Sad, isolated young girl needs family love
Dear Amy: My great-niece is 11 years old. I'm very concerned about her.
She's lived with her grandparents (my younger brother's family) since she was very young. She doesn't really have much contact with her mother or father (who split up years ago).
She recently found out that her mother is pregnant by a new boyfriend and is going to have a baby girl.
I asked my brother how my great-niece is handling this and he said, “Not very good.” He asked me for any advice. I told him that I wasn't sure how to handle this.
My concern is that she stays in her bedroom all the time and seems very withdrawn, depressed and unhappy. She used to be happy and smiling. Any help on how to handle this very difficult situation? — Worried Uncle
Dear Worried: Now is the time to surround this girl with love, affection and attention. You can probably imagine how conflicted and hurt she is feeling — her mother, who abandoned her, is now starting another family. This will revive every abandonment sadness she has ever had and will likely introduce more feelings that she can't articulate and doesn't know how to handle.
Her guardians should not let her isolate herself. Privacy is important for young adolescents, but isolation will contribute to her sadness.
Everyone in the family should attempt to talk to her about this. Don't assume she is happy about this news, and don't force her toward a happy narrative (“Hey — you're going to have a little sister!”). Instead, ask her, “Can you describe how you are feeling?” If she is inarticulate or silent, don't correct her. Reassure her and enfold her in her family's embrace. Watch a favorite movie together. Go bowling and ice skating. Put her first.
If there are safe ways for her to see her mother, she should be offered this opportunity.
Give her some good, age-appropriate books to dive into (I highly recommend the site amightygirl. com for book suggestions). Read together. A book for the adults to consider is “The Worry Workbook for Kids: Helping Children to Overcome Anxiety and the Fear of Uncertainty (An Instant Help Book for Parents & Kids),” by Muniya S. Khanna and Deborah Roth (2018, Instant Help).
If it's possible, she should also see a counselor with experience in working with children.
Dear Amy: “Experienced with Equine” corrected your use of the phrase “jumping at the bit” by saying that the correct phrase is “chomping at the bit.”
I beg to differ! The correct phrase is “champing at the bit!” Anyone experienced with equine matters knows this. — Correcting the Correction
Dear Correcting: The beautiful thing about this is that I've heard from several hundred people who are deeply engaged and knowledgeable about horses and language. My understanding is that both spellings are used. Thank you all.