How To Deal With Crazy People


How To Deal With Crazy People is a site that has answers to deal with the 10% of the population that is difficult to deal with.  These so-called ‘crazy people’ can monopolize your time, be an emotional drain, and add buckets of stress to your life.

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When you are able to have a basic understanding of how difficult people think, you can respond without being caught up in their game, feeding their insatiable need for your attention, or going through your own life like a zombie.

You’ll also learn how to make your own life more crazy-proof. There will be tips on scheduling, motivation, letting go of the anger, everything you need to build yourself into a crazy denying machine!

As you develop the skills to keep your own calm, realize what people are trying to do and say no to a WHOLE lot more of that, you will be amazed at the calm that takes over.  You do not have to be in bondage anymore.  Think I’m exaggerating?  What do you call it when your phone rings and you cringe, you see a car driving by and worry about it being that one particular person, you plan your day around who you’re avoiding, or who you’d like to avoid?

It is a sad fact that you might be losing part of your life to anxiety and fear over difficult people in your; workplace, church, community, and even your home. Some of the most difficult people to deal with will be your family.  No one can get to you quite like they can.

This site will deal with the specific situations and give you a chance to ask questions.  You will benefit from my experience as a therapist helping clients take back their lives and other readers giving their own stories.  Knowledge is power.  Let’s power up and get you back in charge of your life.


You do NOT control kids… but you can still get them to behave!

So this is third in a series on discipline for your children. These build on each other.  It starts with controlling yourself (the only person you will EVER be able to control, give up on everyone else!) Next you control the environment for more effective consequences and increasing your odds of getting through the day without screaming at anyone.  Last, you need to give your kids an idea of what’s coming and options they can use. I call this being a mirror for them. It’s how you take control of the feedback. They’ll ignore you a lot and get themselves into trouble anyway.  Smile, hand out a consequence or point out the natural one that already happened, repeat.  It will take some repetition but it will work.


Be a mirror to your child’s path.


Control the Feedback

  1. I confront everything.  Notice I didn’t say that I fight everything.  You are NOT going to have a fight to prove your child left the toilet seat up, didn’t clean up their crumbs, or used a nasty tone of voice with you.  You just need to reflect back.  No judgement, no screaming, no emotions (from YOU!).  Since you’ve already established control of yourself and the environment, they know your words have meaning.  You do not need to add all the emotions to get attention.  State what you see.  Remain calm. Hand out consequences as necessary.
  2. I tell this child how he looks. “You’re wearing shorts and it’s 45 degrees outside.” “The look your making with your face right now is angry and sad.” “You were so sad last week when your friend didn’t want to play with you.  And you just told your friend you didn’t want to play with him.” Describe the behavior and leave the judgement for later.  These steps build on each other so you will get to say how the behavior ends out, just not at first.  Describe first.
  3. I predict how this action is going to end up. This is for the immediate effects of behavior.  You wore shorts on that cold day, “Your legs will be cold today.”  You don’t have your homework done this morning, “The teacher may take your recess today.”  I asked you to clean your room and that didn’t happen, “If your room isn’t clean in the next 15 minutes I will fill one bag with whatever is on the floor.”  You yelled a mean thing at your friend, “Johnny will want to go home if you keep yelling at him.” Point out the natural consequences that are coming (the cold, the rain, the other kids won’t want to play) and the logical consequences that you will enforce (I take your toys because you took your brother’s dessert, I limit your electronics since you watched You Tube videos while you were supposed to be doing chores.)
  4. I make educated guesses. This is where parents get to talk about consequences that will happen in several weeks or months. It’s also a good time to talk to kids about where small choices and peer pressure can lead to trouble.  Don’t try this if you haven’t already established that you control yourself and your words carry meaning.  Kids tune out adults they don’t have to respect.  Consequences for their negative behaviors help your children listen when it’s important later.  Self-control allows you to maintain your composure when kids roll their eyes and try to tell you they KNOW! already. They are trying to end the serious conversation by having a stupid fight about their bad attitude.  You have the control.  So you don’t take that bait.

I will talk about the long term future. My husband and I talk to our son about college.  He has to learn to take showers because there won’t be any bathtubs in the dorm.  He has to learn how to fold his own clothes and make breakfast because your room mates don’t want to take care of you.  There are so many skills your children need in order to fly out of your nest and get a real life. Be sure you are talking about the future and the reasons you have them unload the dishwasher instead of doing it yourself in half the time.  Do not leave your children free to make up reasons for their chores and the rules of your house.  Kids left to their own devices on this will tell everyone that you adopted them in order to have slave labor!  They will be sure that all the rules, morals, and boundaries are set to make their lives horrible.  Make the future a constant that you talk about. And make sure you have a solid reason for every chore they do, every rule your family lives by, and every moral precept you want them to follow.

Picture by LabrynthX “Mirror Clouds”

Effective Discipline, Part II

So in last week’s blog post I gave you ways to control yourself so you can control the interactions with your children.  I’m sure some of you where like, “What?”  But it works.  Kids are always trying to get adults off center and tipping towards a meltdown.  When you don’t let that happen, the game is loads less fun for your kids.  They give up, after a while, and start listening.

Once you’ve got control of yourself, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Control The Environment

Insert your face here.  You rule over the stuff.


