Changing someone’s behavior can be looked at in two different ways.  One is how we can diminish undesirable behavior, and the other is how we can encourage desirable behavior.

Let me give examples for each.

A child throws a dinner plate on the floor.  The intent is unclear, but the behavior is not acceptable.  The parent tells the child to get down on the floor and clean up the mess. The child begins to cry, says, “I did not mean it,” and does not want to follow directions.  The parent saw the child intentionally drop the plate, negating the accident explanation. The parent says clearly and directly, “You will clean it up now. You may not continue to eat.”  The child intensifies the crying. The parent acknowledges that the child does not agree with the demand, but says it is not negotiable.  The parent indicates the expectation remains and uses a firm voice.  The child gets down, crying, and cleans up, not perfectly, but acceptably considering age. The parent thanks the child for following the direction.

The parent handled the situation well.  To be strong and to determine an appropriate consequence will typically lead to behavior change.  It does not often work with one experience, but as a commonly used intervention, the child does begin to take the parent seriously.

Children can be very clever to avoid a consequence.  Selecting one that fits the situation is wise.  Children do learn that a parent is unrelenting.  There was not a lot of conversation which tells the child this is not going to be an attention-getting opportunity.

Thanking the child at the end clarifies positive regard to following a direction.  And it was wise for the parent to verbalize an awareness of the child disagreeing with the direction.

Thanking the child leads to the second example of reinforcing that behavior continues. Most people have clarity of what is not acceptable.  We are told what we did wrong, but we are commonly not told what is wanted from us.

A woman complains about the number of responsibilities she has when she is not at work. She commonly has comments about requests that are made of her.  At times this leads to confrontations and arguments.  The discussions lead to each person making a list of the responsibilities common to them.

One day, the partner comes home and discovers that items had been purchased that he had put on a list on the refrigerator.  It was done without any discussion.  It was never indicated who would do the shopping. When his partner comes into the room, he thanks her for doing that and tells her how much he appreciates it.  And that is was nice that the list was acknowledged and acted on.

We like being acknowledged and appreciated for what we do that pleases someone.  We don’t hear it often enough.  Commonly, we will try again.


A question was asked about how couples can learn to communicate in ways that are not destructive to their relationship.  There is not a simple answer to this question without knowing more about the individuals and the history of the problem.

We all have a strong need to be listened to.  Being heard is one thing; being listened to is another.  Being heard is hearing the words, but not fully understanding the message.  Most often, when someone talks to us, we begin to identify with what they are saying and we are prepared to give them our example or experience of what they just expressed to us.  Example:

“At work today, my supervisor gave me a new assignment to do by tomorrow and I had not completed the four he wants doing also for tomorrow.  I am frustrated.”

Response: “I did not like that you asked me to run more errands today before I had even completed to first ones.”

We often have conversations like this.  To listen means to understand the person’s experience.  It is usually more helpful to ask for more clarity.  To respond to the first statement by asking for more information shows you are listening.  To ask about their frustration indicates an awareness of their feeling.  To ask about possible options reflects an interest in trying to plan differently.  To ask if the person believes there is something that can be said to the supervisor offers support in trying to explore changing the assignment.

When we ask people questions to garner more information, we reflect that we have listened to what we were told and are choosing to continue to focus on the person rather than tell our own story.

Relating our own way of identifying with what we are being told is not always inappropriate.  It is usually helpful to ask the person if they would like to hear an example of how you handled a situation that was similar.

Often it is supportive to ask how we can be helpful.  “What would you like from me?’’ “How can I be helpful?”

It is a sign of listening if we suggest we tell the person what we heard them say.  By doing this, we are communicating our interest in being clear about what they are saying. “I believe you are saying you are being asked to do more than you feel is in the best interest of doing your work well.  Is that correct?”

There is great value in listening.  It is not easy to avoid offering our own examples or our own opinion.  Unfortunately, we are often not encouraged to listen in our life and truly do not know how to do so.

It is very rewarding to find people who will or to learn to do so yourself.


A question was submitted to me asking me to make a recommendation on how to handle the feeling of loneliness.

Feeling alone is not unique to any age.  When we are children, we often feel that other children do not like us or want to be around us.  We feel rejected.  We feel sad.  We feel helpless.  We feel alone.

I am reminded of a study that was done with adults.  Twelve people were asked to stand in a circle and to throw a ball to a person in the circle.  After doing this for a while, each person was asked what the experience was like.  The ones who received the ball often felt good and enjoyed the game.  The ones who never got the ball felt left out.  As the interviews continued, many remembered having a similar experience in childhood.  To have the ball thrown to you was to be acknowledged.  To not receive the ball was to be ignored and not included.

This was the purpose of the exercise.  We have experiences as children which can lead to a feeling of loneliness.  Clients have told me stories of not being invited to a birthday party or not getting Valentine’s Day cards at school. They feel sad.

With children, I recommend that a parent ask a teacher to identify another child who tends to be alone or not included.  These children can often be identified at lunch or during recess.  I encourage that these children be brought together in an activity at school or by the parents outside of school.

I would like to recommend to schools that this issue be discussed by students and that a place can be designated where a child can go when feeling alone.  The other students would be encouraged to go to these children and invite them to participate in something or talk to them.

As we age, loneliness can result when we end a relationship with a partner or a friend.  When I ran a discussion group on aging at the Mastick Center, many participants talked about loneliness.  Some had moved to a new area.  Some were no longer working and did not know what to do during the day.  We can make a decision that seems to be a good one at the time, and not realize the full ramifications until it is too late.  Moving leaves people behind; retirement means leaving people and activity behind.

The Mastick Center is a great resource for those over 50 years of age.  Classes and groups are available all day.  The subjects are varied and always changing. It is a place to be around people with similar interests. Friendships do form there.

For all ages, it is usually wise to participate in an activity of interest when looking to establish a relationship.  It might be a political group, a sport, a book group, or a religious facility. At school, it may be the school newspaper, drama group, or band.

Finding a friend is not easy.  It can be done.


It is not unusual for people to recognize that spending time alone is desirable and important.  Recently more have been exploring this desire and seeking ways to experience it.

We spend much of our life and training as we grow up learning how to be with other people, how to share, how to maintain friendship, and how to form and keep a partnership, personally and professionally.

We rarely talk about our time alone.

There are different ways to spend this time.  More people are working virtually.  Time is spent at home or perhaps in a location such as a coffee house where others are around, there is minimal interference.  Reading.  Watching television.  Writing.  Contemplating.  Being creative.  Taking a walk.  Biking.  Going to the library.  Shopping.  Vacationing.  Cleaning.  Cooking.  Eating in a restaurant.

I prefer to make phone calls when no one is around.  I like the assurance of no interruptions or being overheard.

For many, being with someone is so important, it can be a problem when the partner wants time alone.  This prompted a question I received from someone who described herself as feeling smothered.  She said that when she cooks, her partner or children enter the kitchen, ask questions or offer opinions.  She is very desirous of having her own space more often and is concerned about hurting the feelings of these people.  She does not want them to feel rejected.

A good approach would be to have an honest confrontation with her family.  Rather than focus on what her partner and children are doing, it is wise to begin by expressing her own want.  By letting people know who we are and what our preferences are, we are introducing a topic without placing blame.  Too often we begin by telling people what they are doing that bothers us or makes us angry.  That can create resentment and defensiveness on the part of the listener.

To say, “I have a desire to work by myself at times and to not be interrupted.  It gives me a time to think and to create my own agenda.  I will come to you when I am ready to interact, and then I won’t be preoccupied.”

This statement blames no one.  It is simply a description of a preference.

If one becomes aware of having time alone, it is invaluable to tell those who are around how much it is appreciated to be alone.  To credit a person for leaving us alone is very important for two reasons.  First, it clarifies our preference, and second, it is an act of appreciation which is invaluable to people.  Too often we are seen as critics.  It is nice to be experienced as a person who can acknowledge what we want and not just what we don’t want.

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