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!

How to set a goal you’ll actually keep.

Think small.  Now go smaller.  Go so miniscule that you cannot help but succeed and then you have success to build on.  It’s a simple idea that I’m going to show you works, or prove that it can’t.

I’m going to write a short blog each day for the next week.  It might be a picture and a sentence, but it will be up and it will be on facebook.

I’ve realized that what I’m capable of is not a good measure of what I should be doing.  What I’ll actually finish is what I should be doing.  I’m not only a blog writer who hasn’t put up a blog in a very long time.  I’m a homeschooling mom with a full time job as a therapist dealing with cases other therapists cringe at.  I’m married to a general contractor who doesn’t want to finish our remodel and I have a new side hobby waiting for the police to show up at my house so I can report the latest petty theft from the store of construction items in the backyard.

Obviously my life is not conducive to long afternoons spent at my keyboard with a nice cup of coffee and a cookie.  For success to happen, it needs to get squeezed into small spaces and flourish like it was a weed.

  1. Make success almost impossible NOT to achieve
  2. Start so small you can’t help but win
  3. Be realistic about your time; if you don’t have it now, it’s not magically appearing cause you want it to.
  4. Small successes can be the foundation for larger success.


How to save your child!

Last post was on how to ruin your child, but some people do most of those and still have decent children.  How the heck is that happening?

Resiliency.  The ability to come through tough times with your better self intact and growing.  Some children seem to have a natural store of this, while others can get to this state with help and training.  So here are 10 ways to help any child withstand and thrive in their circumstances.

  1. Compliment specifically and describe actions not attributes.  Children think that pretty and smart are states of being that can’t be affected by their own actions.  Complimenting them on these doesn’t leave the child feeling empowered.  Make positive comments about actions children take.  This will point out to them how they change their own circumstances for the better.  When people feel powerless they get depressed, lazy, unmotivated, selfish, and scared.  Compliments about actions can be a protective layer against all the bad that feeling powerless can bring.  You can give a child that protective layer!  Make sure your compliments are about verbs not nouns or adjectives.  “I loved that you tried so hard!”  “Wow, you kicked that ball at the goal!”  Stay away from compliments that start with “You are…”  Those are attributes that children will usually see as unchangeable.
  2. Ask questions and listen to the answers. This works with any age child.  In my practice as a play therapist I shock parents all the time.  I tell them simple things their children have said and people sit back in stunned silence before saying, “She’s never said that before!”  No, she hasn’t, but she never felt that anyone had the time to listen.  Some children will not tell you the important things until you have spent several hours listening to their stories about the latest transformer cartoon they saw.  When children communicate with you they are looking for how you listen.  If you are waiting for the “important stuff” to actually start hearing the words, you will never hear anything important until it is too late.  Try this in small increments.  Spend at least 10 minutes listening to your child and commenting on what they’re saying without any statements of judgement or morals of the story.  Do that several times a week.  That child will tell you something surprising by the 3rd week, maybe sooner.  I have yet to meet the teen who really won’t talk.  They just need to talk about things you don’t find important, so they’ll know if you find them important.  Once they’ve figured that out, they spill their guts.
  3. Spend time.  Kids of all ages are used to being shuttled and cared for but the ones I’m meeting still crave time.  I see adults who don’t know how to let the kid pick the agenda and still remain in control of the situation.   When you know that you are the one in charge of safety and discipline, you can let go of the agenda control for a few hours and everyone will still be OK.  Occasionally let a child set the pace and pick the activity.  Go to the park.  Walk slower.  Look at the bug on the flower.  Watch really stupid Disney TV with your tween and listen to how cool it is.  Look for the perfect shoes for the all important first day of school (without sighing and looking like you desperately wish to be elsewhere).  Do this in lengths of time that you can manage and you’ll discover that it’s actually fun.  Children have a different time frame than we do and the world is still fresh to them.  Enjoy it, you’re relationship will improve and the child’s sense of well being will blossom.
  4. Praise hard work and make positive comments about perseverance.  Luck tends to happen more to the people who give it more chances to happen.  That comes about by hard work, multiple tries, perseverance.  If you want a child to succeed against the odds, praise every time he goes against the odds.  Being smart will not guarantee success.  But put the brains together with a good work ethic, and that kid is going to go places.  Know the value of your own hard work, say positive things about people that work hard, let your child know that work is good by your own attitude towards it.
  5. Give children jobs and insist they finish them.  It’s nice to talk about hard work, but if you’re actually going to compliment their actions, the kids have to have a chance to do the job.  They will not see this as a good thing.  You will hear whining, complaining, mouthing off, “You only had me for the free labor!”  Smile serenely and insist the job gets done.  Withhold the resources the child wants until the job gets done.  You don’t get paid for laying there, why should you teach your child that rewards come without effort?  You are NOT doing them a favor if you give money and rewards unconnected to hard work.  This is basically the same principal of empowerment.  What the child can change and feel control over, will be a protection against depression and negativity.  If a child realizes, “I can make good things happen for myself by my own effort.”, that child will be less likely to feel powerless and depressed.  Put children in a situation where they must work to get what they want.  This teaches them the power of their own actions and immunizes them against depression.
  6. Show gratitude in your own life and point out good things that come from bad breaks.  When you notice the good in your own life, your brain goes looking for more.  You prime yourself to find opportunities out of stresses, and you give yourself a cushion emotionally during bad times.  Do that when the little people are watching and they’ll be able to do the same things.  When kids around you say the negatives constantly, they are crying out for some guidance.  Ask them to stop, take a breath, and notice something good around them.  Don’t give them the moral of the story, don’t stop the rest of the whine down, just keep interjecting the new skill and showing your own command of it.
  7. Teach the difference between responsibility and guilt.  You are 100% responsible for your own life.  You’ve been that way since other people stopped paying for you and making all your problems go away.  Children will someday be 100% responsible, unless they’re constantly fighting the universe on this one yelling, “It’s not my fault!”  No, the guy who ran the red light and crashed your car is not your fault.  But he’s also not around to rehab your injuries, pay your bills, and make the situation better for you.  Guilt is irrelevant to your future.  Guilt is all about the past.  Teach kids to look towards the future and solve the problem for themselves.  Who created it is only important when you’re picking friends and figuring out who to stay away from.
  8. Encourage failure.  I am appalled at the number of bright, talented kids that show up in therapy due to their overwhelming anxiety and fear.  They are terrified of failure, won’t try anything new, won’t plan for the future, and often look for escapes in drugs, alcohol, and stupid behavior.  Failure is a fact of life that children will see as a hiccup or a complete breakdown, depending on your reaction to it.  How do you handle failure in your own life?  Your kids are watching.  Let children fail and encourage them to go for it!  When you help them avoid failure at all costs, you are teaching them that failure will kill them.  They’ll stay safely cocooned in the basement smoking pot to kill any motivation with that belief.  Teach them that trying and failing are GOOD.  Failure is how we learn.  Failure is where we consider and grow.  Failure is how we get better.
  9. Point out upcoming consequences and then get out of the way!  You know your child is heading towards an all-nighter and a bad grade in science.  Do you, A) Step in and make an award winning science project for them, or B) Tell you child that there isn’t a lot of time left and it will probably mean a bad grade if they don’t get started.  If you said A, you are enabling bad behavior that will haunt that kid for the rest of her life.  Point out the consequence in a calm tone of voice with no judgement attached.  Walk away.  Keep doing this until the child hits the wall they’ve been running for.  Ask them what they intend to do differently next time.  Repeat.
  10. Use consequences not anger.  Sometimes your child won’t have a natural consequence for his bad behavior.  You then have to decide what a logical consequence is and apply it.  Screaming, yelling, throwing things, withholding acceptance, silent treatment, and sulking are NOT logical consequences to a child’s behavior.  They ARE a child’s behavior.  If you use your emotions instead of consequences, your child won’t learn to make the connection between actions and consequences.  They may also be left more susceptible to emotional blackmail in later relationships.  Let children feel consequences, not your emotional need to avoid those.