  1. I own all the stuff.  I do.  Since children legally cannot enter into contracts without the implied consent of their adult guardian, the adult guardian actually owns all the stuff.  You should see kids’ faces when I explain this.  They cannot legally buy anything without your implied consent and therefor ownership.  Now let an evil laugh loose, bwa-ha-ha! I therefore control all the resources in this environment.  Toys, phones, stuffies, video games, gaming systems, i-pods, tablets, etc.  Once you have this attitude, your children will know that messing with the rules leads to the next point.
  2. I will take all the stuff in SMALL increments.  Never, never, nunca, not at all, do you ever take all the stuff at the same time!  Your kids will tempt you to do this, “Just take it all!”  Yah, I’m not that dumb.  When you have all the stuff your child no longer has anything to lose.  That’s how action movies start.  The hero has nothing left to lose and the fight is on.  Take stuff from your children in logical ways and small increments.  Take 15 minutes of their favorite TV show.  Hold them back from the first house while their siblings get to trick or treat that one. Take one action figure at a time. When they start throwing the rest at you, put them back in the room and talk through your emotions.  “I think you are wanting to throw your stuff at me so I’ll get really mad and take everything away from you.  Then you’ll be all melodramatic and hope that I lose my cool even more.  I am mad that you threw toys at me but I will keep my self-control.  You don’t get to have that.”  Stick with this and be consistent.
  3. I will take the stuff quickly.  My son has had to buy back his toys with his allowance because I told him to clean up and he played for that hour instead.  Fine.  I cleaned up.  It all went into a bag and he could buy back any object in the bag for $1.  He had $13 saved up.  He remembers that very clearly.  Say what you want, give one warning only, then take something quietly.  No screaming (control yourself first), and no further warnings. It’s good to remember that you don’t have to take the phone or the x-box to mess with access to them.  I can recommend Circle, a one stop for controlling internet access from your phone.  No more YouTube videos at 1am if the little rotter’s tablet won’t be allowed access! (Yes, we have dealt with that at my house.) Circle usually about $99 and well worth it.
  4. My wallet will be open for business not charity. Stop giving your children money outside of Christmas and their birthdays.  This gives you leverage to ask for chores, homework, instrument practice, whatever.  It’s the carrot for good behavior.  Carrots don’t mean anything if your kid has them everyday without having to do anything. Give the carrots back their meaning.  Hand out less.
  5. I will take control of my house and I will get adult help if I need to. Want your kids, and possibly your spouse, to know that you ARE the new sheriff in town? Have a friend come over and help you clean.  If you have the $, hire someone who will help you clean and organize.  Either way, kick everyone out of the house and get ruthless.  You are the parent, you have the right to throw random crap away.  You especially have that right if the random crap is in a pile under the bed that hasn’t been touched in years.  If the original dust bunnies now have grandchildren, you have the right to thoughtfully toss that. Now introduce the family to the new standard of clean and let them know you expect it to stay that way.  Use consequences both negative and positive to reinforce how you mean it. If you are in a situation where you can’t do this, then do a small version of it.  Taking control of the physical space gives you a visual message and then communicates the same thing to the rest of the family.  Give yourself that message.  Even if it starts in a closet no one else sees and then spreads from there.  Physical control of the environment helps you feel better.

You do NOT have to live in chaos. Here’s your blueprint for regaining your control and making your child listen!

The kids are screaming at you.  The house is a mess and nobody listens when you ask for help.  Siblings are supposed to love each other but all your kids do is fight.  You are overwhelmed, outnumbered and outgunned.



Help is on the way!  In the next three posts I will teach you 15 surefire ways to regain control of yourself, the situation, and the discipline of your kids.  If you can do these things consistently for 2 weeks, you will finally see some light at the end of the tunnel.  Give this a month and you’ll start feeling like a parent and not a prisoner!

To set these up you have to understand the following concepts.  You can’t control your kids.  Didn’t get that or think I didn’t write it right?  You CANNOT control your children.  When you try all hell will break loose in your house.  There’s plenty of ways to encourage them to control themselves.

Punishment doesn’t work.  Consequences work, punishment works against you.  Consequences teach your children the connection between their own actions and what happens next.  Punishment teaches them to hide from you because they’re avoiding your anger.

You control yourself first.  Then you take control of the environment.  Last of all you reflect back to your kids.  There are consequences you will be handing out throughout all of these steps.  Anytime you loose control of yourself, you can’t do discipline.  Making children upset to match how they’ve upset you is punishment.  It teaches children that revenge is good and the strong get to take it.  Now imagine they’re 15 and bigger than you.  I’ve counseled that family too many times.  Control yourself, control the environment, then be a mirror that allows your child to see her own behavior.

