Category Archives: behavior

Size Matters

Oftentimes, we try to pass through small windows of opportunity with old beliefs that don’t fit.  It’s like forcing a huge square peg through a small round hole.  We bang, push, cry, yell and say “This is so unfair!”

We expect to make friends with people who want to be treated differently than our old pals; the ones who are used to our usual behavior.  Yes, some people will stick around and take the same old crap.  It’s called low self-esteem.  But to have new and maybe even better opportunities with different people, the same old crap won’t work.  The size of our baggage blocks our ability to see this.

Maybe our old beliefs have worked in the past.  We put value on how many times the loyal friends and family members kept coming back, no matter how insidious we acted at times or maybe even all the time.  We tend to look at this as being worth more than the potential for new experiences that foster real growth.

Remember that thing called “inflation”?  How many times have we refused to drop a useless pattern of thinking or an outdated belief, because of how it serves us in the name of comfort?  It’s like refusing a job that can possibly reap ten times more money, but the level of initial discomfort keeps us in a job that only earns a meager salary.

Parents Worksheet

Pay for the behavior you want:

My response to __________ throwing a fit is ____________________________.

I feel ___________________ when she _______________________.

3 behaviors that get on my nerves the most are ___________________, _____________________ and ___________________.

3 good behaviors that she has are ___________________, __________________ and ____________________________.

The behaviors that I spend the most energy correcting are _________________, _______________________ and _________________________.

The way she reacts to my corrections are _______________, __________________ and_________________________.

The way she acts when I express anger or impatience is ___________________.

I end up having to _____________________ when she misbehaves ___times a day.

The way I respond to good behavior is ______________________________.


The Imaginary Sniper

What do you see when your fingers are propped above the keyboard in the

anticipation of writing a post or story?  Anyone could logically say there is a blank space or page.  And while this is true, there are many of us who tend to imagine the onset of disaster if a mistake is made.  Maybe you type a letter or word that just doesn’t seem right.  Maybe you end up writing a whole sentence that doesn’t fit.  It’s called an error.  You can fix this.

Writing a grammatically incorrect sentence is far different from hitting someone in the nose.  Revising what you typed is a temporary setback or even a way to learn more about writing.  It is not a crime.  An error in typing is not going to bring on imminent danger.  I can tell you this all day long, but a lot of us will still think, feel and imagine an imaginary sniper ready to shoot us upon the first stroke of the key.  Why else would you sit there and think about what to say?  What is with the hesitation?

Writing is simple.  I’m not saying talent comes easy.  But the task of putting words on paper or the screen is an elementary function which most of us have.  Using your fingers to make words is something that human beings can do in any state of mind.  The ability to create a fluid, coherent message with words will only come with practice.  But the fingertips have to touch the keys.

To understand my claim about the imaginary sniper, try writing a story on a general subject as soon as the blank page appears.  Or get a notebook out and apply the pen or pencil immediately.  Don’t stop for corrections.  Just continue writing.  Pay attention to how your body reacts.


Sometimes we have to get our foot in the door on the matter of developing healthy relationships.  The most basic functions for human beings are scary and awkward.  Take conversation between people from two different age groups.

One person is seven or eight years old and the other is forty.  Maybe both of them live in the same household, but because of age they are worlds apart.  In terms of development, this is true.  A forty-year-old person experiences life physically much different from someone who is thirty years younger.  Kids usually don’t have the same aches and pains.

There is also a significant gap in the context of cultural preferences such as music and other forms of entertainment.  And what is a big deal to the youngster in second or third grade is most likely old news to the adult.

Conversation between the two is mostly restricted to happenstance and brief.  There’s nothing wrong with this.  Normal development includes a gradual shift in priorities and the person’s relative connection to their current age group.  To live in the present and take advantage of growth, each child, teen or adult is getting in tune with acquired abilities.  Even though children don’t have to pay bills, they do have to learn how to tie shoes and ride bikes.  We all have to pay attention to keep up with relevant information.

I will argue there are benefits in crossing the generational line in terms of sustained conversation.  One of them is trust.  I will explain.

At some point in a child’s life, he is going to face a choice between keeping a secret that is eating him up or disclosing it and getting help from a wise adult.  Which action do you think he will pick if there hasn’t been some way to talk on common ground with an adult so far?  In general, I see very defensive kids who cross their arms and frown quietly towards the expectation of what might happen with such freedom of speech.

On the other side of this, the adult usually has more faith in the child who demonstrates more of a vocabulary than “whatever” or “yeah”.

Another benefit of being able to hold a discussion with someone of a different generation is the widening of perspectives.  Each age group holds a limited view of how the world operates for other people and the ways in which things can be done.  Isn’t the knowledge of one hundred different angles to go at a challenge better than only one?  Remember the exercise that some of us new parents had to go through for the first baby in the home?  You crawl around on your hand and knees to see what the house and possible hazards look like for a child of six or seven  months.  Adults have grown used to walking around with their eyes seeing everything from an average of five and a half to six feet above the floor.

The physical way we see the world closely matches the context of interacting with others.  If I’m six, I will talk mostly of six-year-old related things.  I’m not going to talk about how much higher the water bill was this month.

But if I watch a movie with grandpa and I’m encouraged to speak at length about five or six different scenes with him afterwards, then I stand more of a chance understanding how to talk an adult.  There’s nothing scary about conversation after all.


No Magic To It

Some people assume that their words have magical powers; like when a father tells his son to concentrate and worker harder.  How many times does he have to say this?  Does his son’s brain automatically change gears and get right to it?  Test the idea and watch what happens.  Just stand there and say “work harder and concentrate”.  Write down the number of times you can say this in a day and mark down the amount of progress noted.  If you have to say it, there isn’t much of a chance, until you do some work.

In order to see new results, we sometimes have to mix in new types of activities and boost our vocabulary.  Our brains and bodies have a hard time running on empty when we’re expected to pick up on a different way of doing things.  To expect otherwise is like waiting for some magic potion or fairy dust sprinkled, or the wave of a magic wand.

This is why I carry around a kitchen timer and other tools in my therapy bag when visiting the schools.  It helps a person to know where the limits are, so we can establish a direction (and get out the timer).  If concentration fails after thirty seconds, then we obviously need to work towards a minute.  Of course there has to be some personal motivation behind it.  Maybe the kid wants to get something done right the first time and not spend hours on homework in detention or after school.  But then, maybe he likes this kind of punishment.  There maybe some gain in attention from adults in this respect and he likes it.

Nevertheless, this persons brain may not know how to just get with it at will.  And so we educate.  Knowledge is power right!  Yeah, the reader can fight me on this, but he or she may want to know how I help the client with an awareness of their own type of thinking.  And this is where the drawing pad comes in handy.  Over the course of many sessions, I have observed the results in black, white and color how different people (kids) respond to the directive “make a picture”.  The subject of a drawing could be an emotional situation or a simple description of the family.  If markings are made all over the paper in an erratic fashion and the picture is not being completed, I will take back the pad and draw an outline of something; number the parts and have him color it in by the numbers: 1-10.

If the child or preteen responds well to competing for stickers, I say “Each part has to be colored in order.  If you start with any number but one, you don’t get a sticker”.  The task sounds elementary.  To some artistically inclined people, the exercise of coloring in parts by correct order probably goes against the virtue of creativity, but let me explain.  There is my observation of how relaxed and methodical a person becomes when doing such an activity.  The brain, hand and use of coordination has to work in a step-by-step manner.  The task gets done and it actually makes sense!  And here, we have a prescribed way of doing things many times over.  Repetition is the mother of skill.

Build Your Vocabulary

English: Emily Chrisman and teacher Joseph Pas...

English: Emily Chrisman and teacher Joseph Pascetta role play a situation during the Oct. 10, “Tying the Yellow Ribbon” event in Elgin, Ill. This is one of the many ways instructors with the Children’s Reintegration Program teach kids how to deal with difficult situations when their parent comes home from deployment. Pascetta is one of eight teachers from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology that help with the children’s program. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You have a loss for words when sitting around at a party or some other function.  Your memory is fishing for something nice to say to a peer and there is nothing but a blank.  To fish anywhere in the world requires the body of water is stocked or naturally populated.  Otherwise you are dipping the hook with no results.  You might also have to learn how to fish.

In many of the psychotherapy sessions I facilitate, there is an all too common challenge for the client to communicate in a positive and productive way with others.  I see whole families who come off with a tendency to talk down to each other and act confused when directed to pay a compliment.  Along with this, we usually discover that the family members are sorely lacking of a personal vocabulary for positive-based phrases and words.

To help with building a new track in the memory banks for the positive verbage and productive use of it, I propose an active use of role-play and an immediate goal to meet.  The development of skill and a change in memory takes repetition of a particular task, which in this case means saying the words out loud.

In my next post, I will talk about the art of motivation for this task and the different and fun ways to help get it started.

Olympian Factor Of Relationship Skills

Fasce Olympians

Fasce Olympians (Photo credit: Marco Crupi Visual Artist)

Ever notice how Olympic athletes bring on the “edge of your seat” level of anticipation when performing a feat which would most likely kill the rest of us?  About twenty years ago, I started paying attention to the kinds of events which starred a single athlete either skating to a song or making a death-defying move off the bars.  And I have also read about what goes into accomplishment of such moments.

An Olympian eats, breathes and dreams the moves over and over on a daily basis.  The practice and honing of moves are a lifestyle and habit.  The observer into a period of this athlete’s life would shake his head in amazement and think “Wow.  Get a life.”

Why?  Because the life of an Olympian is not the life of an average person.  Average means influence of emotion and desires.  Average has no focused  path to follow through on.  Reaching sub-goals on the way to achieving an goal is not everyday and mediocre practice.  Devoting hours and days to a ritual that gradually trains the body to respond automatically to a certain stimulus, is not for the average life of just getting through the days until the weekend.

Quite a few people who come to my counseling office are familiar with the observer’s stance on the practice of implementing relationship skills.  For example, most friends and family members in any given person’s life are casting doubts and surprise when personal boundaries are announced.  The new behavior of setting a time-limit on phone calls with negative people is labeled as “selfish.”  And the therapy assignment to saying “No” to the usual requests at home or in the company of friends is sometimes met with astonishment, silly questions and the expression of anger.  This person is changing the game.  He or she (client) is not only working on a healthy relationship goal, but is also refusing to act like the same old piece of furniture in other people’s comfort zone.

In this case, average is not the rule of thumb.  The client’s determination to reach a healthier level of response to bullying or co-dependent behavior, will not permit the act of submission.  The remark “Well now you’re just being crazy” or some other kind of guilt trip will not influence the training.