Reader Question Regarding Manipulative 13-Year-Old Step-Daughter

My step-daughter (13) is the second youngest of a blended family of eight. She lacks empathy and has high anxiety. She lies, manipulates, distracts to get what she wants and avoids any real responsibility. How does a step-parent navigate this situation?

As I’ve stated elsewhere, I am not a licensed mental health professional; therefore, I do not feel comfortable giving personalized advice. However, I will share a few thoughts I had upon reading this question. First, have you expressed your concerns regarding your step-daughter to your spouse? If your answer is no, why not? If you feel that your spouse will refuse to hear you out, or will listen to you but then invalidate your concerns, there are larger issues to deal with, and I would urge you to explore why you don’t feel comfortable raising this issue with him/her.

If you answered yes to the question above, does your spouse acknowledge that your step-daughter’s negative traits A. exist and B. are problematic? If you said no to either one, you’ve got your work cut out for you. In that case, my suggestion is to seek individual counseling for advice regarding how to cope with your situation and how to help the other children involved.

However, a yes response to both A. and B. is encouraging. Your step-daughter may benefit from individual and family counseling sessions. At such a young age, it’s possible her behavior is a coping mechanism, and a licensed psychologist can help make that determination as well as help her work through it and implement some positive behavioral modifications. Family sessions are useful for showing your support and everyone can learn healthy ways to respond to her attitude without reinforcing it.

Of course, if it turns out your step-daughter’s behavioral issues are more serious, it’s imperative to introduce a qualified therapist who can develop a treatment plan and realistic goals for the child. It’s possible she may also need medication to help reduce her anxiety. Something else to consider – is the other parent involved, and will s/he agree to therapy? You may need to go to family court.

Your original question may seem relatively simple and straight-forward, but even a mental health counselor wouldn’t be able to answer it without knowing more about the child, her history, and family dynamics. Before figuring out how to navigate, you’ll need to determine whether or not you and your spouse are on the same page regarding your step-daughter. Her manipulative behavior affects the entire family, and it needs to be addressed.

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