Control Yourself

  1. Take your own time outs.  Instead of standing around screaming with the kids, take a five minute time out and concentrate on bringing your own heart rate down before you go back to dealing with them.  Children match the agitation level of the dominant adult in any situation.  Give them a calm to imitate.  This can take a while for parents to get.  Kids know when you’re pretending calm and when you’ve really got it.  Keep working towards a calm your children can match.
  2. Put yourself on the top five of your priority list.  You aren’t going to have a calm that your children can imitate if you don’t have taking care of yourself as a priority.  It can seem backwards to women especially when I tell them to take a yoga class and leave their children in the daycare. “But my kids will bite each other and I already don’t have enough time!”  I know.  But time and self-care can’t be the last thing you give yourself each day.  You will NOT be able to consistently discipline your children if you are too worn out to think straight.
  3. Be a neutral expert. Before your kids start their daily exercises in trashing your house and smacking each other, concentrate on your long term role.  You need to be the neutral expert that they come to when there’s sex questions or peer pressure on drugs.  Take your emotions out of the interaction!  You must sound like a calm judge not the screaming Queen of Hearts. Practice sounding like Mary F*ing Poppins no matter what!
  4. Talk about your emotions out loud until your children at least roll their eyes.  I love this one and my son HATES it.  “I can feel my neck getting stiff when you ignore what I’ve said and act like you can’t hear me.  I know you can hear me and that makes what you’re doing very rude.  You are pretending I don’t exist so you don’t have to deal with me and now my skin is getting hot because I’m mad.  I will need to calm myself down before I come up with the consequence for your behavior.”  I can go on for as long as necessary.  Talk yourself through your emotions, their physical manifestations, how you’re calming yourself down and what you intend to do.  My son would rather me take a toy than talk about my emotions.  It’s that effective.
  5. Stop giving your children emotional Touch Downs. When I ask kids in my office how long it takes to get their mom or dad frothing mad, they can give me a timeline and exactly what parents say along it before the adult tantrum commences.  All children want control and power.  If the best way to feel powerful is make you lose your control, that’ll happen on the regular.  You may be scaring your kids silly when you lose it, but you are also dancing on the end of their strings and they know which tune it takes to get you there.  Take that time out and stop giving up your power.


Once you control yourself, you are ready to take control of the environment and hand out consequences that work.  I hear from clients how frustrating it is to practice self-control first.  Sorry, it’s the only thing that works every time.  No technique works if you don’t have control of your own emotions and meet your own needs.  Most every technique can work once you have yourself trained.

Stay tuned for the next two posts. We’ll go over the ways to control the environment and help your child start predicting how their behavior will bring positive or negative consequences.

Before you go, ask me a question! I love to hear from all of you.


Your child is not bad, just transactional and ADHD



I’m making a case that your little rotter is NOT a horrible child or a future serial killer.  They are in fact a perfectly lovely little boy or girl caught in the friction between the way their brain is making sense of the world and the way most adult brains function.  I see this all the time in my clinical practice.  The boy or girl who does NOT respect authority automatically, argues like a future celebrity lawyer one minute and then acts like you’re beating them the next.  The same kid who tells you they did the newest bad thing because, “It was fun.”

Most of these kids have a transactional way of interacting with information and choices.  They are looking for what’s in it for them, they don’t automatically assume that adults are right, they ask questions about; why should I?, how come I have to?,  why is it wrong?  These kids don’t take your word for it, ever.  They need a reason for everything including respecting you and being nice to their siblings.  For these kids, interactions and choices are transactions.  They need to know what they’re going to get in exchange for what they’re going to do.

Most transactional kids I see are also dealing with ADHD in some form. This can make the situation even more frustrating since these kids don’t sit still for your lecture, may not seem to care about homework or chores, and they’ll repeat behaviors that they have gotten in trouble for…..multiple times.  So let me answer the most frustrating question right now, WHY?  Why do they do that and then do it again? Aren’t these the kids that respond to consequences and well reasoned arguments?!

Yah. They would if their scales were balanced.  But..

Each of us has an internal scale where we weigh out the good vs bad that might come from a decision and how likely it is that either will happen.  Your kid has a scale that always shows the good winning with massive certainty.  

They’re wrong. DEAD wrong. 

Their scale always puts too much emphasis on good over bad and immediate over long term.  So the immediate good of how much fun it will be to climb to the roof of the school and throw rocks at a boy you don’t like, is BIGGER than that moment of “oh crap, the adults are very upset by this!”  And all the stuff that the adults will be talking about, “you could’ve fallen and died!”  That doesn’t even enter the decision making process. 

It’s not that these kids are stupid or unaware. They can tell you the bad things that MIGHT happen, but they can’t feel them like they already feel the good.  Bad possibilities feel like fairytales that will happen to someone else.  Good possibilities are already filling their little bodies with happy golden light!

So an example, I’m ADHD and every time the Powerball gets above 400 million, I play it.  I cognitively know that I will not win.  Emotionally, I’m already spending that money.  Seriously, I have a plan of how to spend the money and I’ve spent more time on it than in picking the mutual funds in my retirement account.  Experience allows me to realize I am wrong, but I will always over weigh the positive outcomes emotionally. I KNOW I won’t win.  I FEEL like I will!  Most young children have this thinking.  Those of us with ADHD just keep on feeling young.

Your child does not have years of experience and their scale is always convincing them to do stupid things.  They are motivated to steal all the cookies not only because of the immediate rewards, but because they don’t think they’ll get caught.  When they get caught, every time, they will then lie about it.  Because they are sure, “I’m a good liar!”  They’re not.  ADHD kids are lousy liars, like the absolute worst.  


No matter what the situation or how many times your child has been through it, he will believe that the best outcome is going to happen.  So your little angel will steal (because why shouldn’t I?) then they’ll lie (I am a good liar!) and then they’ll act like you’re beating them (because you’re probably mad and that’s ALL they can hear.)  Frustrating!

So here’s how to short circuit all that nonsense!

  1. Be a non-judgemental expert
  2. Set your child up for success
  3. Teach a better Return On Investment (ROI)
  4. Useful consequences only!

Be the expert who can look at all the cookies gone, the crumb trail to your daughter’s room and then act like Sherlock Holmes explaining all of this.

