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What to do, when drama is no longer entertaining?
October 6, 2006 9:26 AM   Subscribe

I am a hopelessly moderate, hyper-responsible, mostly mellow person. How can I help my niece, who is very bright, but hyper-emotional and kind of an over-the-top drama queen, create stability for herself and/or make more responsible choices?

Normally, I would just make myself available and be as supportive as possible while she tried to figure things out for herself. But I have a job to do and I can't figure out how to do it.

I run an educational trust for my family. We are not Rockefellers, by any means, but this money is giving some kids who wouldn't otherwise have the means to go to college a chance to do so. Two months into her first semester, my niece is having to withdraw. Some circumstances were beyond her control, but much of what's happened is a result of either poor choices due to her naivete, or just hasty decisions based on what's cheapest/easiest/available at the time. She will have to be a lot more stable before she is given a second (and final) chance by the other heirs in the trust--we are working on those criteria now.

Other facts: She is 22 years old and has been on her own, I think, for about a year. She lives about 1500 miles away from me. Her parents are supportive emotionally, but not financially (she is 22 years old, after all). My job as trustee is not only to make sure education expenses are covered, receipts collected, blah, blah, blah, but also to *encourage* these kids to reach their potential.

IN SHORT: how do I deal with a drama queen? What do I do when the histrionics start to sound like foreign gibberish? How can I facilitate a little more stability without either babying her or being too tough?
posted by whatnot to Human Relations (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Well I feel like the first step is what you've already done, which is "she will have to be a lot more stable before she is given a second chance". Having people around who are not willing to buy her out of every problem is a great way to force someone to figure out how to accept responsibility.
posted by spicynuts at 9:53 AM on October 6, 2006


State your position clearly and calmly and then stay the course. If necessary, calmly restate your position from time to time. Praise progress. Don't dwell on setbacks, turn attention to what is necessary to get back on track.

When framing the criteria, I'd avoid tight timelines in most cases. People need time to get their shit together. Rushing them generally isn't going to help. I wouldn't say that she needs to reenroll by X date, or that she has exactly 4 years to finish her degree once she reenrolls.

Give her incremental allocations and tie them to performance. If she blows one of them, but then recovers on her own (like supporting herself and paying her own tuition for a semester), I'd take that as a sign of growing maturity and allow her to pick up where she's left off.

Good luck to all of you!
posted by Good Brain at 10:02 AM on October 6, 2006


I'm not sure precisely what the question is.

Are you asking what criteria you should ask her to meet before she can get more money out of the trust?
Are you asking how to prod her to meet the criteria you set?
Are you asking how to deal with her potentially throwing a temper tantrum when you inform her of the new criteria?
All of the above? Something else?
posted by decathecting at 10:04 AM on October 6, 2006


Do you want suggestions for criteria for "stability"?

Assuming she regains enough stability (whatever that ends up meaning) to satisfy the conditions of the trust, how soon could she get more money? Is she out of luck until next semester, next year, or some other time period?

Why is your niece only starting college at 22? Did she decide to take time off to, say, travel or get work experience, or is her withdrawal from college actually her second evidence of instability/irresponsibility, the first being to spend the years since she graduated high school partying, or something? How she has spent her time so far should probably be a factor in your decision.

It's been my experience that people with family money take a lot longer to figure out how to be responsible with it. One way to speed up that process is to withdraw the money. Or refuse to give her any more until she repays the tuition that was lost because of her forced withdrawal.
posted by joannemerriam at 10:10 AM on October 6, 2006


deathecting: suggestions on any of those questions are welcome, but the criteria she must meet will primarily be set by me and the other heirs. Once those criteria are set, however, I will need to help her understand how to navigate them.

I have always been confounded by dramatic behavior and histrionics, but in the past, I've only had to be a friend. Now I have to mentor this person.

So, I am trying to figure out how to do that well. Does that help?
posted by whatnot at 10:13 AM on October 6, 2006


Maybe require her to complete a semester of volunteer work (and/or just plain work) to help her get a grip on herself and prove herself stable enough to go to school? I don't know if Americorps and the like take non-grads, but something away from home (away from her regular drama club, and hopefully around both older and younger kids who are a little more serious) would be best.

Given that a lot of kids have to do volunteer service to graduate from college or even high school, I don't think that's a crazy requirement in this situation. It ought to be good for her in any case.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:16 AM on October 6, 2006


Seconded the above: make damn sure she knows what it's like to be truly financially independent without a college degree. Rent, health insurance, transportation - these are the things regular people have to pay for. She should have to as well, for, oh 6 months, a year, something substansial.
posted by DenOfSizer at 10:21 AM on October 6, 2006


It would help me to know more about how she exhibits these dramatic tendencies and histrionics, but in general:

I've had quite a few friends and co-workers who act the same way (and I may get that way myself every once in awhile). They key usually seems to be to *remain calm* and do your best not to get sucked into the drama. Do not engage, if you will.

