Q I need a little help with my wonderful, tomboyish, introverted 12-year-old daughter, who is super-moody. ¶ She has a brother, 7; a little sister, 2½; a few good friends; and a whole lot of tears, mood swings and pity parties. She is a very responsible child, a terrific student and a fine musician, but she says that she isn’t good at anything. ¶ We use humor to cheer her up, and we tell her that she will be okay as soon as she learns to ride things out a bit, but she is still quite mopey and moody. ¶ Sometimes I think that she acts forlorn because she is going through puberty; sometimes I think she thinks that she won’t be “one of the boys” once she becomes a teenager; and sometimes I think that she feels threatened when my husband pays attention to her brother.
Last week her dad — to whom she is quite close — was playing catch with our son and told her that she had to wait to get her turn. She promptly burst into tears. ¶ I really don’t know why she feels so abandoned sometimes. My husband and I regularly carve out special one-on-one times with each child. He even picks up my daughter a little early from school every week or so, so they can talk a bit and have a treat. She goes to most of the many activities he plans for the family, from games of catch and trips to the park to hikes, bike rides, basketball games, soccer scrimmages and sporting events, and yet she acts like she is neglected. ¶ I really feel for this child. How can we help her realize how special she is to us? How can we encourage her relationship with her dad? And how can we give our other children the time and attention they deserve, too?
A You and your husband are doing a great job with your children — all of your children — but you also need the mantra that helps so many parents of tweens and teens: THIS TOO SHALL PASS.
Say it when you look into the mirror in the morning; when you need a boost during the day; and when you go to bed at night, and keep saying it for the next three years, because it will probably take that long for your daughter to adjust to the hormones of puberty.
Your daughter’s moods will often swing, and her tears will often fall during this three-year stretch, which may make you want to fuss at her. Please don’t. A 12-year-old can be as touchy as a toddler, and when she acts ornery, she really needs the kind of hug you give to your 2-year-old when she falls apart at the grocery store.
Your daughter, like all tweens and teens, needs much more respect than you think, and she also needs you to lower your expectations for a while and to be more patient with her than you ever thought you could be or should be.
You show your respect by telling your daughter about any decisions you make, large or small, and by telling her right away. Otherwise, she will quickly come up with her own answers, which could lead to an argument or even a meltdown.
You can lower your expectations, too, if you stop making an issue about everything. Does your daughter have to do her chores? Yes. Homework? Yes. Eat her salad? No. Read to the baby? No. If you don’t make a scene about the little things, she’ll go back to them in a year or two.
Your husband can strengthen his relationship with your daughter by asking her to run errands with him. This is a temporary situation that will last for a year or two, until she starts to hang out with the cute guys at school, instead of dear old Dad.
And will your boy realize that his father doesn’t play with him so much anymore? Second children seldom do, but it’s not a problem. He’ll get plenty of attention when his big sister goes to college, just as his little sister will get attention when he leaves home. Life is never static because families are always in flux.
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Also at washingtonpost.com Read a transcript of a recent live Q&A hosted by Kelly at washingtonpost.com/advice , where you can also find past Family Almanac columns.