“Wow.  All of these crumbs lead to your room Janie and you’re the only one with a stomach ache this morning.  That means the cookies came to your room and wound up in your stomach!”  Notice that Janie’s mom is NOT; asking why it happened, asking Janie to tell her that it happened, yelling, being emotional, or making rhetorical statements and then demanding Janie nod her head or say yes.  None of that works.

You do not need the validation of a 7 year old child when you can clearly see what they did.  Don’t ask them them to tell you, they can’t judge that risk properly and they will lie.  Set them up for success by talking calmly and quietly, saying directly what you know happened and then handing out a consequence.  Your emotions are NOT appropriate consequences!  Consequences need to be logical.  You stole my cookies now I’m taking your Monster High Doll is much less confusing than, “How could you!? I can’t trust you anymore, you’re driving me crazy!” If you are saying these phrases, you are attempting to have your emotions be the consequences for your child’s behavior.  Which won’t work.

After you hand out a logical consequence (and point out the natural ones like stomach aches and being tired in the morning), then it’s time to train your future CEO to get a better Return On Investment (ROI).  Since their brain weighs the immediate positives much more heavily, they typically get lousy ROI.  Point this out to them. “You had 10 minutes of happy eating all those cookies and now you have a stomach ache that will last for hours!  You got to eat the cookies, but now you don’t get to play with that doll you like so much.  I don’t think you made a good bargain.”  When your child either asks you to explain or looks at you like you’re nuts, GOOD.  You just engaged their thinking brain.  Keep explaining what happened in terms of a transaction.  Kid paid _____ for ____.  Was this a good deal?  If not, what would be a better deal?

I’ve already mentioned consequences, but we need to go over them again.  It’s where most parents make their mistakes.  Some parents want to Punish.  It won’t work.  Punishment has too many emotional elements in it and it can be too arbitrary.  Your child will learn that making you mad is BAD, but that won’t help them make good decisions later.

When you walk outside in the rain, you will always get wet.  It is a consistent consequence.  You can carry an umbrella or scream at the sky, but only one of those will keep you dry. Because it’s logical and consistent, you learn that rain is wet and umbrellas are good.  Your consequences for your child should achieve the same thing, consistent learning. Does the consequence match the type of behavior?  Is it the same consequence whether or not you the adult are angry?  Is it fair?  If you can say yes to all three, then you have good consequences.  Start using them.


All photos from Creative Commons, Flickr

Dealing with the Crazy ex-Spouse

For those who will be dealing with ex’s and Oh Craps! this holiday season, a little help.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Run from the anger alien!

Question: My husband’s ex-wife is making our lives miserable.  She calls my husband’s cell phone at all hours screaming at him.  She keeps taking this whole mess back to court, saying that we’re attempting to alienate her children and we’re abusive.  What makes me nuts about this is how she tells everyone I caused everything. She left him for another man!  I’m sick of defending myself.  Yes, I started dating my husband before the divorce was final, but how does that make me a homewrecker?  She was living with a guy and avoiding her children ’till I came along.  Now it’s like she’s in some weird competition with me.  How can I stop the craziness?

Answer: Some people connect better through anger.  Your husband’s ex-wife WANTS everyone to be angry.    If you hate her,  you’re thinking about her all the time.  She has your undivided attention and she’s not likely to give it up.

You don’t understand this.  You have a normal life where you get the attention you need from people actually liking you.  I’m betting that your husband’s ex-wife has few friends and unrealistic expectations of people.  She probably didn’t think her marriage was over just because she walked out.  That might have been her way of getting her husband to pay more attention to her  and be more intense with how he expressed his feelings.

She can’t feel at a normal level and she attempts to have people dial up the heat until they are out of fuel.  When she figures out that all resources have been consumed, she will move on like a conquering alien army looking for the next planet to eat.  You interupted this process.  Don’t feel bad.  You’re presence in this family has re-energized your husband and made him more attractive to his ex-wife.  It might not have happened had she moved on to a new victim, sorry, partner.  You got there too early for that scenario since she was still prodding your husband to do something combustible.

You must cut off the fuel.  And the cut-off has to come from the both of you.

  1. Get an alarm clock.  Your phones will no longer be by your bedside at night unless they are turned off.  If you must, get a second phone that is for emergency or job situations.  Guard the number with your life.  Phone calls are taken during decent hours only.  If you answer the phone tired you are most likely to become angry and fuel the anger sucking alien.
  2. Get a good lawyer who is willing to do the worrying for you or, make court prep a regularly scheduled weekly activity that has a time limit.  Do not spend more than 2hours per week on this mess.  These cases will tend to go back to the same judge time after time.  Keep a log of; phone calls, problems, refusals to exchange, and any negative statements the children repeat to you.  Do NOT cross examine children, ask them what their mother said, etc.  If they tell you, say “Oh, really?”  and go write it down.  When she takes you back to court, bring the log.  Judges don’t get elected for being stupid and they are rarely able to suffer fools gladly.  The ex-wife will be wearing out her welcome with the judge, let her.
  3. Who’s everyone?  And why do you care?  If the lady who lives under the overpass and throws old donuts at cars starts talking about you, is that going to be a problem?  You are making this situation worse by defending yourself against her accusations.  Learn to roll your eyes.  Do it often.  You already think she’s crazy, what does that make you if you’re taking her seriously? When you defend yourself to someone, you have made them a judge of your life.  This woman has no right to that much power over you.  Smile and act vague.  At the very least it will irritate the crap out of her.
  4. Figure out who you are actually angry at.  My best guess in these situations is your husband.  Write down what you want him to do about this situation and take it to someone who’s dealt with an ex.  Let them tell you which of these expectations are realistic.  Take the realistic ones back to your husband and start a conversation.  He’s been running and ducking this for years.  He’s tired and wishes it would go away, so phrase the opening of this conversation to appeal to those two needs.
  5. If people are that easy to predict, use it.  What do her children wish she would do with them?  Tell them you’re planning to do it and wait.  She’ll get to it first and you can go ahead with the things you really want to do.  Surprise is key here.  The kids will tell their mother everything and that needs to be OK!  You’re plans will have to be surprises or last minute.  Learn to act faintly ditzy so that last minute plans don’t seem like a stretch.
  6. No matter what she does, you and your husband need to respond as though you are smoking weed and have no motivation.  Vague, benign, faintly, slightly bored, yawning, disinterested.  Whether you are telling her that Monday is striped socks day for little Johnny, or you’ll call the police if she comes on your property again, use the same tone of voice and the same body language.  Practice acting stoned with each other.  It will be something you both get a laugh out of, and you could use that right now.


