My fiancé and I have custody of his 11 year old niece. Neither parent is in the picture. She lived with grandma from 4 to 8, then with her father for 4 months at the age of 8 and has been living with us since she was almost 9.

When she lived with grandma she never lifted a finger for anything. Not even to get something to drink, grandma did it all. So when she came to us we had to battle that first. Now we struggle with her attitude.

She refuses to do what we tell her. When she does do something she messes it up on purpose. When we discipline her she literally fights us. She will run in the street yelling "help", "call 911", "they're trying to break my arms and legs", and "they're trying to kill me." The police were actually called one time. When she lived with her father for a few months the police went to their apartment several times. We take things away from her and she doesn't care. Except her clothes. She gets completely bent out of shape over her clothes. She refuses to wear the clothes that we let her have. She says they are ugly and are too big. She has a belt, several actually. She has threatened to tell the school that we are trying to kill her. She lies all the time over the smallest piddly stuff. She is very disrespectful and doesn't thank anyone for anything, especially us. She wants to be constant center of attention no matter where we are or if we have company.

I've had her with a counselor for almost a year and recently switched to a therapist that isn't going anywhere either. She makes physically threatening remarks towards about ways she wants to hurt me and then seconds later laughs sarcastically. She bosses her friends around. She doesn't get invited to hang out with them and they sometimes come to our house.

I could go on... I feel like giving up. I don't know what else to do.

  • 3
    Why did she stop living with her grandmother and biological father? Why is neither parent still in her life? Commented May 8, 2017 at 13:19
  • 3
    Hi and welcome. I think you need family and child counseling asap. The child might be suffering from separation anxiety, but only a licensed therapist or medical professional can make this call. Just because one therapist has failed, it doesn't mean therapy is not the answer. Please also go yourselves. You need to learn how to deal with this -- anyone would. Even birth parents with children in crisis need to learn how to help themselves and their children. This is not a poor reflection on you as parents. Your path is all the more difficult because you are not her first home.
    – WRX
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 13:25
  • 2
    I'm not sure what having a belt or a dozen has to do with anything... belts don't change the fact that clothes are too big. If you're a size small and your close are size large that doesn't mean they fit... correctly sized pants may still require a belt but they should stay up without one unless you have no hips at all.
    – Catija
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 22:50
  • Possible duplicate of 12 year old boy is totally out of control
    – Bugs
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 8:46
  • @Bugs Well, at the current amount of details, yes absolutely. But obviously it's not a real duplicate. I don't know how this is handled on this SE site here where duplicates aren't as clear as on most of the SE network.
    – Nobody
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 15:01

2 Answers 2


There are numerous reasons why this child may be acting out. I'll list out some of them with links you can click to discover a little bit about what may be going on.

To provide perspective, I have experience with some of these issues, but only a licensed medical professional can make the call to determine if your child has any of these. To be clear, there is something wrong, and although it is always in part the parents' fault1, there may be more at play that requires a closer look.

I'll go over some of the ways I found effective for managing both ADHD and ODD, and what my parents did to facilitate my growth.

Just so we're clear, I am not a licensed medical professional, nor do I play one on TV. Please take all advice on a Q&A site with a grain of salt, and seek a trained medical professional for diagnosis and advice.

I don't know exactly why your daughter does what she does, and she may not even know. What I will do is my best to provide some perspective, and to help you deal with some of the issues she may be facing. It is up to act on them.

Adjustment Disorder

So to start, my first thought immediately went to an Adjustment Disorder. With these, it usually happens when a person can't cope with the stresses that come with a major life change. You mentioned that neither parent is in the picture, she's been shipped off to multiple places, and my guess is that she doesn't feel like she really has a home. Think of it like nationalism. If you don't think you have a home, why do anything for someone else's? I'm not condoning the behaviour, but it's important for you to try to understand things from her position. She's 11, and has been for all intents and purposes left behind by the people who are supposed to love her the most.

