My 7 Year Old Daughter Drew a Picture of Her Father Dead. Only He's Not.

Updated on October 29, 2012
K.S. asks from Vernon Rockville, CT
25 answers

I am a single mom of one beautiful 7 year old daughter. I divorced her father long ago when she had just turned one. We did our best at explaining it to her at the time, with a lot of help from her very good pediatrician. However, as the years have gone by, there have been behavior issues that both daycares, and now her school have noticed, when she comes back from her visitation time with her father. Mainly just being disruptive, not willing to do work, some instances of pushing or hitting. Yesterday however, I received a phone call from her school psychologist. She told me that my daughter drew a picture in class of her father dead in a grave, and her kneeling down near him crying. She has never done anything like this before, nor is she a violent child. Her school psychologist (who is freshhhh out of college) told me this was "very serious and you need to call her pediatrician." So I did, they referred me to a wonderful child psychologist. But I don't know what tp think about any of this. I don't really like the idea of my child seeing a therapist at this age, trusting someone else to manipulate her mind. How do I know she's going to manipulate it properly!? I believe that psychologists wayyyy over diagnose kids with ADD and ADHD.....I'm just lost right now. I'd appreciate any feedback. Please :(

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So What Happened?

Ok so first I want to start by thanking so manny of your for your outpouring of thoughts. Some of you were plain nasty, which on this site, is truly uncalled for. I have myself had experience with therapy, and I know it works. But that's also for an adult. My daughter is my only child, and will be my only child, so its perfectly natural to have worries and fears of someone else talking about her issues with her. I have found a child psychologist which I will be meeting with this week. She wants to meet with my ex husband as well before she meets with my daughter. However, my ex husband has yet to call her, which concerns me because he obviously does not have her best interests at heart. Which has been a constant struggle for years. My mom always tells me, and this has been a very hard issue for me to deal with, but I cannot control what goes on in his house. I do however, know for a fact that he exposes her to very inappropriate movies and video games. He is what many people consider to be the 'fun' parent. No rules, no discipline. He does take her every weekend. However, in about three weeks, that is being changed to every other weekend. My daughter knows nothing of this yet. I am hoping that my daughter gets the guidance she needs from the therapist, and hopefully this picture thing ends up meaning absolutely nothing. And for any of you who think my daughters well being doesn't come first, don't bother responding, because you're simply ignorant. To all the rest of you, thank you for helping a single mom struggling. I appreciate it more than you know, esspecially knowing I'm not alone. Thankyou!!!

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answers from Richmond on

ok, so the child is disruptive BUT only after she comes back from visiting her father, sounds like she is having a problem with her father, what is their relationship like? has anybody even bothered to see how he interacts with her?how does he act toward women in
general..passive?aggressive?uncooperative?does he sexualize all his relationships with women? typically a young girl who acts aggressively toward other people has anger issues actually involving a male role model in her life, she cant "safely push" this male role model out of her life, so instead, she acts aggressive toward other people, which she can "push away" find out whats really going on with her father, TODAY!
K. h.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

I don't know that there is anything very wrong with this -- it may be one of the ways she copes with the idea of him not being in her life when her friends all have daddies. Tomorrow it might be that he's a superhero saving someone, and the day after he's an eagle flying off on a hunt. I do think there's a potential to make too much out of it. But I also do think it could indicate that she could benefit from some discussion with a professional. I do have to agree with the ADD/ADHD diagnosis issue, but I don't think that's what you're concerned about here -- just an example of what you're worried about, right?

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Lansing on

I have no experience with this nor can tell you whether a psychologist is needed or not. But I absolutely don't think there would be anything wrong with sending her to one. A good psychologists is not going to manipulate her but only listen and help her.

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answers from Austin on

As a child of divorce I will tell you we think about a lot of things, that we try to protect our arents from...because we do not feel they can handle it.. Yes even this young.

Your child is living an unusual life, because she has no memories of you and her father being together.

Remember this is not a reflection of you and your parenting.... This is her life and she is around children and families not like hers it is something she is working through. She may need to speak with someone other than you and her father, because she is protecting, both of you... Protecting you from her feelings, her fears and her wishes.she is having strong feelings and thoughts and is working through them.

