Q: Our 10-year-old granddaughter lives with us. We have custody of her but her father, our son, is now asking us for visitation privileges. I probably don’t need to tell you that both he and his ex-wife were not up to parental responsibilities. He says he’s cleaned up his act and wants a relationship with his daughter. She says she wants to see him, too. We’re not completely opposed, but we’ve heard all this before and are, of course, skeptical. She came to us two years ago with major behavior problems— disobedience and lying, mostly — and has improved some but not a lot since then. She’s been seeing a therapist for more than a year, but my husband and I see no improvement. We recently found out that she and the therapist spend most of their sessions playing board games and doing crafts. My granddaughter wants to continue her therapy, but we don’t see how playing board games is going to bring about improvement in her behavior. Can you give us some direction here?
A: I’ll do my best. I can’t really comment on the therapist’s treatment plan; furthermore, I want to believe there’s more to it than simply board games, but I will tell you, I’ve heard of that sort of thing before. If I was working with you folks, I wouldn’t waste time or money seeing the child. In my estimation and experience, there’s very little if anything a child this age can contribute to a proper understanding of the sorts of problems you’re experiencing. You need a plan for dealing with your granddaughter’s behavior problems, and you need it fast. She’s at a critical stage of development as far as problems of this nature go. If they are not resolved soon, you may well be dealing with a full-blown sociopath in a few years.
As for the father’s desire to have visitation with his daughter, I think there’s a possibility that could be a good thing for her. The research is very clear that fathers become increasingly important to a young girl’s positive development beginning around your granddaughter’s age. Nonetheless, until you’re confident that everything is going well, I’d recommend limiting visits to daytime hours.
As for the behavior problems, the first thing I’d recommend is that you scrub her life clean of electronics, anything that she can use to text, get on the internet and so on. You need to have complete control of her communications.
Second, she should have social contact with girls only and only girls you vet and approve. Next, if her father will cooperate, she should have visitation with him only if she has a “good week” at home and at school. If you determine that she doesn’t merit visitation, her father should have a serious conversation with her, emphasizing how much he wants to have time with her, but also confirming his support for the decisions you make in that regard.
Certainly, a newspaper-column length answer is not going to be sufficient. I hate to get self-promotional, but reading several of my books might help get all of you on the right track. Have the father read them as well, then get together and discuss how what you’ve read applies to your situation and how you can use it to, hopefully, begin turning things around.
It’s a start, but a good start is the most important part of any process.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.