- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 13, 2008

A number of years ago, IQ testing determined our daughter had average ability but a better than average view of herself. She’s in high school now and her self-esteem is getting in the way of her performance. She cannot seem to accept that anything she does is wrong or that she is capable of making a mistake. If she has a problem with a homework assignment, the textbook is wrong. If she can’t open something, the can opener is broken.

I think this is hurting her grades because she thinks she knows the material and then does poorly on tests. I don’t really know how to help her. How does a child end up with this sort of attitude? Did we do something wrong?

A: A child “ends up” with whatever temperament he or she ends up with for reasons unknown; for reasons that probably will never be known, in fact. One can speculate until the ends of the Earth on why and how a personality like this develops, but in the end, it’s all unverifiable speculation. Let me assure you that you have committed your share of parenting mistakes, but that it’s very unlikely you did anything to cause this problem.

Furthermore, there’s probably not a whole lot you can do to change your daughter’s self-image, and this is most definitely a self-image issue. She’s right, the world is wrong, and that’s that. This is her problem, her issue, and you need to accept that.

Today’s parents — and this is especially true of today’s mothers — seem to think it’s their job to emancipate children who have no academic deficits, no personality glitches, no problems whatsoever. It’s an impossible dream that causes a lot of frustration, guilt and heartache. Everyone grows up with issues. It doesn’t matter how wonderful your parents were, how idyllic your childhood was, you’re going to bring problems — also known as “issues” — into adulthood.

Whatever they are, working them out requires, first, taking complete personal responsibility for them. That’s a tall order, one that requires more maturity than is present in the makeup of today’s teenagers, all too many of whom are developmentally delayed.

The bottom line is your daughter probably is not going to realize this is a problem for her until she discovers blaming all of her shortcomings on someone or something else doesn’t work in the real world. She probably will have to experience a lot of pain before she achieves that mature state of self-awareness. By the way, some people with this problem get a grip on it, wrestle it to the ground and triumph over it, and some never do. Some choose to wrap themselves in the cloak of victimhood and engage in the blame game forever.

At this point, you need to put the brakes on the tendency to blame yourself and accept that this is your daughter’s burden. The best thing you can do is develop a sense of humor about it. For example, the next time she says something along the lines of she can’t open a can because the can opener is broken, say, “No, sweetheart, it’s not just the can opener. The design of the kitchen is all wrong. The kitchen’s in the wrong place in the house. How can you expect anything to work when the kitchen’s in the wrong place?”

I’m not suggesting you make fun of her. That wouldn’t help at all. Rather, take the absurdity of what she says to the next level in a lighthearted way (and if you can’t be lighthearted, then just ignore it). Have some fun with her foible, and try to help her share in the fun. Maybe, just maybe, she will begin to stop taking herself so seriously.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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