Reach out for help.  You’ll need a place to vent and some accountability on your actions so you don’t accidentally fuel this anymore.  Once you’ve cut off the fuel, expect it will take a while to get her to cut the behaviors.  Your family has been a regular feeding ground and aliens don’t give those up and move off without a fight.  She’ll fight, you’ll smile benignly and she will eventually get frustrated and move on.  Keep that stoned smile plastered on your face and reclaim your planet for peace!

When you think your child is a criminal, or maybe just bad.

Parents say this to me in whispers and then draw back into themselves waiting to be judged.  They just KNOW that I’m either going to rip into them about the name calling or agree that the behaviors are so bad and therefor the parenting must be equally BAD!

Instead, I ask some questions about how that child interacts with the world.

  • Does your child accept adult authority? (No)
  • Does your child ask questions about why things are right or wrong? (Yes)
  • Is your child loud and outspoken when they feel the situation is unfair? (Oh yeah)
  • Will your child repeat behaviors that you’ve yelled and screamed at them for? (yup)
  • Do you ever feel like you have a little mobster in your house and it’s all about quid pro quo? (you scratch my back, your back gets scratched.)
  • Does your child attempt to talk to you as a fellow adult? (Yes)
  • Do they like to negotiate even when they’ve got nothing? (lawyers, every one)
  • Do they follow some rules and toss others that they are fully aware of? (and they can even tell you about the rule they ignored.)
  • Can they tell you the negative consequences that may happen but still seem oblivious to them? (You’ll notice they sing song out the negatives while rolling their eyes)
  • Do they tell you when they feel you have broken a rule? (With unholy glee.)

If you recognize your child from these questions, I’m going to guess they think about the world differently than you do and that you are extremely frustrated with them.  I can help. You have a Transactional Child. Their world is made up of;

  • What’s in it for me?
  • Why is it right or wrong?
  • What use is it?
  • If I’m supposed to listen to you, what makes you the expert?
  • Why are you in charge and not me?
  • Does this make sense?
  • Is this consistent?

Your child does not adhere to rules because it’s the right thing to do.  That phrase doesn’t even mean anything to them.  They adhere to rules because the consequences for breaking them are logical, consistent in when and how they happen, and fair.  But now you’re ready to tell me that you’ve been doing that, all the time, and it doesn’t work!  And I’m going to tell you to get out of your own way.  It is a brutal truth that a transactional child will never get the point if your emotions are clouding everything up.

If you are handing out consequences while angry, then your child is receiving two different messages.  The first one is how stealing all those cookies leads to a cookie drought in their immediate future.  Important stuff.  The second message is about your anger.  Guess which one is more important to your child.  The anger.  You might as well be talking like one of Charlie Brown’s teachers.  Even if your child can parrot back what you’re saying, she isn’t getting it.  She’s dialed into your emotional state and desperately trying to remain still so you don’t get any worse.  If that doesn’t work, she may start acting out since there’s no hope to calm this down anyway.  Because if all is lost, why not go out in a blaze of glory?

Try to imagine this from your child’s point of view.  He eats the cookies, all the cookies.  Your emotional response is frustrated, you ask him questions he can’t answer and you talk about being disappointed.  All of this is confusing and hurtful, but has no logical connection to the particular action of eating all the cookies.  Then he does it again.  Now you’re ANGRY, you yell things he’s not really listening to, you point out other members of the family that are angry at him and you wonder aloud if he will be a good person when he grows up.  He did the same action each time.  You did not.  Even if there were logical consequences for the misdeed, he can’t see them through the cloud of different emotional reactions.

Emotions cloud the connections.  Every. Time.  If you can get this, you will make your life 10 times easier and it can happen overnight.

So let’s revisit the cookie incident.  Little Janie sneaks into the kitchen at night and eats all the homemade cookies.  She wakes up the next morning with a terrible tummy ache and you know immediately what happened. And now, you will be the better mob enforcer.

Just here to do a job. Nothing Personal

The enforcer from the movies who makes sure everybody knows, it’s nothing personal.  This does not ruin your day, because you are just here to hand out consequences without emotion and then move on.

“Janie you ate all the cookies and now you feel crummy!” “Oh dear, and now you’re lying to me about it when I already know what happened.  That must be very frustrating for you.” “So here’s the deal kid, you stole all my cookies.  So now I’m going to take one of your Polly Pockets for every cookie of mine that you took.  I don’t really want your Polly Pockets and I’m not even sure what I’ll do with them, I’m still taking them.  You stole your brother’s cookies too.  He gets to pick a small toy of yours for every cookie of his that you took, because that’s fair.”

