Tag Archives: how to be a parent

Separated and Divorced Parents: What a Winner Does

Separated and Divorced Parents:
What a Winner Does

I often see separated or divorced parents who cannot manage to make co-parenting work. They just cannot seem to come together and establish productive communication on behalf of their children. Why is this? And what does it take to successfully meet the challenges of this difficult relationship?

The following are my observations, based on my work with separated or divorced parents.

One winner can change the game and make it work acceptably well for the benefit of the kids. Even better, two winners can literally transform the game and make it work remarkably well both for the kids and for themselves. Together they ensure that the children are not “emotional footballs.”

What constitutes a winner? A winner is a parent who wins the personal challenge of getting the best of his/her own ego. A winner does not win a battle against the other parent. A winner wins the battle against his/her own self – specifically, his/her own ego, or the “little me,” as Eckhart Tolle says. A winner changes the way s/he plays the difficult game of co-parenting by consistently treating the ex and the children with integrity.

Here are some of the more important positive characteristic behaviors of a winner.


• Acts civilly, even respectfully
• Maintains personal integrity
• Does what s/he says
• Follows through
• Avoids the past
• Focuses on present and future
• Provides suggestions for making it work
• Provides verifiable information
• Agrees to disagree
• Agrees to compromise
• Puts kids first
• Readily makes concessions
• Leaves grandparents out of squabbles
• Exercises self-control at all times


• Make snide remarks
• Criticize, scold, or belittle the other
• Criticize the other to the kids
• Bring up past hurts
• Discount the other’s statements
• Avoid the other’s questions
• Make negative interpretations
• Avoid decisions and commitments
• Use the kids to communicate
• Make money the priority
• Exaggerate, lie, or distort
• Argue the “facts”
• Use the past to denigrate the other
• Give decision-making power to the attorneys

In short, winning is the process of overcoming one’s ego, as opposed to overcoming the other parent.

For a detailed presentation of the 9 key relationship skills needed in all healthy adult-adult or parent-child relationships, see the details of my book, 3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony.

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Children Are Not Emotional Footballs: Part 2, What Can Be Done?

Children Are Not Emotional Footballs:
Part 2, What Can Be Done?

In my mind it is no wonder that children of separated or divorced parents often exhibit behavioral problems in the home, school, or community. High levels of stress between warring parents immediately and directly spill over onto their children, almost inevitably.

So the question arises, What can possibly be done to reduce the pain and suffering of all involved in the family? How can these parents, who bear the responsibility of finding ways to cope with their own considerable hardship, reduce the hardship that their children endure?

Obviously, each parent needs emotional support – and perhaps other forms as well – from trusted allies. It goes without saying that each deserves, and hopefully can find, caring people who can help them through one of the most difficult life transitions that humans can experience.

In addition to taking care of themselves with support from their personal, informal networks, separated or divorced parents also bear the awesome (shall I say daunting?) responsibility of caring for their children as well. And not just during the separation or divorce process, but for years afterward.

Mediation classes or counseling, often required by statute, can do much to help separating or divorcing couples look comprehensively at their very complex situation and come to practical agreements that both parties can live with.

Social service agencies, churches, and informal self-help support groups often provide support and/or classes that offer guidelines on how to handle specific aspects of this complex life transition.

Numerous books and articles are available to provide parents with detailed advice on these very challenging complexities.

Therapists and coaches who have training and experience in dealing with communication and other relationship issues can be found to help separated and divorced couples explore their unique situations. One size doesn’t fit all, certainly, and it might take a couple of exploratory meetings to find someone who can help well-intentioned former partners arrive at difficult decisions that benefit both themselves and their children.

From My Perspective

My own experience – some thirty-plus years as a therapist, followed by numerous years as a relationship coach – has taught me that so very much depends upon the maturity, strengths, and weaknesses of each parent. It rarely happens that one parent is clearly and decisively “to blame” for the failure of their relationship, although alcohol and/or drug use and criminal behavior heavily weight those odds and tilt the playing field. But even in those cases, the maturity, strengths, and weaknesses of each parent become the predominant factors in determining the outcomes for the couple and for their children.

