Dear Doctor George...

My daughter is a college sophomore. When she was home for Spring Break, she told me was worried about a resume she had to write for a homework assignment, and she asked me to help her with it. After I looked over what she had written, and commented on what was wrong with it, she started arguing with me. I told her I wouldn't be able to help her if she wouldn't listen to me, and then she started to cry. I don't understand. All I wanted to do was help her improve her writing. What can I do about her being so sensitive and how can help I her without so much aggravation?

... Aggravated Dad




Dear Aggravated Dad...

Doctor George appreciates that you were sincerely interested in helping your daughter. He knows that, from your perspective, your daughter's response seems unreasonable.

First of all, your daughter may have reacted negatively because you started off negatively. As you said in your note, you "commented on what was wrong." Before trying to help your daughter with constructive criticism, you could have told her what was good about her writing and what you liked. Then you could have mentioned your suggestions. By focusing on your daughter's feelings, you can let her know that your relationship with her is more important than any assignment will ever be.

Secondly, by focusing on the resume, itself, you might have overlooked your daughter's anxiety: not only about the assignment but also about the larger significance of writing a resume. Being half-way through college, she's approaching a time when she'll have to get a job and support herself. That's a daunting prospect for any young adult, especially in this day and age. You could help by bringing up the discussion and talking it out with her, perhaps validating and soothing her anxious feelings.

Thirdly, since your daughter is at the age when she wants to be able to do things for herself, she might have felt humiliated by having to ask her daddy for help. She might have also sensed the irony. On one hand, she was considering her future as an adult while, on the other hand, she was having to ask her daddy for help. Arguing with you was a way of asserting her independence (at a time that she was feeling dependent). Understanding her dilemma might make you feel less aggravated.

At your daughter's stage of development, the task of parenting shifts from telling your children what to do to becoming more of a consultant. In that role, you want to let your children guide you into giving the help they need (which isn't often the same as the help you think they need).

As a parent, Doctor George empathizes with you. Parenting is definitely one of the hardest (and sometimes confusing) jobs anyone can perform. While it lasts, in some form, for your entire life, it's incredibly rewarding. Seeing your child mature into a capable person is one of its greatest delights.

   Doctor George

p.s. People have different orientations. Some tend to be more logical and theoretical, while others place a higher priority on peoples' feelings and their relationships. It's often hard for these opposite types to understand each other. As a parent, it's your job to recognize your child's orientation. The same is true if you're a boss, supervisor, or leader. If you want to discover whether you're a thinking, feeling, sensing, or intuitive type of personality, you can take a free online survey: the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). You can click here to take the test and get a description of your type. You can click here for more technical information about psychological types.