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.
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.
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