In my coaching work with separated or divorced couples in the Milwaukee area, I have found that each parent is always partially responsible for the failure of the relationship and the suffering incurred by themselves and the children. Without a willingness to look at self and honestly assess one’s own weaknesses in terms of behavior patterns and the underlying motivating feelings, thoughts, and beliefs, there is little that one parent, no matter how well-intentioned, can do to help self or the children. I have found that some parents have the strength and desire to look at their own weaknesses and work to correct them, while others do not.

On the other hand, if both parents can find a reservoir of humility and determination, very significant gains can be made that both lessen their own pain and suffering and also reduce the angst and confusion of their children. But it takes work, and a real commitment to putting forth the effort. I have found myself “getting tough” with couples who want to harp on the past and who convince themselves that nothing will change because the ex has “always done this or that in the past.”

As Michael Josephson has said, “It is too easy to give up on ourselves when we let who we are today prevent us from seeing what we can be tomorrow.” To discount the other parent because of what s/he has “always” done in the past is a sure-fire way to discount oneself and what one can do in the future.


Don’t let your children suffer the fate of being emotional footballs. Know how that happens, reach out for the help you need, and embrace it with courage and integrity. If you know what a winner does, YOU, on your own, can change the way this difficult game is going to be played from now on. You may or may not have significant influence on your ex. But you can certainly have a strong positive influence on your children by maintaining your integrity and not treating them like emotional footballs.

For a detailed presentation of the 9 key relationship skills needed in all healthy adult-adult or parent-child relationships, see the details of my book, 3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony.

Learn More


Children Are Not Emotional Footballs, Part 1: How Does That Happen?

Children Are Not Emotional Footballs:
Part 1, How Does That Happen?

After separation or divorce, adult family members are often too invested in hanging on to their children’s allegiance at the expense of the “ex.” When this happens children become “emotional footballs” between separated or divorced parents and warring family factions.

Emotional Footballs

By “emotional footballs” I mean that children can become tantamount to a football that is used as a prize between two competing rivals. In a football game, both sides fight for possession of the ball and use it to score points. The ball is carried, thrown, or kicked to produce points, ultimately resulting in a win for one team over the other. Sadly, separated or divorced parents sometimes unwittingly use their own children (whom they love more than anyone in the world) as objects similar to footballs: things that become the central point of focus in an ongoing strategic power struggle against a bitter rival.

The following are some of the key aspects of the emotional power struggle between separated or divorced parents that can hurt children and in effect turn them into emotional footballs.

First, placement, visitation, and shared custody arrangements can be intensely conflictual for separated or divorced parents. Compromise on these points might become too difficult as each parent fights to gain possession of “the ball” at the expense of the ex. This can also be, however, at the expense of the children’s need to have an develop a positive, loving relationship with each parent.

Second, when divorced or separated parents don’t effectively keep their own emotions in check, or are intent on punishing each other, or reducing each other’s influence on their children, serious emotional wounds can be inflicted on the children. These hurts can have negative behavioral consequences, both short term and long term, and it can be seen in multiple areas of the child’s life.

For example:

a. Emotional wounds. Emotional wounds resulting from the parents’ constant fighting over them can include feelings of anxiety, insecurity, fear, guilt, shame, depression, helplessness, confusion, conflicted loyalties, and/or anger. In some cases children can even develop feelings of hatred towards on their children. I’ve seen it happen.

b. Behavioral problems. A whole range of behavioral consequences can develop, including hyperactivity, inability to focus, poor grades, bed wetting, combative behavior in home, school, or community, and any number of other forms of unlawful or anti-social behavior.

