I did a search & can't find what I need. I need reading material on what the likely outcome is for a child who has been overly criticized.

Someone very close to me has 3 kids, 2 are grown. It has been obvious for years that she favored the older 2 children. I have softly & gently tried to make this more apparent to mom & at times she seems receptive.

Despite mom seeming to hear me, the situation has continued to escalate to the point that recently she said some things about her child I found shocking as she would have never said this about the others. The child is a teen now & mom was telling me that she can't wait for her to move out, doesn't even care if they become estranged, it seems she even hinted that she believes her health issues are due to this child & the stress this child has placed on her life. Now mind you, I love the mother. Very much. She is by all accounts in all other ways an amazing person. Her kids are adopted, but that hasn't seemed to hinder bonding with others, so I can't say that is why she is this way with this child. I am really concerned for the well being of the child. I know there is no direct abuse (such as hitting) nor has there ever been. I do feel the child has not received the love & support necessary to flourish. It appears to me that this child doesn't feel it's worth trying, as nothing will be good enough, so much of her behavior likely stems from a combination of no longer seeking approval at all (since she is certain she won't ever get it) and some amount of seeking to inflict pain & stress as she feels she has suffered. Likewise the mom has told me that she "gives up" as she has "tried everything". I am not even sure how to interpret that one.

I am at a loss on finding if there are books or other materials, or something I can find to offer the mother in this case where she might have any chance at realizing that her child's problems are in part due to her own critical nature. I do not feel there is an acknowledgement at all on her part that she has helped create what is now happening (poor behaviors) and that she could make changes in herself & her approach that might help heal some of this. She does admit she doesn't feel bonded to the child, but again, blames that on how "difficult' the child has always been in nature. The child has 4 more years before she is grown. I know it's late, but I feel like I should at least try. As it is now, her path is very very worrisome & my sideline love & guidance can only do so much for her.

I would love suggestions on reading. The mother always has been open to reading it seems, and may be willing to read something if I can provide it. I just can't seem to find anything that will help her understand that she has been harshly critical & what the fallout with a child's behavior is when they feel they can do no right in your eyes. If you can provide any reference that actually spells that out would be awesome so perhaps she would recognize the symptoms in her own child. I can find blips about it. I am seeking something more in depth as I think it will require something more thorough for her to see the connections. She is very eager to diagnose her daughter with something versus see this as a relationship problem. A few sentences on the impact of harsh criticism isn't going to bring about any awakening as I have tried that route.

  • freedomainradio.com/free The Origins of War in Child Abuse found at the bottom of the list free of charge on audiobook. I believe the sources are on a website mentioned in the beginning of the book.
    – Craig
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 18:26
  • I should add that it is very good in the first 4 chapters.... The later chapters I hope are not real, but I will have to look at the sources before deciding.
    – Craig
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 18:32
  • Can you add how old the child was when adopted to the question?
    – Craig
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 18:38
  • From my best recollection she was 8 months old.
    – threetimes
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 21:25
  • 1
    I'm not sure whether you can do much to improve the relationship between the mother and daughter at this stage. However, children/teenagers are resilient; they'll look for acceptance wherever they find it. At 14, peer groups are becoming much more important for her. Depending on the group she feels at home with, this can be good for her, or lead to more problems. Maybe you could try to offer her a second place of safety and acceptance, have your kids invite her over for dinner, show her she's welcome at your place, that kind of thing, so that if she needs help, she'll come to you for advice. Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 13:57

2 Answers 2


This is a painful situation and breaks my heart. There is no easy solution here but I have a couple thoughts for you and for mom and daughter.

For you, bringing about change starts with emotion, not with information. Without a change of heart and a change in the way the relationship is perceived mom AND daughter will not change. As a friend/relative you can help by being open to listening to how they feel without coming to a conclusion and providing a 'fix'. As mom talks about how hard daughter is, lead with questions to give mom the opportunity to engage in her own thoughts. As daughter shows signs of frustration offer to listen to those frustrations. The point is not to find truth and a solution but to offer a sounding board for mom and daughter to express how they feel and what they think. Don't give advice without asking first or being asked. Just as you want to see mom love her daughter and not criticize her you can provide the example on how to do it for mom. This is all based on the book Lost Art of Listening.

For mom and daughter, counseling could be an option that both mom and daughter would benefit from. Counseling options depend on your region mainly so I can't really provide a succinct list for you to work off of.

Lastly, you need to realize that mom and daughter may not change and if they do change it is a long hard road to undo what has become habit. As hard as it is to witness these events unfold you can only offer advice and help. The responsibility for change is on mom and her daughter, not you.

  • It is painful. I wasn't as aware of mom's behavior until the daughter stayed with me for 8 weeks about 4 years ago. A stressful thing happened & mom's reaction to the daughter was shocking. A health episode occurred & instead of offering comfort to an ill child (who I think needed a Dr, which is why I called mom at 3am) mom showed up at my home & screamed at her 10year old & blamed her for the mishap saying she "knew better" & had been warned. I took ownership & said I should've asked (the child was reacting to something & was very ill). She ignored that & yelled at her child more.
    – threetimes
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 12:56
  • My kids were woken by this all. Mom asked me to leave them alone, so I did, my kids were bawling, asking me to "help her" while her mom was yelling in the other room. I went back in suggesting mom let it go until morning. The mom left the room & went to sleep on my sofa. I sat up all night with her daughter because when I got things calmed down, mom was asleep & she still needed care. The following day I again tried to tell mom it was my mistake & she would hear none of it & instead said "You don't understand, I TOLD her. She never listens". Mind you she was yelling at a vomiting child.
    – threetimes
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 13:02
  • And thank - I will for sure check the book out. I love them both. I do want to be some piece of solace & help if I can.
    – threetimes
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 13:06

I doubt there's anything you can do to change the mother's behavior or mind, though I also doubt it would hurt to subtly try to have her reflect on her own behaviors when she is talking with you, if for no other reason than to try to see what is driving her this way.

Instead, I'd recommend being supportive of the daughter. Her living situation seems to be pretty clearly negatively affecting her. Provide her with safe harbor at your place, at the very least -- a place where she knows she's welcome whenever she needs. I know teenagers her age who have bounced back with the help of strong support, so it can be done.

You say there "isn't any direct abuse," but you seem to only regard physical violence as "abuse." However, your recount of a time when the daughter got sick suggests that there may be emotional abuse. Do not discount that. Despite the adages, words do hurt, especially when inflicted upon a child by the person or people who are supposed to be the child's caretaker.

I don't have studies on it, but I do have personal experience of the effect of this kind of emotional abuse. My mom's boyfriend never once raised a hand to me, but he was emotionally abusive toward me. I could do no right, even when I did exactly what I was told, when I was told to do it. It has taken nearly 20 years to undo that damage and gain a sense of confidence and self-worth that don't rely on external approval (because that is how much that situation destroyed my trust in my internal sources of confidence and self-worth). A lot of that was helped by a solid support network, once I finally got to a point where I could build one (I was, unfortunately, left to my own devices to get to that point, since no one around me believed that such an environment could have a lasting effect on a person).

Be mindful of the relationship between them, be mindful of signs of depression and the risk of suicide in the daughter. Don't be afraid to step in if you have to and call CPS and/or take the daughter under your care if you feel that her well-being is in jeopardy.

Don't be so quick to dismiss the actions of the authorities on this matter. There are, in fact, laws in many places covering emotional abuse and it can indeed be enforceable. If you suspect emotional abuse and are indeed concerned for the daughter's well-being, please don't hesitate to contact the authorities. If you are unsure of the laws in your area, contact a child or domestic abuse attorney, who should be able to provide you with a little bit of free counselling to determine if there are any applicable laws and what they entail. Regardless of whether they can or will do anything if you do contact them, they can't do anything at all if you don't.

On a side note, this may be a good book to give the daughter.

  • I know emotional abuse is still abuse, but I refer to that is indirect. I suppose the reason being is that I have never known any authority to care about it. I haven't seen them willing to do so much as to make a phone call to the parents no matter how badly a child is spoken to. If a child is fed, supervised, attends school & Dr's visits, etc then it's not legally neglected. If they are not hit or molested, they are not legally abused. I have called, not on this child, but another, that was actually far more severe to my knowledge & was directly told it was not an actionable offense.
    – threetimes
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 2:46
  • So my point is, that "direct abuse" in my meaning (which is likely fuzzy in wording, I agree) would be something that can be documented & would be actionable in reporting. To what I have been told my local authorities, what is said to a child does not qualify.
    – threetimes
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 2:48

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