Q1 – I think my daughter may be anorexic – what should I do?
A1 – If you have noticed that your daughter is eating much less, or if she is avoiding eating, then you probably have reason to be on alert. If she seems much thinner, then again, you are right to be concerned. Disordered eating is often the first step towards an eating disorder, and the sooner you act, the better informed and prepared you will be. The single most important piece of advice I would give, however, is not to think that you will solve this yourself. An eating disorder such as anorexia is a mental illness, and you need a professional to help you gain objectivity. I would advise you to contact an organisation such as beat – www.b-eat.co.uk – they have excellent resources and advice.
Q2 – My 13 year old daughter says she has a boyfriend – isn’t she too young?
A2 – It all depends on what your daughter means when she says that she has a boyfriend. Relationships with the opposite sex will blossom from puberty onwards; what is important is that your daughter has the tools both to deal with the attendant strong emotions and to say ‘no’ to the development of a sexual element at this early age. Parents often find it difficult to talk to their daughters about sex; I recommend a leaflet produced by Parentlineplus – “Keeping your Teenager safe: talking about relationships” – as a down-to-earth guide for parents. Their helpline is also very good.
Q3 – My daughter is being bullied and her school isn’t doing anything about it. Where do I go from here?
A3 – It’s unclear from your question what steps you’ve already taken, but I assume you have spoken to the school staff about your concerns. If so, contact the school again, tell them the situation is still unresolved and ask to set up a meeting with relevant pastoral staff, you and your daughter. At that meeting, talk through what has happened, how your daughter is feeling, and discuss what steps both she and the school can take to help to address the issues and to move forward. The school should take responsibility for dealing with the individuals accused of bullying. You also need to recognise that your daughter needs to develop strategies for dealing with such situations (which may not be confined to the world of school – this is a skill set she will need for life) so that you work to build her resilience too. If the perpetrators are other girls, see also the Girls’ Bullying section on this website and perhaps track down some of the work of Val Besag, which you may find helpful.
Q4 – Why does my daughter’s self esteem matter so much?
A4 – Your daughter’s self esteem will determine much of what she says and does and how she reacts through her teenage years. For most girls self confidence is slowly acquired, hard won and easily bruised. Generally girls are more open in displaying their vulnerability, more needy of affirmation and praise and strive far harder to please. Once they hit their teenage years then it all gets far more complex and you enter the minefield of apparently totally irrational , emotional responses.
Q5 – Why does my daughter react so badly to criticism?
A5 – Girls depend more upon the approval of others, are more likely to modify their behaviour to win approval, to accept a low valuation of themselves and to automatically assume they are somehow wrong. Many girls cannot cope with criticism of any sort. A passing innocuous comment can be devastating and result in hours of misery-inducing self-analysis as she struggles to work out why you said it and what it means to her. As a parent the situation is further complicated by the very nature of the relationship and there will be days when this really matters and others when it will count for nothing.
Q6 – My daughter gets really upset if the teachers criticise her. Why is this?
A6 – Teachers will sometimes benefit from being outside the family and their opinion or advice might be regarded differently. But for them too there are pitfalls. Pointing out a simple error in subtraction will convince your daughter that her teacher believes her to be “rubbish at Maths”. Even compliments can have a negative effect: if a teacher comments on how nice she looks today, she will wonders why they didn’t say that yesterday.
Q7 – Why does she get so embarrassed so easily?
A7 – One of the greatest fears of any girl is that of being “shown up” This will include anything at all which puts her in the spotlight and at times will make no sense to you whatsoever. Examples can range from the trivial to the major: telling a friend what your daughter did recently, but in her hearing; her father dancing in public or telling her friends jokes; commenting on an outfit she is trying on in a shop; being invited onto the stage to be presented with an award at school or having something she has achieved read out in assembly; having to answer questions in class or perform in a concerts. What they all have in common is the potential for embarrassment and that is enough in itself