c. Damaged relationships. Parent-child relationships can become stressed and severely damaged for the long term. Although the conflicting parents rarely stop loving their children above everyone and everything else, children can develop deep and long-lasting feelings of resentment that can dampen or destroy their love for one or both parents.

d. Social functioning. Children under stress – perhaps more so than adults under stress – are likely to let that stress “leak out” and express itself in social situations outside the home. I cannot tell you how many times, in my years as a family therapist, I learned that school dysfunction (both academically and interpersonally) had its roots in the home. The same is true for children’s violent behavior in the street or at school, for stealing and lying, for drunkenness and other forms of antisocial behavior. As I tell participants in my Anger in the Family course, violence in the street cannot be eliminated by the police or the correctional system. It can only be eliminated by parents – parents who practice the relationship skills that turn conflict into harmony. And this goes for separated and divorced parents, too.

A third area of difficulty for separated or divorced parents can be memories of past history – the hurt, pain, and anger – between the separated or divorced parents can completely distort their willingness and/or ability to work cooperatively for their children. If allowed to, these memories can continue to fuel intense anger and distrust between them, making it almost impossible to deal with each other civilly – much less respectfully – for the benefit of their beloved children.

Fourth, money is almost always a major focus of tension in and of itself that can serve to intensify lingering past hurts, anger, and animosity. The process of separation and divorce from each other can inflict on one or both parents damaging, even devastating, financial consequences. Attorney fees and court expenses, support and alimony, housing and transportation, child care, schooling, recreation, and the myriad other costs of day-to-day living can dramatically burden separated and divorced parents, creating both current crises and long-term debt.

Fifth, other people – family members, stepparents, friends, and/or significant others (boy friends, girl friends) – can become key players in the sad and painful drama that rages between warring separated or divorced parents. For better or worse, often for worse, these other people can be intensely emotionally involved in the contest between the parents. Their behavior can significantly contribute to the suffering that the children are already experiencing, and fan the flames of mutual enmity between the parents.

You Can Do It Right

Know what can be done to prevent the mistake of making your children emotional footballs. By learning and practicing what a winner does, you can make the pain less intense for your children, and provide them with the structure and security they need and deserve.               ******************************************************

For a detailed presentation of the 9 key relationship skills needed in all healthy adult-adult or parent-child relationships, see the details of my book, 3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony.


3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony

3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony graphic

3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony:
A New School Approach to Relationship Skills for Parents

A downloadable ebook by
Chuck Adam, MSW

In this book, I present a comprehensive approach to parenting from the perspective of empathy, dialogue, agreements, and accountability as a radical departure from the Old School perspective of power, control, punishments, and more punishments that often don’t work.

Based on my 40-plus years of work with parents, children, and families, first as therapist then as educator and coach, this volume breaks new ground in the area of strengthening families through enhanced relationship skills for parents.

As one of my colleagues told me, I’m “turning parenting on its head.”

Incidentally, everything presented in this book is applicable not just to parents, but also to teachers and other adults who work with children, as well as to adults in their relationships with each other.

Here’s what the book is about.

The three steps, or strategies, that parents can take in developing more harmonious relationships with their children are:

  1. Listening. This is the foundation of any relationship, and the single most important action a parent (or anyone else) can take in relation to another person. I am convinced  that listening constitutes 90% of conmunication, and is the single best thing one can do to build trust, provide support, and resolve tension and conflict. I find  that effective listening is also the single hardest activity for parents to master in relation to their children. But learning to “listen first and talk second” will do wonders for securing a child’s cooperation, and it’s by far the best way to teach a child to listen to you.
  2. Illustrating. Of course, as a parent you also speak, and have much to say and much to teach your children. You do this both verbally and non-verbally, and in this way you pass along your values, attitudes, and skills to your children, for better or worse. An attitude of respect is essential to good communication, as is the ability to use effective, methods of self-expression. The techniques I present here require a little self-awareness and self-discipline on your part. But they will put an end to yelling, threats, and many other forms of talk (“invitations to trouble”) that can cause hurt feelings and invite a child’s stubbornness and “payback.”
  3. Disciplining. If you can effectively practice the first two steps or strategies (listening and illustrating), then you can engage in effective dialogue as the primary means of helping your child to change unacceptable behaviors. Dialogue is the heart of my New School approach to disciplining. And here I present a radical departure from the use of ineffective punishments, which can often make things worse. Rather than punishment, “discipline” means teaching. The techniques I present are intended to teach children cooperation, accountability, integrity, respect, and empathy. One technique is the Behavior Dialogue, aimed at securing the child’s commitment to acceptable behaviors. Another is the Accountability Dialogue, which replaces punishment with emotional learning experiences. This is discipline at its best.

In each of the three steps, or strategies (listening, illustrating, and disciplining), I present three specific techniques that can be used spontaneously everyday. With practice, anyone can become quite skilled at using them. They are actually relationship skills that can literally transform conflict and tension into harmony and cooperation in any relationship, including one between adults. The tenth technique or skill, the family meeting, gives parents a chance to periodically put them all together in a more structured setting.

As noted author and teacher Marianne Williamson has said, There is no single effort more radical in its potential for changing the world than a transformation of the way we raise our children. This book, I hope, is a step in that direction.


eBOOK, PRICE:   $9.95
192 pages
Downloadable as pdf file
Read the book from your computer screen or print all of it or specific pages on your printer.


Anger in Relationships — Handout Set

Anger in Relationships — Handout Set

This 80+ page set of handouts if for a course that is 10-sessions in length — a course that literally saves people’s lives. If you, your child, or someone you are concerned about has an anger problem, the ideas in this set can literally bring about a life-changing transformation.

It is based on a thorough study of the “anger response cycle,” which describers how anger works form a psychological perspective (i.e., the causes of anger) and from a behavioral perspective (i.e., what to do with anger feelings).

The handouts describe in detail the 6 phases of the anger response cycle from “triggeer event” to “behavioral response.” This is an empowerment model becasue it clearly illustrates how our own thoughts about the trigger event cause our anger, not the trigger event itself. If we are insulted by an acquaintance in a public place, or by our own child, we are likely to respond with a flash of anger. Yet it is not the acquaintance or the child that makes us angry. It is our own “threat thoughts” about what was said or done that creates the angry feeling we experience.

This is an empowerment model because it clearly shows how our “threat thoughts” cause our anger and its intensity; but, by the same token, it is our thoughts (self-talk) that can minimize our anger and its intensity as well. Once we understand and accept that our thoughs cause our anger, we are empowered to correct our misguided thinking, which we can control. That, in turn, will minimize the intensity of our anger response, which we cannot so easilty control. The anger response is never wrong; it is the thinking that causes anger that is in error. And that can be fixed.

These handouts also address in detail the second half of the anger response cycle: what to do when angry. Whatever we say or do when angry is, again, controlled and determined by our thoughts — our “decision thoughts.” How should we best express our angry feelings so that we can turn tension, conflict, and anger into relief, harmony, and gratitude? The typical anger response of fight or flight might in rare instances be appropriate. But neither one resolves the problem that leads to anger.

There is only one behavioral response that can do this — and it has to do with words. Allmost al anger incidents start with words; and all anger incidents require words for resolution. What controls whether, and how, we use words in the anger situation? Our “decision thoughts.”

To summarize, these 80+ pages of handouts clearly show

  1. The causes of anger in all people (from toddlerds to old-timers, men and women);
  2. How anyone can minimize and control their angry feelings through self-talk (“mental gymnastics); and
  3. How anyone can use words to defuse a tense situation, and then introduce common understanding, agreement, and harmonious resolution.

Finally, no treatment of anger would be complete without dealing with the topic of forgiveness. All of us have, at one time or another, been hurt by someone — perhaps severely. Hanging on to these hurts can eat us up, and generate long-lasting toxic anger that can even cause serious physical illness.

