Dear Dr. Norquist:
I’m worried about my 11-year-old daughter. She started junior high this fall, and has been struggling with finding friends and feeling a part of a group. She often feels left out, not popular and without any good friends. This worries me. Sometimes she cries herself to sleep especially when she hears of yet another birthday party that she hasn’t been invited to. I worry about the long-term effects this might have on her self-esteem. And this is just the beginning of junior high. I worry about the future, if she can’t find a comfortable niche for herself now, what will this lead to in the future? Please help me know what I can do to help her through this time. I’m losing sleep over feeling so bad for her.
Dr. Norquist responds:
Your question demonstrates your love for your daughter, your awareness of her struggles, and your heartfelt desire to guide and support her. This tells me that you are willing and able to provide her with what she needs most to get through the awkward and painful period of adolescence; unconditional love. Your awareness of her emotional state, and your desire to provide her guidance make her quite fortunate. As a parent of an adolescent, it is easy to feel helpless about how to "fix" your child’s problems. Please keep in mind that the fundamental ingredient to raising a healthy and stable young adolescent is your unconditional love. In this we, as parents, are not helpless. Express your love through your attention to her feelings and needs, through verbalizing your belief in her, giving her your support, sharing your loving view of her and treating her with respect. Work to strengthen family ties, as well, as these ties provide a safe haven from which she can learn to fly.
Give her hope by teaching her to see her problems from a long-term perspective rather than the typical short-range "things will always be this way" perspective that is more typical of her age. In doing this, you will be helping her to learn optimism. People who are optimistic and who like themselves, tend to be happier in life. Optimism and self-esteem are not inborn personality traits, but rather, skills that can learned with practice. Help her to learn to see herself, and think about herself and others, in ways that promote and strengthen her self-concept. Give her a sense of personal power in her life by teaching her that failures and weaknesses are human and to be expected. Teach her that what is most important is rising to the challenge of facing a weakness, or learning from mistakes, so that she can grow and improve in those areas in which she has experienced her weaknesses or has made a mistake. It is through this approach that she can feel a sense of control over her life. Through this approach we all can find meaning and raise the standards of humanity.
If your daughter has a particular interest, hobby, or skill, see if you can find an adult expert in this area with whom your daughter can establish a mentor-protégé relationship (even if the communication is through letter writing). This can serve to validate her abilities and strengthen and develop her sense of identity in ways that peer relationships cannot. Also, look for team activities that fit your child’s personality. This could be sports-related, service-related, or related to her academic interests and abilities. Team activities build self-esteem. Through working together as a part of a team to accomplish a particular goal, each child has a built-in role to play, a ready-made niche. Team members find that a team environment often provides a safer and more enjoyable way to interact with others. A team setting has a purpose other than peer approval, and so friendships can sometimes be more easily established.
Adolescence is a stressful time. If you can teach your daughter ways of managing her stress (ideally through example), she will be able to carry these skills throughout the rest of her life. Stress-busters include hot baths, relaxing tea before bed, humor, developing a special hobby, or taking time to play or exercise. Help her to find and develop her own relaxation ritual.
Eleven-year-olds are often quite moody. They are like manic-depressives en masse. It is one of the most tearful ages. Know that in this regard your daughter is quite normal.
I’ve tried to focus on giving you practical suggestions about what you can do to help her through this painful period. Adolescents change quickly. You must also keep in mind that her current state is likely to soon change, as she moves through the rapid process of maturation that characterizes this time in life. Somehow, we all make it through. It is your unconditional love and support for her that is the critical ingredient.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling and Stress Management Center, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)
Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling and Stress Management Center, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding and treating physical symptoms and health-related concerns. Practitioners of the following techniques are available to answer your questions: psychology, acupuncture, therapeutic and neuromuscular massage, yoga, meditation, spiritual & transpersonal psychology, Reiki, Cranial Sacral Therapy, and Alexander Technique Ó 2002 Chaitanya Counseling and Stress Management Center