My 9 year old is like Jeckyll and Hyde

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My daughter has become unbearable to live with. She lost her father in September and has been through counseling. She put a fight everytime she went. Even when I told her she didn’t have to talk but she had to go, it was still a problem. She has always had a nasty streak but since her father died it has become worse. She constantly tells me what a bad mother I am and beats on her older brother. Other family members have noticed these behaviors as well.
She has also told me it does not matter that I am the adult she will not listen to me and she has explained there is no point in punishing her because she will not change her behavior. I’ve tried everything from ignoring her to taking things away. I have stayed consistent. I don’t know what else to do. Do you have any suggestions?

A: My best guess is that your daughter is doing her best to push you (and her brother) away so that if she loses you too it won’t hurt as much. No 9 year old is prepared for the death of a parent. Regardless of what she has been told, there is a piece of her that feels abandoned. She’s sad and mad. The only way she knows to protect herself is to make sure she’s not vulnerable to being hurt again. When you ignore her or punish her, you inadvertently participate in her efforts to put distance between you. When you send her to individual counseling, you also separate from her. I recommend instead that you go to counseling as a family and talk about how confusing and painful it is to lose someone and how hard it is to have faith that people will stay as long as they can. You didn’t mention if you and your husband were together. Even if you weren’t, it’s still a big adjustment for everyone. You loved him once and had this child together. Now he’s not here to celebrate her growth and achievements with you. There’s important grief work yet to be done so that your daughter can feel safe enough to love again. I’m sorry this year has been so difficult.
I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 May 2007

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2007). My 9 year old is like Jeckyll and Hyde. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2007/05/06/my-9-year-old-is-like-jeckyll-and-hyde/