It seems to me like you try to force her to do things, but try and be patient with her. I don't recommend this usually, but if she wants to run out into the street and cry wolf, tell her what will happen if she does. The important thing is to let her know that she's right and you don't make her decisions for her, and that it is up to her how she wants her life to go. From my perspective, you came to the table expecting a battle, and my biggest question is "Why?". This is an 11 year old you're fighting, and she's old enough to understand words. Talk with her. Have her understand you're not going to be another change in her life, and explain to her that you're here to stay. Be an anchor she can trust not to give her up again, and keep in mind that trust is earned.


I personally have struggled with this, and some of what she may be struggling through is frustration based. ADHD is actually a developmental disorder with stunted brain growth. It doesn't mean that she's dumb, mentally challenged, or (to use a personal favorite with my school bullies) a retard. It means that her brain maturity will develop slower than her peers, and that may cause some serious frustration. Do you ever see her focusing intently on a single task, or constantly fidgeting? These are classic signs of ADHD, and the frustration when the focus (that we have so little of) is broken often makes people who have it lash out.

The best way to counteract this is to provide constant encouragement, and above all consistency. If you're not consistent in your punishments when she lashes out, whether due to frustration or a break in focus, it can cause confusion and further frustration. It is up to you to break the cycle and provide her with the support system she needs to succeed. To be honest and provide a critique, you used the word battle when describing your situation, and I personally don't think that's the right way to go about it. You're her guardian, so it's your responsibility to work WITH her to get through these problems. Remind her that you're on her side, and change things together.

As a note, if ADHD is indeed the culprit, please watch for signs of substance abuse and addiction. Especially at that tender age, drugs like speed and cocaine are not only hugely addicting, but provide the exact release for people with ADHD. Having suffered from these myself, they are incredibly harmful, and were a large part of the reason for my constant negative attitude towards my parents. It is imperative you make sure that help is obtained before substance abuse becomes an issue. Drugs are a seriously slippery slope and I cannot stress enough the important of avoiding them especially in belligerent children who have ADHD.


Oppositional Defiant Disorder is particularly nasty, and when paired with ADHD can be a recipe for absolute disaster. Normally, parents with children who have ODD often believe their child is just an intentionally bad child, or that their parenting caused such issues with them. It is often misdiagnosed or downplayed, and can be dangerous not only to those who interact with the child, but also to the child themselves. To clarify, CD is ODD but with intent to harm, and usually attempts to violate the basic human rights of others. Things like hurting animals, intentionally injuring people, or not seeing why it's an issue are some signs that it may be CD rather than ODD. Both of these are exacerbated by children with ADHD, as ADHD causes anger with ODD, which causes frustration triggered by ADHD, etc, etc. It is a constant mental struggle, and requires a medical diagnosis by a licensed professional.

Take heart! I never knew why I acted out and it wasn't until I was 14 that I was formally diagnosed with ODD. The best way I've found to handle it is patience from my parents. My best advice for this is to let your child know that you are there for them when they're ready to discuss things peacefully. An accurate analogy that I've found is the modern day second amendment. No this is not meant to poke any political bears and yes I heard this from a comedian, but it is as accurate as I can find for the feeling. The second amendment doesn't make as much sense as it used to because it used to take a while to load a musket. You couldn't just shoot someone on a whim when they angered you, and it gave you time to reflect on why you were actually angry. By the time you had it loaded, you realized that maybe not all was as it seemed upon first glance, and it gave you a chance to stop before you did something you may have regretted. The same principle applies with ODD/CD. As with all of my advice, talk with her calmly. Ask her to next time she's angry at you to take 60 seconds, and if she's still angry after 60 seconds you can work on it together. The key to this is working with her rather than against her. The more you work against her, the more her ODD/CD will take over and she will be for lack of a better term, oppositional.

Separation Anxiety

I will admit, I don't have a lot of anecdotal experience with this (the closest I have is my cat when my girlfriend leaves the house but it's not quite the same). As I will constantly say, consult a medical professional to determine the best direction to head with these disorders. I can however help with solving some of the issues that are associated with separation anxiety. Similar to Adjustment Disorder [see above], separation anxiety occurs when a major change has been seen in a child's life, specifically with this disorder involving separation from someone they are close to. To use a well worded quote from the APA:

"...Separation anxiety disorder is an excessive display of fear and distress when faced with situations of separation from the home or from a specific attachment figure."

