Communication Skills

Safety First: How to Reduce Kids Fighting when Driving in the Car.



Safety is first and foremost when driving a vehicle.

Fighting and goofing around are distracting to the driver.  It is also dangerous for the drivers to be upset and yelling at their passengers.  The best thing to do is develop a strategy for safe driving.

When my kids were young, we spent a lot of time driving from one activity to another.  We lived several miles from most activities so there was lots of time spent in the car.  When they would fight or noisily goof around, I found it distracting.  Yelling didn’t work, and besides I hated yelling and nagging at them.

I decided to stop trying to make them stop.  I developing a strategy.  I told them it was not safe for me to drive when there is fighting going on.  I told them I would pull over to the side of the road as soon as it was safe to do so and wait until they stopped.  They didn’t believe me, but I knew they wouldn’t until I followed through on what I had said I’d do.

So I began to do it.  At first it happened quite a lot.  I kept my word – I pulled over as soon as it was safe to do so and waited until they quieted down.  In the beginning it seemed like a game to them.  I was careful to keep my body language neutral and matter-of-fact, no eye rolling, no heavy sighs, no tense clipped speech.  One time, they took a particularly long time to quiet down.  So instead of “losing it” I stepped out of the vehicle and stood beside it.  I never left the boys alone in the vehicle.  When they finally quieted down, I got back in the car and without saying a word, started driving again.  They didn’t like just sitting in the car and not getting where they were going whether it was school, soccer or home.  So they started quieting down sooner.  Eventually, when they realized I was slowing down to pull off to the side of the road, they would quickly quiet down.  Without saying a word, I would pull back onto the road and speed up.

Somewhere along the way, it became a non-issue, without anyone discussing it.  Being noisy in the car just seemed to hardly happen at all.

This was accomplished without me yelling, getting upset, reasoning, pleading, nagging, threatening, guilt-tripping, being impatient or getting angry.  Having a strategy really helped me remain calm.  I felt in control of the situation in a way that was positive for the boys.


Consistency when carrying out a strategy is imperative to its success.

It may take some time for the plan to take effect so be prepared to be patient.  The plan may even have to be tweaked a bit.

The attitude used to implement the strategy is also key to a successful outcome.

The same strategy used with an angry negative delivery could turn into a power struggle.  This could make the dynamics between all persons involved worse.


Do you have a need to be right?



It is OK to want to be right.  It is OK to like to be right.  It is a problem to need to be right.


Cynthia was upset.  She was disappointed in her friend, Rhonda, because last night for the umpteenth time, Rhonda had kept her waiting for over an hour before finally showing up.  Cynthia called her friend, Brenda, to talk about her frustration and hurt.  She told Brenda that she has talked to Rhonda about her always being late but it has made no difference.  Each time Rhonda would accuse Cynthia of over-reacting and making a big deal over nothing. Rhonda believed she was doing nothing wrong.  Cynthia felt disrespected.  Brenda suggested that she stop trying to explain and reason with Rhonda and change what she is doing.  But Cynthia said she believed that talking things through was the right thing to do so she saw no reason to change since she was doing nothing wrong.  Brenda agreed that talking things through was the right thing to do, however, that was clearly not working for Cynthia.  Brenda asked Cynthia if she had a need to be right?  Cynthia said, “No, but I have a need to be respected”.  Brenda suggested that instead of talking to Rhonda, Cynthia develop a strategy for the next time they meet.  Together, Brenda and Cynthia developed a strategy with Cynthia standing up for herself while maintaining and enhancing the relationship.  Example of strategy:

How do you know if you have a need to be right?

  • You feel threatened.
  • You are rigid.
  • You feel like you’re in a battle and you need to win.
  • You back up your position with authority.  (My religious leader agrees with me.  We always did it this way in our family, My mother/father says I’m right. My therapist says I’m right. Your best friend thinks I’m right. The Bible/Koran says it is so. etc)
  • You accuse the other person(s) of needing to be right and you want to prove them wrong.


How do you know if you do not have a need to be right?