Forgiveness is the only answer for our peace of mind. Forgiveness is for the forgiver, not the forgiven. In these hadnouts I use other authors to show how to use specific techniques to help one person forgive another in order to move forward with life with a lighter, more joyful spirit.

Buy Now  80+ pages, $4.99

For a detailed presentation of the 9 key relationship skills needed in all healthy adult-adult or parent-child relationships, see the details of my book, 3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony.

Learn More about 3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony


Rate Yourself on 25 Examples of New School Parenting

Rate Yourself on 25 Examples of New School Parenting

Are you a “New School” parent? Or an “Old School” parent? Or somewhere in between? Rate yourself on my 25-example survey and find out. If you are pretty much stuck in the Old School ideas and parenting methods, there’s a good chance you are — or will have — trouble like conflict or defiance from a strong-willed or angry child. Check it out.

Click here: Rate Yourself on New School Parenting -25 Examples

3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model.  Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.
     Learn more.    Buy Now.   Table of Contents & Intro

Old and New School Parenting

Old and New School Parenting

In this category I have posted numerous articles describing the differences between my Old School model of how to be a parent, and my New School model of parenting.

The Old School model is not necessarily bad or wrong, but it is often ineffective, especially with strong-willed, resistant, out-of-control children. The Old School methods don’t seem to work well at all with these children, regardless of their age. The New School model offers an excellent alternative to the Old School model, and it is effective with all children, not just stubborn or defiant ones.

You will find a difference in the four basic operational principles of each model, as well as a wide variety of “new” techniques to use (see the category “9 Key Parenting Skills”). Parent-child dialogue is the heart and soul of the New School approach to parenting, and this can be very effective with all children, even as young as two years.

Finally, the category “New School Discipline” presents a totally different approach to discipline from the one almost all of us were raised with. Before exploring those posts, I recommend that you become familiar with the posts in this category, “Old and New School Parenting.” You’ll see that it contains a lot of significant differences from the way your parents raised you, and the way you may have been trying to raise your own kids.


3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model.  Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.

Learn more.    Buy Now.   Table of Contents & Intro

Dialogue: The Heart of New School Parenting

Dialogue: The Heart of New School Parenting

Parent-child dialogue is the heart and soul of my New School approach to how to be a parent. The love a parent has for a child is expressed and embodied in how the parent communicates with the child, even when the child is a newborn. Obviously, dialogue entails listening as well as talking, and it includes all non-verbal communication as well. There are many skills involved in having a good dialogue, and as parents we are illustrating and teaching them to our children in everything we say and do.

In the New School approach to parenting, we recognize and accept the fact that control of children’s behavior is a delusion. We cannot control our children’s behavior. (See my “Volcano Theory.”) They have free will. We do not have a remote control to their brain. They are not robots or slaves. They talk to us when they want to talk, not necessarily when we want them to talk.

Consequently we are convinced that we are better off not even trying to control their behavior through the Old School use of power and control tactics, like our parents used (yelling, ordering, bossing, threatening, punishing, spanking, hitting, grounding, etc). We recognize these as invitations to trouble. We acknowledge that the best we can get from our children, and what we really want from them, is their cooperation, based on dialogue and agreements, rather than their obedience to rules that we impose. If they don’t want to talk, we realize we cannot force them to.

Influence Does Not Equal Control

In the New School approach to parenting, we acknowledge that while we have absolutely no control over our children’s behavior, but only over our own, we also acknowledge that we have tremendous influence on our children’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior. We acknowledge that influence does not equal control. Continue reading

Feel Good, Do Good; Feel Bad, Do Bad

Feel Good, Do Good;
Feel Bad, Do Bad

We sometimes hear about people doing “random acts of kindness.” Like holding the door for strangers, plugging a stranger’s parking meter, etc. What motivates random acts of kindness?

