The only winning move is not to play.

Even on a good day, it can be difficult not to take the bait when your teen is pushing your buttons. How do you disengage to keep it from escalating into a battle? The last line in the movie “War Games” describes it perfectly — “The only winning move is not to play.” Today you’re going to learn eight strategies to help you do just that.

Parent and teen arguing

(If you haven’t seen it, find some time to watch “War Games”, one of Matthew Broderick’s early movies. He plays a high school student who unwittingly hacks into a military supercomputer while searching for new video games. After starting a game of Global Thermonuclear War, the supercomputer activates the nation’s nuclear arsenal in response to his simulated threat as the Soviet Union. Sorry to spoil it for you, but he must find a way to alert the authorities to stop the onset of World War III because the computer doesn’t know this exercise is just a game. When it does learn, it comes to the conclusion that in the game or a real war, the only winning move is not to play at all.)

Sometimes, in order to stay calm when things are heating up with your kids, not engaging is the way to go. It’s been expressed as “You don’t have to show up for every argument” and “The only winning move is not to play.”

When tempers and emotions are high, you want to be heard and may feel that you have to defend yourself, as does your child. An effective move is to disengage and not play the game. You want to be able to discuss it calmly and keep it from turning into a power struggle. That won’t happen with raised voices and each side needing to be right and in control. You certainly can’t hear each other when you’re screaming. How do you step back so you can come to a more peaceful resolution?

1) Remember that you always have a choice: fight to win, or step away and think of a better, more loving way to interact.

2) Stop talking. More angry, defensive, controlling words will only make it worse.

3) Take five. (You’ve heard this one before.) Take five minutes or five hours to breathe, calm down, and think about what you want to say.

4) Ask yourself, “Do I need to be right, or do I want to resolve the conflict?”


5) Take advantage of the magical do-over. Revisit the issue with your child in a calm and reasonable way.

6) Script it. It can be helpful to take notes, a cheat sheet, if you will. This will help you say what you mean without the emotion that stirred things up the first time around.

7) Be willing to hear what your child is feeling. Underneath it all, it’s usually about feelings.

8) Congratulate yourself! You are a wonderful teacher and role model for your child on how people resolve their differences in a loving and productive way.

This is do-able. It all begins with being aware that you’re heading into the conflict zone, and choosing not to go there. Life and relationships are so much easier when you do.

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How to Tame the Clutter Monster

Stuff. We all have it. Some of us have more than others, some of us have more than we need. Many of us have things we don’t need or want, and for some reason we just don’t know how to part with them. That’s clutter. How do you tame the clutter monster?

Sorting and evaluating your possessions needs to be a family affair and the earlier you start with your kids, the better. We have become a society of collectors – Beanie Babies, mugs, hats, artwork, comic books, model trains, crafts, and knickknacks of all kinds. We buy additional furniture to store them, or rent storage units to house them and be able to bring yet more stuff into our homes. How much do we really need? How much can we manage without losing our minds?  (Listen to what George Carlin had to say about ‘stuff’.)

Let’s be clear about one thing: In my opinion, you can’t organize clutter. You can try, but you still end up with things that shouldn’t be there, taking up space in your home and head. The goal is to get it out of your possession, not move it to another space. Clutter is stuff in your house you no longer use (if you ever used it at all).


Before we move on, let me share that I have my moments with clutter – mostly in the form of paper and books. (In my mind, you can never have too many books.) It gets in the way of productivity and clear thinking. But I keep at it, and for the few days at a time that my desk is clear, well, it feels great.

The way I see it, clutter falls into three categories:

* “I can’t be bothered” clutter is filled with coupons, freebies, a weird gift from your uncle, junk mail, broken/torn/stained items… in other words, it’s really trash. You have no need for it, and no emotional attachment to it, but for some reason you can’t be bothered to toss it.

* “I might need it” clutter is composed of things you may have used once, and might, just might need again one day: a kitchen utensil, articles, an unusual clothing item. You know what they are.

* “Fond memories” clutter reminds us of people, places and events in our life. (I have a ton of that.) These are the most difficult to part with.

Of course, prevention is the best way to go. When thinking about bringing something new into the house, carefully evaluate whether you need it, or just want it. However, since most of us have already accumulated so much, we need some strategies for disposing of them. Here are a few to get you started:

1) Make your kids part of the process, even if you are working on your own personal clutter. They will benefit from watching how you think it through, and seeing how you are able to part with things. Most kids have more than they need, and struggle with keeping it in order. Let’s set them up for success by not burdening them with too many possessions. (It’s good for your wallet, too.)

2) As FlyLady says, “You can do anything for 15 minutes.” De-cluttering can be overwhelming, so it’s a good idea to start small. Pick one surface, one drawer, one cabinet, one box. If you’re anything like me and you tackle the whole closet, you’ll be exhausted and frustrated after a couple of hours. You’re left with lots of items still on the floor, bed, or table, waiting for you tomorrow. (At that point I don’t want to look at it ever again, so back into a box it goes.)

3) Have four boxes for sorting: keep, toss, fix/repair, and donate. You can sort as you go.

4) If you can target a large quantity of it, begin with the “I can’t be bothered” clutter and leave the others alone for a while. It has no emotional pull and requires little, if any, decision-making. You can make big progress in a short amount of time.

5) Take pictures instead of holding on to things. Some things bring up good feelings, but if they’ve been stored in a box and not seen for years, then a picture can be a fine substitute.

6) When you buy something new, be prepared to toss or give away a similar item you no longer use. In this way your possessions change, but they don’t increase.

There you have them – the starter steps to tame the clutter monster. Which one will you take?

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TIP: Respected leaders give credit to others.

President Ronald Reagan said, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who claims the credit.”    Respected leaders give credit where credit is due. He was talking about politics and government, but it certainly applies to all of us, adults and kids, in personal and business relationships.Give credit where credit is due.

Do you want your kids to be able to make friends, influence people and be seen as a leader? One of the qualities of a respected friend, influencer and leader is the ability to give credit to others. Is this something you are able to do? Do you model it in your own family or on the job?

Being an effective parent, manager, chairperson or team leader is generally not something you can do on your own. The success of any group (including the family) depends upon all its members. Everyone wants to be acknowledged for their effort and contribution. Whether it’s something they’ve done (“Well-written report for the staff, Joe.”) or something they’ve refrained from doing (“Susie, I know you had something to tell me, and I appreciate that you waited patiently until I was done.”) you’ll earn points and loyalty for giving credit to others.

But you’d like some recognition, right? It’s normal to want it. It feels good and is a real boost to the ego. It will usually come your way, but the point is not to insist on it. (Think about it this way: if everyone followed this practice, they’d be acknowledging your efforts, too.)

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January Habit: Say Goodbye to Clutter

Welcome to 2015′s Healthy Family Habit-of-the-Month series.

Healthy habits take time to develop. You don’t just decide one day to have a new, productive habit and voila, it’s done! Now imagine you’re trying to get your whole family on board. It takes everyone’s buy-in, repetition and practice to do it consistently and to do it well. IT CAN BE DONE and we’re here to help.

The free Healthy Family Habit-of-the-Month series will help you jumpstart your progress. Every month you’ll receive an article, access to a live interview with an expert on the subject (via phone – with a chance to have your questions answered), a free gift from the expert, and additional resources.

If you’re ready for you and your kids to be stronger, healthier, happier and feeling more capable of reaching your goals, I invite you to join me by registering in the box at the very bottom of the page.

This month we’re going to SAY GOODBYE TO CLUTTER!

Guest expert Gayle Gruenberg is a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization. As a single mother and self-employed professional, Gayle lives and understands the pressures of family life, and of holding everyone and everything together. In a world where we can become overwhelmed by all our ‘stuff’, Gayle excels at helping people let go of what they don’t need and creating systems to manage the rest. (

When you attend live on Tuesday, January 20 (see the flier for details), Gayle will walk you through the most effective strategies to tame the clutter beast in your home or office. She will also have time to answer your personal questions about how to get started. (For those who register but can’t be on the call live, send in your questions and she’ll personally answer the first five via email.) Gayle is offering a special bonus for those who register for the call… so go to the registration box at the bottom of the page now!


January 20, 2015
Say Goodbye to Clutter

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Parents’ Choice: Top 10 Articles of 2014

 I would like to share the top ten articles that you, my readers, have chosen as your favorites.  You haven’t officially voted on them; however, based on how many of you are opening emails and sending me comments, I’ve compiled a list of the ten most popular articles of 2014.  They happen to be my favorites, too. (Click on the article name to link to it.)

Writing is a very important tool for me to teach and support parents, as well as express the possibilities for change in families.  To top it off, I enjoy it.  I have sent out an article or tip nearly every week for four years.  Four years!  That’s a lot of information, skills, guidance and mentoring that reaches you.  It’s also a lot of time and creativity on my part.  It’s not easy to come up with new topics, or find different ways to present information.  I take my inspiration anywhere I can find it:  TV, interviews, books, parents, and other people’s blogs.

I need your help!!  To give you more of what you want and is useful to you, I need to hear from you.  What are your questions, ideas and concerns?  Send me a note with a topic or situation you’d like me to write about.  (Your identity will never be revealed.)  Now on to the Readers’ Choice Top 10 Articles of 2014.

10. It’s not your job to make your kids happy.

9.   The dangers of texting:  Would you say that to her face?

8.   “Mom, I lost my new backpack again!” and 8 reasons not replace it.

7.   Managing your anger when you’d rather pitch a fit.

6.   No, wait.  It really is all about you.

5.   Who knew cleaning toilets could improve self-esteem?

4.   This mom’s story will shake you up and inspire you.

3.   Again.  The bath towels are on the floor again.

2.   Help!  My teen maxed out my credit card!

1.   Are you crippling your children?  Tough love Rx for parents.

* Click on the article name to link to it.


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