Ask Fiona: I can't cope with my children fighting and arguing so much
Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine advises a woman unsure how to handle her feuding children and another who is struggling with arthritis
"I HAVE two children aged seven and nine and I love them to bits but am worried that they argue and fight so much. This has been going on for some time and it's particularly bad during the school holidays – Christmas just past was especially difficult.
"My husband had to work right up until Christmas Eve and had to go back to work on Boxing Day, leaving me to cope with the usual post-Christmas let-down and mayhem. Even during term-time, they find any excuse to argue about everything and nothing, and increasingly when they fight, I worry that one of them will be badly hurt.
"My daughter, the eldest, is quick to lose her temper and I think she probably starts most of the confrontations, but her brother is no saint either. Last week, he provoked her by dropping her favourite book in the toilet and this led to a real meltdown.
"I spend as much time with them as possible and try to maintain the peace but it's not easy. We've tried punishments for bad behaviour and rewards for good, but nothing seems to work.
"In addition to a part-time job, I am also studying for a computer qualification so am exhausted most of the time. My husband helps when he can, but he works long hours.
"Neither of us has ever hit the children and nor do we want to, however, I get so stressed by the constant bickering that I am worried I will just lose my temper one day and lash out.
"What should I do? I am already dreading the Easter holidays!"
FIONA SAYS: "Sibling squabbles are a normal part of family life and most children will at some point fight, argue and tease a brother or sister. It's a process whereby they learn how to interact with other people and a means for them to assert their growing independence. Your children are not doing this simply to make your life a misery, nor, I suspect, are they any worse than other children. Understanding this about your children is one thing – coping with it is a whole different ball game. The good news is, you're already doing many of the right things. It's important to step in and stop arguments and fights.
"If you allow it or simply ignore it, you're encouraging it. Similarly, if your setting positive and negative consequences for certain behaviours, it's important to be consistent. For example, if you threaten to withdraw pocket money when they argue or fight, do it and don't back down.
"I know it's difficult and exhausting, but over time they will eventually learn. As for the holidays, I wonder if boredom might be partially to blame? I know you give them what time you can, but it seems that this may not be enough especially when part of their day isn't taken up with school. I say this not to be critical but to suggest that, when you are free to be with them, you make the most of it.
"Physically be with them rather than leave them to amuse themselves with TV or other computer devices, then keep them active and involved, and where possible out of the house. Your local library, leisure or sports centre, local authority and indeed their school should have details of activities and clubs for children. The more active they've been, the less energy they'll have to put into arguments.
"Finally, if you're ever feeling overwhelmed, want to let off steam or just need to talk to someone, please contact Family Lives (familylives.org.uk). This organisation supports parents through a confidential helpline, lots of advice on its website and details of local parenting support groups."
SO UPSET BY MY SON'S EPILEPSY DIAGNOSIS
"MY son is 17 and has been diagnosed with epilepsy. He has had several seizures of the last nine months, none of which have been severe. His GP doesn't seem concerned, but this has still come as a huge shock to us. My son has been given some medication, but I worry that not enough has been done to find the cause of his illness.
"I was adopted but have never bothered to find my birth parents, so I feel guilty that this illness may have come from my side of the family. I also worry that the doctor doesn't seem in any hurry to see my son again. Surely my son should be tested further to see if there is some way for his condition to be cured? "We all feel a bit on the dark and don't know where to turn for help and advice."
FIONA SAYS: "It's always a shock when a child is diagnosed with a medical condition and the temptation is to cast around for someone or something to blame. However, while understandable, it's almost always a waste of energy as the causes of epilepsy are still largely unknown.
"While some cases have an obvious cause like an illness or a physical injury, most instances have no known cause. So please don't feel guilty, it's extremely unlikely that anything you have (or have not done) has caused your son's illness.
"Instead, try to focus on getting the support that he is likely to need and, as a first step I suggest you arrange to see his GP again and discuss the issues that are concerning you. If it helps, make a list so that you don't forget.
"Then I suggest you contact Epilepsy Action (epilepsy.org.uk), which has a comprehensive range of advice and information as well as a freephone helpline."
I'M 23 BUT DON'T REALLY HAVE ANY FRIENDS
"PLEASE help, I feel very isolated and lonely. I'm not particularly shy, I can talk to people – otherwise I wouldn't be able to do my job, and I have no problem in social situations when I DO get the occasional invite from my work colleagues. However, what I don't have is a circle of friends like my colleagues, who seem to have very active social lives. I don't do much with my spare time except read and run, which means I mostly must make do on my own.
"I have lost contact with everyone I knew from school and I have no family. I am only 23, so why haven't I got more friends?"
FIONA SAYS: "I get the sense from your short letter that you seem to be waiting for friendships to happen, rather than actively working at it. I'm not saying you won't make friends by hanging back, but you'll certainly increase your chances if you get out there and try to meet new people. You can do this in any number of ways; clubs and societies, sport activity, further education or some sort of leisure-based course. It doesn't matter what you do, it will all depend on what your interests are. You mention running so, for example, rather than do that alone, how about joining a running club? The key thing is that it gets you out of your normal routine and into situations where you can meet new people who hopefully become potential friends.
"You might also consider being more proactive with your work colleagues. Here again, rather than wait for invites, organise something yourself and invite them to join you. They may claim to have very active social lives but, you never know, some of them may be just as lonely as you and are talking up their lives so they seem more popular than they really are."
ARTHRITIS PAIN HAS LEFT ME SO DEPRESSED
"I am 44 and have arthritis. Over the past year, the pain has got worse and more persistent, and this has made me very depressed. It's also meant that I have put on a lot of weight, which I know isn't good for me. I have tried to diet but it never seems to work, and now my husband and daughter have started to make a few sarcastic comments about me getting fat. They probably mean well but I am hurt by what they say. I feel that everyone and everything is against me. I think I need help but don't know who to turn to."
FIONA SAYS: "Coping with chronic pain is never easy, as it impacts every aspect of your quality of life. So, if you haven't already, please see your GP to discuss changing or improving whatever medications you are taking currently.
Then, once you've got the pain at a more manageable level, you should feel better able to tackle the weight issue.
"And you're right to want to do this because increased weight will certainly exacerbate the arthritis. That said, you'll struggle to lose weight if your family continues to undermine your efforts with sarcasm. Talk with them and explain that you find their comments hurtful, however well-intentioned they might be. Then ask for their help and support.
"Finally, you may also find it useful to contact Versus Arthritis (versusarthritis.org) for information, advice and support. The charity provides a phone helpline and a network of online community groups, where you can chat with other people managing arthritis and details of local groups."
:: If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.