I am worried about my 10-year-old daughter. She has started to make comments to her siblings and friends that are cutting and hurtful. How can I help her?
The transition from child to pre-teen is a period for exploring our independence and establishing our position within a group. We learn that there are patterns of behaviour which are likely to make us popular or accepted. During this time, we are focused on gaining the approbation of people in our circles of influence, including family, classmates and teachers.
Your daughter is adopting behavioural traits which are dominant and successful in one of her social circles and applying them to other situations. I am guessing she is oblivious to the damage her comments are causing to her family.
Studies into the developmental patterns of pre-adolescents have established that, in conflict situations, boys are more likely to be directly verbally or physically aggressive, whereas girls use indirect aggression.
When used deliberately, the snappy put-down or cutting remark can be a way of gaining dominance or admiration.
Habits spread like wildfire in schools and it is possible your daughter has seen friends using this technique and is copying it. The problem with these types of comments is that they may be superficially witty but can fracture relationships.
Try not to react to the behaviour as it happens but find a time away from others to talk with your daughter about your observations. Rather than focusing on her comments, try to look at the effect her words had on the recipients. Move on to the impact your daughter's remarks have had on your family. She is exploring her relationships and this is a good time to help her become aware of the impact she has on others before the behavioural patterns become ingrained.
Television programmes play a key role in influencing behaviour at every stage of development, so start being aware of what your daughter is watching. The "tweenie" demographic is fickle but attractive to advertisers and there are dramas to cater to the gap between cartoons and older teen programming. Typically, these centre on a main character and their friends, and the storylines tackle "everyday" pre-teen situations.
There are dramas which promote the idea that the central character can behave poorly towards his/her peers but be forgiven by the end of the show. Such dramas do create a forum for viewers to explore emotions but the popular characters are often provided with the sharp one-liners and witty comebacks. I have encountered parents who have banned certain shows as they felt that they promoted negative behaviour.
However, this approach could make the shows more attractive, and your daughter may feel excluded from school chats about such programmes. The chances are her friends will copy their lead anyway.
An alternative is to use the shows to open a dialogue about behaviour and the impact of comments. Watch a couple of shows together and discuss your daughter's reaction to the storylines.
Language is powerful and your daughter is probably unaware of the hurt her comments are causing. This is a chance for you to move your relationship with her from carer to adviser, which will become even more important as she enters her teenage years.
Jessica Ogilvy-Stuart is director of the Brandon Learning Centre