Yes, she needs a safe place to do this..and a professional will be the perfect person. No one in this profession will try to manipulate your child. Their goal is to make your child feel safe. To help your child find peace.. It could also just be that your child is learning about death and expressing how she would feel if it were to happen and nothing more.

It s hard for s moms to realize our children do have very deep thoughts. They are sponges that absorb everything around them.. Very bright intuitive children work through things.. A subject like death is so taboo for some families... That children realize their parents need to be protected.

Be strong mom and allow your child to work through this.. She is protecting your feelings..

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

You write, " I don't really like the idea of my child seeing a therapist at this age, trusting someone else to manipulate her mind. How do I know she's going to manipulate it properly!? I believe that psychologists wayyyy over diagnose kids with ADD and ADHD....."

I'm not sure why you are bringing in ADD and ADHD, or why you assume that the job of a psychologist or counselor is to "manipulate" minds from the very start. It makes me wonder: Have you or someone in your family had a bad experience with a mental health professional in the past? Or is the issue that you've never had any experience with a mental health professional, so you're making assumptions about what they do, based on bad or no information?

Please consider that children often will tell others - yes, even near-strangers - things they will not reveal to their own parents. Your daughter may benefit greatly from talking to someone who is not you. I know that's hard to hear; we want our kids to turn first to us, to tell us how they really feel and what's really happening, but the fact is that they may well open up differently with a professional. Can you accept that?

Also, look again at what you are focusing on here.

Why the focus on the picture? Because the school counselor says it's serious? I think she's green and means well but is over-emphasizing it. Yes, it DOES need to be discussed but isn't the bigger issue your child's change in behavior every time she sees her father? Have you tried asking her what goes on with him that she is returning to you with such different behavior? Can you ask her about it iin ways that do not make her feel she has to defend or protect her dad, or in ways that don't make her feel somehow guilty for talking about him with you?

This is why professionals are useful. Talking to someone who is not mom gives her an outlet where she knows she isn't "betraying" dad by talking about him to mom (and again -- you may feel that "she would never think that, she and I are close" etc. but young kids often feel they must defend or protect even an abusive parent from the other one if the parents do not get along). You need to find out what negative things are happening in her mind, or in action, during dad's time with her. It may only be that she is processing her own anger at not having a "complete" family and is learning how to handle the family she has. Or it may be that things are going on at dad's that you need to know about.

But please dont' approach it from a position of "I wont' ever send her to a professional because they will tell her what to say or they'll say she's ADD." Please go talk to a psychologist yourself, alone, first and see what he or she would do with your child.

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answers from Houston on

My parents separated when I was 3 years old. When I was little there were one million things that I did not understand and nobody took the time to explain they decided I was "to young" and since it was all I knew it would not affect me. Wrong I grew up with a lot of issues, trust, abandoned feelings (even when my dad was in the picture) there are way too many things to write, but I can tell you that I really wish my mom had taken me with someone that could found out my feelings, made sense of all the thoughts that were hurting me someone not inside or related to the issues I could ask all my questions without hurting feelings or being afraid that something else could develop from me talking, some that would have helped me understand, accept and heal.

I do have a very good relationship with my husband but if I ever separate or divorce I will definitely look for professional help to make sure that my kids are going through it, situation, change etc in the best way possible and also to be myself directed in the best way to approach and talk naturally about the issues, feelings, behavior etc. (my mom just did not know and up to date she does not communicate well specially in emotionally difficult situations)

Find someone professional, that you feel you can trust and feel comfortable with.
Good luck!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Reno on

I agree with LivingLife..... You need to have a "sit down and talk" as my parents used to call it. She's old enough now to express to you what's going on. Children express inner emotions through art. Do not make her feel like she's done something wrong or shameful. Just simply (in a quiet moment) show her the picture and ask her matter of factually about it... ask her if there's a story behind the picture, what she was thinking about when she drew it, etc... let her know that you think she's a great artist and you'd like to know how she came up with the picture. Children are naturally sharing when they are being praised or admired. Don't make her feel on the defensive or that she's done anything wrong. Also, if you are on good terms with her dad, ask him (after you've talked with her) if he knows why she'd draw something like that.
Please keep us posted on what happens... Best of luck!

