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Why does my daughter argue and tell lies?

Q: My 10-year-old daughter is argumentative and has difficulty accepting when she has done (or got) something wrong. She tries to justify her behaviour, even if it means telling lies. On the rare occasions that she does apologise, she will repeat the behaviour the same day or the following day at the latest. However, her school teachers say that in school she is very well behaved and highly intelligent (12 months ahead of her peers). We are very proud of her and tell her this. Clearly, she knows how to be good but can't seem to stop herself from picking arguments with me, telling me that I am wrong and lying. She's been doing this for as long as I can remember. I have tried everything - explaining to her and even punishing her for arguing and lying. She is better behaved with her step-father (who has been a part of her life since she was five years old) but sometimes she argues with him too and starts lying about things. Her biological father chose to stop visiting her when she was four years old, which she still sometimes gets upset about, but her erratic behaviour started before this event. She has a three-year-old step-sister, and both of them get along well. She doesn't like to do things with me like baking or go out as it ends in an argument. As the teenage years are approaching fast, I feel lost and I really don't know how to cope. I would really value your advice on how to guide her and encourage her to argue less and be more honest.

A:I think you have set the pattern over the last few years. You expect her to argue and not to cooperate and to tell lies and she fulfils your expectations! If she is well behaved in school and doing well, she is obviously coping with school work. But at home, it has become a routine for her to irritate you and get into a fight with you. It may have to do with her feeling that you are responsible for the biological father's absence. She may be converting that into a feeling of hostility where she can prove you wrong. You should change your approach totally. If she is baking, let her make her own mistakes and learn from them. Do not instruct her at every step and find her wanting. Stop being a perfectionist and let her relax in your presence. The next time you find yourself in a situation where you think she needs to apologise (and she doesn't) just say 'I'm sorry you did that. Never mind. Try not to repeat it.' And drop it, instead of persisting with the demand for an apology. She will be duly surprised and will probably say sorry herself. Give her art work or music to involve herself in, where she can create something beautiful. Most of the problems of adolescence concern the struggle of the young people against authority. In her case it has already started. There is no need to anticipate that worse things will happen, but there is a need to be warm and to concede that occasional lapses and frailties in your child are only human.


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