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Behavior Problems:
“Are we doing too much for our 10 year old?”

Dear Annie,

We have a 10-year-old daughter. I have always felt that we were good parents, but looking back, I can see now how we have over-protected her and have not required her to grow up. For instance, she won't unbutton her pants to put them on or take them off because she can't do the buttons. She will only wear slip-on sneakers because she can't tie shoes well. And...she has no interest in trying to learn these things.

She does have chores which include weekly cleaning and setting/clearing the table, but we constantly have to remind her to do these things (and then listen to her complain about it).

She has only 1 friend who she wants to do anything with outside of school. She can be quite bossy and wants to be right about everything so many of the other kids are turned off by her. She doesn't like any of the kids in the neighborhood (and they don't like her).

My husband and I still go into her school to help out and have lunch with her. We each have a day each week when we go in, so she has a parent around twice a week at school. I feel that this is probably not great for her, but I don't know how to stop it. Her teachers encourage parent participation and we enjoy being involved. I just don't know if it's the best thing for her.

As much as it kills me to say this, she can be extremely selfish and manipulative. My husband and I don't know how to relate to this because neither of us are like her at all. We have not given her an abundance of material things because we don't believe in it, but we have certainly spoiled her with time and attention.

She is a good student and does well in school, but socially she is having issues. She seems to be behind where the other kids are with social skills. She acts as though it doesn't bother her and I just worry and worry that we have ruined her.

My mom abandoned me when I was 8 and my husband's mom died when he was 7. Perhaps this is why we overdo it, but whatever the reason, I want to stop and make her grow up a bit. We really thought we were doing things right but it has backfired and now we are confused.

I don't know if I have painted a real accurate picture of what we're dealing with, but I hope you can help us. I'd be happy to provide more information if need be. Thank you for having this forum for us.

Perplexed Patty

Dear Perplexed Patty,

You and your husband are obviously very loving parents. The fact that you both had to deal with the devastating loss of your mothers at such an early age indicates that you may not have learned what a healthy parent-child relationship is all about.

A parent is responsible for supporting, encouraging and guiding the development of a fully functioning, independent young adult. When parents over-function for whatever reason, they are raising under-functioning children. Parents who have lunch at school twice a week with their 10 year old are over-functioning. A 10 year old who will not unbutton her own pants is under-functioning.

You already sense that things are a bit out of control at home and with your daughter's relationships with peers.

You have set the bar exceedingly low for your daughter. And as a result, she has become very adept at shirking responsibility and growing up.

Your daughter's refusal to master age appropriate tasks is a direct result of your doing too much for her. Children are very adept at figuring out how much they can manipulate their parents. Why should your daughter bother dealing with the frustration of unbuttoning her own clothes or learning to tie her own shoes when other solutions (mom and slip-ons) are so much easier? Why should she be willingly responsible for her chores when she can push your buttons by complaining and where there don't seem to be any consequences for an uncooperative attitude?

You say that she "can be quite bossy and wants to be right about everything." It's clear that she has the belief that she is all-powerful from the way you and your husband cater to her at home.

You should not be having lunch with your child at school on a regular basis. Are you doing it for her or for yourselves to provide reassurance that she is safe? You say "I feel that this is probably not great for her" ... I would agree! I would also agree that it's not great for you and your husband either. She needs time during the school day to be a student on an equal footing with all the other students. (Their parents don't come for lunch, do they?) If you'd like for her to fit in more with her peers, sitting with her at the lunch table twice a week is probably not helping in that area. Other kids might be wondering what's wrong with your daughter that she needs Mommy and Daddy during the school day. Your daughter has probably figured out that this isn't "normal" for 10 year olds and their parents. It isn't normal for first graders to have their parents come to school regularly for lunch!

You say you "don't know what is the best thing for her." Think about your job as a parent. Your job is to prepare your child to become a fully functional young adult. Lunchtime visits to school, helping her get dressed, etc. is undermining any effort to help your daughter become a self-confident, cooperative, responsible and independent young adult.

Time for some clear objectives of yourselves as parents and some clear understand of what a 10 year old is capable of accomplishing ON HER OWN. I would also suggest that you and your husband have a heart to heart talk and acknowledge what has been keeping you two from a) being the parents in this family (that means setting the rules and being consistent in your discipline) and b) providing your daughter with opportunities to grow toward INDEPENDENCE.

Here are some referenced articles:

I hope this helps.

In friendship,

Annie

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