My teenagers fight like dogs. What should I do? – Ask Dr. Leman 159 (Episode 341)


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It’s time for another Ask Dr. Leman: “My teenagers fight like dogs. What should I do?” Listen in to find out Dr. Leman’s response on today’s episode of Have a New Kid by Friday Podcast.

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Doug: “I hate you. You are an idiot, you are stupid, and I never want to see you again.” These are the words that Sommer, I imagine, hears from her two kids. And she says, “Help. My kids fight like dogs, and I don’t know what to do. How do I get them to like each other?” Well, that’s the question that Sommer asks that we get to ask Dr. Leman. Hi, I’m Doug Terpening.

Andrea: And I’m Andrea.

Doug: And we are really glad that you are with us this beautiful day and want to let you know if it’s your first time, this is for your education and entertainment purposes only. If the subject matter raises any concerns for you or your child, please visit your local professional for help. Well, let’s hear what Sommer’s question is about her kids’ fighting.

Sommer: Hi, Dr. Leman. My name is Sommer. I’m from Missouri. I have a 15-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son. We found Have a New Teenager about three months ago, and it has been amazing in the transformation of my daughter’s reaction and responding to us. However, the relationship between my two kiddos is horrible. My daughter has been mean to my son since he’s been born. And of course, we would get onto her immediately whenever these things would happen. Fast forward 13 years, and they both are saying and hitting each other and just being really horrible all the time to each other. We don’t take sides. So both of them will typically either get sent outside if we’re at home. But there are times I’m just about to pull my hair out because they cannot seem to ever say anything or do anything nice for each other. So how, as a parent, can me and my husband foster their relationship now, going forward? Any help would be great.

Dr. Leman: Okay, Sommer. Thank you so much for that question. 15-year-old girl. I love… I’m just quoting you, Sommer, “She’s been mean to him since he was born.” So the little princess heard that she was going to get the special present. The special present came home, and she figured out this guy is nothing but trouble, “He is competition to my throne of queen of the home.” And, again, I’m just using your words, whenever she was on him and nasty to him, you were right back on her. And what’s happened here, and you have to admit, you sort of trained her, that one of the ways she’ll get your undivided attention is if she’s mean to little Brutus, her brother. So that’s what you’re up to, historically. Now the good news is I want everybody to hear what you said. You found Have a New Teenager by Friday.
Now, I’m not smoking you. That is the best little book. You have a teenager. If you got a middle-schooler, read Planet Middle School, and if you want to graduate from Planet Middle School, read the book that Sommer has just referenced, Have a New Teenager by Friday. Yes, you’re familiar with Have a New kid by Friday as well and Have a New Husband by Friday, Have a New You by Friday. Yeah, I get it, I got hung up on Friday, but my point is that these kinds of issues can be dealt with practically. Now, you’re asking for the miracle of how do we get these kids to really love on each other? Well, I’m going to make a brave statement. They do love each other. Right now, they love each other. They’re brother and sister. They fight like cats and dogs. I get it, but they still love each other.

When somebody picks on little brother, sister will be there to defend him, believe it or not, and vice versa. And as a predictor of great things to happen, the day is coming, Sommer, when those kids will be in each other’s weddings. The bad news is that’s probably about 10 years away or more. In the meantime, your question is, “How do I foster, as husband and wife, a better relationship between those two?” Well, you’re not going to have a lot of success with that, quite frankly. Those of you who heard my podcasts over the years are maybe raising an eyebrow on that one, but these kids are very close in age. They’re obviously competitive. It’s not going to turn into a love fest, but I want to tell you straight out, one of the things that got my attention when you first started asking your question is you held both of them accountable.
And so to answer your question, I would suggest you continue to do so, keeping in mind that fighting’s an act of cooperation. You said you didn’t pick sides. That’s step two. I mean, you’ve got the book, you’re taking the right steps. What you need is time and maturity. Stick to your guns. Don’t try to figure out whoever did what. Let both of them pay, so to speak. You mentioned putting them outside. I love that idea. Canceling an event that you were going to go to, they were going to enjoy is good, because “I’m just so sick of you guys going after each other. I don’t have the emotional courage to get in the car and drive anywhere right now,” those kind of things. So the kids see there’s a direct connection between their misbehavior and your non-compliance to make their life a little nicer and better.

So that is the prescription that I would write for you, Sommer. I’m telling you, I don’t think things are going to be night and day different in two weeks. I think they’re going to go after each other. I think it’s going to lessen in time. And you’re already on a good trajectory here, you’re a good mom, you’re doing the right things, not holding them accountable, not picking sides. And I’d be very matter of fact about, “You two are horrible to each other. It’s disgusting that you don’t have enough self-worth to be kind to one another.” I’d say some things like that once in a while. I wouldn’t harp on it. It wouldn’t be every day, but they would get the gist that I’m very unhappy, we’re very unhappy with how things are, okay?

The kids are after each other just before dinner, throw out the white flag, say, “Come on, John, get in the car.” Take your husband out and get a bite to eat. Let the kids stand there and look at each other and make sure they clean up the kitchen when they’re done with whatever they did, that kind of an approach. What do you guys think?

Doug: Well, I’m raising an eyebrow. Like you said that we would, both Andrea and I did, in the fact that you said it’s not going to get better, even if you apply these principles. Why is it not going to get better?

Dr. Leman: They’re exhibiting competitive behavior. Okay? I did say it’ll get better over time, but it’s not going to get instantly better. She’s doing everything she should be doing. She’s holding both of them accountable. She’s not taking sides. She realized this has gone on forever. If it’s gone on forever from day one, it’s not going to change right now. They’re in the height of adolescence. This is when kids are probably the meanest to each other. Those ages are tough ages. I tried to call a spade, a spade and say, “They really do love each other.” If somebody from the outside comes in and tries to hurt one another, they’ll be the first to defend them. And they will be in each other’s wedding someday. So stay the course, do the best you can. When it gets too much, you put them outside or you take a powder for a while. Let them suffer the consequences. Let them understand you’re unhappy.

Andrea: Is there any creative thing that they could do as parents with their kids to put them in a situation where they have to depend on each other a little more? I don’t know, like, “Okay, we’re going river rafting. And if you don’t do your part, this is scary, and everybody’s…” Things that pull people together.

Dr. Leman: You got me laughing because that’s the last place I’d take them is river rafting. I wouldn’t take these two miserable kids to anything, let alone river rafting. That costs big money. It’s a great adventure. I know where you’re going with it, trying to put them in a situation where they need each other. Well, they do need each other. They really do. They haven’t figured out that fighting’s an act of cooperation. If one of them decided not to fight any longer, think about this, if one of them, either the 13-year-old refused to fight, or the 15-year-old refused to fight, guess what? There wouldn’t be any fighting in the family. It takes two to fight. You have to know exactly what to say to escalate the battle. And these kids are really good at it.
So, again, “If you two want to fight, fight outside.” I’d grab them by the arm. I’d put them outside. I’d lock the door. You say it’s raining. I don’t care. I put them outside. Let them argue in the rain. A guy made a million dollars, singing a song about singing in the rain. Let them go fight in the rain. It’s okay. So there’s there’s action-oriented things you can do as a parent that just says, “Hey, you crossed the line here.” Okay? But, again, I wouldn’t look for a Cinderella story here where everything flips in short period of time.

Doug: Yeah. I have a question about how I can make it more peaceful. But before I do that, I don’t want to forget, you get a few more days that you can get the book Intimate Connection for $1.99 between now and the end of November of 2020, wherever eBooks are sold. Dr. Leman, my question for you is, who is the intimate connection for? Is it for healthy marriages? Is it for those that are just slightly off? Would it help people that are in divorce? Who’s this book for?

Dr. Leman: Well, I think it’s a marriage book that anybody about to get married ought to read. If you’ve walked down the aisle, and you’re finding that marriage isn’t exactly what you thought it would be, it’s for you. If you weathered the storm for over seven years… And by the way, that’s the average marriage today in our country, lasts about seven years, and you’re done. Or if you’ve been at it a long time, and it just seems like it’s hopeless, The Intimate Connection is a wonderful resource. It gets you down to the brass tacks real early in the book about what a good marriage looks like, gives you ways to get there, and I think more than anything else, it gives you hope that things could change, if you’re willing to do some change on your part.

Doug: So get it wherever you get your eBooks between now and the end of November of 2020. And now, a no-nonsense parenting moment with Dr. Kevin Leman.

