Dear Savvy Auntie,

My 11-year-old niece, whom I am very close to, is having big issues both in and out of school. For the past 3 months, I seem to have been accused of all sorts of things: lying to her, ruining her dreams of being a police officer because I teased her about being afraid of mice, locking her out of the house because I closed the door to set the alarm before we went out, and many more dramas.

At present she will not speak to me because I told her mother that I felt she was having some difficulties. Her response was that I "betrayed" her and I hurt her so badly that it was as if I "punched her in the face." I have talked over each incident with her, and she has admitted that I have never done anything to purposely hurt her, but each time I've endured about an hour of carrying on and jabs about the incidents for weeks.

I feel this is deflected anger and my new tactic is to not react, but now she hasn't talked to me for two weeks. This is a child I have watched weekly since she was born and I've never had problems with her. Am I handling this correctly? I can't allow her to treat me the way she has, and yet, I know how stubborn she can be so this could go on for weeks or months. Help!

Accused Auntie

Dear Accused Auntie,

OUCH!! I am sure your niece’s accusations hurt you terribly, especially given your closeness for all these years. Your belief that it is deflected anger is probably correct. Given that 11-year-olds are more like 14-year-olds than 10-year-olds, her current developmental and hormonal changes are governing her emotions and actions. Her behavior suggests she is approaching her menses, or it has just begun. Usually, teens rebel against their parents, but a close relative may get the brunt of it. You can take a little comfort in the fact that kids are angrier at the person they feel safest with.

My advice is to relieve the tension and invite her to an ice cream date. Set the agenda as wanting to move on and to show how much you love her; not to rehash the past “incidents.” Of course, if she wants to go over them again, listen, and assure her you are now aware of the things that upset her, and will do your very best to keep them in mind.

Your niece sounds as if she would profit by some short term counseling to help her school issues and “thicken her skin.”

Best of Luck,
Natalie Robinson Garfield

Published: April 11, 2011

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