  • You do not feel threatened.
  • You are flexible.
  • You stay focused on the issue without any argument or hassle, just the discussion (could be a heated discussion).
  • For you, who is right or wrong is a non issue.  Addressing the issue is the focus for you.
  • You recognize other(s) have a need to be right and it does not bother you.  You can let them be right.  It is no way makes you feel unimportant or wrong.
  • You focus on the issue and find a way that works for you.  They feel they are right and that is perfectly OK for you.
  • You use their need to be right to get a mutually satisfactory resolution.
  • You do not need to back up your position with authority figures or symbols.
  • You think in different terms than right or wrong. Such as, whether this is working or not.
  • You say things like “You might be right, yet your solution does not work for me.  Let’s find a solution that works for both of us.


Think of rules as guidelines that are flexible and not carved in stone.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea





Does your Relationship Suffer from these 3 Common Errors in Communication?

Error 1. Interrupting

Couples who interrupt each other a lot have difficulty understanding each other and solving problems.  Often they end up arguing about who is right and who is wrong.  The intent of the message to each other gets lost. Being right about the facts or circumstances may not do any good.  [If you’re in an accident on the highway and you are killed, it does you no good to be right.]

Listen more, only asking for clarification if needed.  Look at the issue from your partner’s perspective.

Good communication happens when each listens to the other without correcting them and figures out what their partner is thinking, feeling, and doing/not doing, about what they are talking about.  It really means putting yourself in your partner’s place and looking at the issue through their eyes. Your partner will appreciate that you’ve hear their point of view.

Error 2. Jumping to solutions to a problem before you know what the problem is, or even if there is a problem.

Normally at work, people figure out what’s at the heart of the problem before they try and fix it.  They don’t want to waste time, resources and money. But in relationships, one or both partners usually jump to solutions before they know what the real problem is. Often your partner does not want a solution, he or she wants to bounce something off you or just connect with you.  Other times they want to be understood and known by you on a deeper level.  If they are bringing up a problem, figure out what is at the heart of the issue before you suggest solutions.

Listen intently and dig deeper into what your partner is bringing to your attention.

Be patient, slowing down may help resolve an issue faster.

Error 3. Analyzing each other.

Couples often analyze their partner’s feelings, opinions and behaviors.  Examples: You’re just insecure.  You’re just like your father.  You’re just trying to get out of doing your part.  The analysis may be right, but saying so can really hurt the relationship.

Stick to your partner’s behaviors that bother you and ask for change.

Keep your analysis to yourself.    If there is good will in the relationship you will probably get the change you want.  If you don’t get it, maintain good will yourself and figure out ways that you can change.  Change in one partner impacts upon the other, who often responds to change with change. When you make changes you don’t have to wait for your partner to make them.

Start right now improving your communication.  Don’t wait for your partner.  Positive efforts are likely to pay off.  You will be happier because you feel good about yourself.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

Communication Skill: Talk WITH me not AT me.

Good News and Bad News about Fighting in the Family

April 14, 2009 By Bea Mackay Comments are Off Communication Skills, Emotions, Parenting, Relationship Resources

What is considered fighting?

Joey comes into the kitchen wanting a cookie.  It’s just before dinner and the smell of dinner is adding to Joey’s hunger.  Dad is cooking dinner and knows if he gives Joey a cookie it will take the edge off his appetite for dinner.  They argue about whether or not Joey can have a cookie.  Would you consider this a fight?

What is fighting for some people is not fighting for others.  Raised voices –  yelling  – hitting – which of these is your definition of fighting?

When asked for their definition of fighting parents-of-preschoolers responded with answers such as – conflicted communication, not listening, not hearing, arguing, punching, hitting, disagreements, arguing in a strong way beyond reason and logic, walking away from the issue, misunderstandings, raised blood pressure, lots of anger and frustration, loss of rational thought, yelling, high stress and more.

In this post fighting is considered any conflict, from a minor squabble to a physical battle.

What is good about fighting in a family?

Fighting prepares children for conflict in life, both at home in the family and in the world at large.  Children who grow up in families where there never is any fighting, or parents hide fighting from the children or fighting is not allowed, are not prepared to deal conflict whether it be with family members or with other people outside the family.  Children need to experience fighting to learn how to handle it.  Then they can better protect themselves and those they care about through life.

Because there will always be conflicts in families it is not a question of if but how members of a family fight.  There are different ways to fight and it is really beneficial for children to learn to fight in a healthy constructive ways.

What is unhealthy fighting?

In unhealthy fighting parents and children try to get what they want from each other and do not care if they hurt, inconvenience or harm each other. They argue and yell, but they never get to a better place.  After the fight is over there are just bad feelings and a sense of frustration. No resolution. No positive change.

I call these the merry-go-round fights.  It’s like getting on a merry-go-round, going round and round, and when you get off you’re no further ahead than before you got on.  At first you’re willing to get on the merry-go-round, that is, you’re willing to engage in a fight, but after awhile you realize that there is no point in spending the time and energy because you will be in the same place, maybe even worse, after it’s over.  So you stop engaging in fighting.  You withdraw. You disengage from whoever it is you’re fighting with – maybe others as well.

Fighting that is loud, excessive, violent or out of control is terrifying for children.  Yelling terrifies children and makes their bodies cringe in distress. They can get so traumatized from it that they avoid conflict at all costs or become bullies themselves.  They often grow up to be fearful adults or bullies and are emotionally handicapped.

What is healthy fighting?

In healthy fighting parents and children stand up for themselves and consider each other as they are do so.  They try to find win/win outcomes. The fight gets resolved and the relationship improves.  Everyone feels good about the outcome.  The fight is worthwhile.

It’s really helpful for children to watch their parent have a fight with each other and resolve the fight in a productive way.  They learn from this that fighting, even though it may be distressful, is normal and can be constructive.  They learn how a marriage and couple relationship works – that there will be fighting and that it can be resolved.

Healthy fighting prepares children for life.  They experience it and learn to tolerate it.  They learn to take part and work toward constructive outcomes.  They learn, through experience and modeling of their parents that fighting can make for better relationships and a better life.

To learn to handle differences and resolve problems see the protocol: Sooner Better than Later. It is designed for couples but is appropriate for family members too.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

What Families Fight about.

April 14, 2009 By Bea Mackay Comments are Off Communication Skills, Emotions, Parenting, Relationship Resources

What do members of a family fight about?

Parents and children fight about all sorts of things – chores, what to wear, bedtime, tidy your room, calling home, friends, grades, taking care of belonging, money, etc.

Underlying every conflict is a struggle about standards and values and wants and needs.  Parents have certain standards and values.  In one household there may a standard of tidiness while in another there is a standard of messiness.  It is not about what is right and what is wrong.  It’s about our differences as people.  Different people have different standards.  Babies don’t have standards, they learn them from the people who raise them.  Children learn the standards of their parents and take them on as their own or reject them as they mature.

Both children and parents have wants and needs.  Often the wants and needs of children conflict with the standards and values of their parents and may even conflict with the wants and needs of parents.  Frequently the standards and values of the parents differ.  As a couple they may have no difficulty handling their differences. But once a couple has children, their differences really come to the foreground as they parent their children.  For example, a couple who have different religious beliefs may respect each other’s choice but may conflict about which religion their children will experience.

What is parenting mostly about?

Survival of children and families depends on the children learning to adapt the society they are born into.  Different cultures have different standards and values.  What is considered fine in one culture may be abhorred in another.

Parenting is mostly about parents transmitting their standards and values to their children.  Children come into the world without standards and values and discover their parents (and society’s) values as they try and get their wants and needs met.

Any conflict can be reduced to

1. standards and values conflict with standards and values

2. wants and needs conflict with wants and needs.

3. Standards and values conflict with wants and needs.

Remember Joey.  He is hungry.  Hunger is a need.  As dinner approaches he gets hungrier and hungrier especially as he smells the food cooking.  Dad has the standard of eating nutritious food at dinner time and knows that if he gives Joey a cookie it may spoil his appetite for nutritious food.  If Dad offers him some raw vegetables and some yummy dip instead of a cookie Joey will be able to stave off his hunger pains even though he didn’t get what he wanted and Dad will feel good about Joey eating nutritious food.


Anything that Can be Done Can be Overdone. How to Stop your Good Intentions from Going Bad

March 6, 2009 By Bea Mackay Comments are Off Communication Skills, Relationship Resources

You can love too much. You can be too generous. You can be too helpful. You can try too hard. You can be too responsible. You can be too kind. You can work too much. You can be too considerate. You can give too much. You can be too loyal. You can be too truthful. You can over function. You can compromise too much. You can be too affectionate. You can sacrifice too much. And more. There are books written about this problem, Too Good for Your Own Good by Claudio Bebko and Jo-Ann Krestan, Too Nice for Your own Good by Duke Robinson.

All of these behaviors are positive – loving, generous, trying, responsible, kind, working, considerate, giving, loyalty, truthful, affectionate etc. There is a continuum along which these ways of being can be carried out and be positive- up to a point! Beyond that point they are counterproductive. Loving someone too much can be smothering and stifling for the loved one. Working too much can make you sick and less effective. Giving too much can make others feel obligated or uncomfortable in other ways. Being too truthful can impact relationships in negative ways. Helping too much can make others do less for themselves – it’s called enabling.

There is no manual that tells you where that point is – that point where what you’re doing turns from positive to ineffectual, or even harmful. To find that point you need to

Pay attention to how your behavior/attitude impacts others.

Mary’s daughter Melissa was shy, so Mary would help her by doing things for her that Melissa couldn’t or wouldn’t do for herself. Mary would talk to her teacher for her; she would phone her friends’ mothers to arrange playdates for her; she would talk to her friends for her; she would shop for her and take back items to the store for her; she would lie for her saying Melissa was sick when she wasn’t.

Mary saw her daughter withdrawing more and more. She realized that what she was doing was actually making Melissa’s shyness worse. So Mary changed what she was doing. She stopped doing things for her and started expressing her belief that Melissa could do things herself even though it was difficult. Sometimes Mary would role play how to handle situations and then let Melissa handle them, [or not handle them] herself. Melissa was angry with her mother for not doing things for her anymore. Mary found it hard to handle the pain of watching her daughter struggle. She did not like Melissa to be mad at her; she missed their close relationship.

Gradually, Melissa’s own desire to fit in and belong motivated her to try things herself. As she learned how to do things and got more practice doing them, she felt better about herself. Her increased confidence helped her to attempt more things. Even though she was angry with her mother, on some level she knew that what her mother was doing was in her own best interests.

If what you intend to make happen is not actually happening, either stop doing it, or change what you are doing so it does happen.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

What to Say and Do if your Child Threatens to Run Away.

November 16, 2008 By Bea Mackay Comments are Off Communication Skills, Emotions, Parenting, Relationship Resources

On Friday, November 14, I was watching the news report on the tragic death of a teenage boy who ran away from home after fighting with his parents about his over-use of a video game.  He’d been missing for many days. He apparently died from a fall from a tree.

Fighting between parents and kids happens all the time. There are some unfortunate children for whom home is truly a horrible place to be and when they are old enough they take their chances on the street.

But in most cases the homes are safe and the families are loving.  When children passionately want to do (or not do) something and they run up against parents who pressure or block them, they often think of running away.  Some threaten to run away.  Few act on it.

This news story was one of those ordinary family struggles that turned extraordinary when the boy accidentally died.  The parents and the boy got into a power struggle about his video game behavior.  He threatened to leave home and his father helped him pack his knapsack.

When children actually run away, they usually realize, in a relatively short time, that not living at home is uncomfortable and scary.  They come back with a new respect and appreciation of home.  The parents are relieved their child is home safe.  Each is changed by the experience. They figure things out.  In this family’s case, the outcome was tragic.  The family never got the chance to reconcile.

Realistically, parents cannot stop their children from running away. Yes, parents can confine them to their rooms, but not forever.  When children are determined to run away, they will figure out how and when to do it. They are usually hurt and angry. They feel unloved. They feel powerless to influence their parents.  In an attempt to regain power,  they run away.

Some children will put themselves at risk to prove a point.

What to say and do if your child threatens to run away.

1.  Take seriously repeated threats to runaway.  Ignore frivolous threats.

2.  Parents need to extricate themselves from the power struggle. It takes two to fight.  When children are passionate about what is going on, most are unable to stop fighting. Parents are the ones that need to make the shift.  They need to stop fighting without abdicating their authority.  Not easy to do. Then children are less likely to actually leave.

3.  As best you can, let go of your anger.  If you are unable to, then talk about it.  Children need to know they are cared for and it is difficult for them to feel loved when parents are angry.

4. Tell your children in words that you do not want them to go.  They need to hear it.

5. Acknowledge that you cannot stop them from going.  By acknowledging your child’s power they do not have to push so hard to prove to you they have it. This means they no longer need to fight.  They can now choose to stay.

6. NEVER CALL A CHILD’S BLUFF.  Doing this escalates the power struggle and backs the child into a corner.  They are more likely to leave even though they do not want to.  They are more likely to do   something that puts them at risk.  NEVER HELP THEM PACK or do anything that makes them feel unwanted. It makes it harder for a child to come back home and save face when they do.


Parent(s), “I don’t want you to go.  I want you to stay and work this out with me (us). I really care about you and I worry about your safety and well-being if you go.”

Parent(s), “I wish you would not go.  I do not like your decision, but I respect it.”

Parent(s), “I know I’m angry.  It’s because you are really important to me.  If I didn’t care about you I would not be angry.”

Parent(s), “I will be really sad if you go.”

Parent(s), “If you want to stay with your friend Jimmy or your grandmother for awhile, let’s arrange it.

Parent(s), “No matter what happens, you are always welcome to come back.”

Parent(s), “When you come back we will work things out so we can live together in a way that works for all of us.”

Parent(s), “I’m glad you’re back. Let’s just enjoy today and talk about things tomorrow.”

Parenting is not easy.  Few parents are prepared to handle situations like this.  As children get older, the stakes get higher.  My hope is that parents learn to handle power struggles in a healthy way and fewer tragedies happen.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

What to do When a Breakup Turns Ugly.

October 30, 2008 By Bea Mackay 2 comments Communication Skills, Emotions, Relationship Resources

Breaking up is especially difficult when only one wants to end the relationship.  The one who is left is in a great deal of emotional pain from the grief and loss.  He or she also feels powerless to do anything about their circumstances.  Often they do not know how to handle the pain, which feels unbearable and seems never ending.  For some people, shifting into anger seems to alleviate their pain.  Actually, anger just masks pain.  But masking the pain may be preferable to feeling it.  The pain does not go away; it just goes underground and influences behaviors in negative ways.

Sometimes breakups turn ugly.  One or both parties start behaving in ways that are inappropriate, perhaps even frightening.  Behaviors such as stalking, threatening verbally and physically, name calling, complaining to your friends/co-workers, making unwanted phone calls, sending unwanted text messaging and emails, damaging property, stealing from your partner and worse, make a breakup ugly.

Scenario 1) John finally ended his two year and half relationship with Mary after months of vacillating back and forth. It was not working out for him and he did not want to invest any more of himself in it.  Mary was devastated and she pleaded with John to give her another chance. John’s resolve weakened and they did reconcile for a few months.  But the same unpleasant dynamics between them repeated, so he ended it again. Mary refused to accept the breakup.  She kept calling John and begging him to reconcile.  She kept driving by his home.  She left messages on his car.  She called his friends trying to solicit their help.  She sent him ecards, long hysterical emails and emotional text messages.  John felt sorry for her and would take her calls and answer her messages.  He kept explaining in a caring way that the relationship was over for him.  When John was nice to Mary, her hopes for reconciliation increased.  She tried harder to have contact with John.  She knew that her behavior was harming what little relationship they had left, yet she could not stop herself.  John’s compassion for her shifted into disgust.  He felt badgered and victimized.  He avoided all contact with her and after several months Mary gave up.

Scenario 2) After breaking up and reconciling five times, Judy decided to end her 4 year relationship with Marty for good.  As before, Marty begged and pleaded with her to take him back.  When she wouldn’t, Marty became angry and bitter.  He started making phone calls and hanging up.  He started threatening her.  At first he would make statements such as ‘You better watch out.”  Then the statements escalated into “I’m going to kill you.”  Judy was frightened and did not know what to do.  She was afraid to talk to her parents. She talked to all of her friends trying to figure out what to do.  She talked to him and told him that he was frightening her, but it did no good.  Sometimes he would switch from bitterness to apology but when she would not agree to give him another chance he shifted back into anger and rage.  He wanted her to hurt as much as he was hurting.  When he saw the fear in her eyes and heard the fear in her voice, he knew he was still able to have an impact on her.  It was not the impact he wanted to have but it was better than feeling powerless. One time when he saw her going into a pub with another guy he keyed her car.  The destructive action gave him some relief from the pain of seeing her with another guy. (All scenarios are fictitious).

The same recommendations apply here as in How to Handle a Breakup

Additional recommendations:

Be pleasantly matter-of-fact

If you have to have contact, be pleasantly matter-of-fact.  There may be many reasons that you have contact during and after a breakup.  People build defenses against loving and angry behaviors, but they do not build defenses against pleasant matter-of-fact behaviors.  When you talk to your ex-partner in a neutral tone that does not have an edge to your voice, you are more likely to influence him or her in a positive way, perhaps not in the moment, but later.

Keep contact to a minimum.

Do not receive or respond to phone calls, emails or text messages. Turn off your cell phone at night, even during the day, if necessary.  If your ex-partner arrives at your door at 3:00 am do not let him or her in.  The less contact you have with your ex-partner, the less either of you will be upset.  Ignoring contact tends to lessen contact.  There are certain phone calls you have to take, in particular, around custody and access of children/pets and financial matters. Make contact only when necessary.

Keep responses to a minimum.

Make short simple statements and repeat without adding more. Do not keep explaining repeatedly in the hope that your ex-partner will understand.  Most hurt partners do not want to understand. When you have contact, make precise simple statements that are to the point and repeat them in a matter-of-fact manner without adding anything more.


Getting back together is not a possibility.

I’m not willing to try again.

The relationship no longer works for me.

I want what is best for the children.

It’s not OK to say things like that.

Take all threats seriously.

Realize that your ex-lover is in a great deal of grief and loss and that the threats are coming out of the pain.  However, that does not make what they are saying or doing OK.  While you need to take all threats seriously, if your ex-lover has no history of violent behavior it is unlikely that he or she will become violent.

NOTE: If you ex-lover does have a history of violence then you should take great care to protect yourself and avoid contact.  You should also keep a low profile for many months, as seeing you get on with your life without him or her may fuel their grief/rage.

Mute your own emotions during contact.

As best you can, do not show hurt, fear or anger.  Ex-partners, who are being nasty, want to influence you; if they cannot do it in a positive way they will resign themselves to achieving it in a negative way.  For them, any influence is better than none.

Downplay threatening behavior.

If at all possible, ignore inappropriate, hurtful and nasty behaviors. You do not want to fuel behavior that is not OK.  If your ex-lover treats you badly in any way, the best way to handle this behavior is to ignore it.  If you have to respond, make a brief matter-of-fact statement, such as “It’s not OK to behave that way.” Do not add anything more. Repeat if necessary, then ignore.

Seek out resources among your family, friends and community.

Set up a friend, family member or counselor to call.  When you are in emotional pain it is natural to miss you ex-partner whether you initiated the breakup or your partner did.  Men find it helpful to call a female friend when they are struggling with their emotions. Do not call your ex-partner when you are in pain, lonely or missing them.  If you have someone that you have arranged to call when you are in distress, you are less likely to call your ex-partner.

Reach out.  When you are worried by your own behavior or your ex-lover’s behavior, it is wise to talk to and be with someone you trust  – a person who will help you handle yourself and the breakup in a healthy way.

Look after yourself

However your breakup unfolds, look after yourself by connecting with those you love and trust.  See professional help if you need to.  You do not want to repeat any of your behaviors that are unhealthy in a new relationship.  Now is the time to learn about yourself and make the changes you need to make.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay