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My 16-year-old daughter has become rude and curt with me. Simple questions, like whether she has eaten (she goes to junior college), when she will be home (she goes for science tuitions), etc., are met with rude replies or questions like “What do you think, I’m starving on the road?" or “As long as I come home before 7pm, what is your problem?"

She has always been closer to her father, but now things are getting bad. Since she was 12, I have been telling her that I am always willing to sit across the table and have a reasonable conversation (I am a trained negotiator by profession) but do not feel the need to talk when she behaves this way. She even mocks those words these days. How can I make her understand my concern?

The breakdown in communication has been in the making for a while now, it would seem; it is unlikely that your daughter has suddenly turned hostile. Being a trained negotiator, communicating and aiming for positive outcomes in a company or government or other such larger context, is one thing, dealing with children is quite another.

You’re talking about “across the table" and “handshake" in a relationship that needs a much more flesh and blood approach. Perhaps this is the important connective tissue that has been missing between your child and you for a while now? It sounds like the rudeness is coming from a place of extreme criticality and rejection towards you—have you been a critical and rejecting mother on some counts, mistakenly using these strategies as motivators for your child?

A lot of tending and mending may be in order, and you will need to rethink how you’re communicating with her. For various reasons, your concern is not coming across as genuine or meaningful to her.

I would suggest that you start with one small change: Don’t communicate with her in a question form at all.

Provide food, packed food, lunch money, and other such things, but do not ask her whether she has eaten, etc. When she gets home, perhaps you can chat with her about your day, ensure your husband and you have easy, freewheeling conversations about things in general, and stay out of the food-studies-timings conversations.

It is advisable not to take a “sit across the table" stand, which she sees as negotiating rather than a spontaneous urge from your side to connect. Youngsters of this age can be cutting and sarcastic, and you will need to put up with it for a while, rather than snapping back or giving her the cold shoulder. If you have discontinued small grooming rituals, like oiling her hair, see if you can get back to them—by just offering to.

You may want to see a counsellor, not so much for what’s going on in your daughter’s head, but to find out if you need to modify your outlook or behaviour. Do not expect immediate results, give it at least a month before expecting anything from her.

Our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter throws tantrums at the slightest pretext. Even if I take 2 minutes to give her water or to hand her a toy, she throws herself on the floor and screams. If we ignore her, she screams even more and then begins to cough, cry or hiccup. Recently we travelled abroad and she behaved like this when we had to strap her in on the aeroplane, when she had to stand still while we filled forms, etc. Sometimes she simply takes off and can run into traffic if we are not careful.

Her five-year-old brother recently told us he does not want to go out with her because everyone stares and laughs. Sometimes he too suffers cuts and bruises when she throws things.

What can we do? It’s difficult to engage her in any activity.

While some children outgrow this terrible twos/threes phase, it is important that you intervene in some way. Also, have your child tested for behavioural issues by a competent person trained to detect learning and other disabilities.

You will have to choose which tantrum you should simply ignore to the point where you exit the room and leave her alone to work out the rage (sometimes it fizzles out when there is no audience) and when you need to simply hold her, rock her gently and calm her down, and yet not relent in terms of giving her some knife that she’s asking to hold or a glass cup that she wants, or some such!

You can also put in place a few reward-punishment routines, though many parents in your situation say that any punishment only brings about a bigger tantrum. An appeasing tone alone does not work; there has to be some fear of consequences that you can introduce, age-appropriately, to help modify some of her behaviour. It could be as simple as taking away something of hers when she hits out, putting her in a chair or corner, or ignoring her completely. Do not lock her up alone, but you could all simply leave the area when she is misbehaving, and get on with other things.

See if you can also engage her in frustration-tolerance exercises of a home-grown variety—taking a few seconds extra to give her what she wants, rewarding her with two of something when she waits for something that you are handing out, etc.

Since you say she does not sit still for very long, you could try getting her to do child gymnastics (simple somersaults, toe-touching, even a slightly boisterous round of pat-a-cake) and work off some of the energy that way, something that will force her to pay some attention to get it right.

Do have her tested, however, and if some definite diagnosis emerges, there will be exercises/therapy and/or medication available too.

Gouri Dange is the author of More ABCs Of Parenting and ABCs Of Parenting.

To read Gouri’s previous Lounge columns, click here.

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