Home for the Holidays: Your Survival Guide


The Best Way to Fight With Your Teenager

The Best Way to Fight with Your Teenager

As children and teens and college students are home from school this summer, conflicts and bending and challenging the rules is more apparent. No parent looks forward to fighting with his or her teenage child. But the friction that comes with raising adolescents might be easier to take when we see it as an opening, not an obstacle.

No matter how good your overall family relationship is, fighting with your teens is a constant battle of wills.  How disagreements are handled at home actually shapes both adolescent mental health and the overall quality of the parent-teenager relationship.  Also, the nature of family quarrels can also drive how adolescents manage their relationships with people beyond the house.  So how do we raise teenagers who see disagreements as a challenge to be resolved?

4 Ways Teens Fight Back at Their Parents

Research that suggested teenagers approach disputes in four distinct ways:  Attacking, Withdrawing, Complying and Problem Solving.

Adolescents who favor either of the first two routes — escalating fights or stubbornly refusing to engage in them — are the ones most likely to be or become depressed, anxious or delinquent.  But even those teenagers who take the third route and comply, simply yielding to their parents’ wishes, suffer from high rates of mood disorders. Further, teenagers who cannot resolve arguments at home often have similar troubles in their friendships and love lives.

In contrast, teenagers who use problem solving to address disputes with their parents present a vastly different picture. They tend to enjoy the sturdiest psychological health and the happiest relationships everywhere they go, two outcomes that would top every parent’s wish list.

So, how do we raise teenagers who see disagreements as challenges to be resolved?

Compelling new research suggests that constructive conflict between parent and teenager hinges on the adolescent’s readiness to see beyond his or her own perspective. In other words, good fights happen when teenagers consider arguments from both sides, and bad fights happen when they don’t.

Conveniently, the intellectual ability to consider multiple outlooks blossoms in the teenage years. While younger children lack the neurological capacity to fully understand someone else’s point of view, adolescence sparks rapid development in the parts of the brain associated with abstract reasoning. This leads to dramatic gains in the ability to regard situations from competing viewpoints. There is also evidence that parents can make the most of their teenagers’ evolving neurobiology by being good role models for taking another person’s perspective. Adults who are willing to walk around in their teenagers’ mental shoes tend to raise teenagers who return the favor.

While all this is good information, research findings rarely translate cleanly to the realities of family life. Conflict comes with heat, and we can only contemplate another person’s viewpoint when heads are cool. Imagine an adolescent announcing his plan to spend Saturday night with a former friend known for serious wrongdoing. Any reasonable parent might respond “Absolutely not!” and trigger an eruption, retreat or gloomy submission in a normally developing teenager.

An interaction that ends here is an opportunity lost. But hard starts can be salvaged and first reactions can give way to second ones. The parent in this scenario might soon find a way to say, “I’m sorry that got ugly. I need you to help me understand why you want to spend time with Mike when you don’t even like him that much. And can you put words to why I’m so uncomfortable with the idea of you hanging out with him?”

No parent or teenager can, or needs to, turn every dispute into a thoughtful consideration of opposing outlooks. And some families weather toxic battles that go far beyond the squabbles inherent in raising adolescents. Still, the balance of research suggests that garden-variety disagreements offer the opportunity to help young people better understand themselves and others, building in them the lifelong skill of finding room for civility in the midst of discord.

(Information in this article is attributed to The New York Times “Well Section” March 16, 2016)

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Angry young men

Anger - Managing a Powerful Emotion

Understanding Anger: How to Manage a Powerful Emotion

Last year you may have seen the disturbing video of ESPN reporter, Britt McHenry, belittling and berating a tow-truck company employee on that company’s surveillance camera. It was unsettling to see a successful, and very privileged, young broadcaster treating someone with so much less socioeconomic status with such disrespectful disdain. However, if we are to be honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we all have had moments in which we have behaved poorly with others, and maybe even demonstrated similarly ugly behavior.

You know the feeling. It's that rage you get when someone cuts you off on the highway; you just want to floor it and flip the bird. Anger is a corrosive emotion that can run off with your mental and physical health. So do you hold it in? Or do you let it all out? Anger doesn't dissipate just because you unleash it. Some insight into why we have it and how it works can help you better manage this raw emotion.

To respond effectively to anger, one needs to increase the comfort level around angry feelings. One can increase awareness of inaccurate ideas about anger and replace them with factual concepts about this powerful emotional response.

8 Misleading Ideas About Anger in Society Today

1. Anger is not an accusation.

Although anger is not an accusation, it is often accompanied by an accusation.  The accusation is the angry person's interpretation of the external event.  Anger can occur and be expressed without any accusations when all parties take responsibility for their own internal reactions.

2. Anger is not a sin, and a person who feels angry is not bad because of it.

Some people believe that experiencing anger means they are not living a Christian life. When you have the time, Google "Jesus and Anger" and you would be very surprised how often Jesus was angry.

3. Anger is not a behavior - often people confuse anger with aggression.

Aggression is a behavior and it is one way some may choose to express anger.  Anger is not violence.  Violence is a descriptive category of behaviors.  Your difficulty in responding to others has to do with the behaviors they may use to express their angry feelings.

4. Anger is not a weapon.

Many parents (without realizing it) may set their children up to fear anger in the same way they might fear a weapon, such as: 1) the child does something that the parent does not like, 2) the parent feels angry and expresses it by physically hurting or verbally berating the child, 3) this behavior is repeated and the child quickly learns to make the anger-pain connection, 4) from then on, the parent wields anger as a weapon of intimidation.  Another similar inaccurate impression of anger is the expectation that angry feelings result in punishment.

5. Anger is not an evaluation of your worth as a person.

Because another human being is angry about something you have done, does not mean you are worthless, stupid, unimportant, unlovable or lazy.  Anger is an internal reaction and another person's internal reaction has nothing to do with your rightness or wrongness as a human being.  It has to do with the chemicals being produced by the body because of the way one has interpreted events around them.

6. Anger is not a GIGANTIC mistake.

Nature did not err when it gave people a wide array of feelings - including anger.  Every basic emotion was built into the human species to survive and flourish (fight or flight).  Anger has helped humans since primitive times as the feeling state that directs us to fight when attacked by those bigger, stronger and faster animals.  Adrenaline produced by anger temporarily makes people stronger and faster, leveling the odds of combat.

7. Anger is not hot boiling water, and people are not teapots.

This alludes to the concept that anger is stored up and added to on a regular basis until it expands to such large proportions that it has to be vented or it will overflow. 1) Anger cannot be stored - anger is an internal reaction created by an overproduction of adrenaline and if a person stayed high on adrenalin he/she would be agitated, unable to sleep, and close to crazy within three days.  2) As a teapot, each outburst of anger would lower the anger level and with each outburst would be reduced until eventually almost gone.  According to the teapot theory, these are the people who ought to have spent all their anger, yet they are the ones who keep on aggressing.  3)  Anger needs to be vented to be reduced.  Anger was not given to humans so they could vent.  Venting fulfills no survival purpose.  As with every emotion, anger serves to sustain and enhance life.  Anger accomplishes this by providing the ability and strength to defend through physical altercation (fight off dinosaurs).  When the altercation is finished, the angry feelings recede, to be reproduced when necessitated by another danger.

8. Anger is not a chronic illness that needs to be managed.

Anger is an internal reaction whose main function is to defend the human being.  It does not need to be managed.  Instead, anger arousal needs to be identified when it occurs and used effectively, within the given social context, to fulfill its protective function.

Here Are the FACTS About ANGER:

  • Anger is a survival mechanism - anger prepares the body for battle.
  • Anger has many cultural and social functions. Anger acts as a social regulator because it is considered the appropriate feeling to have when the norms, mores, and laws of a culture are violated.
  • Anger functions as a social bond. When a group of people focus their anger collectively on an outside group, individual, or situation, the shared anger provides a connection for the members of the group.
  • Anger provides motivation when properly channeled. Anger is the body's energizer!
  • Anger is a method of communication. Anger always carries a message.
  • Anger furnishes psychological protection. Anger can be a means of physical protection and emotional protection.

So, who is responsible for what?  Well, anger expressed in a healthy manner usually requires the simplest of responses.  When two people have an angry encounter, neither, both, or either person may be responsible for the event that initiates the feeling process. From the moment the triggering event is over, who is responsible for what component of the feeling process is clear-cut.

The angry individual is responsible for the thought, emotion, and the behavior areas


The person responding to the anger is accountable for only one piece of the process - the reaction. 

No one makes anyone else feel angry.  Anger is an internal, chemical reaction that the person has learned to label.  It is their reaction and how they behave is their decision.  Emotionally healthy people intuitively know this and respond responsibly.


Why Can’t My Child Make Friends?

Why Can't My Child Make Friends: Common Reasons Kids Have Trouble Making Friends

A pretty 10-year-old girl sat across from me in the office tearfully struggling, “I don’t understand why I don’t have friends. Amanda’s (another girl in her class) teeth stick out like mine, but the kids will play with her, so it isn’t that. I am smart like Brad (another boy in her class) and he has friends, so it isn’t that. I just don’t know?”

Why can’t some children make friends? This can be a difficult question to ask yourself, but if your child rarely gets invited on play dates and spends most of his time alone at home, it can be hard not to wonder—and worry.

For kids of all ages, friendships offer the acceptance, approval and sense of belonging they crave. If your child struggles to connect with other kids and form friendships, it can be a blow to his self-esteem. It can leave him feeling alone and frustrated.

What Can Cause Trouble With Making Friends

If your child has a hard time making friends, it may have nothing to do with his personality. Trouble with forming friendships can be the result of learning and attention issues. Sometimes communication skills or listening comprehension skills are lacking, which can make conversation difficult and sometimes there are a variety of other behaviors that can get in the way of making friends.

ADHD: Kids with ADHD may lack self-control, be overactive, talk too much, talk without thinking or not pay attention to what other people are saying.

Executive functioning issues: Children with executive functioning issues may have trouble sharing, taking turns, controlling emotions and accepting other viewpoints.

Nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD): Kids with nonverbal learning disabilities may miss social cues like body language, expression and tone of voice. They may not understand humor or sarcasm and may take what others say too literally.

Language disorders: Children with language disorders may not understand the rules of conversation or may have trouble finding the right words. They may avoid talking when around other kids.

Auditory processing disorder (APD): Kids with Auditory Processing Disorder may miss the point of what others are saying, miss words in conversation or have trouble following the directions in games.

Trouble Making Friends: A Common Problem

Not all kids with learning and attention issues struggle to make friends. For some kids, social skills are their strength! But if it’s a trouble spot for your child, he’s not alone. Kids with learning and attention issues often face social challenges. When compared with their peers, studies have shown they’re more likely to be:

  • Poorly accepted by their peers
  • Socially alienated from teachers and classmates
  • Viewed by teachers as lacking social skills
  • Not chosen to play or join in group activities
  • Willing to conform to peer pressure

Kids can feel that they don’t “fit in” at school or at outside activities. They may even feel that way at home with siblings.

It’s a very real issue because many kids with learning and attention issues do stand out sometimes. They may require additional time and attention from teachers, parents and others. They may call negative attention to themselves by asking inappropriate questions, seeming uninterested in other kids’ conversations, and interrupting or moving around a lot at the wrong times. Other kids may react badly or turn away.

How Social Troubles Can Impact Your Child

Your child may be resilient and bounce back from social setbacks. Or he may enjoy spending a lot of time alone. But for many kids, difficulty making friends can have negative effects. It can hurt their self-esteem, wear down their confidence and keep them from trying new activities. They may feel self-conscious, sad, angry, helpless or hopeless.

It can be hard for kids to manage these intense feelings and find ways to cope. Encouraging your child to talk about his feelings can help him feel better about himself. Just knowing he can come to you for support and comfort can make a big difference.

Ways You Can Help

If your child feels his learning and attention issues are making him stand out, there are ways you can help.

  1. Talking to your child’s teacher is a good first step. The teacher may be able to find ways to put your child in positive group experiences or match him up with classmates who are more accepting and share his interests.
  1. At home, you can work on changing the dynamic between your child and his siblings. You can also try to change the way you respond so your child isn’t singled out as much. And you can take steps to make social events like playdates, sleepovers and birthday parties more successful for your child.
  1. If you see that your child is struggling with his emotions, you might want to consider counseling. Counseling can help your child build communication skills, improve social cues and become more resilient. Strengthening those skills may give him the confidence to try new ways to connect with other kids.

Building Intimacy is Vital in Marriage

Why Building Intimacy in Marriage is Vital

The hardest quality to build into a marriage is intimacy, both sexual and psychological. Our culture over the last 25 years has emphasized the sexual at the expense of the psychological.

Intimacy is a fundamental need for human beings.  It means being able to share our innermost self with someone else and having that sharing reciprocated.  In watching what damages marriage, I am most impressed that withholding who we are and how we react has become the kiss of death.

We are very fragile to injury in relationships in which we feel the most vulnerable.  Many people try to control the level of intimacy because of fear of being hurt.  For most of us, the single, deepest experience of being known in all our strengths and flaws is in the marital relationship.

How to develop and strengthen marital intimacy deserves the attention of both parties.  Many people feel they are not finding the fulfillment they had hoped for in their marriage.  They have a sense of aloneness, emptiness or just something missing.  You may also be married to someone who does not need the same degree of intimacy that you do.  What can be done about this?

Some questions to ask are:  “How well do we know ourselves?” and “How have we felt our spouse has responded to us?”  In my experience as a psychologist, the reluctance to report our reactions to each other hinders marital growth.  Now some things will always remain trivial and do not deserve your verbal reactions, e.g., how your spouse manages a household chore is probably not worth talking about unless it consistently irritates you.

When expectations are unconscious, uncommunicated, unrealistic, or unreasonable, you can feel betrayed when you have not been.  You need to examine the validity of your own expectations about a relationship.  You may have wanted or expected something from another person, but he or she never agreed to give it.  Believing that if your spouse really loved you, he/she should be able to read your mind or that partners in “good” relationships rarely disagree are myths.

What you do with irritation is crucial.  Many times the temptation arises to blow such reactions off, but the resentment barometer rises.  The debris of irritation can collect into a sturdy pile.  Given sufficient time, enough material can get between partners that the distance increases and the silence becomes very telling.

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“I Love Them, I Am Just Not in Love with Them Anymore.”

“I Love Them, I Am Just Not in Love with Them Anymore.”: The Difference Between LOVE and IN LOVE

I hear those words with some regularity when I work with couples on their marriage issues.  There is a sadness when the words are spoken and often a resignation suggested, such as, “It’s just too damn bad we can’t do anything about it.”

I do not believe in that kind of doom.  If we were talking weight loss, stopping smoking, getting more exercise, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, living a more balanced life, or saving for retirement or children’s education, we would be relentless in trying possibilities over a long period of time.

I tell people to work with me on their marriage for four months and then assess whether changes have occurred in the ways they desire.  Working on what we want with our partner is not mysterious.  We need to be direct and specific in expressing our needs and wants.  When you are in marriage counseling with us, we will measure as well the progress in getting those needs and wants met.

The most important aspect of changing a marriage patterns is saying out loud to our spouse, “Yes, I like it when you do that….”  Even the casinos know that sooner or later, everyone needs a payoff.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their relationship, please give us a call.  We can help you be in love again.


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