National Edition

From lying to fighting or forgetting to clean up, families tackle change

Published: Monday, Nov. 18 2013 4:00 a.m. MST

Ken Lindner, who wrote “Your Killer Emotions,” said that it is necessary to pause if emotions are running high — especially toxic emotions like fear, anger, rage, hopelessness or despair. Acting on them offers a quick fix, not a solution. It’s important to know what kind of results you want. If you always fight with your mom at family gatherings, keep reminding yourself that you’re not going to do it. “Whatever might happen, know how you are going to respond.”

That approach has benefitted smokers, dieters and others. Ahead of time, they tell themselves, “ ‘I am not going to smoke (or overeat or [whatever] … ) no matter what happens,’ ” he said.

He also suggests being motivated by the negative consequences if you don’t get it right.

No brakes

With teens, you can add hormones to the volatile mix, and tension builds quickly, Markman said. People have a “stop” system and a “go” system, but teen brakes are defective. “Although a teenager at a certain age will realize he’s probably not supposed to yell right now, he probably doesn’t have the resources not to do that.”

Parents need to keep track of what happens in interactions gone awry, but step away. “Spend two weeks at least paying attention to what is the behavior that needs to be changed,” Markman said. Once you recognize the patterns, you can develop a plan for handling it, instead of reacting instantly.

He did that with his son, a diligent student who takes things out on his family when his schoolwork gets overwhelming. The great student disappears and frustration grows and overflows. He snaps at people and they snap back.

During a calm moment, father and son devised a plan. “When you are at the point you get frustrated and will snap at us every time we talk, walk downstairs and tell me.” Sure enough, the teen stormed down and barked, “Now.” The rest of the family backed off, he learned it was safe to say he was going to be a jerk and much of the turmoil dissipated.

Quiet moments can create change magic. The same is true for quiet places. “When you’re in an intense situation, it’s a bad time to work on relationships,” Markman said. It’s important to “give people permission to find a spot to cool off or do calming activities.”

Getting help

Markman also recommends finding good advisers. “We live in a society that prizes individual achievement and we like to believe we’re self-sufficient and can solve our own problems." But it can be hard to diagnose the source of a difficult dynamic. Getting help from someone who may notice patterns you’re missing can help. "If you have a friend who can do that, wonderful. It is not admitting defeat to go to clergy or a therapist and talk about it,” he said.

Change was forced on Dennis Poncher. Right after his wife died, his teenage daughter said she was pregnant. Then his son was arrested for drugs. His family needed change, but he hit a wall. Family members criticized him for poor parenting skills and his friends couldn’t relate because they believed their own kids were perfect.

Eventually, he founded Because I Love You (BILY), a parent peer-mentoring group now in 11 states and Canada. Based in Los Angeles, it helps parents acquire and share parenting skills through a peer mentoring network. The children that bring parents in range from birth to 58, he said. There’s no time when you stop being a parent or quit needing to make changes for the sake of family. The most popular age for seeking help, though, is when kids are teens. "We deal with almost everything, from kids who won’t make a bed to a kid who robbed a bank.”

Being kind to yourself

Research shows it’s important to be kind to yourself when inevitable setbacks occur as you try to change behavior. People who react to failure with self-compassion are the ones with the best chance of changing their behavior, he said. Failure can be a learning experience or you can let it defeat efforts.

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