Dr. Leman: Parents, in life, your son, or daughter’s going to run into bad things, bad situations, bad environments, bad friends. And as a parent, it’s real easy to feel like you’re the puppeteer, and you’re going to pull strings and just make things happen. Sometimes kids really have to figure out that maybe the kids they hung around with weren’t the best. In fact, I know a young lady, she’s just 14 years old, who told me, she said, “I think I want to enjoy meeting some new friends this year. I think some of those older friends have really taken me down.” And I thought, “Wow, what an insightful young kid.”
If there’s a kid your kid’s running with that you’re suspect of, have them over to the house, bring them over for dinner, eyeball them, and make sure that you’re eyeballing appropriately, that you’re really seeing things as it is. Get your husband’s opinion, older sister, older brother, anybody. Am I saying to let your kids just run wild with kids that are a poor influence? No, I’m not, but I’m saying you just can’t pull a rug out and try to control every kid’s friendship, or it’s going to backfire.

Doug: Okay, Andrea, let’s be honest. If these were our children, the question I’d be asking you, Dr. Leman, is, “I got to get some peace around here. This is just driving me nuts. I can’t even handle it. How can I get some semblance of peace? I’m just tired of the bickering.”

Dr. Leman: If you want behavioristic measures to deal with kids, again, listen to what mom says about her children. Okay? This is a quote from Sommer, “They’re horrible.” You got horrible kids. As soon as they start horrible behavior, if I’m the parent, I’m putting them outside. Okay, I’m physically putting them outside. If I, as a mom, can’t do it, and dad’s nearby, he can do it. I just tell them, “You can fight all night out there. You can yell and scream. You can hit each other, do whatever you want to do.” That’s how I would deal with it. In other words, you can’t fight in the house. You want to fight? You have to fight outside. That’s how I’d deal with it. But, again, you just got to realize this has gone on from birth. And obviously 15-year-old feels threatened. If there’s ever a conversation where she’s really open to what you’re talking about, you need to explore why she feels the way she does.

“Well, he bothers me. He’s always here. He’s always doing this. He’s always doing that.” “No, honey, no, you were the queen. And then he came along, and you decided there wasn’t enough love in mom and dad to share with little brother, that you needed all the hugs.” She needs to be pointed out, the 15-year-old, how selfish she is. She’s a selfish 15-year-old girl. She cannot be a pleasure to be around. I can’t imagine that she’s hitting it off on all eight cylinders in school, because that would get a little old. She must be a drama queen. I mean, so that conversation comes, but only after you have willing ears on the other side of the conversation. It’s not something as a parent, you’re just going to magically create kids who are kind to each other. That’s why I say it’s got to run its course, which it will. But at some point you have to have that conversation about your selfish nature. For both of them, they’re both selfish. Fighting’s an act of cooperation. Kids need to understand that.

Doug: Yeah. So, Andrea, you are a little more tenderhearted, compassionate. Could you put John and Carly outside when they’re fighting, say, “You can fight as much as you want, but get out of here and do it.”

Andrea: Well, it’s hard to imagine that ’cause I haven’t had to deal with that. I think that if I was fed up with it, I could.

Doug: What would you need to be able to be that?

Andrea: To be fed up with it.

Doug: So just, “I’m done, and I can do this.”

Andrea: Yeah.

Doug: Okay.

Andrea: Yeah.

Doug: Great. Wow. Don’t do that to me.

Andrea: I mean, if it was 20 degrees outside, that would be a different story.

Doug: Well, Sommer, we really appreciate your question. And, again, I couldn’t encourage you enough to go get the book, Have a New Teenager by Friday. So much of this is about having the confidence that, “I can do this, and it’s going to turn out well for me.” I’ve said repeatedly, the best thing about doing this podcast and these books is how much it’s helped my parenting and Andrea’s parenting to know that we can do these things, and it works. I’m just telling you. And you don’t have to do it very often. You just have to do it one, maybe two times. In your case, you’ve done it a whole bunch, so you’ve got a few more attempts to change it. But for most of us, it’s surprising how few times you have to put them outside for them to get the message that Mom’s done, Dad’s done with this.
So I encourage you to get that book, and you can get Intimate Connection between now and the end of November of 2020 for $1.99. Well, it was great to be with you. Oh, and I want to remind you, go to,, and put your questions in here, and we’d love to answer it for you. Well, it was great to be with you and add to your parenting toolbox so that you can love those kids more and more.

Andrea: Thanks for coming along with us today.

Doug: Have a great day. Take care.

Andrea: Bye-bye.

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