Building Bridges With an Angry Child After Divorce

Reader Nimo left a very troubled marriage and emigrated to the United States two years ago, but was prevented from taking her two young daughters with her.  They’ve been living with their father and his relatives for the past two years.  Although Nimo’s ex initially cut off the girls from all contact with their mother, he is now cooperating and Nimo has recently been able for the first time to return temporarily to her home country to attempt to re-establish her relationship with her daughters, whom she loves dearly.  Her littlest, now 5, is responding very positively.  However, Nimo’s older daughter, now 10, has become very alienated from her mother and is manifesting a lot of hurt, anger, frustration and resentment.   Nimo has written for the Nanny Godmother’s advice on reconnecting with her 10 year old girl under these very difficult circumstances.

Nimo, you should never think that your older daughter doesn’t love you; you are her mummy and nothing will ever change that.  Although I know that your decision to leave her father and your home was a very difficult choice for you to make, and you had to change things for your own safety, to your 10 year old girl it seems as though you abandoned her when she needed you.  You are just going to have to work to rebuild her trust in you.

Try not to take what she says personally – and even if you do, don’t let her see it.

Would your ex let you take your oldest daughter on her own out for lunch or to the park by herself without her father or younger sister?  I think this would be a good time to have one-on-one time with her and just talk about school, friends, activities, interests, etc.  She may be reluctant to open up to you at first, but I do believe if you persevere she will come around.  If she wants to talk about the divorce, let her.  If she wants to ask why you left, explain to her the situation whilst making clear that she and her sister are in no way responsible (but try not to point the finger at daddy, as this could make her shut down again).

You could write your daughter little notes each time you see her that say lovely things like “I love you because…”, or maybe recounting happy things you did together before you left.  And although I understand that your husband will have to read the notes, try to make this a special thing between you and her.  I believe that this could help rebuild the bond.

When you go back to the States, you should continue trying to make phone contact, even if your girls don’t want to talk to you.  Send them letters every week telling them how much you love them, even if they don’t reply.  You may also wish to consult a child psychologist or similar professional; they have a lot of experience with these matters and can help you understand how your 10 year old is feeling and why.

I wish you all the best, Nimo; I really hope everything works out for you.  Please let us know how you and your girls are getting on.

If any other readers can understand how Nimo is feeling right now and would like to share their experiences or maybe offer some advice, please feel free to comment below.


NannyLili

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Defusing Tween Defiance

Reader Alma writes:

I have an 11-12 year old daughter and I am wondering if you can give me tips on how to manage her behavior.  She tells a lot of lies.  She won’t listen to me or my partner; she thinks she can do as she pleases. Just recently she walked to the shop down the road without telling us.  She has stolen money from us.  She constantly argues about everything she is asked to do. Almost every morning she bickers with her sister who is 9; she thinks she can boss her around. Also her school work was bad; the teacher has had to call us in more than once.  I really need some advice if you can.

Hi Alma,

I can appreciate that this is a difficult situation which can consume the whole family if it gets out of control.

It probably has already occurred to you that, given your daughter’s age, some of the changes in her behaviour may be linked to the onset of puberty.  She could be struggling with the beginning of adolescence (although even if this helps explain some of her recent bad behaviour, it is no excuse for it).  As women, we understand what is happening to us when we are moody and emotional, but for your daughter maybe it is hard for her to understand why she feels this way, and she probably doesn’t even think she is doing anything wrong.  If you haven’t already, try to talk to her about hormones and periods and the changes that are going to start happening with her body. If you find she is uncomfortable talking to you, maybe you could ask a female family member or family doctor to talk to her.

I think you and your daughter would both benefit from some quality one-on-one time like taking her shopping, having your hair done together or just going out for lunch. This will at least give you both time away from the arguing and help rebuild your relationship.  You should make sure, however, that she understands that it is not a reward for her bad behaviour at home and at school.

Ask her if she would like to earn some pocket money; although I don’t believe that children should only do chores for money, perhaps you could give her some extra jobs to do around the house to earn it.  If she wants to go to the shops on her own, send her to get some groceries for you, but explain that you are trusting her and make her understand the dangers of your not knowing where she is.

Your daughter also needs to learn that behaviour such as stealing is not acceptable and it brings tough consequences.  You can ground her or confiscate her most treasured possessions.  When you confiscate something, don’t tell her when you are going to give it back, just tell her you will return it when you see a change in her behaviour at home and at school.  Another one of my particular favourites is making them copy out sections from the dictionary, for example all the A’s or A’s and B’s, words and meanings!  Your daughter might shout “I don’t care” at any form of punishment you decide on – but believe me, she does.

Try not to get cross with your daughter, because it will only lead to a fight. Instead, try to defuse the situation, although I know that sometimes this is hard when she is being so badly behaved.

When she starts to bicker with her younger sister, just take your youngest away from the situation without making a big deal of it.

I really hope you start to turn the corner with your older daughter very soon. Good luck!


NannyLili

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