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BoyAngry1STANDING UP TO BULLYING ROLEPLAYS - Helping your child practice what to say and how to say it can be extremely valuable because you get good at what you practice. Roleplaying is a very specific exercise that can help a child be prepared for dealing with bullying. Here are some specific suggestions on HOW to support your child behind the scenes so that they are ready when the time comes.

Steps for roleplaying:

Ask your child to do this with you (even humor you).

Note: Work with your child's ability to absorb, practice and not feel overwhelmed. Consider taking these ideas in chunks one at a time.

    1. Set up a time that you can have some fun with the roleplaying. Learning works better when there is less stress. So starting off easy, even with an occasional lightheartedness can help empower a child. As you get into the roleplaying send the message that this is serious and important.
    1. Practice the specific words to say (see below). Focus on HOW the words come out - using a calm, assertive, non-defensive tone; strong, tall body language; and good eye-contact! Also consider: when are good times to respond (with a sometimes friend - having a conversation when it is not happening can be extremely powerful); who your child should talk to - if there's more than one person, addressing a less mean child, the 'sometimes friend', or the 'supposed-to-be' friend and calling them on this, is more likely to have success.
    1. When roleplaying see if your child can be coached on the points in #2. If they are really not getting it, try modeling it yourself. But play both roles as opposed to having your child practice the bullying role. Ask specifically what is being said or done. Your role is to start easy where their comebacks work to get you (the bully) to stop. But since that is not often the case in real life, helping them have back up comebacks (3-4 at least) are important. Also tell your child that you are now going to try to push their buttons more. In other words, increase your meanness one notch at a time, while letting him/her know you are trying to make it harder. If they lose their cool, empathize with the fact that you were really pushing them. You need to send the message that they are learning so that they stay at it long enough to prepare themselves.
    1. Besides practicing comebacks, you must help your child know when to call in the reserves. It can help to have a 'what if...' discussion to help them see when the situation has gone beyond the child being expected to handle it. Like with the comebacks, make sure they have more than one plan for getting help. (Often people don't hear the first time so they may have to say it again or talk with someone else. And of course, you might be a bit hard of hearing too - so stay with it.)

Here are the words:

Start by kindly, yet firmly, letting the other person know that they 'crossed the line'. 'Excuse me, I was sitting there.', 'I was next.', 'Not funny.', 'Alright, already.', 'Please stop doing that.', 'Stop it.' (Watch your anger - practice calm responding and making good eye contact.)

If the bullying stops - wonderful! If it continues, here are two quick ways and one more intentional way of responding:

1. Agree:

Scenario 1:

Bait: 'How could you miss that shot!?' (attitude - annoyance - shame)
Response: 'Yeah - that wasn't great.' (Admitting your mistakes is an important part of life - just don't take on the shame part. You might also want to point out that his classmate has appointed himself your child's judge)

Scenario 2:

Bait: 'Hey Shorty.'
Response: '
Yes...I'm short (I wear glasses, I like dinosaurs, I do things differently, I'm quirky, I'm a big kid, I don't like soccer etc).' You may want to add: 'And your point?' (Then if they say something like 'That's stupid' - the response is something like: 'Hmm.", 'Whatever you say.', 'You're entitled to your opinion.', even just shrugging your shoulders or disagree - see below.)

2. Disagree/Stand up for yourself:

Scenario 1:

Bait: 'You're a jerk.' or 'You can't play.',
Response: 'I disagree.' , 'I see it differently.' or 'I have the right to be here.'(Not defensively - just matter-of-factly),
My kids' suggestion: 'You're not the boss of me.'

Scenario 2:

Bait: 'We don't want you here.'
Response:
'Why not?' (Not defensively - just curious). They may have a good reason like: You cheat. Then either agree and change or disagree (see above). If there is some friendship bond you could try humor: 'What's up with you?', 'Having a bad day are we?' But if it is just power-tripping then stand up for yourself: 'I'm part of this group too.', or 'I didn't know you made all the rules.'. You may also want to consider saying to yourself: 'I'm better than this.' (Because you are!) Then even though it can hurt when 'friends' treat you this way - leave the scene for now - and consider moving on to better friendship possibilities.

Scenario 3:

Physical Attack: pushing, hitting, kicking, etc. or threatening to do harm.
Response: Judge the situation.

Start with questioning the action. Sometimes, Especially if the attack was not severe, or possibly a joke gone too far, you can tone down the situation with a strong, curious (not too angry) statement - 'Dude - what's up?', 'What the heck?', or 'Ok - You're tougher than I am.' Not in a mocking way - just giving them what they need to prove at the moment. (And hopefully what you don't need to prove.) This can often change the direction.

