General Rules for Getting Your Children to do Chores

The following is an excerpt from “How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen.”

If asked, most children and teenagers will readily assure you that “chores suck.” To make matters worse, parents don’t appreciate having butler, maid, and custodian responsibilities in addition to their regular parenting duties. This combination of factors helps explain why so many parents come to consultations complaining of their children’s noncompliance with chore requests.

When chores and chore completion are a concern, we typically teach parents about (1) the three-step approach to learning chores; (2) teaming to complete chores; (3) chore menus; and (4) chore contingencies. This problem-solving intervention is especially important because it illustrates how parents can collaboratively and authoritatively work with their children to accomplish family tasks.

The Three-Step Approach

Most children aren’t naturally inclined to do chores and aren’t particularly inclined to do them well. All too often, children will fail at their first assignment to clean the bathroom (or whatever project they’re assigned).

If parents want chore cooperation from their children, the following three steps may be helpful: (1) Demonstrate (by actively teaching) how to do the chore assignment they wish their child to do; (2) do the chore assignment with their child (while providing positive and encouraging comments); and (3) have their child complete the assignment with parental supervision and support. Also, because doing chores is not naturally pleasurable for most children, parents should model how good it feels to get the job done. Finally, parents need to support their child by making positive statements about the child’s performance and staying away from critical comments. Criticizing children when they’re engaging in an already-aversive task is an excellent way to destroy whatever remnants of motivation may still exist. This doesn’t mean parents need to pretend their children have done a fabulous job when they haven’t, but it does mean parents need to look for the positive and communicate in an encouraging way even when performance is less than adequate.

Parent: Getting my eight-year-old to help with chores is sometimes more of a chore than just doing it myself.

Consultant: It sounds like you’d like your daughter’s help around the house, if it wasn’t such a pain.

Parent: Right.

Consultant: May I share a few ideas?

Parent: Go ahead.

Consultant: [After explaining the three-step approach to learning chores, the consultant moves into ideas about keeping chore-related interactions positive:] Since doing chores can be a pain for both you and your daughter, let’s talk about how to make it more pleasant. Some of these ideas may work for you and some may not, but here are a few. First, consider doing chores together while you listen to music she likes. Second, try doing chores for a very short time period during which she can be successful, even five minutes might be fine to start. Third, set it up so that right after the successful five minutes you transition to something fun. This is so she’ll get the idea that you work first and then play and have fun. Fourth, while you’re both working ignore her off-task behavior and pay close and positive attention to her on-task behavior. Fifth, if her performance is disappointing, express that in the most positive way you can. Something like, “Sweetheart, I know you can be better help than you were today,” is enough. Be sure to avoid long lectures about non-helpfulness, because that could act as a reward. [The consultant writes out these ideas so the parent will have a reminder.]   

Teaming to Complete Chores

More often than parents prefer, chore completion is suboptimal. We like to think of it as an example of the two-steps-forward-one-step-back phenomenon. 

Children may need support and assistance to complete chores adequately. Some children will be slower at developing positive chore habits and others will be adversely affected by their attitude or mood. However, parents are better served if they stay positive and encouraging. It’s especially important to avoid the temptation toward negative character feedback (“Can’t you do anything right?”).

Thinking of chores as a family activity or obligation can help. It’s more motivating when all family members work to accomplish a goal in a particular time period. A friend of ours taught us the following technique:

Okay, we need to clean up and de-clutter the house. Tonight at six-thirty p.m., I’ll set the timer for thirty minutes and, as a family, we’ll all run around cleaning and picking up and putting things away. At the end of our thirty minutes we can order a pizza and a movie and celebrate our clean house.

Many parents will immediately object to the “time-limited family project” technique by stating, “Yeah, we’ve tried that and the kids just sit around and don’t really contribute. Then we end up doing all the work and we’re angry at the kids for loafing.” Of course, consultants should pay attention to this complaint and then try to help the parents reformulate chore activities to promote family success. Part of this reformulation will undoubtedly involve having the parents lower their chore performance expectations and praising or supporting their children for small contributions. It also might involve the natural and logical consequence of the parents eating pizza and watching a movie while the kids eat yesterday’s leftovers and go to bed early.

