Ask Alice — Advice for All
Being a Supportive Parent Often Requires a Leap of Faith
This summer has been a challenging one for our family. I have two children, a son 14 and a 12-year-old daughter. Our problem is with our daughter. She overreacts to criticism, real or perceived. As a result, she has trouble making friends. She often comes home from school crying because her classmates have ignored or teased her.
My husband and I are very worried about this school year because we have heard that older girls only get more difficult as they enter middle school and beyond. My husband gets frustrated with her and harshly tells her to stop being a baby. This has not helped her, and I am often angry with him for the way he treats her. But, like my husband I am anxious that she will be bullied, and I have trouble seeing how this year will be any better than the previous years. I am at a loss as to how to help her. What do we do?
You and your husband have an important role to play in your daughter’s adjusting to the new school year. You need to change how you are dealing with this situation. First, your husband has to refrain from calling her names. I assume that he hopes to stop her from crying by speaking with her this way. Instead, it leads to her feeling worse about who she is and humiliates her further.
The most important foundation a parent provides to the child is a safe environment and they should not add to the discomfort she is feeling both inside and outside home. A harsh home environment does not lead to a child’s sense of emotional safety. Instead of name-calling, your husband needs to be supportive and encourage your daughter’s belief that she will be able to handle the new school year.
Next, both you and your husband have to manage your own anxieties. Children learn from their parents about functioning in the world. You need to act as though you believe in her ability to handle whatever happens. She has to gain confidence in her strengths, not be immersed in her fears and yours. You need to trust her ability to deal with these common teen-age problems.
While you can never be sure whether your encouraging words will lead to a successful outcome in her managing these social issues, she will benefit more from your belief in her than she will from your tearing her down. Sometimes we have to take a leap of faith to be supportive.
Refrain from arguing in your home. Creating a peaceful, positive environment will benefit you all.