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My Teenage Step-Daughter and the 5 Steps of Self-Reg

End of a school year, tired of routines, work, lunches, dinners, extracurricular, homework and more. Everyone is ready for summer vacation.

I called my 16-year-old step daughter up for dinner. With a begrudging.... "Yup I'm coming". I know she likes to come home and nap, I did too after school and so I understand that she needs it. Everyone else comes for dinner. We start doing out daily check-in and talk about our days. "Where is Ava?", so I yell down again and I get a "coming" from downstairs. Fast forward a few more minutes, I stomp on the floor as she is below me and still nothing.

I am now actively worked up as she needs to come eat and she cannot sleep the whole evening or she won’t sleep all night. I am now irrationally stomping and getting more upset in front of our other children. My husband says leave her and see when she comes up. So I take a deep breath and focus on the here and now, finish the check-ins and talked about our days. We all ate and enjoyed our dinner. We then get to tidy up, making lunches for the next day but no sign of Ava. I am angry but I also needed to ask myself "why?" and "why now?". Well for me I knew, I am angry because she did not come for dinner and this is our family time (we are a blended family so we cherish what we have all together), I rushed home from work and made dinner so she could get to soccer practice that night so why can't she get her butt up and come eat?... Wait a second... that is the question.... this is not me, this is her.

Why is she not getting up?

Why is she so tired?

Why does she not want to spend this time with her family?

My why's were easily answered and with a simple acknowledgement from my husband I was able to check myself, breathe and enjoy my dinner with the rest of the family. But this was not me, this was her.

So after I had calmed down, ate and reflected I went downstairs (7:30 pm)

I asked her if she knew what time it was, she said "dinner time." I told her that was 2 hours ago.

Instead of me yelling at her and being angry with her, she needed to recognize these signs for herself. She had been going through therapy for depression and anxiety and so I know she knew what I was about to talk about and ask about. She had been doing great and something was off.

So we talked. What was up? Was everything OK? She did not need to give me crazy details. How was her boyfriend, how were her friends? How was her new soccer team?

Everything seemed good. How was school? School was good but then it came out that science was hard and she was struggling. She did not want to tell her mom and she needed some extra time for her project that was coming up. She felt a little overwhelmed with sports and school.

OK... this we can manage.

OK.... this is the why... but what now?

So we talked some more about making sure she asks for help when needed and that she does not need to carry this all on her own. Then I spoke to her about being in a negative stress cycle, that because she was stressed with school and finding science overwhelming she was avoiding it. She started to eat a lot more junk food (the wrappers around her room were proof), she was not eating proper meals, which in-turn gave her low energy and caused her to be more tired. This then made her more secluded and she felt disconnected from her team and friends. When we talked through this it all made sense to her.

We created a plan together about eating better, getting outside more with the dog and younger siblings, about journaling again, about helping her review her project and give feedback.

Fast forward 5 months and, wow, has that talk ever made a difference. We have had more throughout but her sleeping is better and her napping is under a reasonable control. She is eating better and her marks are doing well.

Her relationship has always been my number 1, it means the world to me, so going and screaming at her and being angry would not have helped either of us. Instead we worked through the steps of Self-Reg together and are stronger because of it.

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1 Comment

Aviva Dunsiger
Aviva Dunsiger
Oct 25, 2022

Thanks for sharing this! You’re really making me think about the importance or asking these “why” questions and doing these check—ins for children of all ages. Now I’m contemplating what this might look and sound like in different classrooms. What impact might this have for the individual student, but also, the rest of the class?


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