Parents have to make some but not all decisions for pre-teen

Q: My 12-year-old has always stubbornly refused to attend to personal hygiene. She is driving us bonkers. She won’t brush her teeth. She won’t wash. She won’t wear deodorant. She won’t shower or wash her hair or generally be clean. Could it be a control thing?

I have to literally stand next to her and go through the list of personal care duties. And she gets angry with me, but if I don’t nag at her, she does not do any of it.

I know in the big picture I should calm down and worry about the big stuff. But being bullied would be devastating for her fragile self-esteem if the mean girls target her in her class because she smells. I do not want her to give them ammunition. What can I do?

A: You are having a perplexing problem with your young girl. This has probably evolved into a power struggle between the two of you, but I am not sure that you have to back down. Neither do I believe that you have to perpetuate it.

You might do better if you explore what is going on with your daughter before you challenge what needs to be corrected.

Your daughter is 12 and that puts her at the end of preadolescence. It is noted for growth spurts, the beginning of sexual maturity and changes in peer group relationships, academic expectations and family relationships. During this time, parents expect more responsible behaviour.

Some children handle this period of their lives better than others. Perhaps your daughter is not handling it well and is making some bad decisions.

I believe that you need to be proactive. You need to make some decisions for her, but not all of them. When you try to do too much, you are susceptible to nagging and lose credibility. You would probably do better to pick your battles.

What would happen if you and your daughter sat down when the two of you are not arguing with each other and made a commitment to her to try to back off from the list of complaints you outlined in your note to me?

You are, however, going to insist that she have a proper and complete shower at night before bedtime. That shower has to happen every night. If need be, you will nag her to get into the shower.

It is her choice. She can either hop into the shower or put up with your interference until she does. My guess is that if you follow through on this, some of your other concerns will rectify themselves.

Be patient. The escape from preadolescence does not happen overnight. It takes time. The more you can listen to your daughter as she gets challenged during this moment in her life, the more likely it is that she will continue to grow and mature into a responsible woman.


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