Acknowledge her feelings, and then calmly re-present your points. If she is too worked up, say (without being condescending or patronizing, not that I think you would be, but try to make sure she doesn't perceive it as so) "I don't think we are making a lot of progress talking right now. Can we please talk after you've had a chance to think a little bit?"

Basically, if engaging in dramatics doesn't get her a payoff, she will likely tone it down.

Sometimes it helps me to imagine that I am talking to an important client who is being over the top - respect her point of view and personality, but remember that you each have a goal and try to work together to communicate in the way best to achieve it.
posted by KAS at 10:49 AM on October 6, 2006


If possible, have a third person present when you and your niece discuss this. There's a lot of emotion here (you sound almost afraid of her).
posted by Carol Anne at 10:57 AM on October 6, 2006


You say that her second chance will be her last -- is this true? I mean, do have evidence of other people being permanently rejected by the Trust?

...I ask because having people set a hard line, and then eventually backing down in the face of her drama, is probably one of the things that got her where she is today.

So it seems to me she needs to know that she really does have to wise up (this probably ties in with what DenOfSizer said above).

Also: if you make agreements with her, make them formal statements that she has to sign. The ritual of signing her name might make everything much more tangibly serious to her. It does to a lot of people I know, anyway.
posted by aramaic at 11:18 AM on October 6, 2006


Hi. Your niece sounds a lot like me! I'm quite a bit older, though, and I'm sure people still feel I've not even come close to reaching my potential.

It sounds to me like what you are trying to do is fundamentally change a person. She's young, but she's not that young. That's her personality you're talking about.
I dealt with things that way when I was twenty-two, and the bad news is I still deal with things that way today. My guess is I am going to deal with things that way when I'm eighty, too. The good news is that I do deal with difficult (or just plain annoying) things (not quietly and with dignity, but I sort it out), have a good life that works mostly the way I want it to, and it takes a lot more to make me feel like something is difficult now than it did seven years ago.
Realize that that's what has to change in order for her to "become more stable" -- not how she deals with difficult things, but what she perceives as difficult.

Maybe she's not trust fund material. All the things I appreciate and enjoy are things I've had to work very hard for. They are the only things that feel meaningful. I've never had any kind of financial help from anyone.

All of the above are excellent advice. Be accepting, but don't back down, speak calmly, don't get suckered into the drama.
But again: This is her personality you're talking about. What is most likely to change is what it takes for her to press the panic button, not that she'll push it when there's trouble. Time and managing her own life will help her with this.

So. In your own words: Make yourself available and be as supportive as possible while she tries to figure things out for herself.
posted by aforambivalent at 11:54 AM on October 6, 2006


I think what you need to do as a mentor, and as an administrator is to remain calm, and to approach it as a business transaction. Basically make a contract. In order for her to receive X she must accomplish goals 1,2,3. As a mentor your job is to help her break it down into manageable steps. When she gets into drama mode, you have to be firm (and calm) and say you can't negotiate with her when she's like that. That's going to have to be one of those real-life lessons she learns from it. That's also where you're going to have to seperate your own emotional involvement. Sometimes it sucks to have to be what seems like an asshole.

Another side is to find out her motivations. Why does she want to go to college? What are her goals? What is her plan? Make her spell it out specifically. Quite frankly not everyone is college material. I had a hard time my first year in the University, and I quit. I honestly had no direction. When I asked to be readmitted, my counselor made me come up with a plan, and to explain why I wanted to do it. Then she set some very difficult goals for me to achieve each quarter, and evaluated me each step of the way. If I failed at any step I knew I was going to be out. It was stressful, but it was also when I did my best work as a student.
posted by Eekacat at 12:14 PM on October 6, 2006


Thinking about this further, I suggest your criteria be very concrete, objective measures - nothing that is open to interpretation. She can only know if she's toeing your line if she knows where you've drawn it.

I don't think she should be penalized in any way for being a dramatic person. She should be penalized for failing to achieve certain standards the Trust sets.

You may want to float the idea with the other trustees that people who need a second chance have to take out student loans for at least their first year, and then the trust will pay off the loans if the student gets good enough grades to remain in school (or whatever criteria). I am thinking this will give her stronger motivation to succeed - because she's stuck with the debt if she doesn't succeed - and it means the other heirs don't get repeatedly shafted if she fails again, which might help keep family relations happier (I know I'd be pissed if my and my children's inheritance was being pissed away by an irresponsible cousin).
posted by joannemerriam at 1:12 PM on October 6, 2006


I'm a recovering drama queen myself, so that's where this advice comes from. I'd remind her of the times in the past where she'd flip her lid. Have they blown over. Gently point our her pattern of getting worked up then forgetting about things. And, if it doesn't work, at least you'll feel better ; )
posted by juliarothbort at 2:00 PM on October 6, 2006


First off, you can't change people. You know it.