There are plenty more ways to encourage resiliency in children.  These are just some of the easiest.  It’s a great topic to do some research on and then incorporate into your interaction with children.  It’s also, never to late to start these interventions.  It can be harder if you start later, but it’s still worthwhile. Good luck and go get started!


Picture by jaci XIII from flickr, some rights reserved.

How to ruin your child!

Now I’m aware there are good kids out there being raised right.  I also know there are children who get raised by loving parents doing everything right and the kid still hares off into all sorts of crazy.  There’s also some children out there being raised by well-meaning but not terribly effective parents.  The kids who are terrorizing the rest of the school and making life hard on everyone.  So forgive me if I sound cynical, pessimistic, or really sarcastic.  I’ve listened to too many kids talk about being; raped, bullied, beat up, ostracized, stalked, slandered,  poisoned, drugged, and run over by their peers.

Think I’m exaggerating?  I’ve been a therapist for 17yrs.  You do not want to know what I’m leaving out.

And the kids doing some of the worst behaviors were not physically abused, sexually traumatized, or raised by drug addicts.  These are “nice” middle and upper class children who were more subtly allowed to get warped.  You cannot take all the credit or blame for your child.  He or she has their own choices to make.  But if you are doing one of the following, I can pretty much guarantee problems will be coming for your family.

In the hopes that you will be able to see yourself in some of these and save yourself from the outcome, here’s 10 easy ways to completely ruin your child (and by extension your happiness, any hope of decent grandchildren, and the future of the species.  No pressure.)