On one hand, it might be a thought, such as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” On the other hand, it might be that at the moment the person is just feeling good. Or it might be both. It could also be pre-meditated, or simply spontaneous, reflecting the person’s internal disposition or state of mind at the moment.

By the same token, if a person if feeling grumpy, or full of anger or self-pity, they are much less likely to do the random act of kindness. When we feel bad–impatient, angry, depressed, and the like–we are not only less inclined to do the good thing, but we are more inclined to do the bad thing, like barking at someone, criticizing someone, or ignoring an attention-getter.

This applies to children, too, of course, and perhaps even more so. They are so much more likely than we adults to spontaneously act their feeling state out and express their feeling verbally or non-verbally. Children are much less likely to be “reserved” or “controlled” in how they express their feeling of the moment. They are more primitive than adults in that way, but also genuine or authentic than a more self-conscious adult is likely to be.

So it is critically important for us as adults, and as parents, to be able and willing to quickly size up a situation in which our child is “acting out” (expressing) some negative feeling they might be having at the moment. When the four-year-old hits his little brother, or the ten-year-old steals $20 from his mother’s purse, or the teenager threatens to (or actually does) run away, it is important for the parent to assess and respond to what is motivating the behavior, and not just fly off the handle in reaction to the behavior itself. A knee-jerk reaction to bad behavior by a parent is not just missing the mark, it is also (and much worse) an invitation to the child to do more bad behavior. Why? Because the parent is ignoring or blowing off the pain and frustration the child is experiencing. Ironically, the parent now creates another problem, and more bad feelings, for the child by criticizing or attacking. In this way, showing the child a lack of empathy (i.e., not communicating some understanding of the child’s feeling or thinking state) is in a sense a rejection of the child. It’s not just the bad behavior the parent is rejecting (which is to be expected), but it’s also a rejection of the deeper, more important aspect of what makes us persons: the thoughts and feelings that motivate our behavior.

When children feel good, they are likely to do good. When they feel bad, they are more likely to do bad things. Conversely, when we see them doing something good, we can surmise that they may be feeling good, and when they do something bad, we can surmise that they may be feeling bad.

Understanding another person’s plight is called empathy. A loving, empathic response by the parent that expresses that understanding can make all the difference. For example, “Okay, honey, you must be feeling bad–angry, sad, afraid, jealous, etc.–right now. Is that right?” It communicates that the parent accepts the child’s internal distress. It invites the child to talk about what made them act badly. It’s the perfect way to start a dialogue that leads to a common understanding (and maybe even the child’s agreement) about how to handle those thoughts and feelings next time. It communicates respect and love, without approving unacceptable behavior. It shows the child that the parent cares and is willing to listen, and this strengthens the parent-child relationship.


3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model.  Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.

     Learn more.    Buy Now.   Table of Contents & Intro   

Empathy: Understanding the Child’s Point of View

Understanding the Child’s Point of View

Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s plight, including his or her behavior and the motivations for a given act. It means being able to comprehend the circumstances in which a person acts, and both the intellectual reasons and the feelings (emotions) that help motivate a particular act.

Parental empathy means that the parent is “tuned in” to the way a child thinks and feels in a given circumstance, and that the parent accepts those thoughts and feelings as legitimate age-appropriate motivations for behavior, even if the parent disagrees with those reasons or doesn’t like the way the child feels. This empathic understanding can have a profound effect on how the parent reacts to the child. Let’s consider some examples. I’ll come back to them later.

Some Examples

Example #1. Let’s say a daughter misses her mother who is away on a business trip, and throws more tantrums than usual, and tells Dad she doesn’t like him, or that he never lets her do what she wants. It’s possible that the child’s crying and tantrums might be related to the fact that her mother is not around and she misses her. Empathy means that, if this is so, Dad will pick up on it and be inclined to let her know that he understands how much she misses mama instead of just blowing up at her.

Example #2. Children of separated or divorced parents often present many difficult behaviors that appear to have no obvious rational basis. Continue reading