As a father, what can I do to improve my relationship with an emotionally erratic adolescent girl? This past year has been difficult for me. I've watched my daughter make the transformation from a kind, joyful, cooperative little girl to a sullen, argumentative, hard-to-get-along-with teen. Our relationship used to be a source of enjoyment for me. Now it's just difficult. How can I turn this situation around?
People always do things for a reason. This is one of the cardinal principles of human behavior. Your first item of business, then, is to ask yourself where these changes might be coming from. There are several factors that could be contributing to the problem.
To begin with, your daughter could be in the throes of the normal physical and hormonal upheavals that accompany the onset of puberty and adolescence. Depending on the individual, these shifts can have behavioral effects ranging from the relatively benign to the near-cataclysmic. It's pretty common for a girl your daughter's age to experience dramatic emotional ups and downs. When this happens, she can become surly or withdrawn. She may even go through marked personality changes during this stage of her growth. The good news is that it's usually just a passing phase.
Closely connected with these hormonally driven changes is a psychological phenomenon that child development specialists call separation andindividuation. When kids enter the teen years, they often begin pulling away from their parents. At the same time, they start to connect and identify more closely with their peers. This process is usually accompanied by a quest for new ways to express their individuality and assert their own personal preferences. Not only is this completely normal. It's also an important stage in every kid's journey from childhood to maturity.
If you aren't convinced that your daughter's attitude can be explained in terms of the normal maturation process, start looking for environmental factors. What's going on that might be rocking her emotional boat. Has she been through any upsetting changes recently? A breakup with a boyfriend? The loss of a loved one? Drastic changes within her immediate social group? Has your family relocated within the past few months? Is she attending a new school? Do you see any indication that your daughter is tired of being "goody two-shoes" and wants to declare her independence by acting out? The possibilities are endless, but the point is that whenever parents notice a sudden shift in their child's behavior, they need to investigate the cause. If you don't think you have enough insight into your daughter's personal life to come up with the right answer, your wife may be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
If and when you decide that you've isolated the source of the problem, it might be a good idea to sit down and brainstorm potential solutions with your daughter. But be forewarned. Teen girls don't often respond favorably to dads who try to dive in and "fix" everything in the course of a single conversation. You'll find this to be particularly true if you have been part of the problem. Have you been an overcommitted, uninvolved, absentee father up to this point? Are you suddenly trying to make up for past mistakes? Are you uncomfortable somehow with the idea of your little girl becoming a woman? If so, you should probably deal with your own "baggage" before attempting to patch things up with your daughter.
Whatever the details of your situation, it's crucial to realize that you can't force your daughter to alter her mood. We realize that it may hurt you deeply to see her pulling away. Unfortunately, there's nothing you can do to turn back the clock and revive the relationship you enjoyed with her back in "the good old days." You're simply going to have to accept things the way they are, at least for the time being. If she refuses to warm up to you, it might be a good idea to back off for a while. Maybe your wife can maintain a strong connection with her as she moves through this transitional period in her life.
Meanwhile, your assignment is to stay in the picture. Make your presence felt and remain available. You can use the "touch and go" method ("Hi, honey, how was your day? You look nice tonight. Have fun at the party," etc.) to create opportunities for interaction. Make it your goal to question more and answer less, listen more and talk less, relate more and "fix" less. In the process, take care of yourself and find appropriate ways to ease the pain in your own heart.
If you think it might be helpful to discuss these suggestions at greater length, call our staff counselors for a free phone consultation.
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