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My Dilemma with a Violent Stepdaughter

Questioner

G (42-female-US)

Reply Date

May 12, 2018

Question

I have a 10-year-old stepdaughter who lives with us. I have been married now for a year. During which I find myself to be on emotional highs and lows. My step daughter physically assaults me and is very aggressive in her tone of voice and behavior.

As I have never been beaten before, it is very daunting and I feel like I have had enough. Although, she is getting treated by a psychologist, I am now unable to take any more pain. My husband supports me when he can, but most of the time situations reach such intensity that he has to try and calm both of us down.

I am often left shaken and depressed. We want to have a baby, but I am really too scared to have one as long as my step daughter is with us which will be for a long time.

Counselor

Answer


stepdaughter

In this counseling answer:

“It is, of course, very unhealthy for you to feel this way about your stepdaughter, and I suggest you approach the psychologist to find out about any support groups. Also, share this with your husband. You are not alone and this is becoming an increasing, common problem. It’s something you cannot really manage alone unless you have a clear and joint family plan and a support group may give you strength and new ideas.”


As-Salaamu ‘Alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh, 

Sister, the issue you describe is complicated and involves several different strands that may need to be considered for treatment to be effective.

You have mentioned that your stepdaughter has been already seeing a psychologist, so it is a professional courtesy that I do not overstep my mark by offering advice which may contradict with that therapy – since she/he will have a more complete picture than myself. Therefore, I will offer some tentative suggestions.

There seems to be three issues:

-The first is the relationship with your stepdaughter and the possible triggers/ causes of this problem.

-The second is communicating with the psychologist and sharing strategies.

-The third is your own social support.

I would ask you to consider a number of questions:

Relationship with Your Stepdaughter

-Was she happy about her father’s marriage to you?

-You say that you only met her a year ago? How did she react to you when you first met and how did you respond?

-Does she have contact with her birth mother?

-Do you have contact with her mother (you may need to speak about this at some point)

-Was your stepdaughter also violent with her mother?

-Is the lifestyle she is leading now very different to the one when she lived with her mother?

-You describe her as your stepdaughter? Why is this? Is there some negativity or desire for a marked boundary that has been set down by either yourself or her to maintain some form of distant relative position? If so, what is the reason for this? (This is not finger-pointing, but the language and titles we give each other reflect something about our relationship, of course.)

-Does she have any close friends or relatives that she can speak to?

-Is her behavior like this only with you or other people?

-What is her situation at school and do the teachers have any complaints?

-Do you notice any trigger signs that she is about to become violent or is her behavior random (seemingly)?

-Is the problem based around the same or different things? Is there a common practical or emotional issue that repeats itself?

-How do you react? Do you manage the problems at the time or later? Different strategies work with different children. In some cases, it may be that an immediate response is required, but for some children you may need to not respond at the time. Take yourself to a place of safety and talk about it when you are both calm. Be aware that just because a fight is brewing, it does not mean that you need to take up the gauntlet, so to speak. I assume your therapist has discussed strategies for you both.

-Does she ever express any worries or concerns about any aspect of her life that you are aware of?

-How does your husband respond, and does she display this aggression towards him?

-Have there been times when you reacted and the situation improved?

-After being violent, is she apologetic or remorseful in any way?

-When did these behaviors start?

-Did she develop her normal developmental milestones?

-Did she suffer from any head injuries as a child?

I would assume that these are all familiar questions which the psychologist would have asked for their assessment.

I am asking them to determine whether the problem is general or a special one between both of you. If it is general, then there is one treatment; but if it is between you and the daughter, some form of family therapy may be more suitable – including your husband).

 Communication with the Psychologist and Strategy Sharing:

-What strategies has the psychologist devised and shared with you regarding management? Many parents make the mistake of sending the child to the psychologist and not taking any interest or being active in what happens there. Though it might be exhausted for parents, it is important to stay involved!

-How long has the daughter been seeing the psychologist?

-If she has been having the appointments for a long period of time and there is no improvement, then perhaps you need to revisit the psychologist yourself and talk about your concerns. In my work with parents, I would encourage them to come and observe sessions and take from the strategies, and I assume the same is going on for you.

If not, then ask the therapist if you may attend sessions that would help you devise a strategy (I do not mean attend personal sessions where your daughter needs time alone with therapists). It is normal practice to share a management plan with the parents as a matter, while it also helps you feel supported.

-Is your husband involved in this at all? In my experience, it is important that all adults present a united front and no excuses should be made about the violence from either parent no matter whose daughter she is. Children are very aware of weaknesses between parents and will happily take advantage. This does not only prevent effective management but can also create tension between parents, therefore you must stick together and say the same thing!

-Consider a psychiatric evaluation. I do not advocate medication for young children, but a diagnosis may help her get the right sort of help. I am not condoning violence in any way and am not saying her behavior is excusable because she is ill, but a formal diagnosis can open the gateway for effective treatment otherwise not readily available.

This may include medication or in some countries may include a program away from home which is more intense and continues over a period of weeks. It may be the case that for your daughter therapy sessions are simply not enough.

Consider all of these options if you feel there is no progress with the psychologist. (I say this with respect to your psychologist as I have no information on what she or he has offered as an intervention, so it is not a criticism of their work.)

Your Own Social Support

It is, of course, very unhealthy for you to feel this way about your stepdaughter, and I suggest you approach the psychologist to find out about any support groups. Also, share this with your husband.

You are not alone and this is becoming an increasing, common problem. It’s something you cannot really manage alone unless you have a clear and joint family plan and a support group may give you strength and new ideas.

I am sorry to send you a list of questions, but I hope they will help clarify your understanding of the situation and also give you some practical strategies as to how to proceed.

May Allah bless you, my sister. You are a survivor of a very challenging situation. Just remind yourself regularly that you are an adult and she is a ten-year-old child.

In my experience, the fear helps us forget that we have ultimate control and we feel instead controlled by the child and their violence. But this can be managed.

Of course, make du’aa’ for your family for protection and ask Allah to give you strength and to remove fear from your hearts.

Make du’aa’ for your daughter and do not assume things will not improve. Allah holds the hearts between His two fingers and things can change when we least expect but do not give up hope.

If your daughter picks up on this, then it will be harder to repair the relationship. In my experience, it is possible to repair no matter how difficult it seems, so keep going.

May Allah ease your problems and bring the solutions to you with speed and safety, and unify your family with His strength.


Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information that was provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, it’s volunteers, writers, scholars, counselors, or employees be held liable for any direct, indirect, exemplary, punitive, consequential or other damages whatsoever that may arise through your decision or action in the use of the services which our website provides. 

Read more:

Can’t Get Along with My Stepdaughters

Sick of My 13-Year-Old Stepson




About Dr. Feryad Hussain

Dr. Feryad Hussain holds a practitioner Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and has worked as a clinical psychologist for a number of years in a range of clinical settings with differing populations in UK. She is author of numerous research articles on health psychology and cross cultural and religious therapy models.

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