12-Yo Daughter Lashes Out, Then Sobs for Hours with “I’m Sorry” and “I C

Updated on June 18, 2019
M.H. asks from Oakland, CA
16 answers

My girl saw me and ex divorce around 3-4 yo, we have lived with stepdad to-be since age 7. She is jealous of him, guarding me protectively. As a preteen, she can cop a big attitude, mostly along the lines of things are not fair (comparing herself to him). After she goes on tirade, I typically state my view using facts and reason. I don’t interrupt her tirade, so it goes on unreasonably long. If she listens to my reply she easily sobs, feels awful, rolls around for up to three hours with intermittent tears, repeated “I’m sorry I’m so sorry” and “I can’t do anything right”. My question is how to respond. I don’t want to get entrapped in her drama. Usually allow it to go on for too long and then try to bring her back assuring her that she can do a lot of things right and she’s broadening her perspective and that’s progress. This child has sleep anxiety and I am afraid these emotional ups and downs will spur depression and debilitating daytime anxiety. However, when she is clearly unreasonable - ex. thinking she should get the same screen time as an adult or have an iPhone because an adult does - I have no patience and “check out” of her emotional onslaught until I am ready to present the logical side. I abide by the notion I read about toddlers — a tantrum is a sign of inner conflict — and don’t feel obliged to get in the middle of one. Yet I question whether my girl needs more from me due to the extreme duration of her tantrums and her hours-long shame session after. Thank you.

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E.B.

answers from Denver on

I think that she needs counseling from a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes his/her practice in children of divorce and pre-teens.

And I think you should get counseling as well. Not because you're doing anything wrong, exactly, but you have a child with some serious issues, and a counselor can help you develop a plan to deal with her anxiety, sobbing, sleep issues, etc.

I got separate counseling to help me deal with my daughter's issues and it was very helpful. It's just good to have a trained professional come alongside you to help in a tough parenting situation.

9 moms found this helpful

E.A.

answers from Erie on

She's already depressed. What you describe are very typical depressive episodes, especially for this age - the anger and frustration followed by crying and self blame and guilt over her emotions. She'll move on to self destructive behavior soon unless you get her into therapy. I suggest looking for someone who does trauma-based therapy.

5 moms found this helpful

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S.T.

answers from Washington DC on

a lot of this relies on her relationship with your husband. how does he treat her? does he spend one on one time with her? how is she with her dad?

cuz a lot of this sounds like unresolved daddy issues, with you as her only safe space. so she clings to you in terror.

i'd do a lot less 'facts and reason' and 'assuring her that she can do a lot of things right.' using logic to address a primal terror will never work. you have to meet her where she is, not where you want her to be.

i certainly wouldn't sit and listen to a three hour tirade. i'd tell her that when she's ready to talk AND listen i'll be there, and mean it. and when she's ready to talk and be heard, i'd really listen, not try to argue or logic her out of her feelings. the only contributions i'd make would be to ask leading questions, and solicit from her how she can find her own solutions. i wouldn't blow smoke up her butt about how wonderful she is, nor blame her for melting down and being illogical.

don't do the dance with her. be her buoy in choppy seas.

and yes, if she has sleep anxiety and debilitating shame, please get her some counseling, and seek some for yourself. you're clearly a good, concerned, compassionate mom, but you need some more tools to help you whether the storms.

khairete
S.

8 moms found this helpful
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M.P.

answers from Portland on

I suggest that she needs her feelings validated. Being logical with someone who is hurting increases the pain. Logic does not help. She feels that you don't understand when you try to talk her out of her pain. Her words come from a place of emotional pain. When you apply logic you haven't heard what she is trying to say.

Have you tried giving her a hug and saying something like it's tough to be you or i hear you trying to deal with hurting. Agree with what she says by repeating what she says to you. I hear that you feel you can do nothing right. That's OK. Tell me how I can help. When she complains about your boyfriend say something like life is hard.