In order for this to work, you MUST sound calm.  Try for Mary Poppins about to go out for her day off.  I know you’ll want to make this important by infusing it with lots of emotions.  DON’T!!!  No matter what emotions your child throws around, remain calm and serene.  Stick to consequences that are logically connected to the bad behavior.  Make sure the consequences are small enough to be immediately enforceable and easy for you to carry out.  Hammer of God! only works for God.  If you aren’t Him, keep the consequences small and the voice tone to Fred Rogers.

Most parents think I’m crazy until this works.  They also think it sounds MEAN.  Because no matter what your child feels, you need to still be calm, serene, and OK for the rest of your day.  Emotions cannot be consequences if you want a healthy relationship with your child.  If you’ve accidentally taught them that your negative feelings are the end product of their behavior, they’re going to throw that back at you now. Hey!  Dad yells and throws his emotions at me when I do stuff he doesn’t like.  I can do that too!

Consequences work, loud important emotions just get in the way.

Kids like yours do not think about the world in terms of right/wrong and chains of command.  So when you tell them, “Because I said so!” You just made no sense to them. What will work, every time, is calmly delivered consequences that logically fit the bad behavior.

Stay tuned next week when I’ll explain why so many of these kids repeat negative behaviors and how to counteract that too.  This will actually be a series of posts on dealing with the child that thinks in transactional terms so you can both keep your sanity.

Stay calm, and be sure to ask any questions you have in the comments below.


Attributions: @markheybo Norwich Street Art; Why do you do this?, floodllama Mobsters, Jeremy Rivera Mr. Rogers in a Bear Suit.  All from Flickr with a CC license.

Why don’t people appreciate it when I do better? I should just go back to being bad!

Our responses to people and situations can become so automatic that really, we have a habit and we do the emotional response with NO THINKING involved.

This is fine if we have good habits like eating our broccoli and going to bed early. But what if we have the emotional equivalent of smoking? You might thing that’s not possible, but have you ever felt excited to see the ex who verbally shat on you? Maybe you’ve gotten so angry that you couldn’t speak when you were questioned and felt stupid afterwards . Maybe you know someone who can’t understand why they keep going back to an abusive job/relationship. Or maybe you’ve given up alcohol and now you have to avoid the family Thanksgiving because those idiots are going to try and get you to drink. Anything that interferes with your functioning, sends you running towards pain, or encourages painful behavior from others, hey! That’s a bad habit.

The problem with habits is they don’t actually respond to will power where we most want to apply it. Think about the drunk in the bar with the whiskey in front of him trying to say NO! And I’m thinking, why worry at this point? Drinking the whiskey is a forgone conclusion if you wait till it’s in front of you. The place to apply a well intentioned “NO” was way before you already ordered the drink, made the whole pan of brownies, stayed late enough that you might as well just keep working. Habits are a response to a stimuli, but the bad things we do to ourselves and others are not the precipitating stimuli! That happens way before the bad behavior we want to stop.

Emotional habits are the same. By the time you’re trying to stop yourself from responding to your mother like an angry adolescent, you’re in deep and you might as well let it rip.

When we say the word habit, we tend to mean one little tiny part of a much larger cycle of behavior. He smokes, what a bad habit. Yes, but he also gets antsy at his desk, likes to get out of the office, needs to deal with stress, has a friend in the office that agrees with him politically on their smoke breaks, and likes the moment when the cashier asks him what brand he’d like and he remembers his dad asking him to pick by color. ALL of that is the habit, not just the moment he lights up.

Word on yellow wall


So if you have a habit of responding to another person in a way that hurts you or never gets what you want, start changing it by getting the rest of the picture. What are the triggers? Where did they start? What is the whole process? When do you start feeling the urge and what is happening right before that? What are the rewards?

Our brains are tricky. The reward can be something you’re actually getting, or just something you really believe you’ll get. If you’re doing an emotional habit because you need to feel loved by someone like your father, then you will not stop the behavior until you figure out how to take care of that need some other way. Even if NONE of the previous attempts have been successful.  You’re not stupid or crazy! You’re just trying to get what you need.  If you can admit what that need is, you can find a better way to deal with it, you can sense when it’s about to derail you and get back on track before old habits make the same old train wreck!

Ask yourself the same questions about triggers, process, urge, timing and reward when someone else is habitually hurting you.  What are they responding to and is it something you could change?  Or are they so caught up in their own habit that you need to accept the behavior won’t change and get protective of yourself?

But what if you’re changing and your own parents try to sabotage you?  What if you have family members that have always treated you badly?

When it’s your family and they are undermining all your efforts to do better/ get better.  That’s a habit on their part that probably starts in their fear.  If you change, will they have to look at themselves and the family differently?  What function does your behavior serve?  Don’t tell me it doesn’t.  I’ve seen way too many families that arrange themselves around one member’s addiction or bad behavior.  They do NOT know what to do if you make real changes!  Or maybe if you get better, you won’t need them anymore.  I’ve seen that drive a lot of sabotage.

