Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.  Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist MFC32136

                                   Psychotherapy for Children, Teens, Adults, Couples, & Families, Consulting, & Training

          433 Estudillo Ave., #305, San Leandro, CA 94577-4915 - Office: (510) 614-5641 - Fax: (510) 889-6553 - e-mail: - website:

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In my work with parents, teachers, social workers, therapists, and other social services professionals, I have developed or replicated information on handouts that summarize important principles, concepts, or theories that lead to more successful interventions.  You may download the files for your use. 


          Follow Links to Handout Files on:       

   Development     Understanding Children & Discipline     Communication & Conflict    Teenage Issues     Change & Growth Issues     Mini-Posters & Information     Adult Issues & Work Dynamics   



The Working It Out Plan

The Four Honorings of Communication 

Confrontation Leads to...

What Happened to Me?... Him/Her?... Them?  What's Next?  A Reflective Process After Trouble Strikes

download Microsoft Word version


  With Explanation & Instructions

 dvd  on this topic is available at



First, one person speaks while the other person listens carefully without interrupting.


          SAY: What I FELT.

                   What I WANTED.

                   What I LIKED or DIDN'T LIKE.


          THEN SAY: What I think YOU FELT

                             What I think YOU WANTED

                             What I think YOU LIKE or DIDN'T LIKE


Now, the other person says the same things to you while you listen carefully.




First, one person speaks while the other person listens carefully without interrupting.


          SAY: What I DID when I was upset.

                   What I want to happen INSTEAD.

                   What I can do DIFFERENTLY or BETTER next time.


Now, the other person says the same things to you while you listen carefully.





          What WE can do differently or better.

          PLAN for the next time.

          CLOSE by shaking hands or hugging.





This first section purposely focuses on two things: honoring each child's experiential world, and the beginning process of empathy.  Usually, when children have gotten into a conflict or trouble, both feels accused and gets immediately defensive.  This precludes the possibility of a positive resolution to the trouble.  Asking, “What did you do?” to either child immediately feeds into this fear.  Instead of interrogating each child as to what he or she did wrong (creating immediate resistance), asking about what he/she felt, wanted, and liked or didn’t like allows the child to express his/her thoughts and feelings; this also allows the adult to try to have empathy for the transgressor.  The rule that one listens while the other talks is vital.  When the first person speaks and is interrupted, his/her experience is of having his/her reality challenged and denied.  This is fundamentally intolerable and causes tremendous fury for the interrupted.  It cannot be allowed.  What he/she felt, wanted, and liked or didn’t like must be heard and honored as his/her undeniable subjective experience. 


What I FELT.

            No facts.  Facts are not relevant. By starting here, this offers validation to the child that he/she was bothered- that his/her sense of inequity or being harmed deserves consideration.  This doesn't make what he/she did ok, but it does validate that he/she was upset.   Children often need to be lead to how they feel.  "I felt...", not "he/she did....” This is not an examination of the facts- only of his/her feelings.



            This acknowledges that the child did not get what he/she wanted.


What I LIKED or (more probably) DIDN’T LIKE.

            This acknowledges that the child has a grievance that is real to him/her.


What I think YOU…

The next set of Tellings are about what the child thinks the other person felt, wanted, and liked or didn’t like prompts the child to have empathy, compassion, and understanding about the other child’s experience.  Of course, he/she will project inaccurate perceptions onto the other child.  That is ok, and when the other child has his/her turn, he/she can assert his/her actual experience.


Next, the other child speaks and the first listens w/o interrupting.



What I DID when I was upset.

              This is the pivotal question.  This moves from acknowledgement of his/her grievance, feelings, etc. and moves to RESPONSIBILITY.  It does not question the justification or not of doing the behavior, it only asks the child to state what he/she chose to do when he/she was upset.  This leads the child to recognize not only how he/she is affected, but also how he/she affects others. This is also connected to empathy (taking on others roles, feelings is not easily done for young children).  This also implies the power and control the child has over others' feelings, etc.


              Expect that this may be difficult for the child.  It asks for empathy- seeing and feeling the other (which is developmentally difficult for young children anyway), much less someone who feels admitting that the other has been negatively affected is tantamount to a confession of wrongdoing.  He/she may be resistant.  What they are resisting is the request for them to blame themselves.  He/she does not yet understand that responsibility is not meant to be negative- and is not equivalent to blame!  Instead of being frustrated at the child's difficulty in answering these questions, help him or her with the process- to own how he/she affected others.  If the child could do this part easily, you wouldn't be using this material in the first place!


What I want to HAPPEN INSTEAD.

             In the midst of conflict and anger, children often forget what they wanted to happen instead.  This reminds them so that they can realize that with all the self-righteousness and anger that they have not been successful in getting what they want.  His/her behavior or reaction has failed to get him/her what he/she wanted!  Instead, he/she is in trouble, others are mad at him/her, and the adult is on his/her case!  This directs them to looking for better solutions (possibly with adult guidance).


What I will DO DIFFERENTLY or BETTER next time.

            Doing it the same is dead end!  Doing something different offers the opportunity for something better to work out.  This prompts the child to consider that he/she can do something differently!  Sometimes the child needs help to work out something different that may work out better next time.



              There is a need to create a contract for the future.


TOGETHER decide…  
               There needs to be a joint commitment to the process.  It will not work w/ only one person committed to it.


                What WE can do differently or better

PLAN for the next time. 

                Because there will be a next time… many times!


CLOSE by shaking hands or hugging.

               This is a symbolic confirmation.  It also invokes touch, which is a powerful validating communication, which is often what both parties seek in the first place.  




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When you need to communicate something difficult, scary, uncomfortable, dangerous, potentially embarrassing, or anything else that may be experienced as threatening or humiliating to someone you have a vested relationship with (spouse, colleague, friend,....boss!), you are often caught between your integrity and honesty, and your fear of the potential damages.  Too often, you just don't know how you can do it without the harm, so you say...nothing.  And, the other person stays uninformed to his/her detriment, to your detriment, to the relationship's, family's, business', or organization's detriment; and/or you stay silent filled with growing resentment, anger, and a sense of impotence.  To protect the relationship, you stay quiet; yet by staying silent you allow the relationship to accept a kind of time-release poison that compromises it.


The choice becomes to stay silent and accept the certain pain of unresolved issues, or to speak and risk explosion.  The choice to communicate becomes more viable with improved communication skills.  The Four Honorings of Communication offer guidance.


When you need to communicate something risky or uncomfortable, first communicate the Four Honorings.  In order, honor:


          1) the FEELINGS of the person to whom you are speaking;


          2) the RELATIONSHIP between you and the person;


          3) your own INTEGRITY- your need to care for yourself;


          4) the HIGHER PURPOSE the two of you both honor and serve.


then speak the truth the best you can.


For example:


"I need to tell you something that is very difficult for me to say.  I realize that it may feel hurtful or critical or make you feel uncomfortable, and I really don't want that to happen but I need to say it.  I also know that it may harm our relationship...a relationship that I enjoy and value but again I need to say it, because I don't know how to not say it and be honest with myself; or not say it and be true to the reason we're here together in the first place.  I need to speak out for us both to do right by ourselves and our mission.  Is it ok if I tell you?"


At this point, except for the most insecure and defended individuals (and unfortunately, there will be such individuals), while nervous and apprehensive, most people will take your communication fairly receptively. Good Luck!  Good Communication!  Good Relationships!

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People often avoid CONFRONTATION because their life experiences are that CONFRONTATION has often (seemingly always) leads to CONFLICT.


They feel that CONFLICT inevitably leads to PAIN.


However, CONFRONTATION is often essential to get to RESOLUTION, INTIMACY, JUSTICE, and SECURITY.


Thus avoiding CONFRONTATION will cause

one to lose the opportunity to gain



In addition, CONFRONTATION is often essential to get to the CONFLICT that will lead to RESOLUTION, INTIMACY, JUSTICE, and SECURITY.


This also means that often PAIN is necessary to get to RESOLUTION, INTIMACY, JUSTICE, and SECURITY.







(download complete handout, including Guide for Use and version w/o illustrations for older children)



 A Reflective Process After Trouble Strikes (w/Illustrations)



            1) What happened that bothered me.


                2) How I felt.

3) What I wanted. 

4) What I didn't like.

5) What I did when I was upset.

6) What rule did I break.



                          7) How I affected this kid.    

                                8) What he or she felt

9) What he or she wanted.

 10) What he or she didn't like.


                11) How I affected the class / yard / family.


                   12) How the other kids felt.



13) How I affected the teacher(s) or

14) How the teacher(s) / my parent(s) felt.



15) What I want to happen instead.

16) What I will do differently next time.