  1. Give them EVERYTHING!  Never even suggest they work for what they want.  The good stuff should always be free and a fit should get you what you want.  When this ceases to work because peers and bosses do not find this behavior attractive, your child can experience depression at a much higher rate and be unable to take effective steps to help themselves.  When you’ve never had to help yourself, you don’t know how!
  2. Let them watch adult themed shows with sex and violence.  They’re going to deal with that eventually.  Give them a head start!  Seeing so much death, destruction and confusing sexual innuendo will help your children feel overwhelmed by their surroundings and unable to reach for real intimacy.  They will be more sure that bad things are going to happen and feel less able to take care of themselves.  As a bonus, if they get into porn they will fail to develop any real skills for sexual intimacy and be even less likely to make you a grandparent!
  3. Don’t allow your child to fail.  Failing and surviving will give them skills that might actually get them out of your house.  Fear of failure will paralyze your child into a fetal curl in your basement.  Children figure out that failure must be the worst thing that could happen when you NEVER let them even get close to it.  They will continue to rely on you to save them as long as you are willing to take away their right to learn and grow.
  4. Tell your children they’re smart, constantly, without ever commenting on or asking for hard work.  Your kids will expect problems to be easy and think hard work is what stupid people do to make up for being brainless.  When your child inevitably hits the moment that brain power alone won’t get them through, they won’t even attempt perseverance!  They’ll give up and move back into that sweet cocoon you’ve got set up in the basement.
  5. Helicopter in to rescue them from any discomfort they may face at school, with friends, at church, or on sports teams.  The ability to withstand discomfort and be graceful under pressure takes practice. Don’t allow your child any room to grow in this area and they will still be whining about how people don’t treat them nice when they’re 35.  Better yet, they may feel justified to give in to road rage, screaming fits in public, and any other number of embarrassing public acts.
  6. Completely ignore any issues they have at school, especially bullying and sexual harassment.  Better yet, tell kids it’s their fault and related to the way they look.  Unbalanced reactions that reflect your own need to avoid conflict or prove how right you are, are sure fire ways to screw things up!  Be sure to act surprised when the school calls about your child attempting to seriously hurt someone, the failing grades, etc, etc.
  7. Have an extreme reaction to their emotions.  Either pay so much attention to feelings that they are the center of the universe and a reason for everything, or discredit all of them and act like John Wayne crawling through cactus.  This can include being scared of your child or making sure they’re terrified of you without any mitigating attempts to show love and acceptance.  Your child will learn to either over-emote to an unappreciative audience, or be the unassailable tower of solitude and emotional distance.
  8. Don’t ever teach them any of your values in an attempt to let them find their own.  Obviously, we all slavishly followed what our own parents said.  When you give a child something concrete not to do, they know right where to start their rebellion.  Without guideposts of some kind, your child will just keep right on going with their behavior until they can get hurt.  They’ll also be confused by the multiple choices of belief systems about their own self-worth, their place in the universe, and the worth of other human beings.  Of course they don’t need some way to evaluate all this information and come up with a working model for themselves.  Just let them founder around!
  9. Let someone else do all the work, say a grandparent, without having the power or the long term stability.  That way your child can grow up confused about who’s in charge and acting out against everyone.  If you do this sporadically enough, your child won’t even be able to trust that relationships last and bad behavior doesn’t mean abandonment!
  10. Pick a favorite out of a group of siblings and do a LOT of comparison.  This way everyone can be turned against each other, you’ll completely ruin any attempts at cooperation or group cohesion, and all the kids will suffer equally whether or not they got picked to be the golden child!  The repercussions can last into adulthood as your children perceive all situations as a winner take all grabfest with no room for cooperation!


These are all the worst case scenario. Doesn’t mean they can’t happen.  If you see yourself doing one or several of these, get some help.  It’s easier to stop if you have someone helping you be accountable.  And just so you know, number 9 was my issue during my son’s first year of life.  I let him be raised by a caring friend who finally got tough with me and made me rethink the whole set up of my life.  It was NOT pretty!  But I can’t thank her enough for getting in my face about the issue.  Correct these, hold yourself and others accountable to raising children right, and remember that you won’t be perfect.  Just keep striving for effective.

See you back here next time for the blog on ways to make your child resilient and able to live through any of the above!

How to deal with Grief

Just not the typical stuff that everyone always told you about.

This is about the things no one says and most people seem to pretend isn’t happening.  So in no particular order, here’s a list of what you might face and some tips to make the process less painful.