If the attacker is angry but not escalating - if possible, hold your ground, defend yourself by holding back their arms or legs, look the person in the eye and calmly tell them to stop it. Then either walk away, or possibly even try to de-escalate the other person's anger. (See above) (Later - especially if they are a friend - you may want to tell them to stop pushing you around, etc.)

If you are in real danger - if they are physically stronger or in such a worked-up state that they can not be reasoned with, or if there is more than one attacker - the best move is to get away - being assertive in your movements as you move to safety or if that is not possible defend yourself as best you can, while calling for help by loudly calling the person out so others can hear and help - 'WHAT THE HECK', 'STOP ALREADY!'

Note: Be careful that you are not using their anger as a way to escalate things further for your own reasons. Sometimes, when someone gives us an opening, we blame our worse behavior on them. And there is a pride and power factor in not backing down. Be honest about how these concepts are playing into your reactions. Once you get away, this event should be reported to someone you trust.

It would be great if - as an assignment - your child came up with some other responses to real situations and practiced them. Remember these 'techniques' only work if your child remembers that he is doing his best, he is fine admitting a mistake or two, he is also strong enough to challenge someone when they have unreasonable expectations, and thinks enough of himself to find friends who like him.

3. Intentional Response:

With a sometimes-friend, or a child who has better boundaries, and at a time it is not happening - talk to the person and tell them how you feel (reasonably, assertively, with strength - not whiny, for pity or for guilt-tripping). You may even want to write them a note. Be specific about the behavior, and what you want them to do instead. 'I really wish you would stop the whole calling me short and patting me on the head thing (making fun of my nose, etc.), it's getting old. Any chance you can let that go?' Also - depending on the person - be willing to hear how your behavior might be making it harder. And be open to having a little sense of humor (though the 'I'm just joking' is sometimes used as an excuse for baiting and bullying) - just check your sensitivity.

Want more support? Contact me if you have any questions. I am also available to work with your child privately or in a group. Consider organizing a Don't Take The Bait Workshop in your child's school or contact me for other ideas.

 
* For an excellent intervention on working with youth who bully go to:

childs_puzzleTwo four-year-old children are given a simple jigsaw puzzle to complete. They both do very well.


In her book, Mindset - The New Psychology of Success, author Carol Dweck asserts that people basically have one of two mindsets in situations. And according to research, depending on their mindsets, people will be more or less open to challenges and learning, more or less successful in school and their careers, feel more or less positive about themselves and their situations, and even negotiate more or less in a salary package.


With a fixed mindset you tend to believe in nature. You believe traits like intelligence, artistic talent, athletic ability - even relationships - are predetermined, fixed, innate, stable and either there or not. Often people with this mindset make choices that will make them look smart while steering clear of taking risk.


Not having instant success or having to work at something is considered a weakness and proof of your inadequacies. Even if you succeed, if you had to put in effort it means less. Showing that you need help, that you don't understand something or that you have things to learn are detrimental to a fixed mindset's sense of self.


On the other hand, people with a growth mindset tend to believe nurturing their intellect, abilities, interests and curiosities is where the money is. Being challenged or learning something new is the definition of success. Effort is expected and making mistakes is all part of the process. Because of this, they tend to have less fear or a sense of vulnerability at being imperfect. They are not thrown off by lack of current ability or knowledge because they believe they can gain these things through effort and perseverance.


Back to the preschoolers. Obviously children with the growth mindset chose the harder puzzle, which allowed them to learn more. The fixed mindset children picked the safe bet. The one that would re-prove how smart they were.


Fast forward to two smart pre-med students up against the challenges of organic chemistry. One, discovering that they are not instantly successful may give up, while the other digs in and becomes more determined. How about two talented sports pros, two business leaders, two couples? Dweck's book has examples of all of these. Why does one flourish, find more happiness and success and rebound faster? A growth mindset.


So how do you go about instilling a growth mindset in yourself and your children? Start by asking this question: Is success more about learning or proving you're smart? Then challenge yourself and your child to see learning as success.


Another way for parents and teachers to encourage this kind of thinking in children is to notice and praise effort over accomplishment. Instead of saying your child is a great soccer player, express that they seem to really love being out there and giving it their all. "Look at all that sweat! Wow you really played hard out there!"


Of course if you want to instill a growth mindset in a child, practicing it yourself is the best way. Do you appreciate your mistakes? Do you model effort when something is hard? Expressing growth thinking about your own life can show your child how to do it.


At dinner time, instead of listing off all you accomplished in your day, how about listing off what you learned? How your curiosity was piqued? How you were engaged in a cool challenge? And ask the same questions of your child.


Living life with a fixed mindset can be a hard way to go for both the person with this way of thinking and for those around them. Luckily, a fixed mindset does not have to be fixed forever!


IQ, social and relationship success, athletic ability and many other talents are not fixed traits. They can all be increased. Those who are not bogged down in a fixed mindset actually gain more skill and are much happier along the way. It really is about practice and belief. Having models that appreciate that can help.

Annie Zirkel, LPC is an Ann Arbor, Mi relationship consultant and author of You'll Thank Me Later - A Guide to Raising Grateful Children (& Why That Matters). You can find her at www.practicehow.com. Submit your relationship question to annie@practicehow.com

Creative Commons License photo credit: eelke dekker

When it comes to bullying in schools there are 3 trains of thought:

BoyAngry1

 

1. Bullying doesn't happen that much.

2. Bullying happens but it's just part of life and people need to get over it.

3. Bullying is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

 

Let's take a look at these...


1. Bullying doesn't happen that much. Bullying happens more than many people may appreciate. According to Barbara Kaiser and Judy Rasminsky in their book, Challenging Behavior in Elementary and Middle School:

The first large-scale study of bullying in the United States—a representative sample of more than 15,000 students in grades 6 to 10 in public and private schools throughout the country—revealed that almost 30 percent of children are involved in bullying either moderately ("sometimes") or frequently (once a week or more). Thirteen percent bully others, 10.6 percent are targeted, and 6.3 percent both bully others and are targeted themselves (Nansel et al., 2001).

And sadly with today's cyber speed, new forms and levels of bullying are being reached every day. Even taking away the potentially safe haven of home for children who are being bullied.


2. Bullying happens but it's just part of life and people need to get over it. Actually part of this is true. Bullying is a part of most children's lives, and learning how to resolve bullying issues is an important part of growing up. And while it can be beneficial to a child's self esteem to successfully deal with a perpetrator, the cost of being bullied when the child is not successful can be brutal. Finally, tolerant messages sent to children who bully earlier in life only encourage more sophisicated bullying and create abusive personalities later on.

But here's the catch, often the children bullying really just do not understand how brutal it is. Either because they lack empathy, have their own anger issues, or they figure the bullied child can take it - they often go too far.


In her book Don't Laugh At Me, Jodee Blanco, a once seriously bullied child, goes back and confronts many of her tormentors. What is striking about what she discovers is that many of them - classmates she perceived as being together and aware of what they were doing - were genuinely clueless about the full extent of the damage of their beahavior. They saw themselves as just trying to work out their own stuff and did not appreciate their actions. Sadly, when you are an easy target, it is often not one aggregious act, but many small acts of bullying and shunning that no one is taking responsibility for, that defines your day.


3. Bullying is a serious issue. Grown-ups who take bullying seriously are doing their jobs. But I can't tell you how many people I talk to who nod agreeingly while simultaneously doing nothing to create the necessary environment to stop it, or even worse, passively or actively encouraging it. The truth is that if you are part of a school community - principal, teachers, counselors, parents, staff, even administration and don't have a concrete and on-going plan to communicate safe-for-everyone messages in your homes/schools/communities - then your passiveness is contributing to the problem. LIP SERVICE is easy. DOing bullying prevention takes real commitment.


So what is your plan? Bullying needs to be addressed both from the inside out (those who bully and those who are bullied need skills to deal with situations better) and from the outside in - the environment needs to send the message that this place is safe for everyone. Here are 10 ways you can do that:
  1. Model appropriate uses of power (not be bullies ourselves and not allow children to have more power than the adult).
  2. Pay attention to what is happening in individual and group interactions - especially when they are not structured or being formally supervised. Too many stories surface after serious bullying that indicate that parents and professionals were not paying attention to the signs of bullying. (Support targetted children, giving them a voice and helping them with skills. Pay particular attention to the children who seem to have everything going for them. And make sure that the environment is not setting these kids up to have an entitlement complex which actually makes them think that they are allowed to treat others this way.)
  3. Model and teach empathy, respectful interaction, conflict resolution skills.
  4. Model and teach assertiveness and communication skills to help children who are more easily targeted to gain skills to recognize baiting and not take the bait.
  5. Empower bystanders to set the tone of respect and acceptance of others.
  6. Discuss our expectations often! - parents talk to your children, teachers/schools talk to your students - Did I mention often??
  7. Formally bring in lessons of respect and bullying prevention through professional development, assemblies, book readings, class assignments, Friendship Days,  etc - to set the tone and as a basis for future discussions and expectations. (Note: many bullying children do not easily see themselves in assembly-type descriptions of bullies. Further, hopefully private work will be needed*)
  8. When addressing bullying - best approach: Swift, Strong and (if possible) Non-Shaming responses are crucial!
  9. Kindly (watching the shame factor here!),
    yet firmly help the bullying child notice when they has crossed the line (Tip: The more privately, and optimistically you can give a child this message the better.) We all learn
    some life lessons by blowing it first. Having empathy while still holding them accountable can help them turn around.
  10. Kindly, yet firmly hold them accountable for their actions (See #3) - hopefully with optimism that you believe that they can be better than that in the future. [By the way - holding a child accountable is possibly the kindest thing you can do for them - because it helps them learn the real skills they will need in the world.]

If your school is serious about dealing with bullying - I have ideas and presentations. For child/grown-up offerings click here. For professional development click here.

* For an excellent intervention on working with youth who bully go to:

BoyTapedMouthDear Annie,


Dear Perplexed Dad,

Wouldn't it be nice if we lived in a land where teenage boys were dying to talk with us old folks for hours and hours about their day? Ah...how nice. Your complaint is a fairly common one. How to have real connection with a teenager, especially a less verbal one. So here are some steps to getting there.

Step 1: Look in the mirror - think timing, technique, tone:

clockTiming: A good time for you, may not be a good time for him (like right when he gets home from school). Some kids need to decompress. Some like the end of the night to open up a bit. When and where does he open up better? (See Step 3 for some ideas)

Technique: Use open-ended conversation starters
  • What did you learn in school today?
  • What good things happened today?
  • Can you tell me about your day?
  • What's the strangest thing that happened today?
Use relevant questions
  • How did that science test go? (If he was concerned)
  • So did you hang out with Joe today?
  • What fun things do you have planned for this weekend?
  • Did you get to that movie you wanted to see? How was it?
duct-tape
Tone: Does it feel like an interrogation? Does he feel badgered? Do you enjoy his good news or do you under- or overdo it? When he tells you something challenging do you have duct tape ready? Or do you criticize, point out problems, hijack, or give 'unasked for' advice? Do you appreciate the boundaries of his life vs yours? To some extent, it is his developmental job to separate from his family at this age. Do you honor that?

Step 2: Talk to him ABOUT talking.

Ask to bring up your concerns (makes it hard to stay connected, something may be going on that you should know about),
your reasons (want to check in about how things are going, think it's important to practice this skill, could possibly give information or pointers on tricky stuff) and then your request for a change (hopefully something specific - can you give me 5 minutes or 5 sentences). When my sons were younger, I told them they had to include 3 details. It was a bit forced but they did practice sharing.

And be open to hearing why he might not be into giving you details (see Step 1). With some boys, doing a pleasant activity while having this discussion can help. Driving somewhere, tossing a football, doing a home improvement project, or getting a bite can give you the opening.

Step 3: Look for, and create opportunities for conversation.
DadSonMechanicMuch of life is about being in the right place at the right time. Take a class together, play tennis, participate in common interests - often the trip there and back is a great opportunity for spontaneous sharing. Don't underestimate the value of family dinners. Do a joint project together - great time to teach useful skills too. Create a father-son tradition and commit to it (P.S. A special tradition for each child can create lasting memories).


I know a mom who would start an interesting jigsaw puzzle and wait for her teenage boys to stop by and add a few pieces. It often developed into some fun and revealing conversations. A few years ago, when my one son asked what I wanted for my birthday, I told him I wanted him to take me to lunch and actually talk to me about what was really happening in his life. (FYI - It was a great and memorable lunch where I was able to hear that he felt I pushed him to talk too much. So I sincerely agreed to back off - and lo and behold - he opened up.)

Hope that gives you ideas to start.
Good luck - Annie

fistshadowHi Annie:

I am looking for advice on how to handle my 10 year old grandson/son with ADHD, as he loses his temper in the evening after he is coming off his meds and lately hits me.  We are grandparents raising grandchildren through adoption.

His pediatrician says kids can get ugly coming off their meds. At a meeting we talked about how they know he can control his temper, as he does with other family members and at school.  It's a power struggle with him.  When I say XBox goes off, it's homework time, and I turn around I get kicked in the back.  It's now happening in the car and not just in my back. We tried to up his dose of medication and he did not feel well at all. Any advice? - Signed Caring Mom/Grandmom

Dear Mom,

You and your son have some extra challenges going on. I am glad that you are seeking help for this issue because, given your son's age and yours, it is a serious concern. Angry tweens can become even worse with more growth, more hormones, and lack of practice with alternatives to violence. And though clearly his meds add to the problem, since he is able to hold it together with others, this as also a power struggle/relationship issue. So there are 2 parts to this answer:

PART 1: The power struggle. The first issue is to take violence off the table.
Step 1: The BIG Conversation to separate out two messages: Anger is OK, hitting is not.
At a time when you are not fighting, with calm, firm (alpha dog) strength, you need to explain:
While you know it is tricky when he is coming off his meds, AND that his XBox is certainly more fun than homework, AND that it is understandable that sometimes he is upset, disappointed, frustrated or angry, AND even that he thinks you are the bad guy for making him do things he would rather not, - HE CANNOT GET PHYSICAL! This is an absolute and the purpose of this conversation is to make sure that he understands that. The message is that YOU have far too much respect for yourself to be treated that way. (And that goes for verbal abuse as well!)
To be clear: when I say alpha dog it means speaking from a place of strength. You are not trying to convince him that hitting is a bad idea or implying that the empathy you give him can be used as excuses for hitting. Hitting is not an acceptable option for dealing with his stress. (This is also why I don't believe parents should hit their children.) Again - This is not meant to be mean - it is meant to be matter-of-fact.

Step 2: Alternate Solutions.

Now at this point it would be great if he were at a place where he agreed that he would like to do things differently. But this is up to him. Beyond the not hitting, we are hoping for genuine (unmanipulated) remorse for how he treats you. However he may not be ready for that yet - so if not, let it alone. That is a different goal and I don't recommend confusing the two.

If you feel he understands the line he cannot cross and is genuinely remorseful, you can add some balance by reminding him of all the great things about him too. Though be careful not to minimize the seriousness of his behavior by softening it up too much. This can also be a great opportunity to help him come up with alternatives to violence
(Click here for a great article by Michele Borba with 10 ideas.) Also you may need to look at some ways he can get his anger out. It is possible that his behavior is related to deeper emotional issues.

PART 2: The consequences.

It is almost a given that he will test your new resolve (easier than changing himself). So what happens if he hits you again?

Step 1: You say - "Not a good choice. There needs to be a real consequence for this."
Immediately, you send him away so that YOU can have a cool down period. But this is not the real consequence.
Step 2: Don't discuss what the real consequence will be in the moment (ala Love & Logic: Delay the consequences) because you want to be in charge of yourself and the consequence you hand out. Later when you are calm let him know what you have decided.

Here are my 3Rs for consequencing:

1. Related to the 'crime'
2. Restitution for the 'crime'
3. Rehearsing the skill you want him to learn

An example for your situation might be that he needs to write an essay (can be short) on what upset him, how his behavior was hurtful, and 5 ideas on what he will do differently in the future.  If he can't think of any - when things calm down, ask him to brainstorm with you. and But until he's finished: basic parenting mode: Food, clothing, shelter, safety.

Longer Term: I also encourage you to look at HOW you are asking him to transition. While his hitting is his issue you may be inadvertently feeding his frustration. Remember power struggles go both ways. Consider reading the book, The Explosive Child by Ross W. Greene. Also, can you give him more power as he is able to handle it? Look at what exactly sets him off, and when. Can you work together to come up with mutually agreeable ways of dealing with this? He must do all of his homework BEFORE using his XBox, 5 minute warning? More communication about what his day will be? More control over some of his choices? "I notice that it happens when it involves the XBox or when we are rushing to your sports stuff. How can we do that better?"
Consider looking into mindfulness exercises - that perhaps you can do together. They have been shown to be very effective for children and adults dealing with emotional reactivity.

But once again I stress that you must come from a place of strength when offering to work with him on solutions. He does not get to say: "Well you didn't give me a warning so I don't have to listen to you!" Pay attention to these kinds of shifts in power and kindly shift it back. "Yes I forgot, and you still need to get off now."

If any part of his behavior improves - let him know you notice and appreciate it - though be careful that it doesn't sound manipulative or weak. (And be conscious about who is around - sometimes a compliment about a weakness getting better can feel embarrassing.)

If the situation does not improve, I recommend working directly with a professional to help him change his behavior. There's also diet, exercise and sleep issues, and finally consider how deeper grief issues related to the circumstances of his life may be underlying his actions.

Please let me know how it goes.
Take care, Annie

Dear Annie,

angrywoman

My sister-in-law is a wonderful women. She is a protective and caring mother and the first to volunteer when someone needs help. Also my relationship with her is great. However she can be very hard on her husband, which in turn effects my wife and mother-in-law who lives with us (I am married to the husband's sister). My brother-in-law (BIL) provides her a very good life style, he is a successful doctor and she has never had to work outside the home and has wanted for nothing. Yet she appears to have no joy in her life.


The problem comes in that she makes BIL's life miserable if he ever wants to do anything with the guys (golf, cards). Recently, we invited them over only to be told that she didn't want to come. BIL did come with 2 of the 3 children, stayed a while and left. He could not explain her behavior primarily because he does not understand it himself. After he left my mother-in-law was in tears because she sees her son is not happy.  My wife has concerns about the well being of her brother and nieces. Should I get involved? Signed - Brother-In-Law-In-Law

Dear Brother-In-Law-In-Law,

Oh so much I want to say. So let's break it down.
Here's Part 1 of my answer: What is going on with your sister-in-law (SIL)?

Why all the harshness?

Preemptive note: By attempting to understand where harshness comes from, I am not saying it's ok. Being respectful toward others is each person's responsibility. That said, looking behind the scenes can give you a better picture for helping.

People are harsh for many different reasons that range from unintentional (think cultural style) or the occasional bad day, to downright vengeful and cruel (think pleasure centers of the brain light up when inflicting pain). Habit, poor skills, unhappiness, and old baggage fall somewhere in the middle. In this range, while it can seem like the harsh person has the power, it is often out of a feeling of powerlessness that a person uses this strategy. Excessive complaining, criticism and angry outbursts are often the grown-up version of 'crying'.

babycryingcropped

Since SIL is not this way with everyone then it's safe to say she's unhappy with BIL. When you say she 'wants for nothing', perhaps you mean: wants for nothing material. Clearly she wants for something.

I wonder if she is like many women who marry thinking that being a wife and mother will be fulfilling. Turns out that being a mom all day is a lot of giving and not a lot of getting. The daily rewards tend to be smaller than the expenditure of time, teaching, nurturing, and disciplining. Not to mention the feeding, chauffeuring and house-keeping.

But that's ok because we love our kids and if we are lucky, we have this great partner coming home to fulfill our needs. Oops. That's what he's thinking of you. In SIL's case, her husband may not even have much time at home given his profession. And they both may be giving much of their good attention to their day jobs.

Dominant thinking about happiness is that you are responsible for your own. And to a large extent that's true. Self-fulfillment is each individual's job. But what if what makes you happy is feeling like you are part of a team? Feeling special and valued? You need others. And stay-at-home moms have few options. You can't (and shouldn't) expect it from your kids. Your partner, if you have one, seems a likely source. But if he gets his self-worth from a variety of sources it can feel very imbalanced - and very unpowerful. Whaah.

Of course, HOW she is trying to get support from her husband, and appreciating that he is not MORE responsible for her needs that SHE is, is very important. People can fall into the trap of insisting that the world change instead of changing themselves. She can't pin her harshness on BIL though she may be disappointed with him.

It is unreasonable and even impossible for BIL to meet all of his wife's needs. But on the other hand it IS reasonable to expect him to meet some of the important, intangible ones. That's what being a couple is about, meeting each others' needs. How much does he try? How often does he make her his priority? Time as a family, let alone a couple is a scarce commodity. So when he wants to go out - whether for cards, golf or to visit extended family - it requires SIL to be in the support role again. Whaah.

BUT if he is a supportive husband, emotionally as well as tangibly, and she has unreasonable expectations, then he needs to stand up for himself. And they will likely both need new skills. It's no accident that aggressiveness is found where passiveness exists. They play off each other. In an attempt to placate a confrontational person, we sometimes help create a bully. In an attempt to be heard by a passive person, we sometimes cry REALLY LOUD!

To complicate matters there is extended family! It sounds like your wife and mom-in-law aren't very close with SIL, which makes sense if they feel she is harsh with someone they love. Plus if she is a 'prickly' kind of person, it may make it hard to bond. And your wife and mom-in-law may be feeling hurt as well - feeling like SIL doesn't care about their family. The trouble is, where does it go from there?

So to get involved or not to get involved? That is the question though I encourage you to contemplate this part of the answer for a while before you read on. When ready: Click here for Help with Harsh Sister-in-law Part 2.


Take care,
Annie

Dear Brother-In-Law-In-Law,

In Part 1 of this question, we talked about the possible reasons for why your sister-in-law may be hard on her husband. In Part 2 we talk about whether you should you get involved.

Frankly at this point you might be saying, "Hell no! It's WAY too complicated." But if you're still game to consider it - read on:

So here is the checklist for being a good support:

_____ You're idea of involvement isn't taking on harshness with harshness (Check)
_____ You are someone who cares (Check)

_____ You have a decent relationship with the other parties (Check)
_____ You want to take on this role (Check?)
_____ You have the ability to use both empathy and challenge - at the right times (Check?)

_____ You have good boundaries and understand that you DO NOT have the power to
change anyone but yourself. (With the right skills a person has a chance at influencing others. But it is always up to the other to change or not.) Check?


babycryingWhere to get involved? There are different people you can get involved with - SIL, BIL, Wife, Mom, Nieces. The right person for supporting one may not be the best person to support another. So you may want to think about just where you want to put your energy.

Of course, supporting your wife by empathizing and possibly challenging as well is your first priority. Supporting your Mom-in-law may also be possible, depending on your relationship. And helping your nieces feel loved and welcome is of no small value.

You could also ask BIL if he would like to talk and be directly supportive to him in that way. You say that he doesn't understand her behavior. Perhaps sharing this answer with him (and possibly Lonely Stay-At-Home Mom) might be a good place to start. Of course he will likely need more skills as well since passiveness and aggressiveness are usually found in pairs. But that is for another day...

And finally, talking directly to SIL.

First let's get this out of the way: Telling your sister-in-law to give BIL a break or lighten up can actually work in some cases - but if you don't really care about her, it's just doing what she does back at her. This approach - usually done out of frustration - will likely damage your relationship, and it can only work if she is able to admit that she's too hard and he doesn't deserve it.

If you do care and are wondering about directly talking to SIL, then I suggest the following: First check if she would appreciate your support. And you might want to make sure BIL is ok with it.

Finding an opportunity for a real conversation - whether at a family gathering, or an invitation to coffee might be useful. If the timing seems right, you could ask permission to empathetically share your concerns. 'I see you as such a great mom and caring person but you don't seem to be happy.' Be careful not to take sides about the harshness issue. This is more about helping her find her way. We all need that sometimes. Depending on whether she is open to seeing her inner power to create her happiness or not will determine where the conversation goes from there.

I hope that this gives you some thoughts on considering your potential role. Good luck.

Take care,
Annie

Dear Annie,


I need some advice. I just purchased a Wii® for my kids even though I know my wife is going to be upset because money is tight right now.

I promised the kids months ago that if they behaved I would buy them one. I feel I let my kids down because I did not follow through. So I finally purchased the Wii® this weekend and have it hidden. How would you suggest I communicate with my wife what I have done? Signed - How To Tell My Wife
Dear How To Tell My Wife,
First let me ask you a few questions: Do you almost never do this kind of thing? Or is this usually how you deal with conflict in your marriage? If this kind of decision is not typical - then you have some money in your relationship bank account and can make a withdrawal: explain that it was important to you to keep your word to your kids, that you are sorry that you didn't talk about it first, and that in this case - you made the call (having a decent track record on making good calls helps too). If, on the other hand this is your usual way of getting your way - then you really do have insufficient funds. So you might want to rethink it.

In making the purchase, you told your wife her concerns didn't matter enough. Bringing it up now, puts you in a position of having to either defend yourself or be dismissive of your wife. Not great choices. If you want to strengthen your relationship AND possibly keep and enjoy the Wii too, then here is my suggestion: First be honest and ask yourself: Does my wife has a point? If money is: can't pay the electric bill tight - then put the Wii back on your wish list. If scrimping somewhere else can make the Wii affordable then: explain what you did, explain your honest reasons - without too much defensiveness (admit it if even a small part of you wanted the Wii too),
acknowledge your wife's legitimate disappointment in being left out of the decision (anger often masks hurt),
and offer any creative ideas on how to pay for it without dismantling the family budget. Then - and here's the real hard part - genuinely offer to return it if the two of you can't agree that it is affordable right now.

If you and your wife agree that it can work - then problem solved AND your marriage feels better. If you can't agree - then by keeping your word and returning it - you choose WE over Wii and make a big investment in your marriage. Frankly, if you do return it - it is perfectly reasonable to explain to your kids that you are sorry, however the purchase is being postponed until the economy gets better.

Please note: WE means you both get to has a say in family decisions. Sometimes one partner can be so good at arguing and being dismissive of the other that the other resorts to behind-the-back maneuvers to have some power. However sometimes one partner feels like their mate is working against them - leaving them shouldering more of the responsibility for making the hard choices so they get resentful. The key here is to have each other's backs AND find ways to get what you each want or give something up graciously.

Share the load - respect each other - find win-win solutions - and if you do keep the Wii® have fun together. Hope that was helpful. Good luck. - Annie

Hi Annie,

iStockcouplefightingMy husband and I recently had an uncomfortable dinner with a good friend and her husband. During the evening her husband was dismissive of her: interrupting, competing for attention, and putting down some of her ideas when she talked. At one point they were both explaining their sides to an argument they were having - as if we were supposed to decide who was right. My husband says that my friend is kind of flaky and needs a guy like that to keep her from being impulsive. I say their marriage is in trouble.

After the evening, their bickering rubbed off on us. I want to talk to my friend and ask her what's going on. My husband says that it's just me butting in. So should I get involved? And if so HOW do I bring it up? Signed - Butt in or not?

Dear Buttinski,

Wanting to help a friend is always a good thing. It's what makes a good friend. The question is: HOW do you best support your friend? Before we get to that - I wonder if it would help to look at what may have been going from a relationship standpoint.

So is she flaky? Is he dismissive? Are you a meddler? Is your husband a 'hands-off' kind of guy? My guess is that there is some truth to all of these - that's why you hooked up in the first place - It's the law of attraction and reaction. You are drawn to traits that are opposite of your strengths (Only then it was - She's spontaneous, He's smart, You're involved, Your husband's laid-back) and then you react negatively to those traits because they are different from your style. (The trick is to make this facet of relationships work for you! And there are ways to do that. See Couples Resources for ideas.)

So what might have been going on at dinner? Whether it is griping to a friend, airing your dirty laundry, or respectfully asking someone to determine who is right - the purpose is the same: to find an ally. But when you want an ally against your partner - it's because he or she doesn't feel like one. Meaning you either don't have or are not using good skills to deal with the issue between you. (Of course - one night of being adversarial does not a divorce make - though how many you need for such a thing is better not to find out).

The good news is that putting an issue out there means they were trying to figure it out. (Maybe not effectively, but they were trying!) And better they are airing their grievance together than separately.

iStockgirlfriendtalkingAnd the truth is that sometimes we can all use a quality dose of perspective. Just getting good outside observations can break through the walls that we have put up against our partner. You know the ones we can't hear through!

Now should that dose come over dinner with friends? It depends very heavily on the friendship. But it can come that way, or from a book or an advice column, from a movie or a class, from a wise, trusted elder (or younger) or maybe even a counselor. It can come from a buddy who knocks you upside the head and says, "Dude, what are you doing?" Or it could come from a caring friend with good listening skills, excellent boundaries, an optimistic air, and the willingness to be both empathetic and possibly challenging (See Butt In Or Not Part 2).

It might even come from watching some friends fight badly. And realizing that you want to do better than that.

Hope that was helpful - Take care, Annie



Hi Annie,

iStockcouplefightingMy husband and I recently had an uncomfortable dinner with a good friend and her husband. During the evening her husband was dismissive of her: interrupting, competing for attention, and putting down some of her ideas when she talked. At one point they were both explaining their sides to an argument they were having - as if we were supposed to decide who was right. My husband says that my friend is kind of flaky and needs a guy like that to keep her from being impulsive. I say their marriage is in trouble.

After the evening, their bickering rubbed off on us. I want to talk to my friend and ask her what's going on. My husband says that it's just me butting in. So should I get involved? And if so HOW do I bring it up? Signed - Butt in or not?


Dear Buttinski,

Wanting to help a friend is always a good thing. It's what makes a good friend. The question is: HOW do you best support your friend? Before we get to that - I wonder if it would help to look at what may have been going from a relationship standpoint.

So is she flaky? Is he dismissive? Are you a meddler? Is your husband a 'hands-off' kind of guy? My guess is that there is some truth to all of these - that's why you hooked up in the first place - It's the law of attraction and reaction. You are drawn to traits that are opposite of your strengths (Only then it was - She's spontaneous, He's smart, You're involved, Your husband's laid-back) and then you react negatively to those traits because they are different from your style. (The trick is to make this facet of relationships work for you! And there are ways to do that. See Couples Resources for ideas.)

So what might have been going on at dinner? Whether it is griping to a friend, airing your dirty laundry, or respectfully asking someone to determine who is right - the purpose is the same: to find an ally. But when you want an ally against your partner - it's because he or she doesn't feel like one. Meaning you either don't have or are not using good skills to deal with the issue between you. (Of course - one night of being adversarial does not a divorce make - though how many you need for such a thing is better not to find out).

The good news is that putting an issue out there means they were trying to figure it out. (Maybe not effectively, but they were trying!) And better they are airing their grievance together than separately.

iStockgirlfriendtalkingAnd the truth is that sometimes we can all use a quality dose of perspective. Just getting good outside observations can break through the walls that we have put up against our partner. You know the ones we can't hear through!

Now should that dose come over dinner with friends? It depends very heavily on the friendship. But it can come that way, or from a book or an advice column, from a movie or a class, from a wise, trusted elder (or younger) or maybe even a counselor. It can come from a buddy who knocks you upside the head and says, "Dude, what are you doing?" Or it could come from a caring friend with good listening skills, excellent boundaries, an optimistic air, and the willingness to be both empathetic and possibly challenging (See Butt In Or Not Part 2).

It might even come from watching some friends fight badly. And realizing that you want to do better than that.

Hope that was helpful - Take care, Annie