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Friday, January 23, 2009

Love and Logic- A Parental Oxymoron?

Last week, I began a parenting class called Love and Logic developed by Jim Fay and his son Charles Fay, PhD. And Dr. Foster Cline. The course is a seven week deal and in week one I have already found a few things to think about and at least one tool to put in my parenting tool bag. Many of you that know me (or read my column regularly) know that I have four kids and that they are, as of my writing this, 18, 15, and 14 year old twins.

As such, you may be asking yourself why am I taking this class when, for the most part, the die has been cast when it comes to the raising of my kids. First, I argue that you never know what I may learn to help me with putting the finishing touches on the successful, well adjusted adults I hope to turn loose on society in the next couple of years. Second, I will have grandkids one day, hopefully not in the next decade as everyone still has college and graduate school yet, but one day I will become a parenting coach to my kids and I wish to be a good one. Last, but still very important to me, are you my gentle reader to whom I hope to provide valuable, friendly help in your own families.

The class consists of video and written materials that are professionally done by The Love and Logic Institute, and classroom discussion provided by our facilitator, a counselor in the school district my wife works for and the kids attend school. One of the biggest advantages of this program is that corporal punishment, in fact punishment of any kind, is not necessary. Natural consequences are used to teach life lessons while the consequences are small.

For example, the child learns thrift by earning money doing chores in the home and then spending that money with very few limits from the parent. The parent actually hopes for failure, such as the child buying a cheaply made toy that breaks easily. The parent then provides empathetic love, not a lecture, and the child figures out for themselves that squandering a hard earned few dollars on a cheap plastic toy is not something they should do very often. Learning such a lesson with a toy that costs five bucks is far better than buying a first car for too much when that car has a great stereo and a bad motor.

Kids do not come with instructions, or if they do my manual was left out of the packaging… all four times! In addition, parenting changes as society changes; both in terms of challenges and in the definition of success. This means parents should constantly be on the lookout for good ideas and learning from parents who have been successful. While I am not convinced this class will solve all parenting challenges, and I still have a few questions left to be answered, the class has already proven to be helpful and I encourage you to find one in the Conroe or Montgomery County area. The program is popular and you should have little trouble finding one to fit your schedule.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

To Forgive and Forget

"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." -- Mahatma Gandhi
Every so often I am floored by the actions of someone else. By this I mean a story so attention getting and inspiring, I can’t help but derive a lesson from it. Usually it takes the form of a person who rises so far above themselves and the frail, flawed, nature of who we usually are as human beings, it sucks the air out of me and causes my eyes to tear with the glimpse of what we might be; both as individuals and as a species, if we could just be as Lincoln referred “our better angels” more of the time. Sometimes the person doing the punching is fictional; the author using my buy-in of the character to teach or extol. Only rarely do I get the pleasure of meeting the people who floor me, but I am always the better for the meeting.
This week I was reminded of an incredible story of forgiveness and how that story has and continues to change lives. The story is of Amy Biehl, an American Fulbright scholar killed in 1993 while serving in South Africa. After Amy was pulled from her car, then beaten and stabbed to death, her parents found the capacity to forgive the four men convicted of Amy’s killing, not opposing the amnesty ruling of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Later, the Biehl’s met, and subsequently developed a relationship with, two of the men who were involved in the killing of their daughter. Today both men work for the foundation Amy’s parents started in an effort to use art, economic development, music and sports to continue to work for peace in South Africa. In fact, in accordance with African culture and morays, the two men call the Biehl’s their parents, and during the writing of one article Mrs. Biehl actually went with one of the men to buy a car seat for the man’s young daughter. I am sure I do not have the strength to forgive the killers of one of my family members; my acknowledgement of my weakness only serves to raise my admiration of the Biehls.
In our daily lives, often we are offended by slights big and small; such as when someone cuts us off while driving, or is curt with us in the grocery store. Our inclination is to respond with rudeness for rudeness, insult for insult, temper for temper. Society tends to hold up the person with the biting, quick wit who bests such people in verbal combat and our media entertainment includes the heroism of those who use physical abuse to pay pain for pain.
This is bad enough, but this treatment extends to our marital and familial relationships as well. Because we live with these people, we can think about a stinging retort for the next time we are together. If this damage is not held in check then our loved ones look for a retort of their own and sometimes the capacity to forgive these injuries is larger than we can generate, resulting in permanent damage to these special relationships.
My aim is not to preach or point out the fact that we are all at times, all too human. My fervent hope is these extraordinary stories of forgiveness, love and tolerance will give us pause the next time someone, stranger or loved one, causes us pain; and in spite of ourselves we will find the strength to become, if only for that moment, our better angels.
Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Year's Resolution

The end of one year and the beginning of another is traditionally a time of reflection and evaluation for most of us; this is understandable, especially once a person is old, and mature, enough to recognize the finite nature of life and the desire to accomplish certain things during that life or leave behind something to those who follow. For example, I am still deeply engaged in a search for the perfect root beer float. For those of you also engaged in this critical search; first you must put a glass mug of suitable size and heft in the freezer and secure a good quality ice cream, which is not too dense. You will also need a spoon of about tablespoon size, as you need a spoon big enough to hold both the ice cream and a bit of root beer. We had better put this on hold and get to our resolutions; if you want my recipe, email me at the address below.

I suggest making no more than three resolutions. If you try to do more than a couple at a time, you are reducing your chances of being successful at any of them. Pick one or two you believe are most pressing; working on one health and one life improvement resolution allows you to feel as though you are improving across the broader scope of your life, while still focusing deeply. In my case, I would lose weight and get in better shape, but I spill my root beer float when I get on the treadmill.

New Year’s resolutions can be framed in two ways, capitalizing on what you do well or trying to improve what you are not doing well. In the US, we tend to focus on fixing the things we aren’t doing well or want to stop, but a shortcoming of this way of looking at challenges is we become fixated on the negative. On the other hand, if you focus on capitalizing on what you do well or want to do more, then you are grounded in the positive and focusing on the good in your life.

Obviously, if you are doing something destructive to yourself or others, such as illegal drug use or abusive behavior, then getting help stopping that behavior immediately is important. However, if you are eating too much for example, but enjoy bike riding, or snowshoeing, then joining a bike riding club or taking advanced snowshoeing lessons will increase how much you engage in those activities, provide more exercise, and thereby help you lose weight. This would be an example of focusing on the positive and is called appreciative inquiry.

After you decide on your resolutions and frame them in the manner most comfortable to you, write them down! Then break up the resolution into manageable, preferably daily, bites. This helps make your resolution a habit and allows you to track success.

Tell others of your resolutions so they can support you, and surround yourself with those who will provide loving support. Make sure you kindly make suggestions to your family and friends so they know how to support you better. Be sure you are a good friend and provide them the kind of support they want in achieving their resolutions as well. If they cannot be supportive, you may have to make changes in the friends you spend time with.

Last, realize that failure is only failure when you quite trying. I do not believe this to be just a trite saying. Most smokers for example have to try four times or more before quitting smoking. Many people have to start exercising several times before it becomes a habit.

We have to leave this for now, as I have run out of room and I have to go get some root beer. Have a wonderful new year full of possibility and promise!

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at