Don’t take it personally when the other person has a habit. It will take at least 30 days of you acting differently for them to believe in your change, (if you’re lucky). After that it will take them a while to change how they react to you. It’s easier if they are trying to make changes. It doesn’t mean that it’s impossible if they’re not. Habits have triggers, if your behavior is no longer the excuse they’re using for theirs, you tend to get change. If you’ve changed and they can’t/won’t/don’t change, put it to them directly. “I’m loosing weight and feeling good so why are you putting out donuts constantly and asking me if I’m sick all the time?” If they don’t/won’t respond or change, you may have to change the boundaries in that relationship.  More painfully, you may just have to accept that is who they choose to be and make good choices for yourself about being in that relationship.  Sometimes, you need to get out.


A great book on this subject that I hand out to clients all the time is “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg.  It’s a great place to start learning about why you do certain behaviors with no conscious decision making involved.  So If you’ve been frustrated by how people ask you later about why you made such a bad choice and you seriously don’t have an answer, read this book. Once you figure out the stimuli and the needs you’re trying to meet, you can take control and make habits work for you!

I look forward to any questions you’ve got!

When you want better, do something Scary

FearSo I’m  therapist, we’re usually the worst at taking our own advice, and I hear my clients talking about the horrible situations they’re stuck in every day.  I tell them to go ahead and take the risk, make the change, do that scary thing that’s been holding you back.  Then I’m not willing to do it myself.

For example, way back when this blog was started I was scared of the internet, computers, people reading my writing, no one even noticing my writing, etc, etc.  So I didn’t really set this up. Someone else did it for me so that I wouldn’t have to face my fears.  I knew just enough to get to my page and write a post with a picture in it.  That was it and it stayed that way for years.  Nothing grew, nothing got better with this blog.  I went along feeling bad that I wasn’t writing in it and forgot how to even get to my page to write a new post.  Sounds bad.  It was easy.

It is completely easy to avoid doing scary things and slide into a mediocre place that you swore you’d never occupy.  It can be just as easy to stay in a hole lined with your own excrement because you don’t know if it will get better, so why try?  Or maybe you don’t think you deserve better, you’re waiting for someone else to rescue you, you know you’ll fail, or any of the other things we tell ourselves.

Most people think I’ll tell them that all those fears are horse crap and to let them go!  No.  You’re smarter than that and so am I.  You, as a smart person who knows your life, have come up with an internal list of fears that have real meaning for you.  Now write them out, validate them, and plan your attack.

Seriously get a pen and paper and write out all the desperate fears and negative self-beliefs.  You may get a stomach ache while you do this.  I’ve had clients have asthma attacks.  I tend to feel like my stomach is being squeezed and my throat is burning.  Persevere.  This is where you build the tolerance to your own fear while validating that you have a right to be afraid.  Let’s say that again.  You have the right to be afraid.  The idea that we should go through life fearless, tough and never crying is the kind of crap that sells cigarettes and bad TV shows.

When you’re ready, because you may have to put down your list and take a walk, go through and think of a valid reason for each fear.  Because if they’re real, you are not crazy or stupid or whatever nasty thing you’ve been calling yourself.  So think of that reason.

Let’s go back to my fear list that I gave at the beginning of this post.  I’m afraid of computers because when I was younger I got yelled at and told how fragile they were.  I’ve been scared they’ll break from my cursed touch ever since. I validate that I have a right to be scared and I’m not stupid or a pansy or crazy.  Now I plan an attack on that fear.  I will have multiple exposures to my computer.  I will explore all those buttons.  I will thank the good Lord for YouTube and play videos that show me how to use the computer.  I will occasionally stop and cuss at the screen because anger feels better than fear.  I will go to Barnes & Noble to look at a “Dummies” book and reward myself with a latte.

I now have five different things I can do to face that fear and get past it.  Each one is simple and can be done in the next few days.  At that point I can look at the fear again and make a new plan as needed.

So when I go over this with clients I hear, “It can’t be that simple!” and “My fears don’t have simple solutions!”  Well, those are both fears, so do the same thing with them. The first one is usually about, “I will never be fixed.”  This one usually has to do with early messages you got as a child, topped with that romantic relationship that crapped on you. You have every right to worry about this when you’ve had bad messages about your worth and whether or not you’re damaged. Write out a for/against on if you need to be fixed. Read a blog post about self-esteem. Write out your usual negative litany of hopelessness and then try to read it aloud imagining you’re talking to a 10 year old.  Think of the funniest thing you can say about how damaged you are.  Write out what you would say to a friend in your shoes.  Once you’ve done all that, assess it again, repeat.

Real change on your deeper fears takes lots of repetition.  You’ve been afraid of some of this stuff for years. Every day.  For years.  You can afford a little time to overcome now. You really do deserve that.

As for me, here I am on my Surface.  I feel a little less nauseous every time I open it.  If I start worrying about how it will die and I will be at fault, I put another $5 into the replacement fund and carry on.  My fear is not gone, but it’s not holding me frozen anymore.  I hope the same for each of you reading this.

This is the simplified version.  If you have questions please comment and I’ll try to expand where you need it.  Thanks for reading and I hope to see you again soon.


Help, I need to Motivate myself!

Image result for reward for hard work

Because, cmon, motivation and discipline are words that other people use to tell me why I’m not perfect.  Only I know I’m not perfect and that’s not what I have a problem with.  My problem is how I need to get things done that I DON’T like doing.  The things that are either so boring I will be smacking my own head or so scary that my stomach clenches and I feel sick.  Either one will fill my head with sand and my whole body with weights.  That sounds great, let’s move more sloooowwwwllllyyy through a task that already sucks!

