Dear Rachel,

My 15-year-old daughter doesn’t seem to share my values. I believe that family togetherness is very important, and she would rather spend all her time with her friends. I believe that dressing modestly is essential, and she believes that fashion rules and anything goes. I was raised to show the utmost respect to parents and elders, and she seems to have no filter and no desire for one. I feel like I’ve failed with this child. I find myself constantly criticizing her, and at this point our interactions are almost always unpleasant. Is there anything I can do to turn things around at this late date, or is it just too late?

Too Late?

Dear Too Late,

It’s never too late! Children are always in need of parental approval, and whenever parents provide it, they lap it up as if to quench a parched throat—only in this case, it is a parched heart!

It seems you have entered the dreaded “negative cycle” with this young lady. This cycle starts with a child’s unacceptable behavior, and moves to parental complaint and criticism, which fuels more unacceptable Children are always in need of parental approvalbehavior, which elicits more complaint and criticism. Because there is a dearth of acceptable behavior, after a while it becomes harder and harder for the parent to break the cycle. Instead the child enters a downhill slide, moving further and further away from the behaviors the parent is looking for.

The one who must break the cycle is the parent. The parent is older and wiser, and responsible for guiding the child. Therefore, you must be the one to bring positivity into the relationship, even before your daughter “deserves” it. Moreover, positivity is absolutely necessary, because without it guidance becomes impossible. One is obligated to rebuke with love.1 When the child feels your rejection rather than your love and approval, you no longer have educational power.

Of course, the question is, how can you offer love to someone you are truly disapproving of at the moment? The answer is: the same way that G‑d offers love to all of us, despite our many spiritual failings. G‑d sees us as children, pure and good, who are in the school of life, learning step by step how to reveal the full beauty of our soul. We make many mistakes along the way, but G‑d is forgiving and patient, and waits for us to learn. Sefer Tomer Devorah urges us to emulate these traits of G‑d, and by doing so, elevate ourselves in the process. In other words, your ability to help your children along their spiritual path actually moves you along your own as well. It’s a win-win situation.

Your daughter needs to feel that you like her and love her, before you provide any further criticism and correction. Therefore, suspend “education” for the time being, and concentrate on being kind and warm to her. Remind yourself that you have been entrusted by G‑d to look after one of His children. Therefore, strive to be worthy of G‑d’s trust in you! When you hand When your child feels rejected, you no longer have educational poweryour child over to a kindergarten teacher, you don’t want the teacher to be too strict of a disciplinarian; rather, you hope that she will guide your child with love and kindness. Do the same for your own children at whatever age they are.

Connect to your daughter through positive feedback (“Thanks for clearing the table, sweetie,” “Your hair looks great today, honey,” etc.), interesting conversation (“So who would you vote for in the upcoming election?”) and humor (“I have to tell you the funniest thing that happened today . . .”). In other words, develop a relationship with her that has nothing to do with changing her. Take her as she is and become closer. Talk to her about your own issues and daily struggles as a way to help her relax and share a little with you about herself. When she does, refrain from giving advice. Instead, do a lot of sympathetic nodding and listening. Empathy, rather than education, will bond her closer to you and your values than any parental speech or lecture could ever do. But be patient; the healing process doesn’t happen overnight.

Continue building your relationship indefinitely. As your relationship improves, it will be possible to talk about more difficult subjects, such as the differences of opinion she holds. Instead of “laying down the law” (which hasn’t been working at all), listen to understand. Reflect her views back to her. Try to learn about her thinking process. Why, for example, is modesty not important to her? When you hear her out, you’ll probably find that she does, in fact, have a standard of modesty—just not the same as the one you hold by. However, it is possible to find points of agreement even when you are not perfectly aligned. Looking for a way to come closer to her view will, in the long run, help her look for a way to come closer to yours. Moreover, her desire to spend more time with friends may shift as well.

Right now, her friends are easier and more pleasant to be with than you are: they listen without judgment, they accept her and they have fun with her. Parents can’t do all of that in exactly the same way, but they The scope of your influence is foreverneed to do a lot of it in order for kids to choose their company. You will find that even basic respect will improve when you show more respect for her as a person, treating her the way you would treat other people who don’t happen to think exactly as you do.

People tend to be inordinately critical and bossy toward their kids. However, you’re probably able to be pleasant to colleagues, neighbors and other acquaintances who don’t agree with all of your personal values. So don’t try to control your daughter; instead, seek to educate and inspire.

The foundation of your influence is your positive relationship. The scope of your influence is forever.