  1. Justification will get you into trouble and you will have a VERY good supply of justification.  Have any old bad habits that have died the good death? Grief resurrects those fast.   You will want comfort.  You will feel justified in taking comfort where ever you can.  And if you don’t set some boundaries and get some help, you’ll be having a relapse into the cigarettes, bad boyfriends, chocolate cake, and self-loathing you used to deal with.  Find a way to indulge that will be healthy for you.  Go to a movie, call in sick and lay in the park, have coffee with friends and take good care of yourself.  Do NOT say you’ll give in to a bad idea “just this once” and think that actually works.
  2. Crazy is attracted to vulnerable.  And we’re all vulnerable in grief.  I would like to think that if I’m grieving, crazy people will leave me alone and have a little respect.  That’s not happening.  Think of these people as vampires that want to suck from your tear ducts.  They are attracted to your pain because they like feeling needed, and they expect that filling any of your needs will give them a license to own your life and your time.  Your best friend being there for you 24/7 is awesome.  But you do not have to accept every offer of help from anyone that comes along.  Your grieving, not destitute.  Say NO and say it often enough to keep your sanity.
  3. One loss will be a reminder of every other loss.  You can’t just grieve them one at a time.  And you’re not crazy because you started crying over the death of your friend and wound up re-living the moment in 3rd grade when the other boys wouldn’t let you be part of their spy kids club.  Grief revives grief.  Expect to be awash in memories and remember to roll with it until that wave passes.  It does pass.  Trying to shove it all back and ignore it will give you an ulcer and probably won’t work anyway.  Sooner or later you will ride that wave.  Set aside some time and let it roll.
  4. You will grieve what you WISH you had, what you SHOULD have had, and not just what you actually experienced.  Death & Divorce are the final blow to our fantasies that change can happen and happily ever after might still exist.  You can hate someone and still wail uncontrollably at their funeral because of the wishes you didn’t even know you had.  If you had the lousy relationship or time was too short with a good one, expect to be raging angry and unbelievably sad.  Both emotions are normal and will need outlets that don’t get you locked up.  Find a place to scream.  Go run until you puke or fall down.  If you can’t run, find some other activity that will get you sweating and exhausted.  Once you’re worn out you’ll cry more and that’s part of the process.  Physical activity is one of the few sure ways to flush all the stress out of your system and give you a fighting chance at a calm tomorrow.
  5. Other people will be struck with a sudden case of stupid and that’s the platform they will attempt to help you from.  I put down my horse a few weeks ago.  I cry just typing that.  Just a few days after it happened someone helpfully told me about a stage 4 cancer victim and her struggle with pain.  Randomly brought that up and spent 10 minutes detailing the horror.  And then he said, “So it could always be worse.  I mean really, you don’t have that much to complain about!”  No, I don’t have stage 4 cancer and I’m very happy about that.  It doesn’t make the pain less that I’m not afflicted with a life threatening disease.  Actually, I just feel totally angry at that moron because he wants me to feel guilty about my pain and shut up about it already.  People will also make judgements about the length of time you should be crying, and how much grief you should be allowed to express depending on a formula of how “close” you were, how long you knew the person/animal/marriage, and how disrupted your life has been.  If you are a Christian or have Christian friends, you will also hear about God’s will.  Please don’t deck anybody.  Do feel free to walk away.
  6. There will be a series of lasts and firsts that have to be lived through.  The last time you saw them, the last Christmas, the last time in the hospital.  It’s like you’re looking through the back window of a car as it pulls away from some place special.  At some point you start looking forward and see your first landmark that you can’t share anymore.  Expect at least a year of firsts that send a shock through your life.  These can be large or small and it won’t matter what you need to get done or where you are.  Surround yourself with people that can hear that same story again, as many times as you need to tell it.  Encourage them to talk about themselves and their own lives even though you might not really be listening.  Connecting with people is important to your long term health but it’s going to feel impossible as you travel through your lasts & firsts.  Treasure people who will know how to do the work for you and re-pay them in kind some day.
  7. Guilt and regret will do their best to find you and kick your ass.  We don’t like the total lack of control that loss brings into our lives.  Guilt is a way of pretending you could have stopped the bad thing, if only…..  There are rare times when we actually caused the problem that led to the loss.  If that’s true for you, accept your responsibility and learn from your mistakes.  The rest of the time we’re fooling ourselves that we could have controlled a situation that was never in our hands.  Regrets are usually centered around the things we meant to do and never found the time for.  No one has any time anymore.  I’ve been to too many funerals where we all said, “It shouldn’t take a death to get us together!”  And then we don’t see one another until the next funeral.   If you are overwhelmed with regret, you have a problem with the busyness of your life.  You will either force a slow down, or live with the next set of regrets after the next funeral.
  8. Time is going to go a little screwy on you.  Your perception of time passing will speed up and slow down with your emotional state.  Other people will not be on the same roller coaster and may “helpfully” try to rush you or slow you down.  If you’re at least aware of what’s happening, you won’t take it as personally.  Wearing your watch may not help.  Grief can make everyday objects and concepts suddenly complex and disturbing.  Your brain will get overwhelmed by the amount of emotion it’s processing.  Make someone else be in charge whenever possible while remembering you’re still the boss.  Do not give up all decision making for funerals, burials, parenting plans, divorce proceedings, etc.  Delegate as you need to but remind everyone you’re still checking the outcome.
  9. Yes, you will be annoying for a while.  And your friends will love you, remember who you usually are, and stick with you.  It’s going to be your turn soon.  You’ll have to listen to someone else cry, hear stories about their family/marriage/pet, and hold their hand until they can go it alone.  When you let people help you, they are more comfortable asking for your help later.  Let people see the full melt-down.  You’re building the trust they’ll need to show you the same someday.


