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My Three Sons Are A Fighting Nightmare

by Christina
(Levittown PA)

Hello. I am a single mother of four. Three sons, 17, 15 & 13. I also have a nine year old daughter.

My concerns are the fighting that goes on between my 17 & 13 year old. It gets out of control at times both physical and verbal.
All of my children are generally good. All are honor roll in school year after year and for the most part have not been in trouble except for the occasional curse word or dirty picture.

When the physical fighting starts, no matter what I say or do it's like I'm a ghost standing there. My youngest son drops the "F" word anywhere between 30 and 50 times during this. I cannot physically break them up or even verbally, with saying go outside and trying to squirt them with a hose.

I have had a lot of advice. The straw that broke the camel's back is when I called their father for help and he handled it with a smack and a talking to. They only fear him and do not respect him. That was the base of our marriage-fear.

My question is how do I stop this behavior? I try to diffuse every argument but it is not always redirectable. I am so scared they will carry this into their adulthood.

I feel so alone in trying to care for my boys and getting through this stage. Does anyone else go through this?
Most of all feeling like I have no control over my own children. Any advice? I need help!

Response from Dr. DeFoore

Hello Christina, and thanks for telling your story here. I'm sure a lot of single mothers feel the way you do (from the way you spoke of your husband in past tense, I assume you are divorced). You're definitely in a challenging situation, but I think you can get control of your family in a healthy way.

The general goal is to establish your authority as a parent. I will list the steps involved in accomplishing that:

1) You need to give the clear and undeniable message to your children that they are to treat you and each other with respect at all times. That starts with the example you set. Be sure that you are respectful to them and others around you, including their father (meaning, either speak of him respectfully to your children, or not at all).

2) You also need to respect yourself, in terms of your self care, diet, exercise and personal life and relationships. You also need to be dealing with your own anger and other emotions in healthy ways--for example, have you dealt with your emotions regarding the boys' father? They may be unconsciously acting out the unexpressed anger you feel toward their dad.

3) Those two steps are essential to any disciplinary measures you take. In other words, if they don't respect you, your efforts at discipline will fail.

4) Your home must run on a strict economy of freedom and responsibility. Meaning, your children only get freedom (cell phones, going out, playing sports, tv, computer, video games, etc.) when they take responsibility (treating you and each other with respect, doing their chores around the house, maintaining their grades, etc.). It sounds like the most relevant part of this for you is the respect).

5) When the fighting starts, I like the idea of squirting them with a hose. They're acting like primitive animals, and so a primitive method kind of makes sense, and its not abusive. If you can't get them outside to get the hose, just have a bucket of water handy and throw that on them. It's important that you're not angry when you do this, by the way. You just want to "wake them up" and stop the damage.

Here is a web page that will also be helpful: parenting teenagers with anger problems

You might also want to check into individual counseling for yourself (to make sure you're emotionally healthy), and family counseling for you and your sons.

Believe in yourself, Christina. And believe in the best and healthiest aspects of your sons. You will all make it through this just fine.

My very best to you,

Dr. DeFoore

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