In situations where children have already learned specific chores but occasionally regress because of a bad mood or a bad day, additional teaming techniques may be useful. For example, a parent might be coached to offer something like the following:

How about I help you out tonight? We’re a family and we should help each other. I can see you’re not in the best of moods and I can relate to that because some days I hate to do chores, too. So, how about for tonight we work together and get this done in half the time?

Or, with teenagers who are high achievers and who maintain an exceptionally busy schedule, rather than completely dispensing with chore assignments, it might be more helpful to frame breaks from regular chore routines as a part of family support. For example,

I know you’re crazy-busy with homework and volleyball this weekend. How about if I take care of your kitchen-cleaning duties tonight and you can help me out sometime when I’m too busy and you’ve got free time?

The purpose of these family-teaming strategies is to help the children understand the underlying message: In this family we all contribute to maintaining the household, and because we’re on the same team we help each other and share the load when we can.

Chore Menus

It’s generally more effective for parents to give their children choices over which chores they’re assigned. For example, if Miguel perpetually is assigned the chore of scooping the dog poop in the backyard, he may eventually feel there’s no opportunity for career advancement (or personal choice) and so he may begin resisting his assignment. Now, if it’s Miguel’s designated dog and he agreed to scoop the poop for 12 years, more complex negotiation strategies may be needed. However, in most cases children experience greater freedom (which they desire) when they at least get to pick their poison (chore). Consequently, we advocate chore menus for children. These menus can be as simple as:  “Would you like to empty the dishwasher or collect and take out the garbage?” Or parents may make a master list and let each child sign up for several chores a week.

Chore Contingencies

Some parents vehemently argue that completing chores is part and parcel of being in a family and, therefore, children should do chores without compensation. In contrast, other parents believe chores should be linked to a weekly allowance or some other form of financial remuneration. If you’ve been paying attention to this point, you should anticipate our response to these polar perspectives: We believe both positions are reasonable and recommend a combination approach.

For many families, it works best if some designated chores are expected contributions to family life. These could be chores that are required as a part of daily living (e.g., washing dishes, de-cluttering, dusting, vacuuming, feeding the dog, etc). Other, less frequent chores could be reserved for when children want to make money. Obviously, consultants should work with parents to develop a system that best fits the individual family’s needs and the parents’ values.

Using direct power strategies may be necessary and appropriate when it comes to chore completion. For example, we recommend that parents use Grandma’s Rule (see Chapter 3) to clearly and concisely articulate their expectations that chore completion precedes recreation. A classic example of using Grandma’s rule is:  

When you finish unloading the dishwasher and wiping down the kitchen counters, then you can turn on the computer and play some games. 

Overall, as we think of chores, we’re reminded of a wise statement a colleague uses when working with mandated client groups. At the beginning of group he announces: “Well, I know we’re all required to be here, but we’re not required to have a bad time. So I hope we can make the best of it.” When parents lead with a good attitude and positive mood in the face of a required task, often children will begin to follow their leaders. This is the essence of role modeling.

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The road to getting your chores done in Montana.

Paper Writing Tips for Grad Students in Counseling and Psychology

I recently had the honor and privilege of reading the first set of papers submitted to me by graduate students this semester. The papers were generally of good quality, but a few repeating patterns inspired me to provide the following list of basic tips for graduate students seeking to become mental health professionals.

  1. There’s nothing quite like a clear and concise topic sentence in academic writing. The topic (or focus sentence) introduces the content included in the paragraph. When used well, it’s a beautiful organizing force that brings joy and comprehension to the hearts and minds of many a reader (especially moi).
  2. Although I absolutely hate the saying “More is less” (because, in fact, “more” is always “more” even though “less” can better), it’s a good general rule to make your sentences shorter rather than longer because all too often I find students, like myself in this particular sentence, trying to fit too much information into one sentence when it would be clearer and better to break it up into two or three sentences. A corollary to this rule is that fewer quotation marks and exclamation marks are better than more of those particular “Marks!”
  3. A transition sentence or two that describes what you’ll be covering in your paper and placed at the end of your opening paragraph or in your second paragraph is very helpful to your reader.
  4. Unless you’re a Brit, you should put your commas, periods, and ellipsis inside the quotation marks, “Like this. . .” Think about it this way: commas and periods like to be on the inside; they don’t like to be floating outside the quotation marks because, unless they live on the British Isles, it increases their existential sense of isolation.
  5. You don’t need to use a comma when you have a short list of only two thoughts because all you need in that case is the word “and.” For example, notice the absence of a comma in the following sentence: Max was feeling quite spry and decided to post a smiley face to his Facebook status. In this case we do not need or want a comma after the word “spry.”
  6. Keep in mind that in most cases it best to maintain consistency between singular and plural within the same sentence and paragraph. For example, if you write: “The counselor should work to have empathy with their client” it will cause me to wonder why you didn’t go with: “Counselors should have empathy with their clients.” Note: There is also a good reason to use what is now commonly referred to as the singular “they.” Using they or their as singular (representing an individual) is perfectly acceptable–especially when referring to individuals who are averse to the gender binary. However, in most cases, it’s easier and IMHO maintains better grammar-flow to shift to plural-plural whenever reasonable.
  7. Remember that your professor really likes the appropriate use of the Harvard comma. What this means is that when providing a list of more than two items, you should place a comma after the first item, second item, and before the and. An example: John very much enjoys running, walking, and dancing. If you leave out that last comma, it seems like the final two items are somehow joined together. Remember also, that although journalists don’t use it, the Harvard comma is consistent with APA style.
  8. When you’re quoting someone you should use the past tense; this is because the person whom you’re quoting has already said it. For example, in his book Working with challenging youth, Richardson stated: “Yada, yada, and yada.” Although it’s tempting to write, “Richardson states” the past is the past even though Gestalt therapists might want us to bring everything into the here-and-now.
  9. Please include the page number or numbers when you’re quoting someone so your reader, if so inclined, can confirm the accuracy of your quotation. This is also APA style. Always avoid anything that might be viewed as plagiarizing.
  10. In contrast and opposite of how I’m writing in this list of writing tips, APA style doesn’t like contractions. Instead, just like Commander Data in the Star Trek series, you do not use contractions when writing in APA format and you will see a little red mark on your paper if you write with the casual contraction.
  11. You may recall that Michael Jackson sang: “A, B, C is easy as 1, 2, 3.” Well, APA actually thinks that (a), (b), (c). . . is better than 1, 2, 3. . . when it comes to in-paragraph list-making.
  12. If you use capital letters when you don’t need to, I will think you’ve freshly arrived from Germany. Words like counselor and psychologist should not be capitalized and even though specific mental disorders like major depressive disorder are often capitalized, we shouldn’t privilege particular words just because we feel like it or just because the American Psychiatric Association would like those words to take on greater significance.
  13. My old statistics professor always used to say that you write numbers just like you write words. What he meant by this is that justlikeyouwouldneverwritelikethis, when writing an equation you should always put a space between the operation and the integer. For example, it’s always n = 1 and never n=1.
  14. Although corporations are people (according to SCOTUS, not me), people are not corporations. This means you should use “who” when referring to actual people and “that” “them” or “it” when referring to non-people. When it comes to addressing corporations, make no reference at all, just bow your head in deference.
  15. Although it’s very cool and good form to cite your professor’s work in your paper, you should do your best to spell his name correctly.

A Quick Look at the Collaborative Cognitive Therapy Process

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is arguably the most evidence-based of all counseling and psychotherapy approaches. With roots in Adlerian therapy and substantial influences from Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck, and others, the cognitive component of CBT involves therapists working with clients to help develop awareness of automatic thoughts — thoughts that have an adverse or maladaptive affect on client emotions and behaviors. Once clients have awareness of their automatic and maladaptive thinking, cognitive therapists work collaboratively with clients to question the usefulness of the thoughts, possibly even actively disputing them, and eventually revising or replacing them with more adaptive or helpful thoughts.

This past spring and summer, Rita and I produced a DVD with demonstrations of 11 different theory-based counseling and psychotherapy approaches. Our publisher, John Wiley & Sons, recently posted a clip (or teaser) of this cognitive therapy video. In the clip I’m demonstrating the five column technique popularized by Albert Ellis. What I think is most interesting about this clip is the how the five column technique is used as a platform for exploring the client’s anxiety . . . while at the same time, a unique, spontaneous, and collaborative relationship between therapist and client is developing.

If you like, you can watch this video clip at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQ8hNDHoyDU&list=UUDoXxitLiq5PMruS7AbBJbA&index=1&feature=plcp

 

Hey — We just got a grant to help prevent student assault at the University of Montana — Very cool.

