How to help a daughter struggling in middle school



Dear Carolyn:

I have a daughter who is having an incredibly hard time adjusting to middle school. There’s SO much more going on with her emotions, internal regret (“I wish I had done X instead of Y!”), and her self-imposed pressure to do well in school.

We don’t pressure her at all about her grades — she’s bringing in A’s and B’s of her own accord — and she appears to be doing wonderfully well to the outside world, but … on the inside (and with us) she seems miserable. She feels things strongly and can be the most loving kid you could imagine and then within a couple of hours is screaming and slamming doors. She lashes out at me and her father frequently, sobs for hours from getting a C on a quiz, and generally seems out of control with her emotions. She seems to keep it mostly together while in school or around others but as soon as she is home, and I assume where she feels safe to show her emotions, she lets it all out.

I realize there are a lot of hormonal changes going on, but I’m fearful this will continue as she gets older. We know the advantages of therapy, but she’s so unwilling to go (“Why would I want to talk to a complete stranger about my feelings?” “Promise me you’ll never call the counselor again!” and “You must think I’m a complete FREAK!”) that we’re torn between “forcing” her (ugh!) and working within our existing structure of crying/screaming/apologizing/storming around/slamming doors/whining about every other night.

Other days are generally cheerful, but my husband and I are walking on eggshells and emotionally exhausted.

— Anonymous

You’re obviously well-informed and realistic about your daughter’s situation. She’s: internally pressured, check; hormonal, check; emotionally out of control, check; exhausted by holding it together in public, check; letting it all out at home where she feels safe, check; too volatile/disruptive/miserable to be in a “phase,” check.

And you’re rational about therapy, check.

Funny thing about being informed, aware and evolved, though: It can lull you into thinking you’re all set and your daughter’s the one needing help.

You’re not all the way lulled, obviously; you asked me for help. But I harbor no illusions about my purpose. Most letters don’t get answered, and everyone knows this about advice columns, so writing to me is 1 percent asking for help and 99 percent writing out loud.

So consider this a nudge toward saying out loud to a therapist, “We need help with our daughter.” And to her doctor, too, since some illnesses and even food intolerances can affect mood.

A good therapist who treats adolescents, especially teamed with a good pediatrician, can give parents the insights and phrasings and options to engage a volatile child instead of tiptoeing around her, which can either solve this or be Step 1 toward a treatment your daughter needs. Bonus, you won’t refuse to go or call yourselves FREAKS.

And, you can tell your daughter you told a stranger your feelings (topics unspecified) and say you not only found it helpful, but also not unlike telling a doctor-stranger about your abdominal pain or a dentist-stranger about stuff getting caught in your teeth. Don’t debate, just state. Walk the walk to good care.

Email Carolyn at [email protected], follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax

Syndicated Advice Columnist
Advice Columnist Carolyn Hax takes your questions and tackles your problems.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *