3 Steps to Get Any Relationship Back on Track

Expert advice to repair and strengthen any relationship

Maybe your significant other is angry, your boss is frustrated, or your friend is avoiding you.  Healthy relationships are critical to our well-being, so when our important relationships are out of whack it can make us feel out of whack too.

Here are 3 steps anyone can use to get a relationship back on track:

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3 Reasons Your Kids Won't Take "No" For An Answer

The surprising truth about why kids keep testing limits, and what to do about it

Whether they are teenagers who want to borrow the car or toddlers who want two scoops of ice cream instead of one, it can be exhausting when our kids seem to constantly test the rules and push boundaries.

Here’s how Lisa, a mother of two, describes a typical scene in her family:

“It seems like almost every day, my kids are pushing the boundaries that I set.  At night, after I read them their last story, they want another one.  When we need to leave the playground, even after I give them a five-minute warning, they beg me to stay longer.  They just won’t take “no” for an answer. 

Most of the time I stick to my guns, but it’s so exhausting sometimes to have them constantly pleading with me, begging for more stories, more time, or whatever, that I give in.” 

Why do kids do this?  Partly because our children are always experimenting to find out what works to get what they want, and partly because how parents respond in these situations can inadvertently teach kids to keep pushing limits.

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Stop Wanting Your Kids To Be Happy

Focusing on our children's happiness may be a mistake

Yesterday, I was featured on KQED Public Radio (our local NPR affiliate) as part of their Perspectives program.  The topic was why we parents should stop wanting our kids to be happy. 

If you missed the broadcast, you can listen to it here.  Or you can read the transcript below.

Finish this sentence: "I just want my kids to be ... " Like millions of other parents, you may well have said, "I just want my kids to be happy." I have said the same myself.

But while wanting happiness for our children makes sense, decades of research presents a paradox: Focusing on happiness is not a great way to actually be happy.

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3 Things We Should Never Say to Our Kids

Avoid these toxic phrases and say this instead

We’ve all been there:  our toddler is whining incessantly, or our teenager won’t stop arguing when we’ve already told her “No.”  On top of that, maybe we’re on a tight deadline for work, upset from an unpleasant interaction with a coworker, or exhausted after a long day.  

Although it can be incredibly difficult to choose our words carefully in these heated moments, our words have a significant impact on our kids, especially when they are repeated regularly.  If those words are often harsh or blaming, odds are our relationship with our kids will suffer. 

Here are three things we should never say to our kids:

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Feeling Stressed? Here's How to "Tweak Your Freak"

The other day before a big test at school, I asked my daughter how she was feeling.  She confided:  “Mom, I’m freaked.”  As a cognitive-behavioral psychologist and parent coach, this was my sweet spot.  After talking about and empathizing with her feelings, I said, “Let’s tweak your freak.”

This made-up phrase—Tweak Your Freak™—has become our favorite new household slogan when someone is feeling anxious or stressed, and I’ve started using it with my patients, too.  It’s a silly and catchy name for five steps, drawn from my background in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and human development, that can help anyone feel better faster. 

CBT as a practice includes many more techniques and strategies, but I like these five, especially for families, because they are simple, effective, and easy to remember.   Used regularly, these five steps can also build better mental habits and improve emotion regulation skills.

The first three steps—Notice, Name, Reframe™—go together.  They are the cornerstones of basic CBT.  Notice your thoughts, name them, and then reframe them; that is, see them from another (more constructive) perspective.   

Steps #4 and #5 are intended to harness the power of your body to calm your mind, via breath and body posture. 

1.     Notice:   This step is just as it sounds.  Notice your thoughts.  This is the first step toward being able to change them. 

When teaching this to young children, I find it useful to tell them to pretend their thoughts are butterflies flitting around inside their head, and them ask them to take a butterfly net and catch one. 

2.     Name:  After noticing our thoughts, we label them.  This helps us to see the pattern of our thinking over time, and also helps us begin creating some distance and perspective.

When labeling your thoughts, try to do it as if you were observing yourself, like an anthropologist studying other cultures.  For example:  “I am having the thought that my boss is angry at me and is going to fire me.”

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My Essay in the New York Times on New Year's Eve

I am a big fan of the New York Times, so I was delighted when the editor of the Motherlode section told me she was planning to publish an essay I wrote about how parents can make more time for themselves:  "When It Takes A Dentist's Chair to Disconnect." 

The illustration by Spencer Williams that the Times paired with the essay is spot on.

The piece was published on December 31 but I wasn't able to see it until the next day since I was in a remote part of the California coast without cell phone or WiFi service.  Much better than the dentist's chair, I must say.

Wishing you a happy and joyful 2015.