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Curbing Manipulative Behavior
Q: I'm having problems with my six-year-old stepdaughter. She has failed kindergarten because she won't do the work. She is able to read, but refuses to. When she gets upset with someone because she they ask her to do something, she makes herself vomit. We tried punishing her by taking away the things she likes. We tried spanking her. We tried ignoring it and making her go places with vomit on her. To my knowledge, there is nothing mentally wrong with this child. Is there a possibility that it could be a psychological problem and if so, why hasn't the school or anyone else caught on yet? What should we do?
A: Your stepdaughter needs some help with these issues right away. She has learned to use these very manipulative behaviors to get what she wants, even though they make her physically uncomfortable. The consequences you've tried are not working and could be considered abusive, so it's time to get additional help.
The school counselor or your pediatrician can refer you to a therapist in your community who can help with these behaviors. You will want to find someone who will work with your entire family, as you will need to work together to improve the problems that you are experiencing.
Since no one else has seen these extreme behaviors, perhaps it is only when she is with family members that your stepdaughter exhibits them. The school staff apparently has seen the problems she is having with achievement since she is going to repeat kindergarten. Be sure to let the teacher and school counselor know that you are pursuing therapy for your family.
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Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.