Q: How Can I End the Hostility and Blame That’s Ruining My Relationship with My Teen?
Teens with ADHD are overwhelmed — by their growing brains, their changing bodies, and the inviting (and terrifying) world around them. Unfortunately, this confusion and stress often results in defiant behavior, which can leave parents feeling frustrated and alone. Here, our Teen Parenting Coach explains how to guide your teen towards adulthood — without letting blow-outs and backtalk sabotage your relationship.
Q: “My 15-year-old daughter is only defiant and angry with me, not her father (from whom I separated last year). Everything — from not having any friends to struggling with homework — is now my fault. She has been diagnosed as being on the cusp of Asperger’s Syndrome. How can I help her see what’s around her, help her make friends, and stop the angst between us?” —AspMom707
You are a safe haven for your daughter. You are reliable and constant. Meanwhile, she is struggling with self-management and a lack of self-awareness in a family that’s undergoing a dramatic transition. She’s more than likely overwhelmed — by her body, her brain, and her surroundings. That’s a lot for any child to manage.
Chances are she is defiant for two key reasons. First, you are a safe place to let out her emotions. She knows you’re still going to love her even when she behaves badly. She’s trying hard to “hold it together” for the rest of the world and, on some level, she trusts that she doesn’t have to put in that effort for you.
On the other hand, she’s pushing just to make sure that you will stand by her. She’s suffered a loss of expectations — she thought she could count on an intact nuclear family — and she has to come to terms with that. Again, it’s a lot for her to manage, especially with developmental delays in emotional regulation. So sometimes she’s going to push just to make sure you’re still going to be there.
None of this is easy for you as a parent, and I’m really sorry you’re going through it. It’s gotta feel isolating and uncertain for you, too. Even if she sees you as strong and capable, sometimes you probably wonder how to keep yourself going.
So my advice to you is to focus on your relationship with your daughter. Connect with her. Do fun things that don’t have anything to do with school or social skills. Make dates for things she likes. Take some time to re-connect to the love you feel for her, and allow her to feel it, too.
And then, when it comes to social issues, begin to shift your approach. Don’t try to help her see what’s around her — because she’s not going to listen if you “tell her.” Instead, slowly begin to ask her questions about what’s important to her, what she’s looking for in a friendship, what she likes about the friends she’s had over the years, etc. Allow these conversations to happen over time, naturally and easily. Stay focused on what she wants, not what you want (even if it’s in her best interest). If she suspects that you’re asking for your own agenda because you’re worried, she’ll shut down, and shut you out.
Parents progress through four phases when transferring ownership and responsibility to their kids. When your child has complex challenges, it’s easy to get stuck in the first phase: directing their work and efforts. So it sounds like it’s time to start shifting your role and guiding her to take ownership of her life. She might be resistant, at first, because it’s a bit scary. It’s a whole lot easier to make everything Mom’s fault than it is to take responsibility for problems.
You are passing the baton in a relay race. Stay focused on the transfer. Don’t throw the batons at her. Carefully hand them to her, one at a time, and make sure she’s got them and knows it’s her job to carry them forward. That takes a little finesse. And time. And it starts with focusing on reconnecting to your relationship.
The opinions and suggestions presented above are intended for your general knowledge only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your own or your child’s condition.