Later, maybe the next day, when both of you are calm and not focused on supporting her while she cries, ask her how you can help her. I urge you to spend more time with her, just the two of you. My daughter has 2 girls who are jealous of the other. She now does a special thing, with each one, doing what that girl wants to do. Mom chooses the day. The girl chooses the activity. She tries to do this every week. During school it's on the weekend. Every other week end. The girls are 6 and 8 and are getting along .

My first response has been to rely on logic. When I was raising my daughter, logic wasn't helping. Both of us went to counseling, alone and together. I learned how to work with feelings instead of logic. I used logic when the two of us wore in a good mood while we made plans.

I suggest that your boyfriend who has been a part of her life for years needs to stay if he treats your daughter and you well. Separating would be another loss, adding to the issues that already overwhelm her. I suggest working on building a more satisfying relationship with your daughter is where to start.

I don't know your boyfriends personality. Are all 3 of you doing fun things together? Does he include your daughter in his life. How does he react to her meltdowns? Family counseling could help.

I urge you to find a way for you and your daughter have counseling. The teen years are tough for nearly every family. You can get a good start on parenting your teen.

Added: limit the time you spend with her while she is having a meltdown. Perhaps 5 or 10 minutes giving her love, acknowledge her feelings. Then leave and go about your life. Tell her that when she wants to talk to come to you. At that time, only empathize with her. Only logic when you're both calm and she's able to be logical. She will learn how to self soothe.

I also believe counseling is a must because she is depressed and anxious. Those are mental health issues that require a professional be involved.

7 moms found this helpful
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M.G.

answers from Portland on

It sounds as if you went from dad to step dad very quickly just from the timeline, unless I'm reading that incorrectly. That's hard on a kid and they don't adjust as fast as parents think they do (did you/she/family get any counseling during this time?). They will say take it super slow and don't move in together, so that could be what caused the issues to begin with.

That being said, attention - negative attention included, is attention - and to me this sounds like a ploy for attention. A lot of women, including a friend of mine, unfortunately make time for their new men - over their children, when they enter into new relationships. I find this really hard to watch. So if you went into a new relationship with step dad, and were 'courting' that's going to be hard on a child. You're definitely giving him more attention to new man than you did her father. You're also giving more attention to yourself than you did when you were with dad too. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, but it's a big switch for a kid.

So jealousy is not really jealousy - as in, uncalled for. It's that kids feel they should still rank as important as they once did, and don't get why they don't. She obviously doesn't understand why things changed, and then tries to get attention, then worries (anxious) that you'll be upset with her ....

It all sounds really anxious and upset and almost hysterical to me.

I wouldn't engage at all - in trying to make your case. She needs reassurance. I think counseling is the way to go.

You go, she go, and then go together to joint sessions.

Where' dad in all of this?

Sounds like she needs stability.

Toddler tantrums are not at all the same as teenager/pre-teen or hormonal angst. Toddler tantrums are generally from being overtired or parents not reading cues of their kids. I know, because my first had them until I became proactive. Some kiddos have them just because that's their temperament and there's not much a parent can do other than to try to head them off .. but to compare it to your daughter here .. I think your daughter is trying to tell you she's really unhappy.

My preteens and teens could be difficult/challenging, but this seems pretty extreme. I just wouldn't engage, because you're reacting. I took mom moments. You don't have to engage - period. I don't try to reason with unreasonable people - kids included. You don't have to. It's pointless. You're giving validity to what she'd doing. A time out could be she goes to her room to cool off, lie down, relax, chill out - until she can be calm and respectful. I never 'discussed' stuff with my one kid who needed time to veg at end of day.

Good luck. Sometimes preteens really can benefit from a counselor just to get stuff out - even if they're not that troubled, but feeling emotional and need someone not related to talk to.

6 moms found this helpful

T.D.

answers from New York on

Counseling. Find a good professional counselor to help you and her get thru this.

5 moms found this helpful

T.S.

answers from San Francisco on

I hope you will seek out a therapist for her, and I hope you will sit in as well. I have no idea why you would shack up with a guy after your marriage ended. That's got to be confusing and frankly, gross to her (I know, I was a kid like your daughter.) Most people date for a while, get engaged, introduce the kids slowly, get married and THEN move in together. Though I have a feeling if this guy hasn't married you by now he has no intention to.
Good luck.

5 moms found this helpful
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R.B.

answers from San Francisco on

I agree with Marda completely. Stop using "logic". Mirror her emotions, "Yes, it's annoying that you can't have screen time," or "Yes, it sucks that you can't have an iPhone at 11 years old, you can have one when you're 16" (or whatever your plan is) and then move on. Keep both your comments to her and your listening to her tirades brief. You don't need to have long, logical explanations for your rules.

If she starts to disparage herself, say, "Of course that's not true," or something to that effect, and then move on again. And as Marda suggests, spend special one-on-one time with her when things are calm.

If these tirades really aren't about anything more serious than cell phones and screen time, then I would chalk it up to pre-teen angst. If you suspect anything deeper, have a discussion when she's calm and possibly some counseling might be in order.

4 moms found this helpful
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J.C.

answers from Anchorage on

At 12 years old she should be well past the tantrum phase, a 12 year old, while emotional, should be able to articulate what the problem is (unless she has autism or something you did not mention). Her behavior is way over the top and could be a cry for real help. I would consider getting her a therapist, someone she can feel safe to open up too and who can evaluate her behaviors.

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G.♣.

answers from Springfield on

I don't understand why you let her go on and on for any length of time. If she's upset, I would listen for a sentence or two and then stop her. She needs to know that it's ok to be upset about something, but it's not ok to continue for a long time. If you are just sitting there waiting for her to finish her "tirade," my guess is that she takes your silence to mean that she has not yet convinced you and needs to keep trying until she does.

You need to give her a minute to say why she's upset, but be very, very careful not to give her too much time. Once you've got the gist of it, or even a little bit of it, restate it. "Sweetie, I understand that you wish you could have more screen time. I can see how that seems unfair," or whatever. She's likely to calm down almost immediately if she feels she's being heard, and then the two of you can have a conversation.

I know you mean well, but you are actually teaching her to have "tirades" and failing to teach her a better way to with life's disappointments and frustrations.

4 moms found this helpful

B.C.

answers from Norfolk on

Pre teens / teens can be tough.
They want more independence but want to be a child too.

No doubt this will go in one ear and out the other but living with a boyfriend (he's not a fiancee unless the date is set and an actual marriage is imminent) with a child can just mess things up big time.
There was a poster on here awhile ago who shacked up with a boyfriend since her son was 8 yrs old and the boyfriend never so much as gave the kid a birthday card or acknowledged the boy in any way - and she was sobbing about the now 16 yr old son being in psychiatric lock down with some serious self destructive issues - threatening suicide - before she FINALLY got rid of the boyfriend.
Do NOT be THAT mom.

So - your girl is having some serious issues.
Might be puberty related or not - I was extremely prone to crying fits with the first birth control pill I was on (I was in my early 20's) and a change in prescription made a big difference.
Are you %100 absolutely sure your boyfriend is not abusing her? - because that can be a problem too.
She has anxiety and is emotionally unstable.
She does need more from you - like you need to handle this by getting her some professional help from a psychiatrist - who will help her with counseling and possibly meds (maybe birth control pills to balance out some hormones if needed) - and who will help you by giving you a tool set to be able to help her when she loses it.

I'd have the boyfriend move out (or you and your daughter move out) until your daughter is getting better and much more stable.
She has one childhood and you are not done raising her at 12 years old (some parents just check out at that age).
Family counseling needs to happen before any man moves back in again.
You had this child and she needs help to become a functioning adult and you have 6 years left to achieve it - so make her a priority and get her the help she needs.

If the boyfriend is 'true love' he will understand and wait for you and have some genuine concern for your daughter.
If he's anything less than understanding then cut bait and dump him now.

4 moms found this helpful

W.W.

answers from Washington DC on

Welcome to mamapedia, M..

Why do you allow her, at 12, to go at all? She's 12, not 2. This needs to stop. You're treating her like a toddler. You even stated so - "I abide by the notion I read about toddlers — a tantrum is a sign of inner conflict — and don’t feel obliged to get in the middle of one. Yet I question whether my girl needs more from me due to the extreme duration of her tantrums and her hours-long shame session after. Thank you."

When she starts her tantrum? You need to put a stop to it. She needs to learn how to deal with her feelings and what is going on around her with a tad bit more maturity.

If she is having other issues? Then I STRONGLY suggest that you get her into counseling.

This might be far out there, is she being sexually abused and this is why she is having so many issues? Does she have sleep anxiety because she fears someone will come in to touch her when she is asleep? Did this all start when you started dating your boyfriend? You don't refer to him as a fiance, just "step dad to be". So maybe that's her inner conflict?
_________________________

OP's original post
My girl saw me and ex divorce around 3-4 yo, we have lived with stepdad to-be since age 7. She is jealous of him, guarding me protectively. As a preteen, she can cop a big attitude, mostly along the lines of things are not fair (comparing herself to him). After she goes on tirade, I typically state my view using facts and reason. I don’t interrupt her tirade, so it goes on unreasonably long. If she listens to my reply she easily sobs, feels awful, rolls around for up to three hours with intermittent tears, repeated “I’m sorry I’m so sorry” and “I can’t do anything right”. My question is how to respond. I don’t want to get entrapped in her drama. Usually allow it to go on for too long and then try to bring her back assuring her that she can do a lot of things right and she’s broadening her perspective and that’s progress. This child has sleep anxiety and I am afraid these emotional ups and downs will spur depression and debilitating daytime anxiety. However, when she is clearly unreasonable - ex. thinking she should get the same screen time as an adult or have an iPhone because an adult does - I have no patience and “check out” of her emotional onslaught until I am ready to present the logical side. I abide by the notion I read about toddlers — a tantrum is a sign of inner conflict — and don’t feel obliged to get in the middle of one. Yet I question whether my girl needs more from me due to the extreme duration of her tantrums and her hours-long shame session after. Thank you

3 moms found this helpful
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S.S.

answers from Atlanta on

Sorry M., your daughter is already screaming for help. No 12 year old I know would have a tantrum for 4 hours. HOW does that happen??

Your daughter needs help. Stop allowing these fits to go on for hours. Stop them after 5 minutes. Tell her she MUST use her words in a mature fashion and not scream and cry.

Is her dad active in her life?
what is her relationship with your boyfriend?

Please call your daughter's pediatrician and get an appointment for her. Then find a family therapist so she can be seen alone and then with her biological dad and your boyfriend.

Good luck!

3 moms found this helpful
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J.G.

answers from Chicago on

Keep re-reading Marda's comments. Ignore the rest. She is spot on.

1 mom found this helpful
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D..

answers from Miami on

Have you asked her ped for help? She needs counseling. And you need professional advice. I honestly think that it’s ok to cut off so much drama because she may feed off of it.

But honestly, you need professional advice...

1 mom found this helpful
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R..

answers from San Antonio on

Up to three hours?? At 12 years old??

Has she literally always done this and you have never addressed it or is it new?

If she has always expressed her feelings this way and using those words then you might have a highly sensitive child on your hands and oh boy if you haven't started teaching her to control it by now, you will be in for a bit of a ride but it is do able.

If this is new behavior then I would investigate like others suggest as to another issue.

I'll try and get back later an add some more but you can google the sensitivity issue the other issues...that's hard to say from a quick online read.

1 mom found this helpful
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