(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)
Dr. Kenner: Cindy, your daughter hurts herself and she’s only 12 years old?
Cindy: That’s correct. The first sign was Friday night. My older daughter and I picked her up after a softball game, an away game at school, in the early evening and she was sitting in the backseat and we asked her, ”How was your game? How was everything?” She said she had a terrible game. She was tagged out on her first hit. So-and-so, and then she missed a fly ball and that was it. She said, “I squeezed my fingers so hard that my hand hurts me right now. They’re swollen Mom.” I said, “Why would you do that? Why are you hurting yourself?” “Because otherwise I would be screaming and screaming like a maniac. Because I’m so angry at myself.”
Dr. Kenner: Honey, what if you found some other ways that didn’t involve screaming and didn’t involve in squeezing your hands? I can give you some ideas that I’ve used over the years that have helped me deal with that feeling, when I feel like I’m so angry with myself.
Cindy: This is what I’m going to tell her?
Dr. Kenner: Yes, I rolled right into a role-play, as if I were you. What I’m hearing is, there’s very good news because when I first heard the subject of your call – my daughter hurts herself – I thought, oh my God, this has been going on for a long time. Maybe she’s cutting herself. Maybe she’s banging her head against the wall. Kids do a lot of things when they’re in pain. Maybe it’s a sign of physical or sexual abuse. What it sounds like, maybe your daughter is not talking to you and it’s a cry for help. What I’m hearing is that you caught it so wonderfully early on, Cindy, and that she’s talking to you. She’s telling you everything that is going on. So you don’t have to question all of those horrible thoughts.
Cindy: I want to tell you a little bit more. I think this is something that’s progressing. I’m her mother. Her and I have had a lot between us in the past year-plus. I’m a recovering alcoholic.
Dr. Kenner: For how long?
Cindy: I’ve been sober for over two years now. But there was some damage I know I have done. And that’s my huge concern. That and my marriage isn’t the best and I know she senses that.
Dr. Kenner: What does she see in the marriage?
Cindy: We don’t argue or fight in front of her. But I’m sure that she’s picked up on things.
Dr. Kenner: So she’s dealing with a lot of anxiety. And parents don’t typically realize it, but when mom and dad are fighting about sex or they’re fighting about finances or they’re fighting about just who is going to do the dishes, guess who tends to blame themselves?
Cindy: The children.
Dr. Kenner: Kids. They may not hear the word “sex” but they think, “Oh, I didn’t make my bed this morning or I gave mommy a dirty look. It’s all my fault. My parents are breaking up and it’s because of me.” Of course parents a lot of times kick the dog, they call it, but they take out their frustrations with the other spouse on their kids – they’re irritated, like “Do the dishes now!” You’re not so much irritated with your child but you’re irritated with your partner. And when that happens, kids do blame themselves. So one of the wonderful gifts you can give kids is lovingly to say, “Daddy and I, you hear us fighting occasionally and my guess is you hear things I wish you didn’t hear, but we want you to know it’s not your fault and it has nothing to do with the dishes or has nothing to do with X, Y, Z, that it’s an adult issue,” and help frame it that way for her.
Dr. Kenner: If you’ve done damage in the past, first of all, an amazing congratulations to you. Because two years sobriety is wonderful. If you’ve done damage in the past, I would get yourself the parenting book, if you’re not already aware of it, it’s what I call the gold standard of parenting, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk. It’s on my website, just go to DrKenner.com and look up “How to Talk.” I’ve written a book with another author, Ed Locke, The Selfish Path to Romance. That means self-valuing. It doesn’t mean manipulative selfishness. It means self-esteem, self-respect and cherishing your partner. Now, you may be headed toward a divorce. I don’t know, you may not be. If you’re not headed toward a divorce, or you may not know, there’s a whole section on how to keep a romantic relationship going over years. It’s already been a decade for you, so how to resolve conflict. There are healthy ways to resolve conflict and not. If you’re thinking of divorcing, then we have a very good section in our appendix, how to part ways and start over if you cease being soul mates. And part of that is introspective. You need to figure out what’s keeping you in a bad relationship, an unsatisfactory relationship, what are the reasons you’re considering leaving, tying all of the information together, and then talking with your spouse about it and creating an atmosphere of respect as you’re moving forward. But that’s beside the point. Let’s get back to your daughter because we just have a minute left here.
She does talk to you. Even if she’s pitching it at this point at –
Cindy: Excuse me. Since we only have a minute. She’s very angry at me. She’s kind of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sometimes. She loves me and she’ll hug me, but most of the time she calls me names – stupid, retard.
Dr. Kenner: You absolutely need the parenting book I mentioned. What you need to do with those moments is counterintuitive. Most parents say, “Don’t you ever call that again,” and we get angry. Instead we need to say, “Honey, you’re so angry with me. Can you tell me what’s bothering you right now?” You learn to draw your child out. When you’re being attacked, instead of counterattacking, try to get the data. What is driving her anger? If she says, “Because I’m afraid that you and Daddy are going to break up and I won’t know who I’m living with or I’m angry with you because you used to be drinking,” let her talk about it. Listen to her. If you can become a top-notch listener, you will love yourself more and you will make more connections with your daughter and her need to start acting out will be reduced. You can give her more civilized ways to express her anger. Those are in the parenting book. Listen, thank you so much for your call Cindy and I wish you the best.
Cindy: Thank you so much Dr. Kenner.