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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tuesday's Psychology Tips: Ask Dr. B: How Can I Stop My Kids From Bickering?

Thought for the Day: On Tuesday's I have been posting psychology tips that usually tend to be short posts, today's will be a bit longer. Today, I received an e-mail from Shannon Philpott, Founder, The Single Mom's Playbook. She had some new questions for me to respond to from their "Ask the Expert" section. She told me that "reader questions are pouring in" lately and apologized for not notifying me when my posts were published in June. I decided to repost one of two questions I answered last June. It is longer than my usual tips, but I believe it could be helpful to single moms as well as to all parents. Here's the question:

question-mark1Dear Dr. B,        
As a single mom, I find myself frustrated easily when I get home from work and my children – 10 and 12 – fight me on every little thing. From homework to chores, the battles are endless. I’m trying to stay consistent with discipline, but it is so hard doing it alone. Do you have any suggestions?

ANSWER: First let me say, this is a great question, which every single mother asks herself over the course of raising children on their own. Before I get to the potential solutions though, I have some questions, which I hope you will address & write back to us about as well. As you will see in this post, the answers may shift the direction of the solutions. 

First, how is your work going? You began your question by saying that the problems tend to start on arriving home from work. Being a single working mom (and I mean working outside the home, since just being a single mom is more than a full time job), is doubly challenging. If you do not have the luxury of being able to stay at home while raising your kids, you have the additional stresses of work to contend with on a daily basis. If you love your work and get along with all your co-workers, coming home to two kids, dinner preparations, homework hassles and getting the kids to bed is hard enough after a full day on the job. If things are not going well at work, or if you are not satisfied with your job, you may also have little support to work through work issues that are troubling you. When married people come home, if they have a good relationship, they can talk to their partner about work conflicts.

A 10 and a 12 year old simply can’t understand or help with your work issues. In fact, they are coming home needing your assistance to deal with the stresses of their day at school with teachers and peers. If things are stressful at your work, find a friend or two, or speak with a therapist about the conflicts you are struggling with at work. If you can get a handle on these issues, you will have more energy for your kids needs. 
My second set of questions concern your divorce. How long have you been divorced? How old were your kids when you got divorced? How often do they see their father and how do they get along with him? What is the relationship between you and your ex-husband like? How do they understand what went wrong in your marriage? When was the last time you talked to them about it? How old were they? Do they understand that you and their father will not be getting back together? 
Sometimes, kids fighting with the parent they are with (and they may do the same thing with your ex-husband) is a way of fighting the other parent’s battle. Or they may be angry with you thinking that you are the reason that their father is not living with them. Unconsciously, they also may think that if they fight enough, you will get back with their father. 
You may need to make time to talk to your children seriously about their behavior. It makes sense to have family meetings at least once a week to discuss problems that concern you or them. Their behavior and argumentativeness with you is a good topic to discuss with them in a family meeting. You can voice your concern that it is simply unpleasant to have arguments all the time and you want to understand why it is happening. Acknowledge that they may be angry with you, unhappy about the divorce, or about countless other issues.     
Let them know it’s OK to be angry, but that it is not OK to be fighting all the time. Use the family meeting as a way to start searching for better ways to deal with their feelings, answer their questions about the divorce, chores, or Mom’s needing to work. Whatever is on their minds should be encouraged to become part of the weekly discussions.
If they think it’s your fault that the divorce happened and are taking out their anger by bickering, you may need to help them understand what makes marriages and divorces happen. Let them know that both you and your husband are responsible for what happened. Answer their questions as honestly as you can and tell them that when they are older they will understand this better. 
If they tell you that you are always yelling at them or impatient, accept responsibility for your behavior, apologize and explain that that is another reason to talk about what is going on and find better ways of interacting. If you don’t know what to say or are surprised by what they bring up, tell them that you will think about it and get back to them at the next meeting with some ideas and solutions.
Have some ideas about possible ways to reinforce more positive interactions. Start by setting up clear structures and expectations for each of your children for when they come home. Get them to agree to the schedules. Then come up with some rewards for sticking to the schedule without arguments. For instance, if your kids both get their homework and chores done all week, on the weekend, you can all go see a movie, bowling/rock climbing that the 2 kids can choose or take turns choosing. Let them come up with ideas of things they would like to do as rewards for less arguments.
 If you need the help of a therapist, family therapy can be set up as well to work on how they are feeling and come up with better ways to work through their negative feelings. Sometimes, when you open up the discussion, you discover that children have distorted perceptions of what caused the divorce.
Each of your kids may have different issues that they are struggling with including sibling rivalry. They each may need individualized discussions as well as the family meetings.
I know this is a lot to digest and you may have questions as you proceed to carry out these suggestions. Feel free to let us know how you are doing and to ask additional questions if you need more help.

In the meantime, here are some resources/literature that you may find helpful:  
DrLaviDr. Barbara Lavi is a licensed clinical psychologist in Massachussets and Connecticut. She is the author of the “Wake Up and Dream Challenge.” You can find out more about Dr. B
Have a question for our experts? Submit your single mom challenges via our Contact Form and get the advice you need to stay in the game of single parenting.

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