I’m just writing a note here with a link to a news story with video about a new grant we just got in the Department of Counselor Education. Although it means more work, it also means more work for the good of the campus and for the good of women and men who suffer from assault. Yeah. I guess I’m saying this is a difficult topic, but it’s a place where there’s room to do lots of good stuff.

Here’s the link:

http://www.abcmontana.com/news/local/UM-Receives-300K-Grant-to-Prevent-Assaults-on-Campus-171259111.html

 

The Three-Step Emotional Change Trick

In theories class this past Monday Adler kicked Freud’s ass. This was, of course, metaphorical because Adler was radically anti-violent. Nevertheless, my Freud action figure ended up on the floor by the door where he had to lay there and listen to Adler’s repugnant (to Freud) ideas about how clients are affected by real (not fantasized) social dynamics or forces.

At the end of class we engaged in the “Three-Step Emotional Change Technique.” For anyone who hasn’t heard of this, Rita and I published a description in our Tough Kids, Cool Counseling book. You can check it out at: http://www.amazon.com/Tough-Kids-Cool-Counseling-User-Friendly/dp/1556202741/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1348446338&sr=1-1&keywords=tough+kids+cool+counseling

Below you can read a version of the Emotional Change Technique adapted from Tough Kids, Cool Counseling:

The Three-Step, Push-Button Emotional Change Technique

            An early and prominent Adlerian therapist, Harold Mosak, originally developed and tested the push-button technique as a method for demonstrating to clients that thinking different thoughts can effectively change mood states (Mosak, 1985). The purpose of Mosak’s technique was to help clients experience an increased sense of control over their emotions, thereby facilitating a sense of encouragement or empowerment (Mosak, 2000, personal communication).

            Mosak’s push-button technique can be easily adapted to work with young clients. When we implement this technique with younger clients, we are playful and call it an emotional change trick. When using this technique with teenagers, we describe it as a strategy for gaining more personal control over less desirable emotions. In essence, the three-step, push-button, emotional change technique is an emotional education technique; the primary goal is to teach clients that, rather than being at the mercy of their feelings, they may learn some strategies and techniques that provide them with increased personal control over their feelings.

The following example illustrates Adlerian emotional education principles and Mosak’s push-button technique expanded to three distinct steps.

Case example.  Sam, a 13-year-old European American boy, was referred because of his tendency to become suddenly stubborn, rigid, and disagreeable when interacting with authority figures. Sam arrived for his appointment accompanied by his mother. It quickly became obvious that Sam and his mother were in conflict. Sam was sullen, antagonistic, and difficult to talk with for several minutes at the outset of the session. Consequently, the Three-Step, Push-Button Emotional Change Technique (TSPB) was initiated:

Preparation/Explanation.

JSF:     I see you’re in a bad mood today. I have this . . . well, it’s kind of a magic trick and I             thought maybe you’d be interested. Want to hear about it?

S:         (Shrugs).

JSF:     It’s a trick that helps people get themselves out of a bad mood if they want to. First, I           need to tell you what I know about bad moods. Bad moods are weird because even             though they don’t really feel good, lots of times people don’t want to get out of their bad      mood and into a better mood. Do you know what I mean? It’s like you kind of want to         stay in a bad mood; you don’t want anybody forcing you to change out of a bad mood.

S:         (Nods in agreement.)

JSF:     And you know what, I’ve noticed when I’m in a bad mood, I really hate it when someone          comes up to me and says: “Cheer up!” or “Smile!”

S:         Yeah, I hate that too.

JSF:     And so you can be sure I’m not going to say that to you. In fact, sometimes the best thing    to do is just really be in that bad mood—be those bad feelings. Sometimes it feels great to            get right into the middle of those feelings and be them.

S:         Uh, I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

JSF:     Well, to get in control of your own feelings, it’s important to admit they’re there, to get to   know them better. So, the first step of this emotional change trick is to express your bad      feelings. See, by getting them out and expressing them, you’re in control. If you don’t   express your feelings, especially icky ones, you could get stuck in a bad mood even             longer than you want.

As you can see, preparation for the TSPB technique involves emotional validation of how it feels to be in a bad mood, information about bad moods and how people can resist changing their moods or even get stuck in them, hopeful information about how people can learn to change their moods, and more emotional validation about how it feels when people prematurely try to cheer someone up.

Step 1: Feel the feeling. Before moving clients away from their negative feelings, it’s appropriate—out of respect for the presence and meaning of emotions—to help them feel their feelings. This can be challenging because most young people have only very simplistic ideas about how to express negative feelings. Consequently, Step 1 of the TSPB technique involves helping youth identify various emotional expression techniques and then helping them to try these out. We recommend brainstorming with young clients about specific methods for expressing feelings. The client and counselor should work together (perhaps with a chalk/grease board or large drawing pad), generating a list of expressive strategies that might include:

  • scribbling on a note pad with a black marker
  • drawing an angry, ugly picture
  • punching or kicking a large pillow
  • jumping up and down really hard
  • writing a nasty note to someone (but not delivering it)
  • grimacing and making various angry faces into a mirror
  • using words, perhaps even yelling if appropriate, to express specific feelings.

The expressive procedures listed above are easier for young clients to learn and understand when counselors actively model affective expression or assist clients in their affective expression. It’s especially important to model emotional expression when clients are inhibited or unsure about how to express themselves. Again, we recommend engaging in affective expression jointly with clients. We’ve had particular success making facial grimaces into a mirror. (Young clients often become entertained when engaging in this task with their counselor.) The optimal time for shifting to Step 2 in the TSPB technique is when clients have just begun to show a slight change in affect. (Often this occurs as a result of the counselor joining the client in expressing anger or sadness or general nastiness.)

Note: If a young client is unresponsive to Step 1 of the TSPB technique, don’t move to Step 2. Instead, an alternative mood-changing strategy should be considered (e.g., perhaps food and mood or the personal note). Be careful to simply reflect what you see. “Seems like you aren’t feeling like expressing those yucky feelings right now. Hey, that’s okay. I can show you this trick some other day. Want some gum?”

Step 2: Think a new thought (or engage in a new behavior). This step focuses on Mosak’s pushbutton approach (Mosak, 1985). It’s designed to demonstrate to the client that emotions are linked to thoughts. Step 2 is illustrated in the following dialogue (an extension of the previous case example with John and Sam):

JSF:     Did you know you can change your mood just by thinking different thoughts? When you think certain things it’s like pushing a button in your brain and the     things you think start making you feel certain ways. Let’s try it. Tell me the funniest thing that happened to you this week.

S:         Yesterday in math, my friend Todd farted (client smiles and laughs).

JSF:     (Smiles and laughs back) Really! I bet people really laughed. In fact, I can see it makes you laugh just thinking about it. Way back when I was in school I had a friend who did       that all the time.

The content of what young people consider funny may not seem particularly funny to adults. Nonetheless, it’s crucial to be interested and entertained—welcoming the challenge to empathically see the situation from the 13-year-old perspective. It’s also important to stay with and build on the mood shift, asking for additional humorous thoughts, favorite jokes, or recent events. With clients who respond well, counselors can pursue further experimentation with various affective states (e.g., “Tell me about a sad [or scary, or surprising] experience”).

In some cases, young clients may be unable to generate a funny story or a funny memory. This may be an indicator of depression, as depressed clients often report greater difficulty recalling positive or happy events (Weerasekera, Linder, Greenberg, & Watson, 2001). Consequently, it may be necessary for the counselor to generate a funny statement.

S:         I can’t think of anything funny.

JSF:     Really? Well, keep trying . . . I’ll try too (therapist and client sit together in silence for       about 20 seconds, trying to come up with a positive thought or memory).

JSF:     Got anything yet?

S:         Nope.

JSF:     Okay, I think I’ve got one. Actually, this is a joke.  What do you call it when 100 rabbits             standing in a row all take one step backwards?

S:         Huh?

JSF:     (repeats the question)

S:         I don’t know.  I hate rabbits.

JSF:     Yeah.  Well, you call it a receding hare line.  Get it?

S:         Like rabbits are called hares?

JSF:     Yup.  It’s mostly funny to old guys like me.  (JSF holds up his own “hare line”)

S:         That’s totally stupid, man (smiling despite himself). I’m gonna get a buzz cut pretty             soon.

When you tell a joke or a funny story, it can help clients reciprocate with their own stories.  You can also use teasing riddles, puns, and word games if you’re comfortable with them.

