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Daughter Having Trouble Coping with Divorce

Question: My ex and I split up 2 years ago. I met someone else not long after. We no have a 9 month girl together, his 3 children from his previous marriage, along with my 9 year old daughter from my previous marriage. She has not adjusted to the change; she seems to be actually be getting worse. She does not listen to anything that we tell her and refuses to obey any rules that we have set. She back talks every time she is asked to do something. She cries every time she is told “no.” Her grades are also have also dropped. Her father hardly ever calls or sees her when he says he is going to. I know that has to be hard on her too. I get no help from him except for a check every month. I have tried talking to her and have tried grounding her. Nothing seems to help. Is there anything I can do for her?

Answer: Research indicates that it takes approximately two years for children to adjust after their parents’ divorce. Blending the families is another adjustment that can be very challenging. Your daughter’s life changed significantly from having two parents with whom she probably had undivided attention to being part of a much larger family system that includes four siblings. The three children from your partner’s previous marriage are a unit. You and your new partner have a 9-month old child together. Your daughter may feel like she on the outside looking in. Not only has she had to deal with the loss of primary attention from you, she has the grief of the loss of her dad being involved on a day to day basis.

The key to your daughter’s situation is to begin to provide her some individual time on a daily basis. I often challenge parents of children that I see to spend 15 minutes per day alone with each of their children. Parents kind of smile and always indicate that will be easy. Most parents return to report how difficult it was for them to find this kind of uninterrupted and undivided time for each of their children. Making sure she has your attention and spending some individual time with her on a daily basis will go a long way to comforting her and increasing her sense of security. It will also be helpful that your new partner works to establish an affectionate connection to her and that your daughter is also included into the larger family system.

Your daughters behavioral issues can best be addressed by having a consistent discipline approach, which is applied to all the children in the family. There are many good parenting programs, but I most often recommend the “1-2-3 Magic” program. This was originally designed by Attention Deficit Disordered children, but I find it to be the most efficient, effective and easy system for parents to use. I would recommend that you pick up the book 1-2-3 Magic by Dr. Tom Phelan, have your partner do the same and, if agreed to, implement this approach with all of the children in the family system.

Raising children has always been a challenge. Blending families increases the amount of issues. Balancing individual attention and a loving, caring attitude with emotionless consistent discipline will go a long way towards addressing the issues that your daughter is presenting.

Response by Dr. Patrick Kennelly

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This post was submitted by Kara.