Posted by: Kate | January 23, 2009

Serves Me Right

Sometimes the karma is obvious and swift.  Such was the case today.

Yesterday, I was frustrated and a little bit smug, watching L’s interplay with tantrum-prone X.

Today, I started calling child psychologists, because my daughter needs a comprehensive psychological assessment.  Intelligence, screening for learning disabilities, clarify her emotional health, measure her developmental appropriateness, everything.

Because something is wrong.  Something has been wrong for a long time; her bossiness and impulsivity and self-focus have slowly been building up for a while.  But just lately, in the past three or four months, it has gotten much worse.  Rare is the day in which Willem and I don’t flail about for some new idea, some new way of helping her (or making her) to be more aware of the impact her words and actions have on others.  To be less bossy.  To be less contradictory.  To be less sneaky.

I had thought it was just at home, so I was slightly concerned and more than slightly frustrated, but wasn’t planning on calling in the big dogs right away.  But I got a call home from school today, in which I learned that she has been actively disruptive to the class at large, that she has been interrupting and impulsive during lessons, and that she was engaged in a pushing match with a kid from her class.

And lest I sound overreactive, let me say that I know kids are naturally self-focused.  It’s how they function.  They want what they want, and they haven’t yet learned to negotiate, to use tact, to know when to let it go.  Sharing and polite words and controlling the impulse to cosh another kid over the head with a toy truck are very difficult concepts for all kids, and it takes a while to really learn and internalize them.

But Emily’s egotism is beyond that.  It’s not that she knows how other people are going to feel and yet does it anyway.  It’s that she literally cannot exercise empathy.  We’ve tried plain old lectures, we’ve tried having her write stories and plays to try and consider the perspective of various characters, we’ve had her write apology letters and talk things out with us, in her own words and time.  None of it has helped, and I am out of ideas.

The good news is, she is not a mean kid.  I have never once seen her do anything to deliberately hurt someone else.  She’s not a sociopath, she’s a narcissist.  She can and does do nice things for other people, even when she doesn’t directly benefit from it.  But she is thoughtless toward others, and will use any means necessary to get what she thinks she wants.

So she and I had a long talk this afternoon, to remind her of the situation and explain the next few steps: no time alone with Jacob until she has learned some ways to – just sometimes – let him choose what they will play and assign the rules, and going to see a psychologist who will have some tests for her to take, and starting to see a therapist who will help her sort out her problems and learn new ways of thinking and acting.  It was, if I do say so myself, an excellent talk.  No yelling, no anger, no name-calling or labelling.  Just acknowledging that something is wrong and it’s making her life harder than it needs to be, and assuring her that I will be with her every step of the way.

I feel good, like we have a plan and things will get better.  But I feel horrible, because she has hurt more than just a few classmates; it hurts me and Willem to feel like we could have somehow taught her better about other people’s feelings, it hurts Jacob to be constantly bullied and disregarded, it hurts the other people she interrupts, and so on.  I know, in my heart, that we did the best we could and I believe that there is something fundamental to Emily that cannot – not won’t, but can’t – read other people the way most of us can.

But still.  It hurts.



  1. Oh Kate, my heart hurts with you. Not out of pity or judgment but out of my own over-active imagination– I can’t imagine having that conversation with my future child and I admire you for doing it with yours. Proof of what a good mother you are and optimism for Emily growing into a young woman who is able to read other people accurately.

  2. Well, sure it hurts. But between the appropriate therapy, if needed, and two loving parents, I think she’s gonna be just fine.

    Hugs. Big ones.

  3. I can totally relate to this, having a grown daughter who has done things I can’t believe she thought was ok. Not criminal, not overtly mean, just totally thoughtless and hugely hurtful to others when they stood in the way of her whim.

    I can only say that some part of you has to go inside and know that each soul is on a learning path that WILL happen in spite of what mothers and others try to prevent.

    And meanwhile, you do your best to respond and not let her choices control your centered core.

  4. Good for you to have an action plan. Having a child on the Spectrum, I know what it’s like to have to constantly question your child’s needs. Is this appropriate behavior? Am I too aware of what might be wrong? Those kinds of questions plague us. How long do you wait for a “stage” to play out before getting help. We ask ourselves those things all the time.
    I like your plan of no alone time with Jacob. I think I may do something like that with Tommy and Ryan. I’m so afraid of Ryan being constantly in the role of victim in his own house. I know how that can develop and handicap someone when they become adults.

  5. First (((hug))). given the family history and certain behaviors I’m almost positive (i’m more than willing to be wrong, I just don’t think I am) I will be going through the scenario with A. I cannot think of a better set of parents to help Em navigate through this. But mommy-guilt is a sneaky bitch and she’ll always twist every situation for maximum guilt. You are doing the right thing for her and the rest of the family and by learning how to make different choices now, I think it’ll avoid a bit of pain for her in long run so see you’re being an excellent mom… I think chewy gooeys are in order as a reward 🙂

  6. I can’t imagine how hard this must be. But kudos to you for recognizing a potential problem and taking action. Too many parents deny problems or expect the world to adjust to their child, and then the child grows up a mess.

    With two loving, caring parents there to help her, I’m sure Emily will be just fine.

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