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Daughter Won't Listen

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: I have a 6-year-old girl in first grade. She's been through a lot of difficult changes in her short life, my divorce and remarriage for example. But although in general she's a well behaved child, she seems to have a "listening" problem at home and at school. We've tried time outs, extra chores, taking away friends and TV, everything short of spanking her, yet nothing seems to help. We're at our wits' end! She can't seem to follow the simple rules at school, despite our best efforts to teach her that she must listen and follow the rules. At this moment, the teacher is trying to kick her out of the school and back to her home district. Any help you could give us would be greatly appreciated.

A: You are certainly correct when stating that your little girl has been through some major changes in her young life. I am concerned that your attempts to correct this "listening" problem you referred to all appear to be forms of punishment ( with the possible exception of time outs). I certainly would have to know more about the specifics of this problem to be of significant help but let me offer a few observations that may help you approach this differently and perhaps more successfully.

A teacher must be excessively frustrated to want your daughter out of her classroom. This is your daughter's first introduction to the public school experience, kindergarten excepted, and it sounds as if it's not been a pleasurable one. Don't let her get kicked out just because this teacher isn't up to the task of seeing how better to handle the situation.

You have to rule out auditory delay problems. Is it possible your daughter has a problem processing spoken language? Is she refusing to "follow orders", apparently hearing them but not responding, lost in her thoughts so she doesn't even hear them? Does she "hear" all other spoken language and respond to it, except when she is asked to "follow the rules" ? An audiologist can check on auditory delay and/or other hearing problems.

Your daughter must have some emotions like sadness, fear and anger inside her that are contributing to her behavior? Do you think any child would continue to behave in a manner that resulted in such negative consequences unless they felt compelled to? All kids "misbehave" for reasons or "goals". You have to discover what the goals are of your girl's misbehaviors. These goals basically fall into four main categories: attention, power, revenge, display of inadequacy. You have to ask yourself, "What is my girl getting, in terms of our responses and her teacher's; what kinds of responses are we giving?"

A few visits to a good child therapist could be very helpful if you present the visits as a way for her to be happier in her life. Say that you are sad that she is unhappy and you know she doesn't want to keep getting into trouble and that you are going to find someone who can help her be happier. Don't present the visits as someone talking to her so she'll behave. With different approaches and unconditional loving, she and you will be happier. Good luck.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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