Needing Help


New Member
My 12 year old stepdaughter came to live with us when she was 9 years old. The state took her away from her mom because of domestic violence and drugs. We now have permanent and legal custody of her. The last year and a half has been pure hell for us, especially me. Her dad works on the road and is only home on the weekends and sometimes only once a month so a lot of her behavior falls on me. She stated stealing and when we asked her about it she will lie to us. We decided to have charges filed on her to see if this might help get her in line (she stole from her dad on 3 different occasions). She was put on probation and only stayed on it for about a month and was kicked off because she would not follow the rules of her probation. We went before a judge and again she was put on probation and kicked off. We have had to have the police to our house on many, many occasions because she is uncontrollable. When she gets caught doing something she isn't suppose to she will literally scream for hours. The last time the judge called in a psychiatrist for an extensive evaluation. She as diagnosed with ADHD, Conduct Disorder (but which one she had was not said). We have taken her to 2 different psychiatrist and one said she was depressed and the other with the ADHD and conduct disorder. She no longer goes to see either psychiatrist because she does not want to talk to them about her problems and refuses to. When she does, she admits that she lies to them. She has no remorse for anything she does and her behavior is getting worse and bolder. She gets up in the middle of the night and melts things on her light bulb in her lamp and we are afraid she is going to start a fire. She is still stealing and has even put a stuffed animal in our mailbox (which we knew was her's to begin with) and said that someone left it for her and she was scared that she had a stalker. She finally admitted that she did it but does not know why. She never gives a reason why she does anything. She just says "I don't know". Her teachers are even having problems in school. Please, any advice anyone can gives us will be appreciated.

Baggy Bags

Active Member
That's a lot to deal with, RMT. I'm sorry you are going through this. It sounds like your stepdaughter went through a traumatic time with her mom, poor baby :(

The best thing would be if someone could convince her to cooperate with therapy. She can't get through this on her own. She's still young enough to turn it around, hopefully, but she needs therapy.

Did either of the doctors prescribe medication?

My son is 15 and has similar behavior, also started when he was 9 (stealing, lying, weird stories..) and medication is helping.

The lack of remorse is especially worrying. Can your husband take some time off work and go somewhere with her for a weekend trip or something, so they can bond? Maybe that would help her accept therapy.

It breaks my heart that she's so young and having to deal with the law like that. My son was having to report to the police station in town three times a day (it's a very small town), and I know it was very harmful for his self image, as well as socially. Unless you feel physically threatened, or that she is going to hurt herself, I would try to avoid calling the police on her as much as possible. I'm sure that you've only done it out of desperation, but I would really try to avoid it. I regret having gotten the police involved as much as we did.

When we don't understand these disorders, our children's behavior is mind blowing. I'm glad you are here, where you can get support and information. Hang in there! And take that lamp out of her room.


Well-Known Member
Hi there RMT,

I am also very sorry to hear of the problems you are experiencing with your daughter.

I am confused about her being kicked off probation. Shouldn't she be in some kind of residential facility if that were the case? Usually, if someone is kicked off probation, more severe consequences follow. I find it hard to believe she would simply be thrown off probation without any additional treatment or punishment.

In any event, you do have your hands full, and it sounds like it might be time for you to go to court, hire an attorney, and relinquish her custody to the state so they can place her in a facility where she will be safe and can receive the help she needs. It sounds like she is too ill to live at home with you and her dad right now, unfortunately.

Keep us posted. Best of luck.


Well-Known Member
I am not sure, but I think Gabi may be talking about the trauma a very young infant and child acquires when the caregiver she has to trust is unavailable or abusive. Reactive Attachment Disorder is common in adopted kids so adoptive parents usually know about it, but it is becoming more common in biological k ids too as parents divorce young and some are not responsible. Sounds like this kid had tough early years. There is help for attachment problems, but it is hard to find a good mental health professional who knows what to do. I would read books by Nancy Thomas if this resonates with you.

I am not saying this is her problem. It is a possibility that maybe you want to learn about and explore and if it does resonate there are many books that can help you, even if you have trouble finding a therapist who knows enough about it to diagnose it or help. You should not have to handle this child alone. This is unfair of your husband. Can he not look for another job? After all, this is his child and her welfare and she was already cheated out of quality time by an addicted mother. She needs her father to be involved too. No matter what is causing this, she needs her father, not just you. You are TERRIFIC, but she needs to feel like her father cares since her mother let her down. Do you have other kids whom you feel she may harm?

I would use therapy, not the police unless she is being violent. I agree she is too young...violence or drugs would be my only reason to go to the cops for a twelve year old. I might add that attachment disorder looks almost exactly like Conduct Disorder. Only the cause is different so it may require different treatment. And do take ALL the bulbs out of her room and put an alarm on her door so she wakes you up whenever she leaves the room at night, even to go to the bathroom. in my opinion it is not safe for her to be able to wander around the house at night. How is she with animals? Does she LIKE fire? Does she pee or p oop in inappropriate places? Most people who develop psychopathy do all three of those things as a child, plus have no conscience, which is serious and troubling.