We have two additional comments for counselors who might choose to use a teasing riddle which the client may get wrong. First, you should use teasing riddles only when a strong therapeutic relationship is established; otherwise, your client may interpret teasing negatively. Second, because preteen and teen clients often love to tease, you must be prepared to be teased back (i.e., young clients may generate a teasing riddle in response to a your teasing riddle).

Finally, counselors need to be sensitive to young clients who are unable to generate a positive thought or story, even after having heard an example or two. If a young client is unable to generate a funny thought, it’s important for you to remain positive and encouraging. For example:

JSF:     You know what. There are some days when I can’t think of any funny stories either. I’m      sure you’ll be able to tell me something funny next time. Today I was able to think of         some funny stuff . . . next time we can both give it a try again if you want.

Occasionally, young clients won’t be able to generate alternative thoughts or they won’t understand how the pushbutton technique works. In such cases, the counselor can focus more explicitly on changing mood through changing behaviors. This involves getting out a sheet of paper and mutually generating a list of actions that the client can take—when he or she feels like it—to improve mood.

Sometimes depressed young clients will need to borrow from your positive thoughts, affect, and ideas because they aren’t able to generate their own positive thoughts and feelings. If so, the TSPB technique should be discontinued for that particular session. The process of TSPB requires completion of each step before continuing on to the next step.

Step 3: Spread the good mood. Step 3 of this procedure involves teaching about the contagion quality of mood states. Teaching clients about contagious moods accomplishes two goals. First, it provides them with further general education about their emotional life. Second, if they complete the assignment associated with this activity, they may be able to have a positive effect on another person’s mood:

JSF:     I want to tell you another interesting thing about moods. They’re contagious. Do you             know what contagious means? It means that you can catch them from being around other    people who are in bad moods or good moods. Like when you got here. I noticed your             mom was in a pretty bad mood too. It made me wonder, did you catch the bad mood from    her or did she catch it from you? Anyway, now you seem to be in a much better mood. And so I was wondering, do you think you can make your mom “catch” your good             mood?

S:         Oh yeah. I know my mom pretty well. All I have to do is tell her I love her and she’ll get       all mushy and stuff.

JSF:     So, do you love her?

S:         Yeah, I guess so. She really bugs me sometimes though, you know what I mean?

JSF:     I think so. Sometimes it’s especially easy for people who love each other to bug each     other. And parents can be especially good at bugging their kids. Not on purpose, but they     bug you anyway.

S:         You can say that again. She’s a total bugging expert.

JSF:     But you did say you love her, right?

S:         Yeah.

JSF:     So if you told her “I love you, Mom,” it would be the truth, right?

S:         Yeah.

JSF:     And you think that would put her in a better mood too, right?

S:         No duh, man. She’d love it.

JSF:     So, now that you’re in a better mood, maybe you should just tell her you love her and      spread the good mood. You could even tell her something like: “Dude, Mom, you really   bug me sometimes, but I love you.”

S:         Okay. I could do that.

It’s obvious that Sam knows at least one way to have a positive influence on his mother’s mood, but he’s reluctant to use the “I love you” approach. In this situation it would be useful for Sam to explore alternative methods for having a positive effect on his mother’s mood.

Although some observers of this therapy interaction may think the counselor is just teaching Sam emotional manipulation techniques, we believe that viewpoint makes a strong negative assumption about Sam and his family. Our position is that successful families (and successful marriages) include liberal doses of positive interaction (Gottman et al., 1995). Consequently, unless we believe Sam is an exceptionally manipulative boy (i.e., he has a conduct disorder diagnosis), we feel fine about reminding him of ways to share positive (and truthful) feelings with his mother.

To spread a good mood requires a certain amount of empathic perspective taking. Often, youth are more able to generate empathic responses and to initiate positive interactions with their parents (or siblings, teachers, etc.) after they’ve achieved an improved mood state and a concomitant increased sense of self-control. This is consistent with social–psychological literature suggesting that positive moods increase the likelihood of prosocial or altruistic behavior (Isen, 1987). Because of developmental issues associated with being young, it’s sometimes helpful to introduce the idea of changing other people’s moods as a challenge (Church, 1994).  “I wonder if you have the idea down well enough to actually try and change your mom’s mood.”

