When your child is having a meltdown at Wal-Mart, and your spouse is coming unglued because you forgot -- once again -- to make the bed, do you:
A. Shout to gain control of your family?
B. Crack a sarcastic comment?
C. Slow down and think about yourself?
If you answered C, you're on the right track, according to Hal Edward Runkel, author of "ScreamFree Parenting" and a speaker at a seminar series this weekend at Raleigh's Brooks Avenue Church of Christ. Runkel, 37, a former minister and now a licensed marriage and family therapist, said the counterintuitive approach works best.
"I hope people learn to focus more on themselves," he said.
That's hard advice to give in a church setting where people are conditioned to think of their family members first. But Runkel, who lives in Atlanta, thinks it's the key to successful relationships.
"When we lose it," he said, "the 'it' is our adulthood. We let emotion drive our behavior rather than principles."
Runkel, who bought the copyright to the term screamfree, said he learned this bit of advice in graduate school where it was buried in layers of academic jargon. By stripping it down to its essentials, he thinks he might help people without advanced degrees.
John Greenwood, a Brooks Avenue church leader, invited Runkel to come to Raleigh. In this economic climate, he said, "kids get the brunt of our anxiety. ... If we can learn to be calm in the midst of crisis, that will be better for our kids."
To Runkel, it's useless to try to change or control people. Yet people revert to this type of thinking all the time.
"If I had a better partner or better kids," Runkel said people tell him all the time.
His hard-love response? "When you start off with 'if only,' you're saying you've handed over the reins of your life to someone else, like your kids."
His advice to parents is to ask not "How do I get my kids to behave?" but "How do I want to behave when they don't?"
Take the child throwing a tantrum at Wal-Mart. When parents shout back they become as impulsive as the child. Better to hit the "pause" button, slow down and model restraint.
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