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answers from Boston on

A child psychologist is vital in this situation. To be perfectly honest, I find her drawing to be represented of her emotions and feelings. Their is nothing wrong with expressing that on paper. She is 7, and is only capable of understanding/expressing so much on the fact that her father isn't around as much, and apparently her visits with him are upsetting, and causing lots of outbursts. Which, again is normal. Especially when you are young, and can't not fully understand the situation or your own feelings.

As you are her mother, you cannot help her in a constructive way. A Psychologist is someone who isn't emotionally attached to the situation, feelings, and will give an unbiased opinion, as well as advice on how to handle this appropriately.

Your daughter is acting out because she doesn't know how to express her feelings in a constructive way. She doesn't know what to say or do. I honestly think your daughter is crying out for help, and will need someone else to help her.

I would also suggest that family therapy is also something that will need to happen. You and your ex need to show that your daughter's feelings are valid and important. She will need to feel safe in expressing them to the both of you. A Family therapist will give her that opportunity.

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answers from San Francisco on

What do you mean "manipulate her mind?" And what does ADD/ADHD have to do with anything?
It sounds like you have an irrational fear of therapy. I'm not sure why, but I can assure you they are like doctors or dentists or lawyers or any other professionals. And just like any other professional some are better than others.
Please keep an open mind. Maybe your daughter doesn't need therapy, but most people benefit from it. I can't begin to tell you how much it helped my daughter with her anxiety troubles last year!

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answers from Biloxi on

What does she and her Father do when they are together?
Is he the "fun Dad" with no rules? The strict Dad with schedules? Do they play together? Veg out in front of the TV? Play sports/hike? What do they talk about? Etc., etc.

These things may play into her behavior post visit. She may be acting out as a way to adjust to her "non Dad" routine. She may be angry that she can not be with him 24/7 - which is a natural emotion of children from split house holds - mine sometimes had the same issues when he came back from seeing his Father.

As for the picture - eh, my son used to have dreams of me, his father, his MawMaw, dying or leaving him. Pretty normal - he was worried about being abandoned. I talked him through them and focused on reassuring him that none of us would never intentionally leave him.

Your daughter drawing a picture of herself grieving at her father's grave is, to me, similar to my son's dreams. If you do not think you are able to counsel her, then by all means, please engage a therapist. They do not "manipulate" minds. Rather, through age appropriate play and talk therapy they help people work through issues/emotions that they are having a hard time self processing.

I have had my son in therapy - once when he was about your daughter's age and dealing with a haphazard, oft absentee father and again in middle school when dealing with self image issues that stemmed from the father and life changes. It did help him. It did not warp him or change him into a different child.

Mostly, though, you need to develop a dialogue with your child. An atmosphere wherein she knows she can talk to you about anything without censure from you.

You don't mention what your relationship is with her father - but a dialogue with him, about their time together, and her behavior(s) would be beneficial also. He should be engaged in the process also, if at all possible.

Know that our children experience and feel many of the things adults do. They just either don't have the maturity to, or have different ways to, process and cope.


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answers from Columbia on

It sounds to me like some FAMILY therapy is in order. Your child is struggling. Does she have a male role model in the home? If not, please find her a male role model (grandpa? uncle? one of your cousins?). Little girls NEED interaction with healthy male role models.

I do think that you're overthinking the therapy situation. It's NOT a bad thing. We often NEED an outside perspective in order to fully deal with a situation. Who better to give that perspective than someone who is trained to understand family systems? Who understand a child's phsychological development and what affects it?

Just because you go to therapy doesn't mean they're going to diagnose you or your child with anything. I'm willing to bet that your child doesn't have anything to be diagnosed with...she just needs some positive attention, and some ways to deal with the emotions she's having.

My father was hit by a truck and killed before I was born. I remember being about 6-8 and struggling with seeing the other little girls with their daddies. And when adults use euphemisms about death like "He's in a better place" or "He's in heaven," or "He's gone," a little girl becomes he dead or can he come back? Why won't he come back? Doesn't he love me? Aren't I a good girl? Well, if Daddy won't come back...I must be a bad girl. I'll behave in a bad way because I'm a bad girl and nobody can give me a straight answer.

You can see how these thoughts could spin out of a perfectly healthy child's mind.

