How do I get my daughter (7) to open up to me?

by Rod Smith

“I am a single mother of two girls (“C” 3 and “K” 7). I know children go through phases like trying to define themselves and find their place in the cycle of it all. “K” the 7-year-old is super defiant, but with only me. With her paternal grandmother, with whom I have my own issues with as she is a control freak, and seems to think she can dictate the comings and goings of everyone’s lives, but that’s another matter altogether, she is as sweet as anything. Whether I ask her to do, or not to do something, in a nice and sweet and calm manner, or whether it’s at the point where I’ve asked so many times and my voice is raised, she will always tell me no! She doesn’t talk to me. She shouts at me whether we are talking or arguing. She turns everything into an argument. I have discovered she is quite the little liar and frighteningly good at it and has a bit of a vindictive streak. I know all siblings have the ever-present sibling rivalry, but it seems to me that K is a bit over the top with her rivalry towards her sister. She constantly bullies her, punches, smacks, pinches, you name it, and she does it. Whether C (my younger daughter) has done anything or not, K will just walk up to her and hurt her. C does her fair share of pushing buttons, I am in no way choosing sides, I love both my daughters more than anything else in life. K, I think, has a few underlying anger issues in her little life, which I find very puzzling indeed. How can one so very young carry so much anger? I have tried to talk to her, but she always shuts up, or changes the subject. How do I get her to open up to me and talk things through with me? It feels as if there is a wedge between us (already), and we’re growing apart. I do not want that to happen, ever! How do I help her get over her anger? How do I teach her respect, for herself and others as well as her belongings? I am at the end of my tether. I have told her that if she does not make an effort to get herself together, and respect me and follow the rules, then I will send her to boarding school next year. And she doesn’t seem to care, she doesn’t think I will go through with it. Please help.”



Rod: Your daughter’s paternal grandmother is not “another matter.” It is THE story. Your child is trapped in the fray of a battle of wills between you and her grandmother. If this is crazy, dear mother, let me know. I am very open to being wrong. If it is even partially true, let’s talk more before you make any moves. Any moves you make to de-triangle yourself and your daughter must be sustainable and reasonable or, when the plans fail or you are unable to follow through on your decisions, things will go back to square one and you will be more deeply entrenched in patterns you already find unhelpful. Also, grandmother is NOT the problem but is as much a part of the problem as you are. This is something you have both found yourself in progressively. The solution does not depend on cutting anyone out, breaking off from anyone – but it will involve strong resolve to clarify roles. It is my hunch that grandmother has “found herself” through your daughter(s) and this, if true, will be a pivotal point of power for any child.

India via Hawaii

India via Hawaii

Gideon (India): Threatening to send a 7-year old child to a boarding school because of her ill behavior will only widen the chasm between you and your daughter. Not to mention add to the anger, resentment, and rejection that she will feel either now, or later in her life. I suspect and presume, as a single mother, that there has not been a steady father figure in her life? I have encountered many young children of single mothers who, having been given even just an ounce of attention by a positive male role model, will feel a sense of acceptance and love that can come from a nurturing male figure. My encouragement, if you haven’t already done so, is to ask an uncle, a trusted male friend or relative, if he can spend some quality time doing something that is fun and safe with her. See how she responds to interacting with a “father-like” figure who can speak words of encouragement, teach her mutual respect, and inspire to her to be a happier person. And hopefully, sending her away wouldn’t have to be a “last resort”.

ACT, Australia

ACT, Australia

Jean (Australia): There are many questions that come to mind as I read your letter. You obviously have a child who is very angry and I wonder what is under that anger. You don’t mention her father but what part does he play in her behavior? Is there pain because of unexplained absences? Can you trace her anger and defiance back to a specific event or time? Often when a child can’t put into words his or her confusion about the reality in the home, or the insecurity that results because unexplained events, intense emotions are the way he or she will communicate what’s going on inside. How about others’ anger? Is she able to see anger expressed in a healthy way?

One Comment to “How do I get my daughter (7) to open up to me?”

  1. You threatened a seven year old with boarding school? Good lord. No wonder she doesn’t think you’ll go through with it. Would you? Rule number one in parenting: Don’t make consequences that you won’t be able to follow through to the finish. I think maybe you need to reassess what is age appropriate for a seven year old and look into some appropriate strategies as to how to communicate and discipline one.

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