Ask a Psychiatrist and Get Answers to Mental Health Questions ASAP
Hello, and Thank You for your post today.
I'd like to assist you with your question.
First and most importantly, I want to commend you for the interest, care, and concern you have shown your step children. This support and care is especially vital for children who have experienced divorce, change, and blended family challenges. It is quite an undertaking for you entering into such a big and special commitment.
You describe lots of changes in this young girl's life. Eleven, is an age where she's becoming more of an individual and it is important to be aware of her self worth.
There are a couple options to consider. One option, do little, and wait and see if the symptoms of concern continue. With some of these transitions being so new, she may settle down once she feels more adjusted. If she is showing symptoms of ADD, the school would likely report this. ADD, inattentive attention deficit disorder, is more often something that shows up at home, but especially at school. What a teacher may report is a student having trouble paying attention, easily distracted, trouble ignoring the activity around her, and challenges getting herself organized. The symptoms can show up at home when she's expected to complete chores, tasks, and homework.
Another option would be for her father to talk to her mother about questions or concerns that have come up. I would imagine this is more unlikely when you say you are dealing with a "narcissistic" mother.
Since she is entering a new school, teachers who are not as familiar with her would not be quite ready to comment on her behavior, and symptoms in school. When evaluating for ADD, a psychologist would gather feedback from her teachers as well as her parents. The psychologist would want to give it a bit of time to see how she adjusts to the new school setting, in order to gather more information about her behavior. The psychologist certainly could gather information from her previous school if applicable. There is both inattentive attention deficit, and hyperactive add, or one can be diagnosed with a combination of both.
You mentioned that the plan is talk to Bella a bit more about her comment. Talking to her, listening to her, offering a safe and supportive place for her will benefit her greatly. She has many transitions in her life such as mother's boyfriend joining the family with two adult children, and a change of school. This is a lot of change for a young person. especially for one who is more sensitive and doesn't respond to change very well. I'm glad to hear that her mother is willing to get her help both emotionally and academically. This additional support will likely help her with her self worth and academic challenges. Behavior is communication, and you said she's acting out more, being more aggressive to her sister, verbally abusive, and defiant. She's communicating she is struggling right now.
In re reading your post it sounds like the mother has agreed to academic help, not psychological help? If there truly is an issue with ADD the mother will be informed about this by the teachers. I think your husband, does need to be a bit careful, since what he recommends may be the opposite of what the mother is willing to do. In this situation help may better come from the mother suggesting it once she struggles in managing her in her own home.
Since she will be getting extra assistance academically, in addition to her teacher, the person who works with her would be a good resource to determine if Bella exhibits symptoms of add.
If Bella's behavior continues to be of concern and or escalates, if the mother does not seek the help, such as a psychologist, that would be the best time for her father to take a more active stand. If the mother is "open" to feedback, that's ideal if the parents can come together and make a plan for Bella. When you say the mother is "difficult to say the least", my guess is that it is unlikely her father can discuss this with the mother. It sounds like the idea has to come from the mother herself for her it to be considered.
That the mother was willing to get the academic help is a good sign for her willingness to engage "outsiders" to help. If the school shares concerns of emotional or behavioral issues, the mother may hear it better from them vs. her father, like you said.
A counselor and or psychologist can be of great help and support to the children, but if the mother has not agreed to it, she may sabotage it's effectiveness by telling the children what to say and what not to say in those sessions. If the professional help is "forced" by the father, as it may have to if the behavior continues, the mother will only become more resistant to the idea. The mother may take it as a "threat", and or accusation as her skills as a mother if the father were to set something up. I would imagine that in order for Bella to see a counselor or psychologist the mother would have to consent for that treatment since she has primary custody.
If she continues to struggle this will show up in school and if the teacher were to report this to the mother, the mother may be much more likely to seek the psych. help if it comes from the school vs. the father. It's unfortunate it works out this way, but sadly it's quite common. The concerns the father shares with the mother, can be misinterpreted as a threat to the mother, thinking the father is trying to take the children away, when this is not true. Because of the narcissism- it becomes about the mother vs. the child- as you have experienced. It's a delicate situation for the father, and the sense of powerlessness he must feel is difficult to say the least.
In summary, the best bet may be to give it a bit more time. If it's truly a problem, an issue that needs further intervention, it will show up at school and in the mother's home. If after some time and Bella continues to struggle, and no additional help has been brought in, that may be the time the father has to take a more forceful stand to advocate for Bella.
It's likely that Bella will continue to act out, unless she's able to find a safe place to express herself. That may be the father's home. Allow her to talk freely openly, without judgment, and she will have that safe place to express herself. Asking her to write or draw how she is feeling can be a good outlet for an 11 year old. Encouraging her, validating her struggle, and of course loving her, and being affectionate to her, is where she may best benefit in your home. When she acts out, of course, talking to her about her behavior, using natural consequences is important. She will really benefit from someone listening, hearing her, letting her know you realize this is difficult for her, would be difficult for anyone in her situation, and you are there for her, is most important.
I notice you are off line. Please post any additional comments or questions you may have. I will be notified if you post and will respond back asap. Thank you again for your post today.
Thank you Jean for your input. We will wait it out for a while to see how things go as you suggest and continue to be as supportive as we can.