Q. My 9-year-old daughter is so selfish. We live with my sister and her kids (ages 5 and 2). My daughter won’t share or let them in her room. She’s disrespectful to me and my sister. I’m irritated with having to tell her the same thing over and over. How can I get my daughter to change?
A. You want three changes in your daughter: respect toward you and your sister, kindness toward her cousins and listening so you don’t have to repeat yourself.
Your daughter is fortunate to have her own room. She could be sharing with someone or sleeping on a sofa. Help her practice gratitude by asking everyone at shared meals to say what they’re grateful for. Set an example by telling what you’re grateful for. If your daughter doesn’t mention her room, you can say you’re grateful for the home you share.
Rudeness is common in kids this age as they attempt to become individuals and separate from parents. At this age, kids tend to compare their situation with that of more affluent friends. Your daughter could be angry with you over this or other things. It would be helpful to ask what makes her angry. If it’s your living situation, say something like, “I’m sorry, but it’s the best I can do right now.”
At any rate, you need to deal with the rudeness. Suggestions include: modeling respectful behavior, praising her when she is respectful and telling her when she is rude. Don’t give attention to the rudeness; that reinforces the behavior. Just call out her rudeness and walk away. And you might consider consequences such as reducing her allowance or taking away her phone.
Your daughter also sounds like she may be self-absorbed, which isn’t unusual at her age. It can be hard to share when you wish you had more. And there are many pressures on her at school as she tries to figure out how she fits in and who her friends are. Try giving her some age-appropriate chores and establishing household rules. Let her write some of the rules and then discuss and negotiate them with you and your sister. Set consequences for breaking the rules. Post these rules where everyone can see them. You could set up a volunteer opportunity for her. She may say she won’t do it, but let her know that’s not an option. You can create sharing opportunities, such as giving your daughter a box of treats and telling her to divide it equally among herself and her cousins. My mother used to say that treats taste better when you share. She was right.
It’s understandable that your daughter doesn’t want people in her room. It’s her territory and her sanctuary, the one place she can feel in control. When she leaves and returns, the room is as she left it. The room could be a bargaining chip to get your daughter to interact with her cousins. For example, to keep the room free of her cousins, she must read them a story every day.
To deal with having to repeat yourself, try a communication notebook. Tell your daughter you’ll write in it every day, and her responsibility is to read it and initial each new entry. Another option is just to keep repeating in a calm, respectful voice. Having to repeat things to kids is common for parents. And get a copy of the book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.
Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.