You’ve been here.  You’ve known pain and the moments nobody prepared you for.  Please take the time to share any other shocks from your own experience.  Someone else will benefit from your story.


The picture is called “Lost Tree” and is from flickr by h.koppdelaney

Rock the boat, tip it right on over!


Question:  What is wrong with me?  I ‘m in relationships where I’m walked on and ignored.  Romantic, friendships, bosses, everyone thinks I’m a doormat!  I tell myself it’s not really that bad since no one is actually hitting me, but I feel like crap all the time and I just want to scream.  I’m nice to everyone, I make sure everyone else is happy, why can’t people be nice to me?

Answer: Because you’re not nice to yourself.   Other people treat you in the ways you allow.  You allow what you think you deserve.  And unfortunately, you think you deserve however people have treated you.  It is a vicious circle that you try to get out of by being nicer to people than they deserve.  If you want out, you must learn how to make other people uncomfortable, maybe even miserable.

You’ve been making sure the boat stays steady and everyone can ignore you as you make their ride smooth.  Time to rock that baby right on over and stand up for your rights.

A few things to remember before you start dumping people out (and it will be a good thing when you finally do this.)

  1. Your boat is not the Titanic and no one is going to drown.  Other people are supposed to have some emotional skills of their own and the ability to weather the occasional swim in the river.  Stop taking the responsibility for their emotional health.  Let ’em swim!
  2. You might blow sky high the first several times you try this.  Do it anyway.  The other option is to continue stuffing these emotions and resenting everyone around you.  Stuffing emotions leads to bad things like ulcers and heart attacks.  Make people uncomfortable; it’s better than dying of resentment.
  3. This will feel weird and uncomfortable.  Those feelings are about the newness of what you’re doing, not whether you’re right or wrong.  Discomfort is a normal part of learning a new skill, don’t let the feeling stop you.  What you’re heading towards feels better than where you are right now.


You won’t know the first thing about effectively making other people uncomfortable on purpose.  You’ve never done it before.  So expect that you’re on a learning curve and not everything you try will work.  To make sure more of it works than not, here’s some tips on how to do this with maximum effect.

  • The unexpected is your friend.  Scream, drop to your knees in prayer, slam something, burst into tears, make it up as you go!
  • But not your BEST friend!  Whatever you do, return to normal fast for greatest impact.  You want people to think that it’s better to have you happy so you don’t get wild again.  You do NOT want them to believe you’ve gone over the edge and it has nothing to do with their behavior.
  • You need a behavior you don’t like, not an explanation.  You do not have to tell people why you lost it, just make sure you lose it strategically after a behavior you really hate.  Whether they figure it out consciously or not, they’ll get it.
  • Keep using all the niceness you’ve been practicing for years.  Just use it more thoughtfully.  Be nice to people around you when they are doing something you want to encourage.  At the very least, be nicer to people who are less irritating to you.
  • Guilt trips from the people you’ve rocked are a behavior you do not like!  Look directly at the person attempting to do this and repeat after me, “Are you trying to tell me something? It seems like you want me to feel something and I can’t quite figure it out.”  Your voice tone must be completely light, innocent, and slightly confused.  Keep being confused unless the other person has the stones to actually ask for a behavior change in an adult manner.  At that point, ask for one back and start some negotiations.
  • You’ll probably want to keep being nice, since it’s part of how you see yourself.  Be nice.  Use a very nice tone of voice to tell people the awful things they need to hear.  “Goodness, I just won’t put up with your bad attitude anymore.  You will find all your things on the lawn the next time you call me a bitch in front of my friends!”  Now imagine that line said by your favorite children’s show host.  Use your nice skills, just put some new vocabulary to them.
  • Notice the little things, both good and bad.  People don’t usually start out treating you badly in big ways.  They use little ways and see if you put up with them.  Then they build from there.  Stomp on the little ones, it’s like pulling weeds before the roots get too deep.  Remember to encourage good behavior by finding the smallest kindnesses and thanking people for them.  Sincerely appreciate even the barest hint of civility and empathy in people around you, while you stomp the crap out of the weeds.


Look at the picture again.  The boys about to get tipped out are happy.  The ones tipping them are too.  It really is possible to have the kind of relationships where you look forward to hearing how other people feel and they want to hear about your feelings too.   When you dump people out of your boat that can’t handle it, that’s a good sign they don’t need to get back in.  Save the space for someone new.  It will be lonely for a while, but you will go much farther in life with a boat full of friends who will actually help you paddle.

You are worth the wait.


Photo by james_at_middleage  on Flickr

Crazy people are bossing you around.



And it’s not going to stop anytime soon.  Because the crazy person is your boss, your parent, your teacher, your spouse, someone with power that you don’t have.  Yet.

So how do you fight the insanity when the other person is in a more powerful position? Some of you have considered this question and decided to give up, wait for later, or keep fighting battles you don’t win.  It’s wearing you down to a hopeless, embittered mess that doesn’t resemble the person you really want to be.  You go along to get along, hoping something will change.  But it doesn’t.  Power may not corrupt, but is sure attracts the corruptible.  Don’t expect a rescue from the person who’s making your life miserable.  You’re gonna have to do that for yourself.

So here’s your short introductory course on guerrilla warfare.  Power to the People!

  • Do not attempt to take on the fr-enemy head on.  You don’t have the power to do that.   You are not John Wayne and you are under no obligation to show up for a fight that will get you killed.  Before you start talking about how cowardly that sounds, remember that the American Revolution was one of the first uses of guerrilla warfare.  Smaller American forces took down the most powerful country of it’s time.  If we had showed up in pretty uniforms and lined up on a nice field across from the British?  We’d still be British.  Crazy people with power always set up the fight they want.  You know, the one you’ll loose.  It is OK to let them take this battle so that you will win the whole war.
  • Do not accept their rules.  You may have to act like you do in public, but remember that crazy people with power make the rules that favor their continued power.  That won’t be helping you get out from under them.  Think about what their rules are and write them out some place safe.  Are their feelings always getting hurt?  Do they refuse to acknowledge that you even have any?  Are they always right?  Do they react to your opinion with anger, disgust, or accusations?  Do they use information against you then ask why you don’t trust them in a hurt tone?  These behaviors all point to rules that the crazy person is living by.  My emotions are more important.  I’m always the victim so I’m always justified.  I’m smarter and better so everyone else needs to shut up.  My power makes me right.  Knowing the rules allows you to avoid falling into any belief of them.  As long as you remember none of these are true, you keep your escape possible.
  • Don’t get trained.  Crazy people with power want you to shut up except for the times that you prove them right by being rude, yelling at them in a public, or telling everyone how awesome they are.  Remember this.  They set you up.  Keep your manners intact and your mouth under constant control.  Refuse to scream, use profanity, make threats, or act like the victim.  Crazy people love to act victimized by your big, bad, self.  If you maintain a calm demeanor and make direct statements,  other people will be able to see you are NOT the crazy one.  If you start screaming, the crazy person will be using you as camouflage.
  • Don’t give permission for your mistreatment.  You may be tempted to say things are, “No big deal” , or “I can take this.”  That whole tougher-than-nails-act is exactly what your crazy spouse/boss/parent is counting on.  You won’t look for help, escape, or validation from others, as long as you are maintaining everything is rosy.  Crazy behavior that mistreats you has no place in your life.  It’s like cancer and you need to treat it as a temporary, unwelcome intrusion.  You may think it doesn’t help to state how hurtful or wrong a behavior is.  It doesn’t change the situation, so why bother.  Bother because you are important and if you’re the only one that hears the message, that’s the person that needed to hear.  In business situations this has to be more restrained and usually consists of statements like, “I can’t agree with this.”  “I agree to disagree with this and I will be totally supportive of the team’s direction after this meeting.”
  • Don’t give up your own beliefs, idea of self, or goals.  Working for crazy people does not have to be permanent.  But the crazy can become a permanent fixture of your life if you let it overtake you.  There is a future where you are free of this.  Continue to be the person that you see living in that future.  You’ll get there.  Crazy people want you to believe lies about yourself so you’re easier to manipulate.  No matter how many times someone tells a lie about you, that’s how many times you do NOT have to believe them.


Any good manifesto of freedom has a section of wrongs done to you, the freedom fighter, followed by a listing of the rights you’re fighting for.  Here’s a listing of your rights.  Feel free to add  more.