Sound familiar? From your scenario, it seems to me that she may have some severe fear regarding being separated from attention, as if she will be forgotten or once again left behind. Again, similar to AD, I suggest providing a safe place for her, and constant reassurance that you're not going anywhere. She's a child, and fear brings out some of humanity's worst traits and sometimes can trigger a fight or flight response. It's possible she may be in a continuous "fight" state, and everyone is the enemy. Unfortunately, that's the best advice I can provide, but again, speak to a medical professional for diagnosis and further ways to help deal with it.

The jack of all solutions

Love and patience. It sounds simple, but in practice it's one of the absolute hardest things you can offer a child struggling with these or really anything. Right now, you have a chance to become the most important person in this child's life. Love and patience are the literal most valuable commodity you have to offer, especially for a child who has from what I can see been forgotten. Do not make the mistake of thinking it will be easy. Regardless of if she has any sort of disorder or not, she will fight you every step of the way and in many cases will not reciprocate the feeling.

What I can say though is you have accepted the responsibility to take her in despite her issues and problems. You have already started your journey to healing and it is not a bottomless pit you're dumping your love and affection into. There is an end to the hard road you face, and from personal experience and anecdotal experience from MY parents, it's supposedly the most rewarding feeling you will have ever felt.

But don't just take my word for it, give it a try. Use all of your patience, understanding, and love. I promise you will not be disappointed. I can't provide you with a medical guarantee though, because well....I'm not a doctor.

1Whether it's through lack of understanding, perspective, ignorance, confusion, intention or anything else.

2Please be wary that if CD is diagnosed to be the issue, it can rapidly devolve into ASPD, or Antisocial Personality Disorder. Without treatment, it can involve physical abuse to any number of things. It is not diagnosed until the age of 18, but please be aware that it is a very real and incredibly troubling issue.

  • 1
    @anongoodurse I decided to post on this one instead. You're welcome to link it wherever.
    – Anoplexian
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 19:03
  • 2
    Yes, this. This child has suffered enormously. Thanks for the comprehensive answer. Commented May 8, 2017 at 20:20

This seems pretty similar to this question.

There are two parts to the answer:

  1. Make sure it doesn't destroy you.
  2. Help the child as good as you can (prioritizing your own well-being because after all it's good for nobody if you burn out).


  • It seems like your punishments (taking things away from her, whatever that be) don't work. Try something else.
  • She needs to actively participate in the therapy in order for it to be useful. If she doesn't want to, waste of money.
  • Talk to her. You know her better than any therapist, even if she didn't grow up with you. Try to do your own "therapy" sessions with her, calmly talking about all the issues at hand. If she doesn't stay calm, compensate by being even more calm yourself.
  • "The clothes you let her have"? Try to involve her as much as possible in getting/choosing the clothes, explaining to her what is too expensive and what isn't.
  • Explain to her what lying makes other people think of you.
  • If she isn't thankful for something you do for her, stop doing it.
  • Explain to her how threatening you makes you hurt and that she wouldn't want anyone else to do that to her either.
  • Don't take her seriously when she verbally attacks you. Likely she doesn't really want to hurt you.
  • Unfortunately, most of the talking points assume she is reasonable and not being intentionally malicious. Considering the story, I really have to wonder whether either is true, especially coupled with the girl likely dealing with puberty issues at the same time.
    – Weckar E.
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 21:27
  • Though she may not cooperate during therapy, just sitting in on your sessions will help because she will hear. She may even react when you make a remark that she thinks is wrong and that would be a start. Any reaction helps a therapist to get the picture and getting the picture leads to actual help.
    – WRX
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 21:50
  • Contact social services and organize for her to spend a week there. That should fix her pretty quickly.
    – Snowlockk
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 12:50
  • @Snowlockk I know of no country or city that allows for that to happen. Social services is not a hotel or caregiving service.
    – WRX
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 19:23
  • @Willow I think that was supposed to be a joke. At least I hope so.
    – Nobody
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 23:52

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .