What is troubling my daughter?

My 14-year-old daughter is always getting into fights with her peers at school and her academic performance is poor. She gives me the impression that she is studying or doing homework when she is at home but it looks like that is not what she does. She has changed several schools with little effect and I am now really concerned because even when I talk to her, she doesn’t seem bothered. Her father died when she was little, and I think she needs a father-figure in her life for guidance, however, I can’t provide that. So what do I do? How do I get her back on track? 

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Dear Mary,
 
In our growth cycle, the 11 to 20 year bracket is without a doubt one of the most chaotic periods of our existence. During this time, children’s bodies and minds go through rapid and disorderly changes. These changes are marked by overwhelming and often uncontrollable emotions, lack of judgment, poor impulse-control and high-risk behaviour, hence, conflicts between peers, siblings and parents will be inevitable as she struggles to develop her own identity. These are normal changes in behaviour due to growth and development. The only difference is that these changes manifest in each child at varying levels from time-to-time and your 14-year-old daughter is not exempted from this.  Whether it’s an ability to communicate, accept boundaries, meet responsibilities, or get along with others, your daughter hasn’t grasped the adult methods of compromise, the win-win situation and problem solving.  As a result, she is now ruled by her emotions and often uses fighting as a coping skill.  It’s in this context that your 
daughter is now exploring her world and learning to adapt to the varied demands of school, peers, family and the world at large, yet her behaviour makes you feel frustrated, angry and helpless. 
 
Fortunately, even though this period is chaotic, it won’t last forever and this should provide countless opportunities for you to connect with your daughter in a loving and healthy way. The key factors in working with an aggressive child are patience and practice.  What your teenage daughter needs most is for you to have reason, logic and objectivity and not anger, frustration and intolerance. This can be possible if you approach the child with a relationship-building strategy for her to see you as a friend. Children who have good relationships with their parents often reach consensus quickly and thrive in life. The best way is to listen, talk and educate at a time when she’s not blowing up, and you’re not either. In listening without responding or reacting while the outburst is going on, you are teaching your teenager that emotions are manageable. She’s likely to follow ‘what you do’ far more than ‘what you say’. Harsh or angry responses tend to escalate a child’s aggression, be it verbal or physical. 
 
Help her with her homework. Create time after work and introduce activities like reading books, learning simple arithmetic, engaging in basic grammar exercises collectively, among other things. Be a role model. Let your child see you do productive things like reading books or preparing presentations for work ahead of time. That will set a great example for her. If your child isn’t naturally gifted in a particular area, continue to encourage her. 
 
However, when you notice that your daughter’s behaviour has escalated or become alarming, get the school involved. Arrange meetings with trusted teachers and the school counsellor to help her. Also, note that internal mechanisms for self-control can be learned by the child gradually as she steps out of adolescence. It’s not about a father-figure anymore because many single mothers have raised well-disciplined children.
 
Your feedback
 
Mary’s teenage daughter is out of control. What should she do? Readers offer their advice.
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Acknowledge her friends’ role
 
It’s natural that as girls grow, they tend to be more heavily influenced by their friends than their parents. Encourage her to have friends that will build her self-esteem and be good role models in her life. Good friends will help her pick interest in academics.
 
Patricia Muhwezi, Businesswoman
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Identify her academic strengths
 
In order to motivate and excite your daughter about academics, focus on identifying and strengthening her academic strengths. By focusing on your child’s strengths, you will notice what is unique, special and extraordinary about her. 
 
Richard Mupenzi, marketer
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Listen to her
 
Often, fatherless girls struggle with issues and may find themselves angry, hurt or confused. However, they know their strengths better than anyone and so you need to show your child that you are interested in her perspective by listening. In order to listen effectively, you must ask a lot of questions to keep her engaged.
 
Talent Keza, marketer
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Provide tools to keep her busy
 
Maybe changing schools is not enough. Little things like access to books, musical instruments, and trips to the museum can help her. Such an environment not only stands to enhance your child’s academic performance, but many aspects of her behavioural development too.
 
Edgar Muhangi, student
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Involve her teachers
 
Teachers can help you understand the reason behind your child’s poor performance. Ask her teachers to provide comments with grades so that you understand where she falls short, for example not submitting homework. 
 
Patience Nyagato, cashier
 
 

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