A. Take a deep breath! Adolescence is one of the toughest times to parent because of all the emotional energy involved in setting limits and preparing children for life on their own.
But I find that these years are hard on children as well. My guess is that your daughter is well aware of how you feel about her. You need to step out in love to show her that despite the bumps you're experiencing, you care enough to stay connected with her.
Follow these steps to improve your relationship:
1. Take a couple of hours away from the family by yourself and make two lists: What you dislike about your daughter (list specifics) and what you like about her (now or in the past). Include behaviors as well as character traits. Next, narrow the list of negatives to three target behaviors that you and your husband can deal with through clear expectations, consequences, and rewards.
2. Set up a mother-daughter date. (A meal, ice cream, a long walk, a weekend away. Don't make your time media or consumer focused—movies and shopping are out unless your team them with good face-to-face time.) In one paragraph or less, tell your daughter what you want the adolescent years to be like for her. Remember, this isn't a lecture; share your list of written positives with her and stick with these positive points.
Then ask her what she wants these years to be like. Listen to her carefully without interrupting and resist offering unsolicited advice. Ask her open-ended questions about how she sees herself. Ask how she sees God fitting into the picture for her and how you can support her faith. Next, brainstorm one to two action steps each of you can take to improve your relationship and set up a time to follow up on your progress. Ask her to close your time in a quick prayer.
3. Have a family meeting with mom, dad, and daughter. Review the three target behaviors with your daughter and get her input on possible rewards and consequences, and on how she wants to be informed of an infraction. Talk with her about what needs to change for her to become a more respectful member of the family. She may offer you some insights into how she sees things that can help you gain a stronger sense of compassion. Close the time in prayer.
4. Check in with your daughter often. Preteens are famously forgetful and she will need both frequent praise and frequent course corrections to help her develop new patterns of behavior.
Karen L. Maudlin, Psy.D., is the mother of two and a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in marriage and family therapy. She is the author of Sticks and Stones (W).
Copyright © 2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today magazine.
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Winter 2002, Vol. 15, No. 2, Page 60