Once in a while, when using this technique, we’ve had the pleasure of witnessing some very surprised parents. One 12-year-old girl asked to go out in the waiting room to tell her grandmother that she was going to rake the lawn when they got home (something Grandma very much wanted and needed). Grandma looked positively stunned for minute, but then a huge smile spread across her face. The girl skipped around the office saying, “See.  I can do it.  I can change her mood.”

One 14-year-old boy thought a few minutes, then brought his mom into the office and said “Now Mom, I want you to think of how you would feel if I agree to clear the table and wash the dishes without you reminding me for a week.” Mom looked a bit surprised, but admitted she felt good at the thought, whereupon I (John) gave the boy a thumbs up signal and said, “Well done.”

Step 4.

At this point, readers should beware that although we’re describing a Three-Step technique, we’ve now moved to Step 4. We do this intentionally with young clients to make the point that whenever we’re working with or talking about emotions, surprising things can happen.

In keeping with the learn-do-teach model, we ask our young clients to teach the TSPB procedure to another person after they learn it in therapy. One girl successfully taught her younger brother the method when he was in a negative mood during a family hike. By teaching the technique to her brother, she achieved an especially empowering experience; she began to view herself as having increased control over her and her family’s emotional states.

John and Davis Improve Their Moods

Sexual Assault Prevention at the University of Montana

Hey. I’ve got a letter to the editor in the Montana Kaimin out today. I even managed to work in some profanity appropriately geared to college students:). Check it out at: http://www.montanakaimin.com/opinion/letters-petsa-and-personal-responsibility-1.2906452#.UFtDo665W1w

The past two days (9/19 & 9/20) the Missoulian has run articles about an organization named Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE) and their criticism of the University of Montana required Personal Empowerment Through Self-Awareness (PETSA) video series designed to reduce and prevent the incidence of sexual assault. In particular, SAVE has complained that the U of M PETSA video series is not evidence-based. Being a scientist, this was of concern and so I immediately checked the SAVE website and discovered that SAVE is an organization that is not even REMOTELY related to evidence-based programming for sexual assault prevention or anything else. Their entire raison d’etre is to protect men from being falsely accused of intimate partner violence and sexual assault. Their website includes internal inconsistencies and videos that (unlike the PETSA series) have not been vetted by anyone other than the organization itself or other “believers” that men are somehow unfairly targeted.

SAVE claims to only be interested in the truth and scientific evidence. And they say U.S. law have evolved to the point that ANYONE can be convicted of sexual assault or intimate partner violence? Now, being male myself, I’m all about fair treatment for men and so this places me in a precarious position. If I oppose SAVE, am I opposing my own best interests?

Well . . . I’m going out on a limb here to say the SAVE folks are just plain wacky. They say they are only after the truth and that they support evidence-based approaches, but there is ABSOLUTELY NO EVIDENCE that changing laws to make it harder to prove sexual assault would result in a safer and less abusive environment in the U.S.

Although I think it’s important to acknowledge that false allegations happen and it’s important to address these false allegations through legal means, instead of sticking to the facts, SAVE relies on rhetoric and sensationalist debunking of a few incorrect statistics to lead people to believe that false reporting is the rule and not the exception. This phenomenon—when someone accuses someone else of perpetrating something they’re doing themselves—is referred to as projection.

My first big concern is that the Missoulian, in reporting this as news, has given SAVE a semblance of validity that it doesn’t deserve.

My second big concern is that the hard working creators of the PETSA videos will be criticized based on hysterical accusations from an organization using political rhetoric framed as science. Based on viewing 2 SAVE videos online and comparing them to the PETSA production it’s obvious that PETSA is vastly more evidence-based than SAVE – Talk about blatantly false allegations

http://www.montanakaimin.com/opinion/letters-petsa-and-personal-responsibility-1.2906452#.UFtDo665W1w

 

A White Male Psychologist Reflects on White Privilege

I’m a white male writing about white privilege. This irony makes the task all the more challenging.

Gyda Swaney asked if I would write this piece. This brings me mixed feelings. I am honored. I met Gyda in 1981 and I like and respect her as a person and as a Native American leader in Montana. But the fact that she thinks I might have something useful to say to psychologists about white privilege is humbling. Rarely have I been asked to write about something I know so well and understand so little.

