Ask An Expert / Behavior Problems

My 9-year-old won’t listen to me, and I don’t have much patience with her anymore. Any suggestions?

The first step is trying to figure out why she's acting out, and then improve communication

Laura Kirmayer, PhD, MSW

Laura Kirmayer, PhD, MSW

Hi, I have a 9-year-old daughter. Her behavior started to worry me in the last year or so. She never stays quiet when I talk to her and never recognizes that she does anything wrong. When I ask her why she's in time out, she always says because I'm not nice. Also, when I tell her to do something, if she doesn't refuse it, she tells me hours later that I never asked her.I noticed that I don't have that much patience with her anymore. And it doesn't take more than a word for her to say "Okay, okay, mom." It seems like she doesn't want to listen anymore, and also doesn't accept anything I say. I'm very lost right now. Do you have any suggestions of what I should do, read or go for help??

I appreciate how difficult it must be to experience this change in your daughter’s behaviors, and I’m glad that you are reaching out for help. Parenting is stressful business, and when you add defiant behaviors to the mix it can quickly become exhausting.

There are several variables that could be contributing to a change in your daughter’s behavior. The first thing to consider is physical health. As children grow they go through hormonal and physical changes in their body. Regular annual appointments with the pediatrician can help assess if any of these changes could be influencing her behavior and will give you piece of mind. Plus, if you get a clean bill of health from the pediatrician, you can remind her that the doctor said she has perfect hearing the next time she says she didn’t hear you telling her to put her clothes away!

The next variable to consider is her developmental stage. Your daughter could be experiencing preadolescence and may require a new style of parenting to match this stage of her development. In other words, as she is starting to develop a more independent sense of identity, she may struggle with the way she previously related to you. At 8 it may have been fine to get a hug from mom in the schoolyard, but at 9 the rules may have changed. Likewise, all children benefit from clear house rules, expectations and structure, but as they get older we often need to adjust the way we implement these behavioral limits.

It’s not easy to keep up with these changes, but one thing you can do to improve communication with your daughter is set aside weekly mom and daughter time. This should be a weekly date that does not get cancelled or trumped by the craziness of our daily schedules. Use this time to check in with her and keep the doors of communication, respect and trust open. Picking her favorite meal or place to eat for these meetings can help her motivation to ‘hang with mom’ instead of her friends or her favorite TV shows.

You may also want to consider any other changes that your daughter might have experienced that could be influencing her behaviors. Things like moving houses, changing schools, experiencing the death of a loved one, changes in schedule or stressors at home can be challenging, and children frequently exhibit stress through their behaviors. If there have been significant changes or stressors, I’d recommend finding a therapist who can help you both with thoughts and feelings related to this adjustment.

Also, if you’re feeling too overwhelmed, or if the mom and daughter time isn’t working, or if you just want some additional resources, then consulting a professional makes sense. A responsible and ethical clinician can provide you with a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation of your daughter’s overall functioning and, if appropriate, provide you with very specific recommendations of evidence-based treatments to address her and your needs.

And the earlier the intervention the better because if this negative pattern of relating to you lasts too long then it can become more challenging to unwind.