  1. I have the right to keep my cool at all times.  No one can make me feel bad, crazy, helpless, etc, without my permission.  I do not give permission.  I will remain calm if only to annoy the people that want me to go off.  I know that calm allows me to think more clearly and keep my eventual escape plan firmly in mind.  I will not have judgement that is clouded by anger and easily manipulated ever again.
  2. I have the right to ask for help, opinions, and accountability from outside this relationship/ business.  No matter how many times I am told not to air my dirty laundry or betray your trust, I know that I have the right to speak.  I will pick people that are trustworthy, confidential, and supportive.  I will talk to a therapist, my friends, and mentors.  I will keep business secrets that need to be kept, but all personal issues are on the table for discussion.  I refuse to betray myself with silence any longer.
  3. I have the right to a plan of escape including; an emergency fund of money no one else knows about, a credit card in my name only, business contacts that I maintain ties with, mentors in other fields, a future that does not include contact with you if you continue your negative behaviors, taking classes to expand my skill set, and I will leave when it is the best time for me irregardless of your needs.
  4. I have the right to ignore what you say about your motives and judge you on the behaviors you have actually displayed to me.  God knows your motives, all I’ve got is your behavior.  Your apologies become meaningless when they are repeated right along with your bad behavior.  I will never again give up my right to self-esteem based on what you say about my character.  I am a good person.  Good people demand good behavior and walk away when they don’t get it.  I’m walking.
  5. I have the right to use your power against you since you have repeatedly undermined mine.  I will watch you, know you, and wait for the moment when your decisions can be used against you.  There are so many things you have taken from me.  You will never take my mind or my right to use it towards my freedom.  I will take any route I have to.  If you’ve made my escape route the path that mows you down, that was your decision.  I do not have to feel guilty for how you set up this situation.


Photo by IDF on the IDF photo stream, Flickr. (no political alliances are suggested or implied by the use of this picture.  Some dismay at how long it took to find a picture of a woman with a gun that wasn’t overtly sexualized is outright stated.)

Help! My child is the “bad” kid in her classroom.

Question: I just got my daughter’s report card.  She’s in first grade and the teacher says she has a problem with accepting responsibility.  She is pushing people out of lines to be first, won’t complete math assignments, “Because I’m already smart enough”, and has difficulty making friends.  What can I do?

Her teacher is on the right track.  Your daughter is avoiding all responsibility for her actions and because of that is locked into acting badly.  What we take responsibility for we can change.  If you do not acknowledge what you’re doing wrong, there’s no way to start making it right.  Your daughter needs to be responsible so she can change the behaviors that are making her unhappy at school.  But first she’s going to have to listen to you confront her.

I’m going to make a few guesses about how she handles confrontation. You ask about her behaviors at school and she ignores you.  She’ll say she didn’t hear you, she didn’t understand you, but you’ll notice her deafness is awfully convenient.  If you don’t let up, she “suddenly” gets a tone, has a melt down, stomps off, etc.  If you still don’t allow her to wiggle out of this, she becomes a victim of your campaign of terror!  She cries, whines and generally acts like you’re killing her.  Once you realize what’s happening you’ll begin to see this cycle repeat itself every time you try and talk to her.

She will cycle through ignore, intimidate, self-victimize with you and everyone else who doesn’t like her behavior.  This is very unattractive behavior and you are going to be a mirror where she finally has to see herself doing this.  Identify what she’s doing and it’s potential effect on others around her.  And get ready to repeat this endlessly.

  1. She ignores and you; reflect her behavior back to her,  warn about consequences, let her get the consequence.  In practice it will sound something like this. “You are pretending you don’t hear me right now.  It would be a lot easier for other people to like you if you listened to them so I’m going to help you by taking a toy if you continue to pretend I’m not talking.”  And you’d better start walking towards the toy you intend to take.  It’s rare that you’ll get all the way there before she turns and gives you the anger treatment.  She will be attempting to show you that being ignored is better than getting her full attention.  Your job is to convince her otherwise.
  2. She uses anger to intimidate and you; reflect her behavior back to her, warn her about the consequences, let her get the consequence.  (You may sense a pattern here.)  “Oh, ignoring me didn’t work for you and now you’re trying to use anger to make me do what you want.  You’re glaring and stomping and using a mean tone of voice.  You tell me that the other kids at school don’t want to play with you and now you are showing me why they want to play with someone else.  I would really like for you to have friends, so I’m going to send you to your room for a time out.”  Once she realizes that punishing you with her anger didn’t work, she’ll attempt to use guilt and have you punish yourself.  So plaster that smile on your face and get ready for attempt #3.
  3. She self-victimizes and tries to blame you.  And you know what you’re going to do; Reflect, Warn, Consequence.  “You really want me to feel sorry for you and I think you’d like for me to feel guilty that I’m trying to help you.  But other people can’t feel sorry for you if you’re doing such a good job of that already.  And it must be very annoying when you scream at the other kids and then cry about how they hurt your feelings.  You really need that time out in your room so you can think about a better way to say you’re angry.  I’m glad I’m here to help you so you can make better friends at school.”


You’ll notice that the warnings are about good things your daughter is not getting and the consequences are about helping her get those things.  Children’s brains are wired to fixate on the good things that will happen not the negative.  They can tell you all about the negative consequences, but they won’t correctly judge the likelihood of those negatives happening.  Work with the positives and let them figure out the negatives.  You will be far less frustrated.  Keep your voice tone level and do not say any of this if you find yourself saying it sarcastically.  Children don’t really understand sarcasm.  They think they do, and they will use it on you, but when you use it your child will think you hate them.  The reflective process cannot work if your daughter is defending herself against your hatred.

