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This is where you will find my answers to questions that readers have asked me about improving the quality of their lives.

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I have a 10 year old whose behavior has got worse recently. He is normally a good kid with a great personality, however it is getting very different lately. Any tips on 10 year olds are greatly appreciated.

Ideally, we want our kids to develop a value system that will hold them in good stead, even when we aren't around to supervise them. By far, the best value system is one where we are guided by the consequences of our behaviour.

Your son probably sees some advantages in his misbehaviour, but he hasn't thought about the full consequences. Therefore, your role as a parent needs to be educative rather than punitive.

You haven't elaborated on the type of misconduct that your son is exhibiting, but I've found that there is a general, six-step formula, that seems to work with a variety of misdemeanours.

  1. Start by talking to your son about the advantages of his misbehaviour. (For example, if he's been lying to you, you might talk about how lying helps him avoid immediate trouble. You'll get your opportunity later to show him the longer-term disadvantages). By making some suggestions yourself, you show him that you are on his side and can see things from his point of view. When you've completed the fourth step, you might like to return to these items and show him why they may not be as advantageous as he first thought.
  2. Next, talk to him about the disadvantages to himself and to others of his behaviour. A word to the wise: it pays to be prepared and have a few unfortunate consequences up your sleeve that he might not think of. This is where extra penalties can be added to ensure that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.
  3. Now it's time to change tack and discuss the pros and cons of more appropriate behaviour. If an alternative behaviour isn't available immediately, you and he can brainstorm some options that he could use if placed in a similar situation in the future. Once again, begin by showing him that you can see things from his point of view by listing the disadvantages of the appropriate behaviour.
  4. Finally, list the advantages of the appropriate behaviour. As with step 2, it pays to be prepared with a few extra advantages. I've found that it's sometimes useful to set the procedure out on paper by writing down each of the advantages and disadvantages. That way your son has a physical reminder of what's at stake. If you're not confident about using this approach, you can practice it on your own before trying it with your son. Make your own list of advantages and disadvantages of his behaviour and an appropriate alternative.
  5. Now get your son to decide for himself which is the best option; misbehaving or behaving appropriately. Ask him what he can do to atone for the previous misconduct and what he will do to avoid it in the future.
  6. Give him a hug and remind him that although you're disappointed that he let you down on this occasion, you still love and cherish him.

I feel that your advice is real good, but sometimes it is not that easy to forget, or forgive the people that hurt you.

It sounds like you've had a really painful experience that has caused you great anguish. When someone else has caused this pain, it is often -as you point out - difficult to forgive and forget. And when you can't forgive, the pain and sadness linger, sometimes for the rest of your life.

The real tragedy is that you end up being hurt twice - you have two pains for the price of one. Firstly, there is the pain of the original injustice and then there is the lingering pain as you struggle to get on with the rest of your life. Meanwhile, the person who caused the initial injury remains unaffected by your ongoing suffering. You carry the burden of their behaviour - it's as though you are punishing yourself for the sins of another.

That's why learning to forgive - and yes, it is a skill that you can learn - is so important. When you forgive, you release the burden from yourself. It's not the perpetrator of your pain who benefits from your forgiveness; it's you who benefits! But as you say, it's easier said than done. So how do you forgive? Here are some tips that will get you started.

  1. Remind yourself that forgiveness is difficult, but not impossible.
  2. Remind yourself that it is you - not the other person - who suffers when you don't forgive.
  3. Avoid using pejorative labels when you think about or talk about the other person.
  4. Practice separating the person's behavior from his or her identity. This is easier when you follow Step 3 above. For example, if someone acts cruelly, that doesn't make him or her a cruel person: it makes him or her a person who acts cruelly. (Notice that you label the behaviour, not the person).
  5. Practice reducing the amount of time you think about the other person and his or her behavior. One way to do this is to set aside time (say 5-10 minutes per hour - less as time goes by) to deliberately think about it. If the thought pops into your head before the appointed time, talk back to the thought and remind it of the appointment. In time you will be able to reduce and then totally eliminate the time that you spend thinking about the painful experience.

These steps get easier with practice. I wish you well.

Will, I really liked what you had to say to MJ about the troubles that she's having with her son. What advice do you have regarding raising difficult children?

Being the parent of a difficult child is a learning experience. Along the way I've read or picked up a number of tips on how to do the job better. Here are some of the ideas I've found most useful:

  1. Expect that your child will misbehave. Just as dogs bark and cats mew, children will misbehave. To expect them to do otherwise is no less foolish than to expect your cat to bark.
  2. Acknowledge that no matter how bad your child's behaviour is, it could be worse. Much worse.
  3. Even though your child's behaviour is undesirable, it is not compulsory for your child to be well behaved. He or she always has the choice (wisely or otherwise) to act in a manner that you consider undesirable.
  4. Although your child's misbehaviour is a pain in the butt, it is not fatal. Learn the fine art of putting things into perspective.
  5. Get into the habit of separating your child's behaviour from his or her identity. Remind yourself that your child is not his or her behaviour. Remember that the actor is not the action or that the sin is not the sinner. Bad behaviour does not equal bad child.
  6. Kids misbehave because (i) they don't know any better, or (ii) it seems to them like a good idea at the time, and they haven't thought through the consequences. Learn to see things from your child's distorted perspective as well as from your own. Then, without condemning your child for holding a distorted view, show him or her how to see things more clearly.
  7. Never blame or belittle your child for his or her misdeeds. If you blame or belittle your child, you (a) miss out on an opportunity to educate your child, (b) lower your child's self esteem, (c) encourage your child to accept any labels that you place on him or her and increase the likelihood that he or she will act according to the label. For example, if your son believes that he is a bad boy - because you have told him that he is one - then he will likely act like a bad boy.
  8. Don't blame or belittle yourself for your child's misbehaviour. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, so stop trying to be one. You are a fallible human being and will make mistakes in your role as a parent. Remember that dogs bark and parents make mistakes.
  9. Don't impose penalties on your child while you are angry. Wait until you have calmed down before you begin the process of re-educating your child. Calmly and consistently, show your child that misbehaviour leads to unfavourable consequences. As much as possible, try to ensure that your child suffers the consequences of his or her misbehaviour by ensuring that any penalties you impose on your child are related to the misbehaviour.
  10. Show your child that despite his or her misbehaviour, you still love him or her.

Please help me Will. My husband treats me badly. He is very demanding and shows no respect for the way I feel. It's getting so bad that I want to divorce him, but I'm afraid to do that. I don't have the courage to stand up to him so he walks all over me. What do you suggest?

There is quite an art to standing up to people and it takes some practice. I don't know how much you already know about assertiveness training so I'll assume that you know nothing and start at the beginning. If you already know some of this, please forgive me, I don't mean to insult you.

There are two principles involved in dealing with others they are:

  1. People treat you the way that you let them treat you.
  2. If you want to change the way that people treat you, you have to change the way that you treat them.

The first principle is self-explanatory so let's look at the second one more closely. Principle two is all about training people to treat you well. There are three rules for training people, they are:

  1. If someone treats you well, treat him or her well in return.
  2. If someone treats you badly, ask him or her to change.
  3. If they still treat you badly after you have asked them to change, treat them badly in return.

Rule number 1 is common courtesy and is something most of us do naturally. Rule number 2 is a bit harder because most people don't know how to ask someone to change. To ask someone to change you have to be polite, but firm. There is a simple formula for doing this that I find very useful. It has 4 steps.

  1. Describe what it is that the other person has done that you don't like.
  2. Tell them how you feel when they do it
  3. Tell them why you feel the way that you do.
  4. Ask them not to do it again.

Here's an example:

"When you expect me to do all the housework after I've had a long day at work (step 1), I feel hurt (step 2), because you are not taking my exhaustion into consideration (step 3). Please don't expect me to take care of everything without help from you when I have worked such long hours (step 4)".

After you have said this, you don't need to say anything more; you have already said all that needs to be said. If your husband persists, then repeat what you have just said. But do not make the mistake of saying it more than twice. If he still persists after you have twice told him how you feel, it is time to move to Rule number 3; it is time to stop talking and take action.

Rule number 3 means that you must do something that your husband doesn't like. You must make him feel bad so that he knows how you feel when he ignores your requests to treat you more considerately. It takes courage to do this because when you treat your husband badly, he will probably treat you worse. That means that you will have to treat him worse. Most people don't like using rule number three because life gets very uncomfortable, but it is the only way to get someone to change if they refuse to change after you have already asked them twice. For a while things will get very tough in your house, but eventually, one of you will either give in or move out.

I can tell you now who will win and who will give up. If you love and need your husband more than he loves and needs you, you will give in first. But if he needs you more than you need him, he will give in first.

You might decide that this option is too uncomfortable for you. If that is the case, and you are unwilling to put up with your husband's unfair treatment of you, then divorce is probably your best option. If you decide that you want to go ahead with a divorce, that will present other problems for you, such as how your family deals with it etc that you may need some help with. If you'd like further assistance, please let me know. I'm here to help.

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