     17) How teachers / parents / adults can help me.


download complete handout,

including Guide for Use and version w/o illustrations for older children


          Follow Links to Handout Files on:       

   Development     Understanding Children & Discipline     Communication & Conflict    Teenage Issues     Change & Growth Issues     Mini-Posters & Information     Adult Issues & Work Dynamics   



A MESS- A Mnemonic for Etiology Theories of Substance Use or Self-Destructive Behavior, Or, How NOT to make A MESS of Addiction Intervention

Education Pay$….A Lot! A Lifetime Earnings by Education Chart

Community College, Know the Odds  

Adolescent Egocentrism  

Four Keys to Successful Interactions With Teens R-I-P-S

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A   M E S S

A Mnemonic for Etiology Theories of Substance Use or Self-Destructive Behavior

Or, How NOT to make A MESS of Addiction Intervention  





Substance Use or Self-Destructive Behavior is seen as being caused by addiction.  This implies a genetic vulnerability to addiction- a physical or cognitive weakness that leads individuals to use substances or engage in self-destructive behavior.  It is also a highly stigmatizing label in our society.  Requiring individuals to take on this label can be highly problematic, in as far as the implied negativity of being an addict is so strong.  Individuals will resist this label and effectively preclude any problem-solving or other change/growth process.  In addition, while valuable conceptually, the boundaries between experimental use, social use, problematic use, abuse, and dependence are not concrete.   And certainly, not worth losing focus to fight over.





Substance Use or Self-Destructive Behavior is seen as being caused by a significant lack of moral fiber.  This implies a moral vulnerability to addiction- a lack of values in the individual.   A lack of will power and/or a deficit in character that leads individuals to use substances or engage in self-destructive behavior.  Labeling individuals as morally deficient because of the substance use or behavior is an automatic insult to the  individuals.  Individuals will resist this moral deficit label and again, effectively preclude any problem-solving or other change/growth process.  To start a therapeutic relationship or maintain a relationship by starting with the premise and assertion that the other person is “bad” automatically damages progress, whether or not the person resists or owns the immoral label.





Substance Use or Self-Destructive Behavior is seen as being caused by a lack of education about the effects and consequences of the use or behavior.  This implies that if the individual is informed about the effects and consequences, he/she will logically refrain from use or behavior.   He/she will be appropriated scared or intimidated.  This has been distorted to include scare tactics based on dubious “facts” or outright lies (the “Reefer Madness” movies of the fifties would an example, or parental horror stories about someone they “heard about”).  Such scare tactics have often backfired when individuals discover that use does not automatically result in addiction, moral degradation, madness, and/or death.  While education about substances and their effects and the dynamics of abuse and addiction is important, knowledge does NOT in of itself.  For many people, motivate individuals to stop or curtain use or behavior.  In fact, many addicts are MORE knowledgeable about their drug of choice than many therapists!  Many addicts use DESPITE more than adequate education and knowledge.  And, when individuals do not stop or curtail use despite being properly educated, then the implicit or sometimes overt conclusion is that such individuals are STUPID!  Yet, most addicts are normal intelligence and sometimes quite brilliant.  Once again, asserting someone is intellectually deficient is not an effective way to start therapy.





Substance Use or Self-Destructive Behavior is seen as being caused by influences of the social peer group.  In other words, individuals become vulnerable to the standards of behavior and morality of their social peer group, and consequently assume those standards and morality.  As a result, the key to whether or not individuals use substances or engage in behaviors is whom they associate with.  Avoiding “bad” individuals and groups then leads people to problematic use or behavior, abuse, and addiction, while choosing to socialize only with “good” individuals and groups leads to appropriate use or behavior, or abstinence.   I’m reminded of a mother who kept insisting that her son’s negative behavior was the result of hanging out with bad influences, particularly one boy who she constantly criticized.  I challenged her how did she know that HER son was not the bad influence on him!?  While relevant, there are many individuals (including children and teenagers) who neither use nor abuse drugs or alcohol nor engage in negative behaviors despite hanging out with those who do.  In addition, this theory includes the social influence of the media upon individuals, promoting and glorifying models of use and behavior that influence individuals to negative use and behavior.  This theory also ignores the many individuals who are also exposed to (and enjoy) the same media influences without succumbing to such use and behaviors.  As relevant a counter-theory is that individuals with the same sensitivities, vulnerabilities, and needs as that presented by such media would gravitate to it, as opposed to the media creates such people.  In the same manner, individuals with particular makeups causing to be vulnerable to such use and behaviors will normally gather and associate with like-minded individuals.





