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I recently started dating an on again off again friend of mine back in May. We've been living together in our new house since October. We're both in our mid thirties and have known each other since high school. We have a great relationship. She works and I went back to college after a car accident put me out of work.

So, now the problem. Her 9 year old daughter who I seriously think might be a sociopath. She does absolutely nothing around the house, has no respect for her mother, is rude, has entitlement issues beyond what I've ever seen in a child and she is making our lives miserable. We've tried a lot to solve the issue. We read articles, I try to pay her for simple jobs to learn responsibility, but nothing works.

I should mention that she has an unhealthy relationship with her mother. Whenever her Mom is around she ceases to be able to do anything for herself. When Mom comes home her entire demeanor changes and she turns into an invalid. She refuses to clean up after herself, or do any chores, or help in any way, really.

I know the real problem is she has such an unhealthy relationship with her Mom. She knows she can get away with anything. Her Mom can't see the lies. Whenever it seems like she cares about your feelings it's immediately followed by a 'can you do this for me' question.

She has been spoiled, but I can't seem to get the mother to stick to a program. She is addicted to technology and it needs to be given up. Her punishments need to stick.

I know her mother is on board and I honestly want the best for her, but what can we do? What more can we try? Do we take all her games away until she earns them?

One more thing. Is it alright to call the little one out on her lying? How do you handle that? The mother says she doesn't want daughter to be called a liar even though she is lying right to our faces. This whole situation is causing us a lot of undue stress and beginning to cause me at least the beginnings of depression. How should we start to handle this?

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    Paying money for chores can be counterproductive; it implies that the chores are optional. – Paul Johnson Dec 27 '19 at 17:18
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    I think its a bit of a stretch to label an obstreperous child a sociopath. Does she exhibit any signs of wanting to hurt people? Is she indifferent to consequences? Is she bullying or manipulating other children? Does she have an unhealthy fascination with death or pain? See healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/sociopath/… – Paul Johnson Dec 27 '19 at 17:25
  • I've added paragraph breaks to try to structure the question a bit. Please feel free to revert if I've misunderstood. – Paul Johnson Dec 27 '19 at 17:27
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    Deal with the mother first, you say she is “on board” but it does not sound like it from your narrative. – Solar Mike Dec 27 '19 at 21:54
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    If you seriously think she is ticking the boxes on a personality disorder then you should get professional help. – Paul Johnson Dec 28 '19 at 17:22
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It seems you've started noticing that neither bribes nor punishment are very effective child rearing tools. That I find hopeful. I also read that you consider doubling down on the things that have been found not to work. I hope you'll reconsider.

Suitable chores for children are simple tasks that are carried out collaboratively with you. If she is not used to helping out at home, don't start by sending her off to complete a taxing task in solitaire. Also, don't expect great results. If you are doing laundry, you can hang the clothes up to dry together, and it'll be both slower and worse than if you had done it yourself. The first step won't be complete mastery of the task. Willingness to collaborate is a win in itself.

To that end, I don't expect coercion will get you far. Things that are usually more fruitful is telling her how it makes you sad when she doesn't want to spend time with you cleaning up, and how it takes time away from you that you could've spent doing something that she values. "Yeah, I'd love to make that dish you love, but it involves quite a lot of steps, and I'm not able to do that tonight as I am always the one who has to do all the cleaning up afterwards." When my much younger child is making a mess in a manner I don't approve of, I don't demand that she clean up, but I sometimes remind her that all the time I spend cleaning up is time I could've (and would've) spent reading to her which she loves. This of course is contingent upon both establishing a relationship where she enjoys doing things together with you, and putting enough hours in so that it's reasonable to assume that time saved actually would be used doing the things she enjoys.

As for technology, I think it's absolutely fine to set limits around things like technology use. As adults you get to define some parameters of what are the core values in your family. But I would caution against making access to technology a reward that is awarded for desirable behavior and removed as punishment for poor behavior. That still operates on the assumption that device use is the prize and you're the adversary standing between the child and it. If you think screen time should be limited, then that should be the rule regardless of behavior, because you think limiting screen time is defensible in its own right, and not just a means for punishing the child. But you also need to accept that 9 years is old enough to have quite a bit of say as to what's important in the child's life. If you want to limit technology use for the purpose of opening doors to other activities which you think might be healthy or helpful, you might just have to work harder on making time away from technology more appealing.

I thin Paul makes an excellent point regarding lying in his response. I want to second that, but I'll also throw in that children may lie because they are having problems reconciling with the truth. If they pushed someone, saying they didn't may be in part because they don't like the reality where they did that. Fear of punishment may of course also play a part, but I think punishing them both for the misdeed and then for lying about it, as may be reasonable with an adult, may just escalate the tension. It helps if you acknowledge that it's positive that the child at least wants something other than the (often unpleasant) truth to be true.

To be honest, you call the child a sociopath and a liar, and then go on to describe what I would simply call a child. I think you need to take a step back and realise that it is you, not her, who should be expected to handle this like an adult. It is your responsibility to deescalate conflict and find constructive solutions. Don't make it hers, she's not the adult.

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  • I agree and I don't make that assumption lightly. I don't expect much out of her I expect something a little effort that's all. Maybe sociopath was too strong but she doesn't care about anyone's feelings. – Rkreis Dec 28 '19 at 3:23
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    I have one more comment. I agree with the schedule for tech regardless of behavior. When we ask her to do chores we never just send her in alone she just refuses to get off the couch. This brings me to my last question. How do you punish or correct behavior There have been no suggestions on that Only that it's me who should change. I'm sorry but I'm not going to let a child run the house and follow her around with a broom and buy her a toy at every store we go to. I appreciate the suggestions I really do and I'm listening so please don't give up. – Rkreis Dec 28 '19 at 3:35
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    I certainly don't advocate letting her run the house. But punishment, as you've found, isn't effective, and given that it isn't, I find it an unnecessary evil. Children do well if they can. I tend to assume that a child acting spoilt is looking for a human connection. A limit set with love. There's nothing to suggest you have to buy her a toy at the store, for instance, but you can stay with her through her upset and acknowledge her craving for that toy. You don't need to use force, she has no power over you to demand a toy. – dxh Dec 28 '19 at 16:02
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    Family therapist Jesper Juul in a book states that a child asking for more and more is misguidedly thinking that more things will fill their void, when in fact it's affection they need. Failing to see that and fulfilling the child's desire rather than its need can cause the child to internalise feelings along the lines of "I get everything I ask for and yet I still don't feel loved, so there must be something wrong with me". Children know what they desire, not necessarily what they need. It's our job to cater to the need. – dxh Dec 28 '19 at 16:05
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    I am getting a strong vibe that this child is not so much cruel as unsettled and unhappy and insecure, and acting out over it. You come into her life and have made changes that from her perspective are mostly negative (taking away the comfort of mom's bed, wanting her do more chores and less screens, she can likely tell you think her an unpleasant problem in your life, etc). She likely needs a secure, loving relationship with you, to be taught to do chores gradually from the basics with encouragement rather than threats or bribery, and therapy wouldn't hurt... – Meg Dec 30 '19 at 18:19
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On your last question, rather than saying "You are a liar." try saying "That isn't true, is it?". This focuses on the falsehood rather than the child, and pushes the responsibility back on her to correct it.

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  • But she will not admit it is a lie even when faced with absolute proof. I see what you are saying though. – Rkreis Dec 28 '19 at 3:12
  • i have one like this, "did you let the dog out whilst we were away?", met with a "yes, obviously", despite the fact that outdoor CCtv showed the door did not open even once. It does not get better, sadly. He is 24. – bigbadmouse Jan 2 at 13:19
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    @rkreis why is it so important to be right. So you have absolute proof. You know it, and i'm pretty sure she knows it too. Don't focus on her lying. Focus on what needs to be done (if my kid says he brushed his teeth before he even went upstairs I just as cheerful say today we do it an extra time) – Batavia Jan 7 at 16:26

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