That said, you are not equipped as a mom to properly deal with this. You should be RUNNING to the therapist's office...they can help you to solve the problems that you're having in a healthy way that will not cause FURTHER problems. Instead of using the "hit or miss" method, you can use methods that are tried and true. Therapists aren't just quacks who hand out meds. They are problem solvers because they look at the BIGGER picture in a way that we can't because we're too close to it. We can't see the forest for the trees...but they have Google Earth and can zoom in and out easily. :-)

Family therapists use different theories. Call around. Ask them what theory they ascribe to and then get online and learn more about it before you visit them. My husband prefers Bowen Family Systems theory (he's a Marriage and Family Therapist). I've read a lot about it (I'm an Army Combat Medic and EMT) ad agree with it.

You have to go with what you believe in, and that will take some research on your part. And I think it will help you to feel more comfortable with what's going on and seeking help.

I hope I've helped you to find your way a bit.

Give your daughter a big hug. Take her for ice cream and go inside. Sit at the table and talk to her about what she wants to do for the weekend. Spend time with her that has NOTHING to do with anything but the fact that you love her for HER.

God bless you and your family.

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answers from Boston on

Therapists don't manipulate children's minds! They're not walking around with ADD labels to stick on a kid. But you are ignoring the issue. Get a referral from your pediatrician and get to the bottom of it. The drawing and the behavioral changes are red flags.

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answers from Charlotte on

Well K., you've got to trust her with SOMEONE. If you don't, you and your daughter are going to be in a world of hurt. Something is terribly wrong.

The father needs to go see the therapist too. He may be talking about subjects that he has no business talking about. The therapist needs to work with him to make sure that this isn't coming from him.

And your little girl needs HELP. You can think that psychologists over diagnose things til the cows come home, but without help, your daughter is going to be in trouble. Get help now.


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answers from New York on

First - drawing a picture that's disturbing has no connection to ADD, ADHD and no counselor would find a way to connect that.

Consider at this time of year there are a lot of ghoulish things decorating homes, stores, etc. Could it be that your ex is watching zombie movies./shows, graphically violent video games or other scary stuff that your daughter somehow saw? How long is she with her dad when she visits with him - over night? just the day? weekend? Clearly there's something that's bothering her or she wouldn't have some behavioral issues when she gets back. Does your ex have a wife/girlfriend and other kids?

To me it sounds like she's mad at her dad and has been exposed to graphically gross stuff. Maybe her dad plays a lot of video games that she's exposed to - she's mad that he's not engaged with her and she has some disturbing images to deal with. If not her dad then maybe dad's grilfriend's kid? Could there be an older "step brother" who is trying to play doctor and she feels her dad's not protecting her? Or it could be less of a big deal - it could be that they went shopping for Halloween constumes and decorations and dad dressed like a dead person & laid down in a casket - just goofing around.

This is why she needs to talk to a counselor.

I understand your reluctance o have another person "manipulating" her mind. I have a teenager who has had a lot of counseling over the past few years - some were good, some were of no use, but one was actually damaging. BUT - my child was already a teen. The counselor's damage was done by discussing in individual & group therapy ideas about sexuality that were completely inappropriate for where she was emotionally. That will not be the case with a child. With a 7 year old who has drawn disturbing pictures I imagine the child counselor will be drawing pictures with your child - the counsler will ask her to draw pictures of her family, her house, her dad's house, etc and she'll ask questions as they draw together. She's trying to find things out at this point - not plant ideas in her head. AND - at this age they will have you in the room or able to observe through a window from another room.

Take your child to a counselor, ask your pediatrician for referrals. They will know the child counselors who are good, kind, gentle, etc.

Good luck mama. I think this is probably related to movies or video games that present disturbing images for a 7 yr old to process & make sense of. Men are clueless about the things that can impact a child and many of them are addicted to their video games.

You will get tot the bottom of this and I have a feeling it will not be as serious or crazy as you are worrying about. I have a friend whose child was referred to the school psychologist becuase he only used black crayons in his pictures. Ends up he had given away his colorful crayons to a cute little girl that he liked and he only had black & brown crayons left. Don't project worst case scenarios! Dont' do it!

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answers from Chicago on

I have a SD and her parents divorced when she was 2.

