.
Whatever your child has inside them (as far as qualities and attributes) make sure you see them and praise them often. Don’t worry about results or performance at this point. If you focus on helping her see and accept her own goodness and value, the accomplishments will follow eventually, but without some acceptance and appreciation for who she is now, she can’t and won’t have the confidence to achieve. You can still talk about performance in terms of what she learned from each experience and might do better next time, but make sure she understands her performance isn't tied to her value.
You must also trust God and the universe that your child is safe in this journey, as are you. Life is a classroom, and though the journey may be a rough one and your child may suffer and learn some things the hard way, in the big real end, everything is going to be OK. When you trust God and the universe about this, you will have less fear and more connection.
You must also trust your teen to make good choices (even if you have some fear that they won’t.) You must do this because if they can feel you don’t trust them, it further damages their self-worth and your connection with them. It's always better to trust and be wrong than to distrust and be wrong. When she feels you trust her ability to make it in life, she is more likely to want to live up to your belief in her. If she feels you don’t trust her to make it, she is more likely to live up to that too. (If they have proven you can't trust them, you still have no control, so telling them you trust them anyway won't hurt and it may motivate or inspire them.)
You must respect your teen. This means honoring their right to choose their own path and be their own person. It means listening more than you talk and actually respecting how they think and feel. It means biting your tongue and asking permission before you give advice or make suggestions. It means creating a safe place where they can talk to you about anything. If this is hard for you to do, you may need to get some professional help to work on your own fears first. Remember respect is a two-way street, and if you want to get it you must give it.
Unconditional love is what they need most. Your daughter needs to feel that you are on her side regardless of her performance, grades, appearance or religious standing. They must feel unconditionally loved where they are right now. What most parents don’t realize is that a deep fear of inadequacy is the real problem with most kids, and the cure is not criticism or punishment for bad behavior (that was only a cry for help anyway). They need boundaries but they also need to feel your unconditional love, admiration, respect and trust because this helps them to feel their intrinsic worth, which will patch up the real issue that caused the bad behavior to begin with.
Here are seven important things you can do to help your child at any age:
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is also the author of the new book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a coach and speaker.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.