Reactive Attachment Disorder
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Roll With It
Welcome to the board. It is wonderful to have you join us, but I am so sorry that you had to come and find us. It must be incredibly difficult to deal with your stepdaughter for such long stretches without your husband at home. You are a strong, brave and wonderful mom for doing this.

What was your stepdaughter's very early life like? Did her mother use alcohol or drugs during the pregnancy? Did your stepdaughter get abused or neglected during that time, especially during the first 3 years of life? This can have a HUGE impact on a child. How is she with animals? Has she ever hurt one? Do you feel comfortable leaving her around them?

You might want to do some research into Reactive Attachment Disorder. This happens when a child is abused or neglected in the first 3 years of life. (I am NOT accusing your husband of this. If he was on the road while he was with her mother, it could EASILY have been hidden. If they were not together, it would be even easier to hide.)The child is unable to form attachments to other people. It is terribly sad and the in the worst cases, children can be incredibly dangerous. There are other forms of attachment disorder that are also possible. You might want to do research on this.

If she was exposed to alcohol or drugs in utero, she may have problems because of that. It is possible to have a normal appearance and to look like you have not been impacted by your mother's substance abuse but to still have serious problems. It might play a role in her problems.

As far as what to do, there are a lot of things to try. The first thing I would suggest is for you to write a Parent Report. It is a report all about your stepdaughter. All the good and bad. Parents here before me created the outline and it really helps keep things organized. It also helps you communicate effectively with the various professionals that may be needed to help her and to keep you all as safe as possible. You can click on the link in my signature (at the bottom of this post) to find the thread about the Parent Report.

One thing I would suggest right off the bat is to remove her lamp. If she is misusing it to try to set the house on fire, she should not have it. If you don't have a fixture on the ceiling, consider getting on of the newer fluorescent bulbs for the fixture that does not get hot. Or have her depend on sunlight for light in her room. It would be a logical consequence for misusing her lamp.

Another things is to consider putting a security camera up inside your house to see what she does when she gets up in the night. Does she leave her room (do NOT put a camera in her room)? Does she do anything you need to worry about now? How often does she get up? Where does she go? If she is up often, you might consider a sleep study to figure out why. Sleep is crucial for health and proper growth. If she isn't sleeping enough, it could cause many problems. I would NOT let her know that there is a camera in the house, at least at first.

A second benefit of having cameras is to catch her rages and other behaviors. Seeing what the child does on video often causes the doctor to treat the issue far more seriously than he would just from a parent's verbal description. At least that was my experience with several doctors. The video made the intensity and duration seem far more real. If you cannot put cameras up in your home, try to use your phone or tablet to take video unobtrusively.

What do you do when she screams for hours? What reaction do you give her? Have you ever just pretended she was not there? Left the room to put on earplugs and then taken the time to read a book or have a cup of tea or do something that you enjoy doing WITHOUT her? Do it as long as she screams. If that means dinner does not get made, well, she wore you out with all that screaming, so dinner will have to be cheese sandwiches or something like that. Maybe if you do this for several weeks of her screaming, it will stop. Of course after you ignore her the first time or two she will get louder and go longer to get your attention. Persevere to give zero reaction and it might taper after that. Of course you might have already done this and not had it work.

One thing I found extremely helpful with my own difficult child was the book The Explosive Child by Ross Green. It sounds like this might help you a lot. I also highly recommend Parenting Your Child With Love & Logic by Fay and Cline. This book was very helpful with my son. I know our schools use this too.

Has anyone ever done truly in depth testing on your stepdaughter? More than just an appointment with a psychiatrist or psychologist? I would strongly recommend having her evaluated by a neuropsychologist (psychologist with extra training in the brain). This would entail about 10-12 hours of testing over several sessions. It would be worth bribing your stepdaughter to cooperate in the sessions to get the information. Often they are able to really pinpoint what is going on and direct you to more effective help.

Please don't ever feel that you have to take all of the advice that we give. We offer what we know in the hopes that something that we can share will help you. We know that you cannot do everything. We expect you to take what works and leave the rest. I would urge you and your husband to always, always listen to your instincts, no matter what they say. If they go against some doctor, ignore the doctor. The times I made the biggest mistakes with my kids were the times I ignored my instincts. With a child who was kicked off of probation, you cannot afford to ignore your instincts.


Well-Known Member
I agree with the counsel provided above.

A regional children's hospital will have a child development department where she can receive a neuropsychological evaluation and be evaluated by a treatment team.

I would get school involved by requesting an immediate IEP in writing. There is a qualifying category called emotional disability wherein she should qualify. There is an organization called disability rights that can advocate. It is free. School is obligated legally to provide services so she can be educated in the least restrictive environment.

You can google special education and IEP and learn more.

I believe anybody would feel over their head.

I agree. Get rid of anything she is using to endanger herself or others and try to make safe the environment. I would call the police or mental health crisis team every single time she puts herself or others in danger. This will help her. By protecting her and others. And by documenting her severe problems.

I would discuss with her dad your intention to do this. To me that would be non negotiable. To not call could be considered neglect or negligent if harm comes to her or others.

Welcome. I hope you keep posting. It helps.