Education.com
Try
Brainzy
Try
Plus
step mom
step mom asks:
Q:

My 12 yr old doesn't care about how her behavior hurts others

In Topics: Discipline and behavior challenges, Blended families
> 60 days ago

|

Expert

Hand in Hand
Mar 31, 2009
Subscribe to Expert

What the Expert Says:

Dear StepMom:

Good for you for reaching out for ideas and support! It's so frustrating when we see a child who has just been hurtful walk away, looking like they don't care. But don't believe it for a minute!

When children have done something hurtful, a feeling of guilt floods their system immediately. Guilt paves over every tender feeling a person has. They immediately feel distant, separate, and lose all sense of connection to others. It's this way for your stepdaughter, and it's this way for all children.

When a child feels guilty, they can't cry, can't show upset, can't show affection. So others around them are convinced that they don't care.

Because she's your stepchild, the steps toward helping her might take awhile...most stepchildren have been through a grinding separation from one or both of their parents, the emotional upheaval of all that, and have had to make new relationships without really getting to choose those relationships. So it's a hard road, emotionally, no matter how warm and close your family might be after all the hard part has passed. Emotionally, there probably is some recovery she needs to do still, some feelings locked inside that she doesn't know how to tell anyone about.

When she's feeling particularly out of control of her life, or distant, or sad, she loses her will to be kind. Her mind shuts down, her feelings shut down, and out pops difficult behavior. She doesn't really want to be this way. But she has to signal that things are off-balance in her midbrain, the seat of her emotions, and like all children, she signals through her behavior.

Here's a way to help build the trust she would need in you to be able to tell you more about how she feels, instead of hurting others to signal that she's hurting inside.

Try doing Special Time with her. Set aside some time (and say how much money can be spent, or whether you have transportation or not), and tell her that she can do whatever she wants in that time with you. Be warm, be interested, and see what she wants to do. Be pleased with her, enjoy her, offer more eye contact and more warmth than usual, and don't multitask or bring up sore subjects AT ALL. This is "warmth time"--you're trying to give her the connection she needs to be more loving.

Don't be surprised if, toward the end or at the end (you need to time this, so there is a distinct end of the 20 minutes or hour you've set aside for her) she finds something to get upset about. That's how it works. You offer warmth, she feels the warmth, and then, she tries to signal that she has some stored upsets that she wants help with.

If she starts to get upset, stay with her. Here's one story of how Special Time worked in one family:

There's more about this at the website below. This strategy is a good way to begin building a relationship with her that will allow her to offload the hurt she carries on the inside, so she isn't driven to hurt others on the outside.

Again, good for you for reaching out for some assistance: it's not easy being a step-mom. It's good you care. She's fortunate to have you in her life.
Did you find this answer useful?
2
yes
0
no

Additional Answers (2)

Loddie1
Loddie1 , Parent writes:
Somewhere along the line, her feelings have been neglected. Am I right? Usually a child that does not care has built up frustration of years of being emotionally supressed. Meaning, her feelings have not counted. I would first look at the history of the child. Has her familty situation recently had any changes? If so, have her feelings been considered. This may be just some of the problem. Also, she is 12 going on 20. She is probably undergoing alot of changes right now. Try to be patient and hit the real issues first.
> 60 days ago

Did you find this answer useful?
0
yes
1
no
ShirleyCressDudley
ShirleyCres... , Teacher, Child Professional, Parent writes:
I want to complement you on caring about your 12 yr old stepchild. It's tough to be a stepmom, and usually a very difficult job that's not given a lot of appreciation.

You may want to look at the consequences of your child's behavior. Are there guidelines and disciplinary actions in place for her behavior? Are you consistently enforcing these guidelines and expectations?

It's best if you and your husband can agree on family rules and expectations, including treating others with kindness and respect.  Enforce consequences when your guidelines/house rules aren't met.  Let her biological Dad be the "heavy" in enforcing those consequences, but make sure your stepchild sees you both as a "united front" and doesn't think she can go to her Dad and change the rules.

It's O.K. to occassionally exclude her from fun family events, if her behavior isn't appropriate.  (Make sure you are consistent with all the kids on this.)

Good luck, it's tough.  Your stepdaughter is listening, even if you don't see it yet.  Hold on- eventually it will be easier for her to conform to your guidelines, and then she will see the results of her improved behavior.
Shirley Cress Dudley, MA LPC
www.BlendedFamilyAdvice.com
> 60 days ago

Did you find this answer useful?
1
yes
0
no
Answer this question