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My 15-year-old daughter has always been moody. Recently (within the past two years) my wife and I have separated and will be divorcing. We have tried to keep the kids (17 year old boy, 15 year old girl and 5 year old boy) relatively stable. The problem is that recently my daughter's grades have slipped, she doesn't seem to have any friends at school and quite recently has not wanted to go to school. The parent of one of her friends recently remarked, "That is a sad girl." Naturally, I am concerned about her but if we (my wife and I) insist that she see a specialist, but if we 'force' her to go, I doubt she will offer any information about what is really wrong. There is a counselor at school we think might be able to help, but what do I do if she continues to say she doesn't want to go to school? Please give me some advice on how to help her. By the way, she stopped talking to me recently, but I am still letting her know I'm there.


Rosalind Sedacca Replied: Your daughter definitely needs to see a professional for counseling. It is not an issue of whether she desires this or not. Once she is in front of a school or other counselor their expertise will bring out the trust she needs in order to confide in them. They know their business. If she is not comfortable with one individual, try another. Everyone facing the challenges of divorce needs a confidant to cry or vent to, share frustrations with, and express other feelings. Make this a top priority in your family. Teens do not have the skills to handle the complexity of divorce alone. Bring her all the resources she needs at this tough time.
Posted On 2009-01-17 11:36:06
Annie Fox, M. Ed. Replied: I'm so sorry to hear about the problems your family is having. A separation and divorce can be a very rough situation for everyone. And while your 15 year old daughter is the only one you mention in your letter, I'd be very surprised if your two sons were not also feeling "off-balance" due to the decision you and your wife have made to end the marriage. But your daughter is the "squeaky wheel" here so let me address your concerns about her. You probably don't need Freud to tell you that she's crying out for help. She's hurting. Her family, as she's always known it, is shifting beneath her feet. She's angry and probably scared about what her future home-life is going to look like. And that's what's behind the symptoms of her slipping grades, her not wanting to go to school, her not talking to you, and her friend's observation that she is "a sad girl."

But don't fool yourself into thinking that she's the only one in the family with a "problem"... like I said, she may be the only squeaky wheel... but you're all going through changes and as a family you all need help finding firm footing again. You and your wife need to get some counseling as to how you will move forward together... as co-parents. after a private session with a licensed marriage and family therapist, I'd strongly recommend a session for the whole family. With everyone going together, your daughter is much less likely to feel like she is being labeled as the "problem." She's not the problem... the situation is a catalyst and the feelings everyone is experiencing need to be voiced and honored. A family therapist can help tremendously. If you need a referral, talk with the school counselor. I hope this helps. I wish you well. In friendship, Annie Fox, M.Ed.
Posted On 2009-01-12 21:22:33
Dr. Vicki Panaccione Replied: I am so glad you sent in your question. It is not easy for kids to go through a major transition without demonstrating some behavioral affects. What's not clear is why your daughter is showing these behaviors now, after two years of marital separation. If presently she has stopped speaking to you, refusing to go to school, become withdrawn and not performing at school, I suggest you look not only to your home situation, but her school, as well. Her behavioral changes may be related to a situation at school about which you are unaware. Her guidance counselor may help shed some light on that. As for taking her for psychological assistance, I think that's a very good idea---the sooner, the better. She has to work out her issues enough to be able to return to school. A specialist in working with teens will have experience in helping kids feel safe in the office, and thereby gradually share information that they were initially reluctant to share. Just keep in mind that these sessions are confidential; give your daughter the space and privacy she may require to work through her issues with a competent professional. For referrals, try your pediatrician or family physician or the guidance counselor at school.
Posted On 2009-01-11 20:51:16
Jim Taylor, Ph.D. Replied: Yes, your daughter appears depressed and should likely see someone professionally. She is obviously struggling with the divorce and all that it entails. You and your wife want to be loving and empathetic and, at the same time, get some advice on how to proceed by a specialist in divorce (or perhaps some books on divorce). The key is to get your daughter to admit that she's going through a rough period and that seeing someone could help. As she is not speaking to you, hopefully her mother still has some open lines of communication. She should sit down with her and, very empathetically, explore what she is feeling and why. In the end, you might need to "force" her to see the school counselor and, hopefully, once there sees that person as supportive and as someone who can help. As for your daughter not going to school, she needs to understand that that is not an option. You should explain to her that one of her responsibilities is to attend school and she simply has to go.
Posted On 2008-12-18 15:11:37
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