FAMILY ALMANAC

How to help a teen with low self-esteem

Posted Aug. 23, 2014, at 9:42 a.m.

Q. My daughter gets so angry and frustrated with her 13-year-old that she sometimes has to walk away from her. Neither she nor her husband knows how to help their daughter, a child who has no real goals, no desires and no close friends either.

Her parents first fostered and then adopted her and her sister, now 15, when they were little but the children are not related biologically and they have different abilities too. The older child excels in track and makes the honor roll, but the younger one has Type 1 diabetes, is in the middle of the pack in track and did second- and third-grade work until she repeated the sixth grade last year. She also found school better last year because she wasn’t bullied as much as she was in the past and because the boys outnumbered the girlie-girls in her class.

My granddaughter does have a big problem however: she wets the bed and she also urinates anywhere and everywhere, at school and at home, simply because she refuses to go to the bathroom regularly. When she’s told to go with others however, she often stands inside the stall, waits a bit and then comes out and says that she went. Later however, she simply soils her seat. She even urinated on a plush red velvet seat at one of her sister’s events last week just as she did the week before.

My granddaughter has some pluses too.

Since she is a sedentary child, her mother insists that she take part in at least one activity so she is in both chorus and band, she has had non-speaking parts in two school plays and she performed solos too. Her private voice teacher says she has a lovely voice and she won a Little Miss contest (and brought tears to many eyes) when she sang “It’s a Miracle” four years ago.

She also runs cross-country at school and we attend her meets and praise her efforts just as we do when we go to her big sister’s track meets and musical performances although we never compare the girls.

The 13-year-old also attended camp for the first time this summer, starting at a camp for diabetic children so she could learn how to take better care of herself. She then went to two Christian camps and got even more tips but this frail little teenager needs more than that. Please help us help this child enjoy her youth while waiting for the doctors to find a cure for her diabetes.

A. Ill health not only changes a child’s life but it often deflates her self-esteem. Nothing hurts more than being different from classmates and siblings, particularly in junior high.

Your granddaughter not only has Type 1 diabetes — a wretched illness — but she isn’t as good as her big sister academically or athletically, which has to make her feel bad. Although you and your daughter don’t compare the girls, you can bet that this granddaughter compares herself to her sister every day of her life and to her classmates too. Like it or not, that is what children do.

And on top of that, your grandchild is incontinent, either because she has some physical problem or because she is mad at the world. Fortunately however, doctors and psychotherapists can fix these problems more easily than they can fix diabetes.

To rule out physical problems, their daughter should see a urologist to see if something is wrong with her plumbing and to an allergist to see if she is bothered by a food or an inhalant since allergies can strike anywhere in the body. Milk, for instance, can prevent the bladder’s sphincter muscle from closing completely, which can cause leakage, and it can also make the detrusor muscle swell. If it does, the bladder can’t hold much urine unless the pelvis has expanded—which happens in the teens—and it isn’t pressing on the bladder any more.

Whether your grandchild has a physical problem or not, her self-esteem is probably down to her socks. To help her best, this hurting child probably needs a few sessions with a psychotherapist because she needs solace more than anything else. Therapy may seem extreme, but it will be her shortcut to happiness.

Send questions to advice@margueritekelly.com or to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.

 

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