There Are No Bad Kids

3 and 1/2 years into parenthood with my youngest daughter, and she still believes she’s a bad kid. Years of attachment therapy, individual therapy, family therapy and a loving, supportive, patient family- and she doesn’t find herself worthy and believes she will always be a bad person because of her previous life circumstances of which she had no control over. This makes me sad.

What makes me sadder is she feels that any attention at this point is probably better than if she risked being good, In her eyes, good people don’t get the kind of attention trouble makers get. The media certainly lives up to that principle. Think about your evening news highlights- what are the first 4-6 news stories about? Are we hearing about the uplifting people in life, or the murderers? If the criminals get all the attention for their 15 minutes of fame, why should a 12 year old attempt to do the right thing, gain empathy and trust and plant her roots down with our family?

She’s not a bad person. When you are born there is no good or bad placed upon you- these characteristics develop based on learned behavior. However due to all of the abuse and neglect she experienced, she really believes she retains some of the responsibility for her birth parents behavior- fueled as well by the next 14 foster care placements that she would go through before coming into our home. The lack of control then becomes a power and control game now. Add in pre-teen hormonal changes and you can tell that my wife and I have more than a few behavioral challenges on our plate.

How do we handle it all? How do we not take the hatred and vicious words personally? A lot of therapy, a lot of training ourselves and the support of extended family and friends has made our life much easier. We could not do this alone. I do believe my youngest daughter wants to make those breakthroughs- she’s still struggling with one side of her brain that enjoys living with us and another side of her brain that believes she can go back to live with her birth family.

She needs to figure out a lot of material and start to take a distant look at things. The whole world is not conspiring against her. If she desires close relationships and friendships, she needs to invest time and effort into them. We’ve often heard where there’s a will, there’s a way. She needs to own that will, own her current behavior and realize that if she wants permanent happiness, it all starts with her own self-worth and value. We aren’t going anywhere- we will be there even if she needs deeper therapy, more time, more love, more support.

I want her to stop looking at the immediate needs and start looking at the deeper payoff for her future. We’ve started to see the seeds of that happen with her sister- and then as recently as this weekend when she felt a friendship would be threatened she quickly attempted to throw that sister under the bus.

Is it wrong of me to want to see a successful transition as my oldest daughter has made? I don’t want a tragedy to happen before she makes that light bulb eureka connection where she has enough of her past and is willing to start a fresh, new life. She knows other “bad” people can become good again- I want her to know that she is a good kid with a good heart, and to show this all the time in private with our family as well as the public persona she displays to others.

You can be upset with your children and their behavior and still love them. Remind them at all times that it’s always best to live in truth. They may do wrong things and make wrong choices, but you want them to come to you first when they need to learn about the tougher sides of life- and they will if they know that you’ll still love them even when they make mistakes.

There are no bad kids- only bad choices. It only takes an instant to change the mindset and set you on a different path.

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