I think you have two problems with this young lady - first, she over reacts to the situation(s) in her life, second, she may not know/have the skills to balance her life.

These may very well be connected - her reactions may be due to her upbrining - often leaving her feel helpless - and the emotional reaction ensues from feeling out of control.

As a mentor, you might want to come to her with the idea that she should suggest to you a way to help structure her responsibility levels - instead of putting you in the position of being the bearer of bad news....you're a conduit to money/benefits she can get to, if she's interested.

She'll overreact, etc. (By the way, I'd present this to the board too. It shouldnt' be "all" or nothing. A trust ought to be enabling.)

So, enable her to find her path. Support her with advice, so she can get an easier step up. Expect her to stumble (maybe more than once.)

Instead of giving her concrete goals: Do this or get nothing....
Give her the idea that she needs to figure out if she wants this help - that the help will enable her, but she doesn't have to take it at all. (both in your mentoring and the money)

What you don't want to do is set yourself up as the "parent".
posted by filmgeek at 2:25 PM on October 6, 2006


I personally was very aware of the struggle my parents made to pay for my college degree, and consequently beat myself up emotionally over the two dropped classes and extra semester during my college career. In fact, they were more understanding about these things than I was. Surely part of this is my personality, but being aware that there was a second mortgage on their home in order to educate me was a powerful motivator.

There is a common perception of a trust fund as an unlimited resource, with the trustees stodgily keeping the funds away from the young for no good reason. Maybe painting a very accurate picture would help? I suggest breaking down the numbers of how much the trust has available, how many educations it must pay for, and how much money was spent on classes she withdrew from. All presented in a very businesslike manner, with the goal of impressing the idea that the fund is a limited resource that must be administered carefully.

If this is the first dealing the trust has had with a poor student, maybe present the fact that you are not only dealing with her problem, but setting a precendent of how to deal with this problem if it arises again in the future. If it has occured before, find out how it was dealt with then. Perhaps saying "your cousin Xavier had a similar problem, and the trust eventually had to do A, B, and C. I'd like to avoid things coming to that with you."

I also think asking for her suggestions on how to deal with the situation is a very good one. Maybe taking only a couple classes at a time is a good route for her, maybe doing some volunteer work or interning for a semester or a year as she gets her head toghether might help. I think that abandoning her completely to pay her own way thru school might be counter-productive at this point if the eventual goal is for her to earn a college degree. Someone who has trouble budgeting her time and maybe partying too much in college is not going to avoid these things by waitressing for a year - the opportunities to party will only increase.
posted by Cranialtorque at 3:03 PM on October 6, 2006


Someone above suggested having her support herself for 6 months to a year; I was thinking perhaps until she really knows what _she_ wants to do. It may be difficult for you to discern when this time comes if she's emotional about everything; maybe make her present you with a reasonable detailed plan that shows she really knows what she's doing. And getting to that point might take years.
posted by amtho at 3:40 PM on October 6, 2006


In our family, there's a somewhat similar set-up for tuition. One boy is 18, still in high school, and very easily distracted from anything academic. Before going to a very strict school, he acted like a complete stoner. He's doing fine now, and he very much wants "the college experience," but he admits that without supervision, he's likely to flunk out. We told him to come up with a plan, because we don't plan on throwing money away.

His proposal: He will pay half his tuition up front each semester with money he will have earned himself. If he gets any D's or F's, he forfeits the money. If he takes an incomplete, his tuition aid is on hold till he earns an acceptable grade. If he completes the semester successfully, he can "get his money back." If he doesn't meet the standards, he'll have to earn half his tuition for the next semester in which he enrolls, whenever that might be. (No decisions have been made yet.)

When you talk with your niece, emphasize that you are representing the trust. State your agenda: Everyone involved hopes she'll go to college, but $X thousand dollars have been lost and that can't happen again, so a plan is needed. Ask her to come up with a plan to increase her chances for success, and to continue her education while ensuring that the trust won't be throwing good money after bad.

Then let her think about it. Ask her when she would like to discuss it further... let her set a date. Tell her to let you know if, for any reason, she needs to reschedule.

As for the likely dramatic flourishes -- you don't have to counter anything she says or does, or respond. If she's yelling or very upset, tell her you know it's a difficult time and you can put the conversation on hold till she's calmer. Keep coming back to your agenda -- finding a way for her to continue her education.
posted by wryly at 3:59 PM on October 6, 2006


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