On Invisibility

The challenge begins with the definition. White privilege is defined as an “invisible package of unearned assets” (see McIntosh, 1988 or 2001 for more on this).

As a white, male, psychologist, and university professor, I’m pretty much a white privilege poster boy. Consequently, white privilege, by definition, is generally invisible to me . . . although I do occasionally glimpse it from the corner of my eye or notice its shadow if I sneak up on it when it’s not looking. In fact I think I just saw it – as evidenced by my certainty that I can write a sentence as silly as this last one and get it published in the Montana Psych Association Newsletter.

Like most things invisible (think UFOs, Harry Potter with his invisibility cloak on, ghosts) white privilege is problematic and controversial. This is because white privilege is not always invisible; it’s selectively invisible. It’s obvious to many (e.g., oppressed minorities), but beyond the awareness of those who are busily experiencing the luxury of their unearned assets.

Common Responses to White Privilege

This brings up what may be the most fascinating and disturbing component of white privilege: When the idea of white privilege is brought to the attention of those to whom it’s invisible, it typically evokes a response of defensiveness combined with anger, hostility, outrage, and occasionally guilt. And as we know from our work in psychology, dealing with people who are feeling angry, hostile, outraged, and guilty is very difficult.

There’s something about white privilege that has the potential to make everyone angry.

Personal Reflections

Although White privilege precedes me and I hold no responsibility for its origins, I was born into it and have lived with it every day for nearly 55 years. Even my birth, characterized by greater-than-equal access to healthcare, is an example of my white privilege.

Maybe that’s a phrase that captures much of the white privilege experience—greater-than-equal. My whiteness and the whiteness of most Montana psychologists affords us greater-than-equal treatment, greater-than-equal power, greater-than-equal access, and greater-than-equal perceptions of ourselves. But privilege is complicated . . . and so it’s possible that we also have a greater-than-equal means of denying our privilege.

Privilege grows in complexity when we look at all the different factors that contribute to a more privileged status in one person and a less privileged status in others. My wife consistently reminds me of my male privileged status and although I’m inclined to deny this along with my white privilege, I know better. I was born male and being born male is like being dealt an ace as your first card in a round of Texas Hold-Em. In most cultures it’s clear that to be male is to be superior. That’s the case even though, as most males know, being handed an expectation of superiority isn’t always comfortable or easy. Paradoxically or dialectically, being a white male cuts both ways and isn’t only an unearned asset or gift, it’s also an unearned burden. It’s a burden like having to carry too many gold coins and diamonds to the bank. The weight of gold hurts your back and the diamonds cut your hands, but it’s ridiculous to complain about the fact that you have to carry a treasure to the bank.

Solutions

There are no easy ways to make white privilege quickly materialize and become visible. The resistance and pain associated with being told: “You’ve got unearned assets” is natural, partly because most people hold the perception that they’ve worked very hard to get what they deserve. Here’s a short list of ideas:

  • Teaching and learning about Peggy McIntosh’s Invisible Knapsack is a good place to start. One of the items from her knapsack is:

“I can swear, or dress in secondhand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, poverty, or illiteracy of my race.”

  • Damn. That’s a nice privilege.
  • Teaching and learning about white privilege can be dangerous and so courage is another important factor in dealing with white privilege. Boatright-Horowitz and Soeung (2009) titled their commentary in the American Psychologist, “Teaching White Privilege to White Students Can Mean Saying Good-bye to Positive Student Evaluations.” When I recently posted about white privilege on my blog, I received one response that was so rabidly irrational it was frightening. Speaking out against the status quo always risks blowback.
  • A big part of the solution is to stop clinging to ideas about white superiority and instead, openly embrace and value the lessons we learn from other cultures. We should actively seek out other cultural perspectives. That isn’t about making the other culture better than ours . . . it just places it on the same, equal cultural footing where it belongs.
  • It’s also important to work on calming our anxiety over displacement from the top of the economic and power pyramid. We all get displaced someday; denying reality is dysfunctional. Actively sharing power along with values of egalitarian personal and community relationships is functional. This is part of the very important personal and communal work we need to do.

In closing, I’m painfully aware that I write this short column from a position of unearned privilege in a cabin on former Crow country on the beautiful Stillwater River; thank you Gyda Swaney, for handing me this challenge and opportunity.

This essay was published in the Montana Psychologist Newsletter in September, 2012.

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