She has ALWAYS had issues when she comes back from her mom's house. The rules are different, the atmosphere is different. It might not be that her father's house is BAD, it's just DIFFERENT.

At mom's the rules were relaxed. They didn't get to see her much. Bedtime was whenever she wanted. She ate as much candy as she wanted. Etc.

My SD would act out when she got back. Here there were rules and bedtimes and limits on candy.

My SD is also very dramatic. Once she got in trouble and got sent to her room. She drew a picture of herself dead and wrote "I want to die!"

Did she want to die? Of course not! She was just being over dramatic. When we ignored the picture she came out of the room 5 minutes later singing a song she made up.

I'm not saying ignore the picture. I do think you should talk to her about it. I also think you should not overreact. From what she says about the photo, determine if you want to seek help, YOU decide.

My daughter has fears about losing her parents. You know what--LOTS of kids go through stages where they worry that their parents will die. Even kids who have both mommy and daddy living at home. It's NORMAL.

There may be underlying feelings of loss on her daddy because she did lose him. She may just need reassurance.

My SD is 11, and from time to time she needs extra reassurance that she is safe and loved. It may mean no more than that.

Talk to her. What your daughter needs most is for her mommy and daddy to TALK to her and LISTEN to what she has to say. I don't think that all the therapists in the world can replace your mom and dad listening and reassuring you. Heck, I even still need that now!

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answers from Atlanta on

As a mom of a 2 year old, I am 31 years old and have seen counselors throughout my teens and into adulthood. If my daughter expressed any signs of acting out, as you mentioned above, "being disruptive, not willing to do work, pushing or hitting..." and drawing pictures of her father, dead... I would immediately reach out to a child counselor. First of all, a psychiatrist diagnose with medication, where a psychologist uses tools to help. Psychologists don't prescribe medication, they can merely recommend your daughter to a Psychiatrist. Currently, I see a psychiatrist to prescribe me with anti anxiety/depressant/panic medication. I've seen my share of psychologists who have done jack to help, so I keep moving on to find someone who strikes me as being helpful. I was diagnosed at 12 with ADD, at the beginning of the ADD/ADHD hype. I too saw a counselor and had anger issues. However, I strongly believe the medication helped me through childhood, into being a teen, and then adulthood. It helped me through college to concentrate! Don't be afraid... reach out to a child counselor. Give it 2-3 sessions. If you feel it's not working, find another. They are there to help! There is no shame in talking to a professional. Your daughter might hate going, I know I did. I dug my heals in, but my parents made me go. At session 3 there was some kind of breakthrough, and they realized I had ADD. I went on medication and I didn't lash out any more. I don't know why! It's just the way it works. Try it, they will coach her to work with anger in different ways. I agree, at age 7, there will probably be drawing exercises with some discussion. Reach out to someone who can help her through this, again, there is no shame.

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answers from Columbus on

Okay, first, please try re-thinking your idea about a child psychologist, because they are not there to "manipulate her mind."

It's pretty obvious that she is struggling to deal with her (troubled?) relationship with her dad, and is having trouble expressing all these things she doesn't understand but are still affecting her. Well, a child psychologist/therapist is there to help her uncover her feelings and the problems and give her more tools in her toolbox for dealing with them. And also to help you as a parent help her deal with them.

Let the psychologist know about your concerns.

Consider that fact that even as adults, we adults still struggle with our relationships with each other.... Then realize that your daughter is a child who doesn't have nearly as many tools and coping mechanisms to deal with this stuff. And think about the fact that the therapist is there it help her learn to deal with these things and learn coping mechanisms and share her feelings in a safe, non-judgemental place.....

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answers from Muncie on

A good psychologist will NOT manipulate. You can ask if you can be in the room or watch from two-way mirror or video feed.

Also, depending on how civil you are with your EX, you may want to talk to him about your daughter's school behavior and his time with her. See if anything has changed between the two of them.

Good luck.