Substance Use or Self-Destructive Behavior is seen as being caused by profound needs of individuals to self-medicate for severe emotional and psychological (and sometimes physical) pain.  This is often the most effective approach to working with a  “user” of any problematic type.   Rather than pathologizing the individual with a severe label, as morally deficient, stupid or ignorant, or easily influenced by others, it focuses on the internal pain of the individual that otherwise may be missed.  This reveals and honors internal distresses such as anxiety, depression, and loss, and de-pathologizes the use or behavior by recognizing it as an attempt by the individual to avoid feelings that would otherwise be overwhelming.  The individual may or may not be an addict.  The issue becomes not of a label of problematic use of whatever degree (problematic, abusive, addictive), but of inner psychological turmoil.   The morality of the use and behavior changes from one of character or lack thereof, to a morality of survival in the face of overwhelming feelings.  Education from the dangers and risks of use or behavior moves to education about the process of self-medication for emotional pain.  The social peer group is exposed as a means to have group culture that supports self-medicating.  Once the connection to self-medication to avoid suffering is made, then the therapist or other interventionist can help the individual explore the feelings, and subsequently explore alternative (more healthy and less destructive) ways to deal with the intense feelings.





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Based on data from the U.S. Census 1999 Current Population Survey

Level of Education


MEDIAN Estimated Income 

(half make more & half make less)

MEAN Estimated Income*

(Average Income- all Americans)







below 9th grade








HS- no diploma








HS Graduate








Some College








AA degree








Bachelors degree








Masters degree
















Prof. degree





$127, 499.00



*including averaging in the income of the filthy rich!!




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88% of 8th graders want to go to college.

70% of high school graduates go to college within two years of high school.

In 2000, 66% of all first-time freshmen enrolled in the community colleges.


Then what happens?


Nationwide, first year students

At community colleges, about 50% do not continue for a second year; about 50% continue.

At four-year colleges, about 25% do not continue for a second year; about 75% continue.


In California, first year students

At California State Universities, about 23% do not continue for a second year; about 77% continue.

At Universities of California, about 8% do not continue for a second year; about 92% continue.


In California Community Colleges

About 40% of community college students take courses that qualify for transfer to Cal State University or University of California schools.  About 33% of those eventually transferred to four-year university.  Do the math… 33% of 40% =?  


In other words, about 13% of California Community College students transfer to a 4-year university.


Information derived from

     Education on the Brink, Separate and Unequal, The Oakland Tribune, June 22, 2003



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Adolescents go through developmental changes that can be confusing to adults.  They no longer think or function as children, yet they do not yet think or function consistently as adults either.  The principles of adolescent egocentrism ties this fascinating (and sometimes, aggravating) stage to adolescents’ cognitive development.  The following is a brief outline of characteristics of the stage with some simple recommendations on how to respond and help them move successfully through the stage.  Remember, most adolescents move successfully through this stage… you are not doomed to have them stay here indefinitely.  However, many adults, also stay in their own stage of adolescent egocentrism despite their chronological maturity.  See Basic Rules of Developmental Theories to see how development is delayed, stalled, or gets stuck. 




            Teenagers may come to a realization that adults fall short of the ideal world, that they can now imagine; they notice the discrepancy between what adults have been telling them how to live and act morally and how adults actually live and act;  and then they have a strong need to say they have noticed this, and then challenge authority figures! 

            RECOMMENDED: do not take criticism personally, acknowledge truth of adult failures to follow through on ideals and values.




            With cognitive development, teenagers develop a new ability to see nuances in any issue.  Where previously, they sought and were satisfied with simple and singular answers and perspectives, they now recognize that there are multiple perspectives to everything.  With that comes a strong desire to discuss and argue these nuances. 

            RECOMMENDED: encourage and take part in the discussion of various conflicting principles, while avoiding discussing personality, that is taking or making it personal.




            Teenagers may have an imaginary audience that they believe is scrutinizing their every move (and pimple!). This extreme self-consciousness in dealing with their identity struggles of their age and stage assumes that everyone else is just as obsessed them as they are themselves!  They have trouble distinguishing what is interesting to themselves (themself!) and what is interesting to others.

            RECOMMENDED: offer reality checks as to the relative attention and inattention that others give them & support their self-esteem which suffers through this self-consciousness.


            Teenagers often have a personal fable- the conviction that they are special, that their experience is unique, and that they're not subject to the same rules as others;  can be a grandiose sense of immortality or invulnerability;  in other words, what has happened to others (the experience of alcohol or drug problems, car accidents, academic decline) will not happen to them

            RECOMMENDED: support specialness and uniqueness while noting that individual is still subject to same rules (also that others who have asserted specialness have been burned before).




            Teenagers with maturity, suddenly become aware that there are so many choices (choices that parents and other adults used to make for them, they now are responsible for).  They are intimidated by what they perceive to be the finality of their decisions.  They can become stuck because they fear making the wrong decision. 

            RECOMMENDED: remind them that they still  have choices after making a choice ; and that they have unexercised resiliency, power, and control.