She will be telling you so many negative messages and it’s going to be hard to remain positive.  Don’t go to the dark side.  You can see how well that isn’t working for your child so be an example of something else.  Ignore or repeat back in a calm tone all the statements about you not loving her, you being mean, nobody loves her, you like her little brother better, etc, etc.

Now practice this until next week.  I’ll give you the step by step instructions on having your daughter understand and accept responsibility in my next blog post.  Get the avoiding behaviors shut down and she’ll be able to take that next step.

And if anyone out there has noticed that these behaviors are way too familiar from some adults you’re dealing with?  Oh yeah.  You shut these down in kids or the behaviors just keep getting worse into adulthood.  You can modify the steps above and they will work for adults.  Remember to leave out the sarcasm, use consequences you can actually follow through on, and keep it positive.  Adults can understand and correctly weight the possibilities of their actions, but they will have less implicit permission to be nasty to you if you’re being positive to them.  Be positive, it annoys people who want to yell at you.

photo by RichardAlan flckr stream

How to Grieve When You’re Still Angry

Or hurt, disgusted, confused, maybe even scared.  People die.  The relationships they created go on past death to strengthen or haunt those left behind.

You will grieve the person that should have been there, and the one you had instead.

You’ll grieve what you didn’t get from them.

You’ll grieve for the other people they hurt, and maybe feel confused about the people who are missing someone you don’t really recognize.

If you had good memories too, you’ll probably be torn.  You may want to categorize the good times as lies, or manipulation.  It’s alright to enjoy good memories.  You don’t have to know all the motives behind the good times.  You’re not weak to accept that everyone wanted to be a fireman or an astronaut when they were little.  Nobody wanted to be an abuser, a cheater, a liar, a disappointment, an addict, nobody was born seeing only the negative.  Seeing a few positives is a way to salvage a little bit of the person the deceased wanted to be, when they were still young enough to hope.

There is no right way to feel.  Someone died and you still had negative emotions about them.  Even if you had logically realized you would never get closure from them or make changes to your relationship, your emotions may only catch up now.  So many clients over the years have been stunned by how death & funerals bring issues careening back with a bang.  Even if you had gained peace and forgiven the deceased, it’s normal to remember old hurts and disappointments like they were new.  Our brains can work like filing cabinets.  You open up the cabinet to file and new pain, it makes sense to file it with all the other painful memories.  It doesn’t mean your peace wasn’t real or your forgiveness wasn’t truly meant.  The file cabinet is open.  It will take some time to close it.

Think of grieving as the way you turn your sadness and loss into a part of your story you can understand and use later.  And for everyone who’s going to tell me that they hated that so-and-so, there wasn’t any loss there; you lost what you think you should have had.  Grief is not a logical process and what we’ve lost may just be our hope or illusions.  Doesn’t matter.   We’ve lost them and it hurts.  Now you sift through that hurt and putt the pieces together into a new pattern that helps you make sense of your own story.  The sifting is all about the questions you ask yourself and the other people who’ve known about your relationship with the deceased.  The questions don’t start out pretty. Don’t try and make them pretty.  If you had a negative experience with the person, bad things happened.  Understanding can’t come if you don’t ask the ugly questions. Why me?  Why did he hurt me?  Why weren’t you there?  Did you ever love me?  And you’ll need to acknowledge some rough emotions too.  I hate her.  I never forgave you and I wish you could hurt more.  Why did you ruin everything?  He always loved my sister better and I was so jealous I hated her.

Each of these questions and statements are OK.  They are normal parts of sifting through the pain you felt from the bad things that happened and the good that didn’t happen.  Write down the answers you come up with and accept your emotions.  You might know how to reject yourself if you’ve had some good examples of that.  You don’t have to do it anymore.  You can accept the good, bad, ugly, crazy and awesome about yourself.  None of your emotions define you, they’re a part of you.  No matter how angry or sad you are, that’s not ALL you are.  Think of each emotion, each answer to a tough question, as a piece of tile you’re making a mosaic out of.  Your story will be the whole picture you make.  You wouldn’t want every tile piece to be pearly white perfection.  No one wants to look at a boring picture.  You need dark spots and bright moments to tell a story.  Don’t try and edit your life into bland.

When you’ve accepted that negative feelings don’t make you a bad person, you can move on.  You can ask yourself the questions that really can define who you are.  What did I learn?  How am I stronger?  What will I pass on to someone else?  These are the questions that accept you have survived and you’re strong.  Not perfect.  Not saintly or martyred.  Strong.  You survived to tell your version of events and you can do that without feeling defensive or scared.


Picture: Jennanana Flickr photo stream