How To Create Lasting Change In Families

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast:

How To Create Lasting Change In Families

Episode 029 · Duration: 00:16:10



How To Create Lasting Change In Families

Are you having trouble making changes in your family and getting them to actually stick? Today we’re answering a question from Marissa of Seattle, WA. Marissa writes:

How To Create Lasting Change In Families

We’ve got two boys, 8 and 10, and the 10 year old has ADHD. Life with them both is a constant battle. Our 10 year old takes most of our energy but then our 8 year old is starting to challenge us as well. Getting out of the house in the morning, getting things straightened up, getting him off of devices, homework, backtalk are all issues we’re dealing with. I’ve tried lots of things to create change; make lists, been more positive, offer rewards, take away devices, but nothing lasts. My husband helps but he’s a firefighter, so when he’s gone I’m on my own and when he’s home it takes him a day to catch up on sleep. It does help because he does activities with the kids, but he has the same challenges I do when it comes to getting cooperation. Am I missing something? I can’t seem to get any of the techniques to work.

Marissa, it sounds like every day is a battle and that’s not good for anybody, so thanks for checking in, and let’s see what we can figure out. First of all, you are no doubt in some degree of parental burnout. That’s inevitably what happens when you work hard at something you care about that continually doesn’t work out. So you’re going to need to acknowledge that and take some steps to get some down time and some support. I hope mine helps, and maybe if we can get some perspective and a better approach, you’ll be able to recover.

Here’s what I’m hearing that you’re telling me: you’re telling me that you have an ADHD son who has been a challenge to raise. Now, between he and his younger brother, you’re having a lot of trouble getting cooperation for movement in the right direction. You’re trying lots of things that should work and yet nothing does. We might ask the question, how do we create effective and lasting change? Well that’s a great question, so let’s address it, and once we do, see if we can apply it to your situation and get you out of the rut you clearly are in.

How To Approach Change

Let’s look at two different kinds of change. One kind of change is a big shift. In a big shift we are saying goodbye to the old and welcoming in the new. Instead of going for small incremental improvements where we might be trying a new technique, we are changing the whole paradigm. We’re thinking big. The other kind of change we might call baby steps or small incremental steps to reach our goal. They seem opposite, don’t they? Do we go big or go small? Believe it or not there really is an answer to this question.

The answer is: we always have to go small. In other words, we should always be making small incremental changes in our lives. We should always be learning, growing and changing. Whether it’s what we’re doing at work or at home, or how we’re playing the piano, or how we’re engaging our relationships. If we change in small incremental intentional ways, that’s going to be good.

We should always be learning, growing, and changing.Click To Tweet

In industry, the concept of small incremental changes is CPI or continual process improvement. It was popularized in the US and brought here from Japan after WWII by William Edwards Deming. Deming went to Japan to find out how they were making higher quality products than the American industry. He discovered that the reason was because they were continually looking at how to improve their manufacturing processes to build higher quality products. They were always trying to get better and were growing and changing to accomplish that. Interestingly, they often asked the workers who actually built the products for their input. Low and behold, two things no doubt happened as a result: they got good ideas, and, maybe even more importantly, they got worker buy-in to the changes. We can see how that concept will apply to raising kids, right?

But sometimes small isn’t enough. Sometimes small changes keep us going in circles and each change just moves us on another loop on the Ferris Wheel. That’s when we need big change. That’s really when we need to look at where we’re caught up. What is fundamentally wrong with our thinking or our behavior what do we need to do to make a big shift? Once we’ve made a big shift, getting a big change to work will require ongoing small incremental changes to make it work.

If we want to think of big changes or a big shift, we can think of The New Deal of the 1930’s to lift the country out of suffering and the depression, or The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. More than obviously, it doesn’t stop there, but that was a big shift. At least now we know what we’re working for and can take lots of incremental actions to get there.

If we look to a big change when we haven’t taken the time to try small sensible improvements, we’ll still have the same problems after the big change.

I think of the song Luckenbach, Texas by Waylon Jennings where he says “Let’s move to Luckenbach Texas with Willy and Waylon and the boys. / ‘Cause this successful life we’re livin’s got us feuding like the Hatfields and McCoys.”

Well I’ll bet anything they get themselves to Luckenbach and find ways to feud just like they did in their previous lives. I do love the song though. It’s just that if they want to find ways to get along in their successful lives, they could. And if they want to move to Texas and get along, they can do that too.

Another example would be getting divorced and marrying someone else as a way to solve problems, instead of taking the time and small necessary steps to understand and solve problems within the existing marriage.

So once again, what’s the right kind of change? We should always be growing and changing for the better, so small improvements should be built into our habits. When small steps are leading us in circles though, we need a big change or a big shift. If, on the other hand, we make a big change without having tried to improve things incrementally, we’re likely to encounter the same problems after the big change as well. Now let’s get back to our question.

A Balance of Big Changes & Small Changes

Marissa, if small changes alone were going to do it, you’d be on your way and not writing me. We need to go big, we need the big shift. Once we do the big shift, then we can keep it going with continual process improvement, or CPI, and we can include the kids in deciding on the small changes.

The basic shift we have to make here, Marissa, is for you to stop trying to corral the boys into behaving and cooperating. You are carrying too much of the responsibility. Both your ADHD 10 year old and your 8 year old are fully capable of cooperating. You need to know that and have complete faith in that. If your 10 year old needs support and structure to be able to function up to his potential, fine, we can offer that. But us trying to support him and him not caring and resisting will never work. If he were getting sent home from school everyday for non-cooperation, you would have told me that so let’s know that he can cooperate when he chooses to and right now he isn’t choosing to. That’s the big shift we need to make: you trying less and them trying more.

Children are fully capable of cooperating.Click To Tweet

Here’s how you’re going to make a big shift. You and your husband (after he recovers from his shift) will implement a big family shift with both a talk and an action. You will sit down with the kids and explain what’s been going on. You’ll start with explaining how much you love them and believe in them. In specific terms, identify their really great qualities: sports, art, music, kindness, reading, math, creativity, humor…all of it. Then apologize for the arguing and fighting with them, that you’ve accidentally been encouraging them to fight and argue by fighting and arguing with them. Then let them know the behaviors that need to change and the attitudes that you expect and the attitudes you will no longer accept.

Let them know the privileges they need to earn and make it clear that they no longer have those until they earn them. Privileges for this age group generally include electronics, TV, videos, or things like going out for ice cream or taking them to the skate park.

Now, I don’t know your kids, but I’m sure they’ll have their own ideas about why things don’t work and why it’s all you’re fault. Take their objections and rather than arguing, use what they’re saying to shape the policies that you all will agree on.

For instance, let’s just say your 10 year old says that when you tell him to come set the table, he says just a minute and then you yell for him to do it now. During this talk, he complains that he can’t just stop doing what he’s doing and do what you want because he needs more time to finish up. You agree that in the future, you’ll tell him 10 minutes before you want him to set the table and then a reminder 2 minutes before and then if he doesn’t come and do it, he’s in default. Makes sense, and now you’re including him in a solution.

As far as Dad doing activities with the kids, let’s keep it up, but Dad will now make sure that the kids are doing what they’re supposed to do prior. If there are issues, they need to be accounted for and made sure that they’re attended to. Straighten rooms, pick up clothes, etc. If they’ve been rude to Mom, make apologies.

And what was the big shift or the big change? You changed from trying to figure out what you need to do to get the kids to behave and cooperate, to knowing that the kids have everything they need to cooperate by simply letting them be responsible for their own behavior.

Marissa, after the big shift now, it needs to be followed up by small incremental changes and improvements. Some of what you put in place will be unrealistic and need refining and some things will need to be made clearer. And both boys are growing up quickly and changes will need to be made to keep up with their development. In all cases, we want kids to know and accept that their best is expected of them and cooperation and respect are required. That’s how they earn privileges.

Changes will need to be made to keep up with their development.Click To Tweet

Holding The Weight of Responsibility

I do need to add that you are going to have to take a look at whatever might be driving you to do too much for others. Be sure to put “Me Time” in there for yourself and ongoing support with alarm bells for you doing too much and not expecting enough of others.

Listeners, let’s all learn from Marissa and ask ourselves, are we struggling way too hard to make things work? Are we trying lots of things only to feel like we’re chasing our tails? If that’s the case, it’s time to take a look at the bigger picture and make a big change. Don’t stop there, though. In order for those bigger changes to work, we need to follow them up with small, ongoing improvements. Let’s take a play out of the industry’s playbook and think of continual process improvement. Once you’ve established that responsibilities and cooperative respectful attitudes are the new normal, you can let your kids weigh in on changes. They will have some great ideas and you’ll get more of their buy-in, too.

Thanks for tuning in today, listeners. And thanks to Marissa from Seattle for bringing up this inspiring topic.

Please feel free to come to my website and sign up for my weekly newsletter where there is plenty of helpful stuff there right now, and plenty more in the pipeline.

If you haven’t already done so, grab a copy of my book, Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle. Many readers have told me it is the least expensive and best counseling session they’ve ever had.

And, if you’re enjoying my podcast, I’d love it if you’d go to my iTunes site at Healthy Family Connections, and leave a review there.

And please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.


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