Or not.  But how you ask?  First off, acknowledge how hard/boring/scary/awful/awkward your task is.  Lying to yourself that this is going to be easy won’t make it go faster.  Most of the time when we rate a task under its actual difficulty level, we just get mean to ourselves later about how hard it actually was.  Skip that!  You have enough negative voices in the world around you.  Don’t set up a situation where you’ll get negative on yourself.  List out the reasons that this will be bad and then you’ll have more grace towards yourself whatever happens.

Break this down, WAY down.  Let’s say you need to make a phone call that will not go well.  You have bad news to give, the other person doesn’t like you, and they will attempt to argue no matter what you say.  If you look at that head on, it will always seem like a wall falling on you.  So break it down so far that you will have a number of success stories before you get to the actual call.  So the list looks like

  1. Find that phone #
  2. Write an outline of what I need to say, any questions I need to ask
  3. What’s my back-up, forward my outline to someone?
  4. What info will I need in front of me for this call?
  5. Get that info and have it on hand


Notice that I made the first thing the easiest.  Find that phone number and voila! I can check something off.  You’ll also notice that once I let myself in on how bad this will be, I start making a plan that matches that reality.  This list calls for back-up, getting my information together, and having a clear idea of what I have to say.  I see a lot of my clients prepare for the call they wish would happen and then get eaten by the call they knew was coming.  Acknowledge!  Validate!  If you don’t want to make this call/ start that diet/ go look for a new job, there is a good reason and lying to yourself won’t make it go away.

Now move.  Any movement on the task will be good.  Once you’re in motion it’s easier to keep going.  So pick the smallest easiest thing, get it done, feel that rush of checking it off, and then head into the next thing.  If the task involves some kind of performance (any moment you will be talking and feel judged) then practicing is movement.  Talk to yourself in the mirror, have the conversation in the car on your way to work, try out different approaches.  Laugh all you want, but I practice testimony in the shower.  Wherever, however.

Reward yourself throughout the process.  A list can be its own reward as you check off the tasks you’ve gotten done.  Gloat when you can put that checkmark there.  It will help get you through the process.  Also think about small breaks, allowing yourself treats, and calling friends when you’ve gotten something done.  This can feel weird.  A lot of us are more used to attempting motivation through shame and fear.  But those don’t work!  Write a list of activities under five minutes and small treats that you will feel good about.  You will be amazed at how much more motivating it is to reward yourself.

Now all of this will go crap-side-up if you get caught in perfection.  The only perfect things are statues, that don’t move, and therefore can’t get anything done. My favorite quote on this is from Tim Ferriss and to paraphrase it, “The half assed plan you’ll stick with always works better than the perfect plan that fails.”  My add to that is, “All perfect plans fail.”  When you can’t think of what to do next and you feel overwhelmed by even the little tasks on your broken down list, please, for the love of all that is good and holy, Half-ass that sucker!  It will give you the freedom to get moving.  And once you’re moving…you’re likely to keep moving.

How To Forgive Yourself

I was supposed to have another blog out last Wednesday about the difference between guilt and responsibility.  It would help with understanding how you can forgive. Because so much of forgiveness is taking responsibility for your future and not waiting around for someone else to take care of you, you need to know to taking responsibility doesn’t mean you’re guilty. But I’m guilty of saying I’d get it done and then not doing it.

I need to forgive myself. I would rather watch stupid movies on HULU then get to work. After I’ve accepted this fact, I can forgive myself, change my expectations, and move on.

Forgiveness is a verb. Here’s the actions I’ve taken so that I can do something better with my time than feel bad about who I am.

Change my expectations. It would be great if I was a workaholic who wanted to wake up in the morning and get going immediately. But get real, I want coffee, I’d like heavy whipping cream in it, and unless I’m listening to music, I’m not even awake yet. I’m the girl who makes it to the 5 AM workout but may come home and go back to bed.  To actually deal with who I am and make things happen, I need to accept I’m not who I wish I was. That is forgiveness.  I see the difference between what I wish and what I have, and instead of demanding that I become what I wish, I accept who I am.

Get moving. Once I know that I’m not that workaholic who’s going to turn out the Great American novel next week, I can set more realistic expectations for myself. I will be more likely to keep to expectations that are in line with who I am. Part of forgiveness, is to move forward. If I say I forgive myself, but I don’t do anything different, what have I really done?  I work best in short spurts, with a cup of coffee and a time limit.  I set up the situation to reflect this new knowledge.

Appreciate.  I look for successes no matter how small and pat myself on the back.  The process of forgiveness implies that I’m trying to like myself.  When I like people, I say nice things about them.  Can you say nice things about yourself?  Forgive yourself for how negative you are, by saying good things about you.  It’s a verb, not an emotion.  You’ll feel good later, get to appreciating now.

Do it now.  Later is where we put the dreams we’re willing to kill.  If you will forgive yourself later, you won’t actually get it done.  Since it’s a verb, you have to DO good things for yourself, and do them today.  If you are truly willing to forgive, how will you be kind to yourself right now?

Don’t forget.  Only God forgets what He forgives.  If you try that, it’ll be like wrapping your head around a tree.  Remember all you want to as long as you learn from it, change a behavior, appreciate your success, do or think something kind about yourself, and be done.

Just to be repetitive!

  1. Accept yourself  & make a new expectation based on what you learned.
  2. Change a behavior based on the new expectation.
  3. Appreciate every little success and search for good things about yourself.
  4. Do a good thing for yourself now.  Later is never.
  5. Remember the bad and keep doing the good.  You’ll verb yourself into better feelings about you.