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I can't cope with my daughter's behaviour

My 15 year old daughter is rude, disrespectful and just horrid to me. She speaks to me so badly and is always criticising me for my words and actions. I can't stand it anymore. 

We fight all the time. We praise her and do everything to facilitate her life. We know she is tired and puts a lot pressures on herself about school, so we ask little of her but she still treats us (me and her stepfather) like dirt. Our relationship is in trouble.

We tell her to stop studying. We praise her. We tell her she's loved and is clever and pretty. She rarely gets told no, she gets angry if we can't do something she wants, like being picked up from the bus stop.

I'm disabled so I do make promises that sometimes I'm unable to fulfil but she doesn't seem to give me a break about it. 

She holds on to her anger, and uses me as her whipping post. I'm tired of it. She can't get annoyed and just let it go. We are finding it hard to do anything together without her getting peeved and then we'll have a row.

She has seen a counsellor from Youth Counselling Service and is seeing someone from Children and Family Practices. We are also going to do some family work with CFP.


Without wishing in any way to minimize an upsetting and difficult situation – the sort of behaviours you describe will be recognised by so many parents trying to help a teenager make that giant leap from child to grown up. It can be viciously tricky.


For you and your husband, clearly, things have reached a pitch where everyone is feeling completely unable to influence what’s happening and I include your daughter in that too. What you describe is in part what lots of parents would claim as their own experience. We now know far more about teenage brains than before and how even in their mid-teens there is still so much brain development to be completed which doesn’t really happen until early to mid-twenties. There are lots of resources on the market that explain how this affects behaviours and it might be an idea to read up on it if you haven’t already.

That said, knowing about developmental ‘mechanics’ doesn’t necessarily make being on the receiving end of troubling behaviours any easier. Specifically, enduring daily uncaring and (at times) abusive comments and actions can really hurt. I know this often leaves parents wondering what on earth they’ve done to deserve it – especially when, as you say, you and your husband have done everything to support and help. I wonder whether there’s also a part of you that’s especially sensitive and vulnerable because your daughter seems unable to get to grips with the fact that you already have quite a bit to deal with yourself. It sounds like some of her behaviours are deliberately aimed to hammer home that you’re just not important to her – hence the sadness, anger and frustration in your email. I’ll come back to this point shortly.

Many young people will talk about feeling very angry, very unheard and very put upon by parents who are only trying to do their best to educate and socialise their kids. At this age, many of them are still learning how to regulate these very powerful emotions. Some manage it effectively and efficiently and others really struggle with helping others to understand how they feel – often resorting to the most basic form of communication which is ‘attack’. From what you describe your daughter is right here at this point in her life and isn’t yet able to ‘be the grown up’ that you yearn for. In fact I think you’d settle for far less – just some basic compassion and a degree of give and take. It doesn’t seem much to ask does it?

But quite apart from the general getting to grips with becoming an adult, I’m wondering if there are specific issues that she’s finding it very difficult to talk through with anyone. Feeling sad and angry about parents splitting (you mention she has a step dad), worries about getting through exams, peer pressure and maybe she worries about you too. You don’t specify your disability but bizarrely, her clear attempts to provoke you could be a rather unhelpful way of checking to see you’re ok – i.e. if you can take it: it’s ok.

So, what to do? Well, the bad news is that you will always be a parent to your daughter and will have to accept her for whoever she grows up to be. That doesn’t mean that you have to put up with abusive behaviours, however. What it does mean is that you, your husband and your daughter will have to navigate this current problem and in future use some different skills – some of which might sound and indeed feel rather challenging. I say this because one of the points that felt very prominent in your email was that perhaps, as a family, you’ve almost done too much for her: lots of praise, lots of support etc. What might be missing is the setting of boundaries, and the encouragement to see herself as part of a family, rather than the most important person in it.

You tell me that you make promises that sometimes you can’t keep and I’m wondering why you do that. What’s wrong with communicating that there are some practical limitations to what you can help her with and letting her deal with it? Maybe, at some level, you’re trying to over compensate for what you see as failings, i.e. you can’t do quite as much as you’d like to for her. If that’s the case then your daughter needs help to see this and the best way of achieving this is to be straight with her. You tell me that you row if she doesn’t get what she wants, but it takes two to have a row – so try to avoid rising to her bait. I know this is extremely tricky if you’ve got into a particular pattern of interacting with each other – I think the counselling work you do as a family may be very useful in helping all of you to develop some new ways of getting your messages across to each other.

I don’t suggest it will be easy, but if you and your husband persevere with this then I suspect she will start to act differently too. It’s helpful to remember that when you change one thing in a family system, then other things  can’t stay the same. The circumstances that gave rise to whatever the issue was simply no longer exist – so repeating unhelpful patterns of communication gets harder and harder to do.

I know this is a really difficult time. If there are any other parents reading your email, I’m absolutely certain some will be nodding their heads in frustrated agreement with everything you describe. All I can say is that this phase usually passes. I can honestly tell you that over the years, I’ve had a huge number of clients who have told me how ashamed and sad they feel about how they treated loving parents who were trying to do their best for them.

So, let’s come back to the earlier point about your daughter’s apparent deliberate barbs that you don’t always keep your promises. I have two points here: firstly that mostly kids want their parents to be perfect in every respect – superhuman if you like. One of the most important things they discover as they grow up is that like everyone else, mum and dad and step parents are human. They get stuff wrong, mess up, say the wrong thing and sometimes feel rotten and defeated. Finding this out can be a hard thing to navigate but eventually, they usually do.

The second point is that it really is ok to say ‘no’ occasionally. It helps them to start getting their heads round the fact that the world is unlikely to revolve around their specific needs. Oh and actually there’s a third point too – make sure you talk to others about what’s happening. My sense is that you’re feeling very isolated with all this. The counselling will be one route to finding new ways forward but getting some support from other parents whose teen is testing their patience will be another. So: talk to others, put a bigger tin hat on, say ‘no’ occasionally, and mean it.

Most likely one day, she’ll walk through the door and you’ll barely recognise the beautiful, kind and thoughtful young woman standing in front of you.

Do you have a question to ask Ammanda?

Ammanda Major is a sex and relationship therapist and our Head of Service Quality and Clinical Practice

If you have a relationship worry you would like some help with send a message to Ammanda.

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