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A Broken Relationship

"I have a 12-year-old daughter and our relationship is very strained. She has admitted that she is scared of me because I have a hot temper, but I'm trying hard to change the way I respond to her. Still it seems as if she has a wall built around herself and I can't get through. I desperately want us to have a close, loving relationship but I don't know where to start."

A. I'm glad your daughter was able to tell you (and you were able to hear) that she gets scared when your anger is over the top. This is a great beginning to building a more open relationship. Here are some other tips that can help:

Start a mother-daughter journal. Buy a nice journal and make a title page with the date. Write about your heart's desire for a better relationship and ask her for feedback on what she thinks will help. Ask her to write you back within a few days and keep passing the journal back and forth. Use the journal to write a list of all the things you admire about her. Be sure to note what you are learning about God as you change your anger pattern.

A couple quick rules about the journal: It is sacred. Never hold her written words against her and always try to be respectful and use "I" language to own an issue or concern. For this to work, she has to know that the journal is a safe place for her to connect with you.

Treat her like a colleague. This tip applies to communication only; I am not suggesting you back off on setting appropriate limits and consequences. But it's helpful to screen what we say to our kids by treating them with the same respect we'd give to a co-worker or other adult friend. This can help filter out the sloppy and often sarcastic language that's not good for anyone, particularly children.

Have some fun. Do something that gives you time for rest and conversation. A visit to a retreat center, a fun beach, or a mountain vista can help refresh you both as well as your relationship. Even if you can't get away, commit to a weekly "date" with your daughter. Together, think of activities you'd like to do, then make these dates happen. Use these times with your daughter for strengthening your relationship; try not to nag her or let problems escalate into arguments.

Ask for forgiveness. While we hate to admit it, we parents often sin against our children. When we do we need to ask them to forgive us, just as we expect them to do when they sin against others.

Pray. Ask God for a picture of a healed relationship with your daughter. Ask him for ears to hear the prompting of the Holy Spirit so that when opportunities come up to love your daughter, you don't miss them. It will take time to break down the walls and build trust again, but a better relationship with your precious child is always worth the effort.

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).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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