My Defiant 12 Year Old Girl

Question and answer details
H (34-female-US)
My husband and I have been having problems with our older daughter. My husband calls her out on her behavior outside the home. Unfortunately, she is in public school because we can't afford to get her in Islamic school. May Allah help us! I never believed the things my husband said until yesterday. She is being disruptive in class yelling and cursing at other class mates. She fights with others. I was so upset that she takes her hijab off at school that without telling my husband what I was doing I cut her hair very short. My thought was if I cut her hair then she won't take it off, being she wanted to show her hair. I feel terrible and all I want is for her to re-embrace Islam. We were reverts, she was 2 so she had been raised as Muslim for 10 years. She is defiant to me and her father. She refuses to study Islam and if she does she just acts like she is. She doesn't listen to us. I cry to Allah. I don't know what to do. She is mean to her brother and sister and more interested in how she looks. Even when my husband reads Qur'an she has a blank stare and then can't even repeat anything read in English. Every time I talk to her it is based on Qur'an and sunnah, but she retains nothing. I don't know what to do please help we have tried everything and nothing is working. She wants to fit in but is doing it the wrong way. There is quite more but I'm hoping this will be a start in sha’ Allah. Ma as salaama.
Dr. Feryad Hussain


Asalaamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.

Bless you sister! These behaviors are difficult for parents at the best of times but of course when you fear your daughter is becoming far from religion I can understand your sense of urgency to solve this problem. You are not alone in what you experience and I think your concerns are  a sign of good and loving Muslim parents who want to protect their children’s Akhira (hereafter) as well as dunya (worldly life) and may Allah give you great reward for this and the actions you have taken to correct them  so far, ma sha’ Allah.

My immediate thought is that the problem may be one of general behavior and not one necessarily aimed at rejecting her Islamic upbringing. Behavioral problems in general present themselves in the way you have described so I suggest the first thing we do is take a clear assessment from the school educational psychologist. They are experienced in assessing children for behavioral problems, etc. and I think it would be a good idea to perhaps rule out these problems before we assume the problem is some sort of ‘religion-based’ negativity – it may not be.

The problem may be either a behavioral problem or a specific (undiagnosed) clinical problem such as ADHD, etc. (I am not saying it is but am just making a point) or it may be a personal problem specific to your daughter as an individual. So I would suggest you start with talking to the school. I would also suggest that you consider the following questions before visiting the school psychologist:

-          How old was your daughter when you noticed this behavior?

-          As a child was she difficult to manage?

-          Did she reach all her usual milestones of development without any problems?

-          Has she ever had a head injury?

-          You say your daughter is defiant to you and your husband – can you give specific examples of when and where and how.

-          Does your daughter exhibit this behavior with anyone else i.e. is she well behaved with her friends – or are all her friends exhibiting similar behavior (in which case it may be difficult to distinguish).

-          Do her teachers share these concerns? Have you ever had to go to speak with them about her behavior?

-          Is she otherwise attentive to her studies - have the school had any concerns here?

-          Does your daughter’s behavior alter with different issues or do you feel it is just around the Islamic issues?

-          Is there anyone she is close to and does she exhibit this behavior with them also (if, yes, this can usually be a sign that she is unable to control the behavior herself)?

-          What is her health status – is she able to eat and sleep well or are there problems here also? i.e. refusing food at the correct times or refusing what is offered or repeatedly eating or wanting the same food or refusal to sleep on time or inability to sleep etc. These are mainly behavioral but are there any other, specific, health problems here?

I am asking these questions to help you consider if there is a pattern to her behavior or if it is a general problem. Remember as a 12 year old it is not necessarily her rejection or questioning of your ideas (about anything) that we should be concerned about; rather, it is the appropriateness of her expression of that rejection that is the concern. This is where I think perhaps a formal assessment may be useful and if this uncovers something specific, then I suggest you pursue treatment with the school psychologist because they will best know the presentation of her problems as well as be familiar with her school environment as well as any available support.

However, if there is no identifiable cause and it seems the behavior is specific to certain things or religion specifically, then do please let me know and we can consider alternative management strategies.

In the meantime make dua for your family and protection for your daughter’s iman. We are told in the sunnah of Propbet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that reciting surat Al-Baqarah is a protection from shaytan and so is always a healing for any family.

I hope this may give you some support and more immediate assistance and Allah knows best. However, as I said do let me know if you need further advice.

May Allah bring peace to your hearts and the best of iman to you, your children and all of the Muslims.

For further guidance, please try the following links:

About the Counselor:

Dr. Hussain holds a practitioner Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and has worked as a clinical psychologist for a number of years in a range of clinical settings with differing populations in UK. She is author of numerous research articles on health psychology and cross cultural and religious therapy models. She is currently carrying out private research and consultancy in the discipline of Islam and Clinical Psychology/ Psychotherapy with a number of psychological organizations in order to develop an Islamically-centred therapy model.

Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information that was provided in the question. You are strongly advised to seek face-to-face counseling and consult your physician or therapist when making a drastic change in your lifestyle in terms of behavior, medication or diet etc.