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Hello, I am Rafael. Thanks for asking your question - I'm here to support you. (Information posted here is not private or confidential but public).
I am very sorry to know about this truly overwhelming and concerning situation. .
What your story shows is that it seems all these radical changes, occurring just father the mother and-step-father left, have developed in this period of time while under the full care of her father and step-mother. You did not describe much about child's relationship with parents and past issues, specially around custody and the dynamics it created, but pointed out how she "sides with her dad", and how mother is very strict college professor.
All these seems to lead to believe these radical changes could have been consequences of the significant changes in the parenting quality she has been receiving since mother left. It's important to note that it was the father who recently sued mother and got further custody, then it would make sense to believe he's started just to intensify the parenting style he offered before, and perhaps spoiling her to the point where she has deteriorated in all these core areas. It is well know how conflicting and dysfunctional things could get around raising a child after family disruption, when each parent - new family has very different or opposite parenting styles. The child uses to get more attached and prefer the parent who offers less strict discipline, more spoiling and less responsibilities, than the one who does the opposite, whether it's about excessive discipline or just very sound parenting, where good boundaries and limits, responsibilities and respect are core aspects in the child's education and daily experience.
Thus is the level of functioning, mood and the quality of the mother-child relationship have dramatically deteriorated this fast, since she went to exclusively live with father and step-mother, I think it could be that he is working hard to get her even more attached to him spoiling her and weakening even more parenting, discipline and responsibilities, to the point where she feels entitle to be disrespectful towards her mother like she was during phone call. All the changes you mentioned point at how she has been declining at all these levels and they have been happening while under the exclusive care of her father and step-mother. Since they are the parents- adult taking care of her in the present, they should be hold fully accountable for all these changes. The daughter is very young, and depends on how assertively or destructively she is raised by those adult having her. A child her age has responsibilities for her actions, but she literally depends on the quality of parenting she receives from care takers, and it would be unrealistic to expect a child being spoiled and enable to develop or deepen negative behaviors, to get back to good and healthy functioning, while the adults raising her do not provide acceptable, healthy and responsible parenting, discipline, affection and everything else a child needs and deserves, including compliance with basic responsibilities, and specially respect, love and caring about her other parent.
Unhappily many times parent who do not happen to be mature - assertive enough, could use and abuse, neglect and manipulate children using spoiling as a way to gain their attachment, preference and to retaliate against ex-spouses. Obviously there is nothing that could justify such behaviors, but they do happen a lot in scenarios like this. I do not see how this situation could improve at all without getting her situation back to normal, where the more assertive - healthier parent - the mother- gets back and continues to raise the child with good judgment, healthy affection and discipline. Now mother would have to afford the extra work of repairing the damages created by father and step-mother, since child would be reluctant to get back that easily to a family where she knows would get limits,boundaries, good discipline and responsibilities, instead of all the appealing but dysfunctional benefits she get when with father. many times irresponsible parents like he seems to be, do this systematic spoiling work as a way to get so powerful predilection from children, in order to get full custody and end any form of child support or extra responsibility, since planning to get a new request to family and children court, now having a child not only by their side but literally rejecting and being openly disrespectful to her mother. This is a tough and painful reality, but again, it is very common, and for sure the first victim here is the child, then the parent-mother.
Does it make sense?
What can the mom say to the daughter to get her to improve. Specific language she can use on the next phone call from overseas?
Should she try guilt, logic, gifts, silent treatment, etc?
Show unconditionally affection, understanding, concern and support, focusing on the positive things, and motivating her, since she knows what used to be important to her. At the same time, disrespectful behaviors should not be allowed but assertively confronted, in a gentle and clear way.
Only assertive parenting could promote assertive development, growth and behavior in a child. While spoiling or fear could push a child to change behaviors, one pleasing her ego while the other scaring her, no unhealthy approach could create or promote any positive change or improvements, and I do not recommend any parent to implement them at all.
So guilt, silent treatment and any similar are not good ways to cope and work on rebuilding communication and relationship with a child under any circumstance.
OK. Can you recommend some language she can use to get started?
Much better to use the knowledge parent has about child's personality, preferences, core values and longings, and focus on how to connect in empathetic ways to her. Each parent , each child and each parent-child relationship are unique, as unique their ways of communication, thus styles of dialogue differ, and must be based on what the mother knows would promote the child's attention, openness and receptivity, no stranger, even professional could know better how to talk to a child but the very parent who knows her well, what trigers her defensiveness and what promotes her openness.
The parent should be patient, gentle, understanding, proactive, avoiding arguments, and focusing on what could be done to promote the communication - relationship instead of getting around issues that could not be controlled from the distance.
As a parent I know the way my words, tone of voice, expressions and the affection I express through them affect and trigger different emotions, feelings and reactions in each one of my children, the mother should use the very same experiential knowledge and understanding to promote a healthy and open communication. Everything else would depend on the child and the father's influence on her.
The mother needs to remain aware that the child could be manipulated by the father, and that's why she needs to be extra careful, patient and empathetic -not codependent- towards the child, even more in current circumstances, where she has not the means no further power to make concrete changes and improvements in her child's life, who is totally depending on her father.
i cannot imagine how painful and frustrating this situation could be for the mother, but facing this challenging situation, the best approach is to be proactive and focus on what can be done in order to promote good communication with her daughter, looking forward their reunification to start working on repairing damages created or promoted by father and step-mother.
Here the child is a victim of them not a perpetrator, thus any reaction from the mother towards the child needs to take that into account.
Yes, very much so. I will communicate this to her. Good stuff.
Good. I am glad to know it was helpful.