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Daughter Needs to Be Assertive
Q: I want to help my 7-year-old daughter to understand that she is not responsible for the happiness of others, especially her parents but for her own happiness. She is worried that either of us will feel "bad" or "rejected" by her if she expresses where she feels comfortable. We are separated -- she is in my care and has regular access to her father. I don't think that either of us are pressuring her. I have seen her place her interests and happiness below those of others with the little boys at school and fear that this will be a life pattern if we don't help her to be more assertive.
Any tips on how to impress this on her?
A: Your daughter's response of fearing hurting her parents by any indication of preference on her part is quite normal and quite heartbreaking for loving parents to endure. Despite your protests to the contrary, she may feel that she played some role in your family's breakup. I understand your worry that she may develop into a full-time martyr and always put other's happiness and interests ahead of her own. You must understand that this is a technique that is bringing her some solace at this time, although you are worried that this posture also must bring inordinate anxiety as well.
Keep on loving her unconditionally. Make sure neither you nor your ex engages in comparisons of time spent in her company and enjoyment attached to spending it with her. Honor her natural inclinations and needs for the both of you and try like heck not to register any disappointment if your ego gets bruised by what you perceive as a slight. Show her and tell her of how well you are doing and of other people and activities that bring you joy. Let her know by example that you are going to be all right. Teach her and read books to her that show her that trying her best is always the way to give the most to someone. This is a difficult lesson for her as her lowered status role in the wake of your separation is rather firmly in place now. Be patient with this jewel of a girl; she is not doomed to be a doormat. I believe with your love she will be a joyous, kind woman of uncommon generosity.
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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.