            Teenagers may express high ideals and values, but somehow fail to follow through with appropriate behavior.  The relationship between professed and owned morality and behavior that reflects the relationship is not yet clear.  Thus, the emphasis on the importance of respecting others, for example, is not followed by consistent respectful behavior when upset or angry. The consistency of the translation from values to behavior is undermined by multiple unarticulated and unconsidered exceptions.   

            RECOMMENDED: link ideals and action; challenge that multiple exceptions compromise and eventually negate the ideals; promote consistency between values and behavior- “being respectful, means doing (name a specific behavior).”



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  Four Keys to Successful Interactions With Teens


             When they were younger, children tended to make moral choices pretty much along the value system that they were given by their important adults: parents and teachers primarily.  Pleasing these significant adults is essential to most young children.  However, as they reach adolescence, the influence of peers and the peer culture becomes much stronger (especially, among children who have not been able to please overly-critical adults).  Counter-balanced against values acquired earlier are newer values reflecting his/her adolescent society.

            There are four basic themes from the adolescent struggle that help define the adolescent's response to choices in his/her life.  These four themes are RESPECT, IDENTITY, POWER & CONTROL, & SECURITY.  When any of these themes are activated either positively or negatively, they strongly direct the adolescent towards his/her eventual choice.



             In many ways, adolescents do not feel respected by adults: parents and teachers.  Adults are always criticizing them as bad, amoral, stupid, and/or strange.  Whether they feel invalidated by adults or not, with the rise of the importance of peers whether or not they are respected by peers becomes more and more important.

             Respected adults (who are usually the ones who the adolescent feels gives them respect) are still influential as to the adolescents choices; their respect of the adolescent's behavior remains important- conversely, their disagreement is also meaningful.  However, as they make choices in life, their perception of their choice being respected or disrespected- accepted or not accepted by the significant peers who they admire or wish to emulate, will often be their primary guide. 



            As adolescents make the transition from being and seeing themselves as children to becoming and defining themselves as adults, they will tend (if conscious of the opportunity) to move toward any behavior or activity that supports their successful identification as a autonomous, competent, and powerful adult.  They will, conversely, resist any behavior or activity that interferes with their identification as an adult.

            At the same time, while adolescents often have insecurities about being immature ("kids"), accusing an adolescent of being immature is experienced as disrespectful- it is not a effective or useful intervention.  While adolescents still have a strong instinct to be child-like (playful, desirous of instant gratification), they will behave predictably more "maturely" if they are aware of these identification issues (and other issues, especially Power & Control if they are not in conflict).


            Adolescents, like all individuals are very interested in gaining more power and control in their lives.  Unlike children who usually accept their lesser power and control due to adult management, adolescents no longer are willing to accept lesser power and control due to social considerations.  Unlike adults who usually (and hopefully) are secure enough to accept the limitations to their power and control, adolescents often strongly resist any indication or threat of loss to their power and control whether real or imagined.  Adolescents may engage in self-defeating and self-harming behavior to maintain their sense of power and control.

            While it may seem contradictory that such negative choices seem to be against the desire to affirm a more adult-like identity, being in power and having control is such a fundamental part of the adolescent's identity needs, that "immature" choices that give the illusion of power and control are more predictable over "mature" choices that seem to cause a loss of power and control (especially from an adult perspective and in the long term).



            As adolescents make the transition into adulthood, they are leaving the relatively secure world of childhood with its easy going lack of accountability and moving into an adult world of responsibility.  And, they do so without the clear rites of passage and apprenticeships from prior generations, and without solid guidance from their parents who themselves may be struggling to deal with current societal demands.

            Adolescents will tend to move toward any behavior or activity that

supports their greater sense of security.  However, as young people still, the security that is more tangible is in the short-term and not necessarily in the long-term.  As a result, behaviors or activities that support immediate security needs tend to be favored over those that sacrifice the present for long-term needs or security.


*Of these Power & Control and Respect are the most important.  Of these two, Power & Control is the most important to the teen (keeping even just the illusion of Power & Control is important enough to take being disrespected by adults).



          Follow Links to Handout Files on:       

   Development     Understanding Children & Discipline     Communication & Conflict    Teenage Issues     Change & Growth Issues     Mini-Posters & Information     Adult Issues & Work Dynamics   



From Assessment & Theories to Results- Problem Solving for Growth & Change  

Healthy Transitions for Children & Traits of Resilient Children

Growth Vs. Change- Occurrence Vs. -----  

Stages of Change   

Stress Response Styles

A Process for Success & Growth 

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Problem Solving for Growth & Change

3 Keys to



 1) Nurture

 2) Set Limits

 3) Consistency


1) Identify the Negative Behavior

2) Identify the Underlying Issue

3) Prevent the Negative Behavior

4) Provide/Promote the Alternative Behavior that serves the Underlying Issue




What Happened? What is Happening? Data, Experiences, Observations, Interactions, History,




Why? What for? Benefit, Gain, Avoidance, Sensory Stimulation? Compelling Need(s), Cause, Origin




Direct, Peer, Authoritative, Nurturing, Clarification, Limit Setting, Reward, Alliances, Collaboration, Mentoring, Rule Setting, Punishment, Threats, Referrals (Counseling, Education, Social Services), Empowerment, Community, Give Responsibilities, etc.




Specific Programs or Actions (i.e.  Behavioral Incentive Plan, Referral to Mental Health, Social Services, Educational Support, Communication w/ social Worker, Probation Officer, Savings Account, IEP, specific classes or training, political action, legal recourse, alliances, bargaining, trade, threats,  etc.)




Gentle, Firm, Nurturing, Direct, Indirect, Authoritarian, Authoritative, Avoidant, Challenging, Confrontational, "Hard Ass",  Paradoxical, Confident, Confused, Shaming,  Sarcastic, Humorous, "Buddy", Educational, Parental, etc.





change & growth

(Two Sets of Results)

1)  6 S's: Safety, Security, Stability, Structure, Serenity


2)  Behavioral, Attitudinal, Hope/Vision, Trust, Risk-taking, Peers, Relationships, Vocational, Economic, Educational, Social, Self-Care, Self-Esteem,  Inclusion, Exclusion, Stabilization, Healing, Progression, Structural, Organizational, Financial, etc.




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     1) Acknowledge Stress 

     2) Acknowledge Anxiety (& Deal with It!)

     3) Identify & Accept Development 

     4) Identify & Accept Temperament

     5) Plan

     6) Inform

     7) Support


First, acknowledge the stress.  Some parents avoid planning help for their child because it is too distressing for them to consider that their child may have anxiety.  Parents invalidate their children when they ignore their children's stress.  This may come from not knowing what they can do, so they just hope for the best. 


Second, Acknowledge your own anxiety (& its origins), and do whatever it takes to deal with it.  Children are extremely sensitive and attuned to their parents' anxiety.  If your anxiety is excessive, the message you give is that they are not going to be okay!  Express and model excitement with confidence that it will be great!  And, that your child will be fine.


Third, identify and accept your child's developmental stage


Fourth, identify and accept your child's temperament.  Instead of focusing on why your child has that temperament and trying to change it, focus on how he/she expresses that temperament.  Since your child's behavior is predictable,


Fifth, plan how to prevent, mitigate, and guide that behavior in a positive manner.  For example, if your child usually takes a long time to adapt to a new situation, plan on giving your child many exposures to the situation- begin the adaptation process earlier.  This means visiting the Kindergarten room, the school, the playground, and the teacher (if available) often before the beginning of school. 


Sixth, inform the teachers & other key individuals about your child's temperament, especially his/her high or low sensitivity to stimulation (school and other new things are very exciting and stimulating!), whether he/she tends to jump into things or holds back, how long he/she takes to adapt(ation) to new circumstances, and how he/she expresses any anxiety or excitement (by acting out, getting hyper, withdrawing, and so forth).  When your child behaves as predicted, the teacher or individual will not surprised, but instead feels prepared to deal with his/her needs.


Seventh, support your child- love and nurture your children before, during, and after transitions.  This is not just about a specific issue- starting or returning to school.  It is about parenting.  Research about resilient children who bounce back well from stress identify four areas that parents strongly influence. 



Resilient children:

       1) have good relationships with emotionally supportive parents;

       2) have personally, and also seen their parents and siblings face previous social challenges successfully;

       3) have less overall stress in the family;

       4) have been supported and been successful in other areas such as sports or music.




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Growth Vs. Change- Occurrence Vs. ------


Often when looking for change in the behavior of children, partners, or family… or for change within oneself, there is a focus on if something still occurs or not.  From a strict perspective, if “it” is still occurring, the occurrence in itself is seen as proof of the lack of change, and individuals can often feel frustrated or even defeated.  This strict perspective can obscure significant growth… or gradual change that actually leads to eventual fulfillment and better relationships and lives. For example, arguments are STILL happening- still occurring.  From the occurrence orientation, there is frustration.  However, there can be great growth if, there is


a reduction in FREQUENCY of the arguments;


a reduction in INTENSITY of the arguments;


a reduction in DURATION of the arguments;


a reduction in the DAMAGE from the arguments;


a reduction in the RECOVERY TIME  from the arguments.


Based on changes in FREQUENCY, INTENSITY, DURATION, DAMAGE, and RECOVERY TIME, arguments (or other negative behavior) can still be occurring, but there is actually significant growth.  If arguments used to occur daily and have reduced in FREQUENCY first to every couple of days, then to monthly and then to every few months; were formerly highly painful and but have reduced in INTENSITY over time to less and less painful; used to last for weeks in DURATION, but have reduced to a day, then hours, then minutes; used to cause tremendous emotional DAMAGE and now causes lesser and lesser hurt; and used to take long RECOVERY TIME- weeks or months, but gradually has taken less and less time to re-stabilize.  But “it” is still happening!  However, life and relationship is much better for these people. 


Elimination of long established negative behaviors can be very difficult and especially unrealistic in short time frames.  Using FREQUENCY, INTENSITY, DURATION, DAMAGE, and RECOVERY TIME as the criteria for growth, rather than elimination of occurrence is more realistic and offers a sense of progression.



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Stages of Change








Create Doubt

 Increase Awareness of Risks & Problems 

 Question the Inevitability of Things Staying the Same

 Find Hope


Help Weigh Risk and Benefits of Changing Behavior


Evoke Reasons to Change Risks to not Changing


Find Motivation








Get a Vision


Strengthen Self



for Change

Examine Available Alternatives to Behavior


Help to Determine Best Course of Action


Find Resources


Get Guidance (From Healthy  & Successful People)


Get Support

(From Healthy & Positive People)

Help to Establish Clear Plan of Action


Eat Healthy, Get Enough Rest, and then…














Help to Identify and Use Strategies to Prevent Relapse


Avoid Negative People


Keep Doing Your Plan… even when at first it does not pay off


Eat Healthy, Get Enough Rest, & Stay on an Even Emotional Level

Identify Flaws in Previous Plan


Establish Plan to Deal with Distractions and Disruptions to Plan


Return to Pre-



Resume Process

(In other words, keep on doing it, until you do it correctly!)


Or, QUIT & Resign Yourself to Your Miserable Minimal Existence Forever!




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When working with an individual, couple, or family, it is useful to make an assessment of the habitual response style to stress.  Many individuals will assert that everything is fine as long as there is not too much stress.  Therefore their energy becomes focused on reducing or avoiding stress in their lives.  While this is an appropriate strategy, it ignores the reality of stress being a constant and normal (and potentially healthy) aspect of life. 


The question becomes not "if" there is stress, but what they do "when" there is inevitable stress.  Consequently, it is important to assess not only how they can avoid or reduce stress, but also how the individual, couple, or family respond to stress; is the response style effective and functional?  Or, is it ineffective and dysfunctional (harmful to self and others)?  This assessment offers guidance in the change process in terms of promoting more successful stress response styles.



            1) Denial

            2) Intensification     

            3) Avoidance behavior

            4) Hypervigilance

            5) Passive-Aggressive Action

            6) Co-Dependent Behavior



            1) Proactive Action

            2) Cathartic Release

            3) Physical Release

            4) Breathing

            5) Rest

            6) Self-Nurturing

            7) Seeking Help

            8) Understanding/Insight




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 1)   Identify Pattern & Process – How do you live…”do” life?


2)   Prediction--Predict Behavior (“Ghost of Xmas Future”) – Based on your history (pattern and process of life) predict your behavior—how you do well and how you mess up.


3)   PLAN I  -- What You Need to Do in order to be successful (a series of positive behaviors):





            5 Also, Identify Your Messing Up Pattern so you can make a clear…

          Prediction of Self-Sabotage Vulnerability

How will you Self-Sabotage? -->            

Identify Self-Sabotage Pattern  Specifically

(In other words, How will you mess (have you messed) it up!!

(Why? What was so compelling? What did you get for messing up?)


4)    PLAN II -- Plan what you need to do to avoid Self-Sabotage






Check for a Positive Outcome or a Negative Outcome.   If you have a….

POSITIVE OUTCOME-->then, examine

How to maintain positives & How to grow further


- OR -


NEGATIVE OUTCOME--> then, turn it into a Therapeutic Relapse (figure out how to benefit from the experience anyway)

|           I told you so!!               |  What did you learn?

|       Or, the Ghost of Xmas      |  What need to be aware of next time?  

          Future Strikes!!            |      (and there will be a next time!!!)

                         What to do differently next time.


5)         PLAN III - RECYCLE--> Go back to the beginning and Repeat the Process…


Identify Pattern & Process (Round Two)


Prediction  (Round Two)--Predict Behavior (“Ghost of Xmas Future”)


PLAN I (Round Two)…. And so on, and so on…..


Guide & Explanation

 1) Identify Pattern & Process – Everyone tends to live their life in some kind of pattern of choices, behavior, consequences, and reactions.  To develop a process for success and growth, one needs to first identify what that pattern is all about.  Some people have developed a pattern and process for failure and continued disappointment.  Identifying the poor choices and behaviors is the first step.


 2) Prediction – Based on your history (pattern and process of life) predict your behavior—how you do well and how you mess up.  It is important to look to the probable (or even certain) negative experiences to come in life to find motivation.  In the “Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, although the Ghost of Christmas Past haunts Scrooge about what he had and lost, and the Ghost of Christmas Present makes Scrooge sad about the conditions that Tiny Tim lives in, it is the Ghost of Christmas Future that scares the heck out of Scrooge about what he is doomed to endure if he does not change his ways!  The prediction of what one will continue to do poorly and how you will continue to fail, it what often motivates people to make the real changes in life.


 3) PLAN I  -- What You Need to Do in order to be successful (a series of positive behaviors).  Most people once they find the motivation only have a “try harder” plan.  Unfortunately, the “try harder plan” is essentially taking what has already proven not to work and then apply it even more intensely!  It is critical to come up with a specific plan, probably a plan with several components or several sequential steps.  First try this, and if it doesn’t work try the next thing on the list.  Also, you need to Identify Your Messing Up Pattern.  People generally are quite familiar as to how they mess up… they’ve done it so many times!  “I get kind of tired… then I lose contact with or don’t keep up with friends or positive people… or, I get lonely…”  As you identify your Messing Up Pattern, then you can make a clear Prediction of Self-Sabotage Vulnerability assessment.  How vulnerable are you to Self-Sabotage?  And, more specifically, how will you Self-Sabotage.  In other words, Identify Self-Sabotage Pattern  Specifically.  In other words, “How will you mess (have you messed) it up!?”  Also, normally there is something compelling that leads to the messing up.  And, some benefit.  So, “Why? What was so compelling? What did you get for messing up?


 4) PLAN II -- Plan what you need to do to avoid Self-Sabotage.  Most people plan only for success, despite numerous experiences of failure.  Yet, they are paralyzed that plans don’t work out, or that they come to the point of Self-Sabotage… again.  Make a specific plan for the point of vulnerability: when that negative person starts to sound right, when that toxic person starts to become attractive, when you’re feel sorry for yourself, or feeling hopeless, or scared…  What exactly (another 5 to 8 point sequential plan) are you going to do?  (And, not just try harder!)  Who are you going to call?  Where are you going to do?  How are you getting help or support?  How will you self-nurture?  How will you answer those negative thoughts?


Check for a Positive Outcome or a Negative Outcome.   If you have a POSITIVE OUTCOME-->then, examine - How to maintain positives & How to grow further.  Positive outcomes are not accidents, nor are they about luck.  What you did or didn’t do, what happened instead made the difference?  Whatever you did well, correctly, “right”, or differently made the difference.  Give yourself credit.  Appreciate yourself.  And take note so that you can draw back upon the same stuff the next time.  Why?  Because there will be a next time!  Many next times!




If you have a NEGATIVE OUTCOME--> then, catch yourself before you beat yourself up too much (this is part of your negative pattern!) and engage in self-destructive behavior such as isolating, drinking, denial, etc. (another part of your negative pattern).  Examine why and how the negative outcome happened so that you can turn it into a Therapeutic Relapse.  A Therapeutic Relapse is a lapse into old negative behavior that becomes a learning/teaching experience to understand and identify more clearly your negative patterns and processes.  It is important to avoid self-recriminations and figure out how to benefit from the experience anyway.  Normally, the negative outcome is not because the new plans didn’t work.  It is because you reverted to the old patterns, or the prediction became realized… again, because you basically did the same negative things and self-sabotaged.  So, gather yourself and ask, What did you learn?  What do you need to be aware of next time?  And, plan What to do differently next time.


 5) PLAN III – RECYCLE Plans I & II   It took years to develop your negative patterns and negative processes.  Realize and accept (no matter how much you don’t like it) that you will take time to truly develop positive patterns and positive processes.  So keep working on them.  Go back to the beginning and Repeat the Process… 


Identify Pattern & Process (Round Two) 


Prediction  (Round Two)--Predict Behavior (“Ghost of Xmas Future”) 


PLAN I (Round Two)…. And so on, and so on…


People often go through a plan or two, get frustrated, get discouraged and then give up (another part of the negative pattern!).  Keep on working at it over and over.  Keep on examining and adjusting it.  Getting other input or even professional guidance may be ways to break the pattern or change the process.  Eventually, the adjusting will become fine-tuning. Don’t stop.  Keep growing.


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Copyright © 2007 Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Last modified: April 01, 2013