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answers from Philadelphia on

i'd first take a deep breath and realize the actual picture itself may be something simple with a story behind it
as in i had a dream about this so i drew it.
or someone at schools daddy died and it made M. afraid?

or it might be some other issues. there are a million possibilities. I'd first talk to her without interogating her about the photo and ask lots of open ended questions about how she feels
thats what the therpist tells us to do (my ex sees one and gives us advice for our daughter)

as in how do you feel about daddy?
how do you feel about us not living together?
and a bunch other ones. when she answers we were taught to listen more then respond and ackowledge what she's upset about. dont try and talk her out of her feelings but instead talk her through them

I'd make an appointment with a therapist because it cant hurt. find a child one and you will be fine. they dont all over diagnose and medicate. in fact you can interview a few and ask about that

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answers from Dallas on

I have a friend who is a counselor who works with a child psychiatrist. She is the most gentle person and would a be a great person for a child to talk to. Most likely that will be the case here. They are not trying to diagnose her just get her to talk about what's bothering her. Yes, she could talk to you but she's not, right? She needs a sensible, trained 3rd party. On who has seen this before.
Do you want her to get help more than you want to be right? Calm down the fear. She will be fine.

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answers from San Francisco on

It sounds like she is grieving to me. She may be processing the relationship and past relationship that you had with him. Wishing what could have been--what she wishes--wants you together etc. Or another thought is that something is going on while she visits and she is very upset about it. Since she is hitting/pushing after she visits dad---what is going on in his home??? Is he violent with her? I don't really agree with the school psychologist because I think alot of kids draw pictures that can be disturbing to others--it doesn't have to mean that something is wrong with her or that she needs help. It could be as simple as she was mad at her dad and so she drew that picture.

Have you asked her what happened??? Or if something is happening at dad's house?? I am not saying anything bad is happening, but it does raise a red flag b/c of the way she comes home to you. Hope this helps. Talk with her...listen and see if you can figure it out.

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answers from Milwaukee on

I don't think this is terribly horribly wrong. She is just expressing emotions in her way. What has she told you about all of it? If she is not talking to you, then that's why a therapist can be good. They don't manipulate the mind. They are just humans who have studied human behavior and ways to talk with people to help them understand themselves better. A Psychiatrist is a medical doctor of the mind and that's who prescribe drugs for disorders like ADD. You just need a counselor for her to talk to. To express her feelings and to let her know that her feelings are normal. They can also give her ways to express herself in healthy, socially acceptable ways.

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answers from Portland on

Therapists do NOT manipulate minds! They provide an opportunity for the child/client to talk about what is happening and how they feel. By interacting with the child, they enable the child to figure out what they are feeling and how to deal with it.

You have said nothing that would indicate that your daughter has ADD or ADHD. So why is that a concern?

I suggest that the therapist will not diagnose your daughter with anything. (S)he will help her know and understand how she is feeling and give suggestions to both of you on how to deal with the feelings. There is no diagnosis needed in your situation.

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answers from Dover on

How often does she her day? If it is not often (such as just every other weekend or less), I would suggest that he see her more (even if it is just for dinner a nite or two during the week).

All kids have adjustment issues when they come back from visiting a parent. The adjustment between homes and rules (and in their minds loyalties) can be tough.

My first thought regarding the picture (and I am in no way a professional...just a mom) is that she feels like her dad has been or is being taken away from her so in a sense he is "dead" as it pertains to her everyday life or at least until she sees him again. Maybe she is "mourning the loss" of his daily involvement.

Take her to the appointment and see how things go. Ask about creditials but also see how the therapist interacts with your child. You did have her dr (someone you trust) refer her to this specialist so at least give it a shot. She may just need to get some things out that she isn't sure how to express to you or her dad. This could be a great thing for your daughter.

I also urge you to keep dad in the loop.


answers from Dallas on

Her life is torn apart and divided due to divorce. As a child of divorce I can vouch for her that is is painful to not be able to have your parents together.

Why on earth would you not seek help from a trained therapist? Aren't you interested in the well being of your daughter? A therapist does not "manipulate" the mind, they use professional forms of therapy to help children and adults through difficult things that they can't overcome on their own. I don't understand your skew of therapists.

So what if the school psychologist is "freshhhh out of college". That means nothing. Talk about judging someone.

If I were in the situation, my number 1 priority would be my child and I would be doing anything in my power to help heal her so that she can hopefully have what's left of her childhood as somewhat happy and become a productive adult.

Best wishes to your daughter... she truly needs it.

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