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How to Influence, Motivate, & Create
A Happy Home Environment

by Dr Matt Moody, Ph.D. 

Dear Dr. Matt,

I am the mother of three children, ages 10, 13, and 15. My question is how parents can help their children make and keep New Year's resolutions and goals. Also, how do we help keep our children accountable throughout the year, especially when we see our own resolutions slipping?

Valerie V. from Tennessee.


Dear Valerie:

When we "help" children do anything good, . . . this is a function of "influence." There are three fundamental ways of influencing others:

Coercion    Cooperation    Compassion

Coercion motivates by Fear. Others will conform to coercive influence out of fear for the harsh consequences that will come crashing upon them. Conformity means that a person will at least try to "look like" they are doing what is desired; but those oppressed by coercive influence rarely put their whole heart into a task.

Modes of Coercion: Control, Intimidation, Threat, Demand, Manipulation, Bullying, Criticizing, Rage, Anger, Revenge, Guilt.

Coercive Influence is Temporary & Reactive. The "apparent" desired behavior only happens as long as a fear-producing threat is present.

* * * * * * *

Cooperation motivates by Fairness. Others will do what you want them to do . . . because a cooperative contract is in place: You do this for me, . . . and I'll do this for you. In latin the idea is expressed as Quid Pro Quo, . . ."something for something."

Modes of Cooperation: Exchange, Dicker, Deal, Trade, Barter, Contract, Negotiate, and Compromise.

Cooperative Influence is Functional & Reactive. The exchange is pragmatic and mutually beneficial, but the desired behavior only happens as long as a payoff is in place.

* * * * * * *

Compassion motivates through Honor. Others will do what they do, . . . because they honor you -- honor that is freely chosen and proactively initiated, it is neither coerced or purchased by a bargain.

Modes of Compassion: Inviting, Accepting, Acknowledging, Respectful, Patient, Kind, Gentle, Loving, Space-Giving, and Open to Creative Possibilities.

Compassionate Influence is Sustained & Proactive. Desired behavior endures beyond moments of direct influence, because those who feel compassionate influence do what they do from heart-felt independence; the experience of loving influence inspires others to live with honor.

(The preceding "C's of Influence" are summarized in the Changing Your Stripes Manual, page 7-12)

* * * * * * *

Obviously, if parents will influence their children optimally in setting and getting good goals, . . . they will do it through compassionate influence, . . . only then will the children do what they do because they own it, . . . and they feel it. This is the way of Honor.

The setting and getting of all good goals stands upon the foundation of a person's integrity of character. Parents can best instill integrity in their children as they demonstrate that compassionate pattern by example. Parents must "live" the same pattern and principles to which they invite their children.

The "goal" of higher character is a foundational one. When high character is firmly in place, productive goal setting and goal getting naturally flows therefrom.

In the end, you can't MAKE your children behave, because "good behavior" comes from the heart, and you can't FORCE the motivations of the heart. Parents may be able to COERCE compliant behavior on the outside, . . . but COERCION cannot cause children to obey on the inside! In the end, parents should encourage and invite "obedient behavior" . . . and not merely "compliant behavior" in their children.

The choices are these: You can be a
or a Shepherd.
Two approaches that parallel
Coercive Influence vs. Compassionate Influence:

The Sheepherder uses Coercive approaches. The Sheepherder drives the sheep from behind with sticks of punishment, and harsh verbal commands. The sheep "comply" because they fear the wrath of the sheepherder. The Sheepherder is compulsive and reactive; the sheepherder reacts on impulses of emotion. The sheepherder flies off the handle and dreams up punishments "on the spot" in the heat of anger . . . AS a child's bad behavior appears. The sheep eventually learn to fear, avoid, and inwardly hate the sheepherder.

The DOWN side of being a Coercive Sheepherder is this: Children will only comply with the "speed limit" while the cop is on the highway . . . and when the cop leaves . . . the children will go any "speed" they want, and act in undisciplined ways, . . . for they have not been taught the law . . . or been shown the "living law" by example.

The Shepherd uses Compassionate approaches. The Shepherd leads the sheep from the front. The Shepherd sets an example of how the sheep should behave from the heart. The Shepherd teaches the sheep the law by which the flock will be governed, and also teaches the attached consequences (as opposed to punishments) that will occur if the law is not obeyed. The sheep learn to love the shepherd, because the shepherd loves them.

The Shepherd is fair and always acts within laws that are clearly established & explained BEFORE a child's bad behavior appears.

The UP side of being a Compassionate Shepherd is this: There is no need for policing the "speed limit," . . . for the children have been taught the law and know the value of living with honor; further they "honor" the shepherd because the shepherd loves and trusts them. They know that the shepherd loves them because they see the "living law" in the way they are treated.

To be Shepherds to their children, Mom and Dad need to get on the same page as to the "laws of family," . . . fair laws that are established for the benefit of the children, . . . peace of mind for the parents, . . . and the order of the household.

Establishing "Family Laws" in a Family Council

When Mom and Dad are on the same page (literally, . . . a page of written expectations, duties, tasks, etc.), then Mom & Dad assemble a family meeting. In the family meeting, instead of "laying down the law" . . . the children are asked for their input on this question:

What can we all do to have a happy, orderly, and peaceful home?

In the family meeting, Mom & Dad discuss with their children the expectations on school homework, times for play, chores to be done, rules of the household, etc. And to help the children see why they need to be contributors to the order of the household, parents might ask these questions:

Who will pay for the food we eat? Who will prepare the food we eat? Who will pay for the roof over our heads? Who will clean the house that we live in?

That Mom & Dad work hard to be providers should NOT be taken for granted by the children. Because the children benefit from food and shelter, they need to be helpful contributors to the orderly & peaceful functioning of the home.

The reason why parents should ask children for their input is guided by a principle:
                                             That which children help create,
                                                           they will support.

If Mom & Dad simply "lay down the law," the children will always perceive that "law" . . . as "Mom & Dad's law." In contrast, when children have input and influence on the laws of the household, they will tend to see the governing structure as "The Family Law." Thus, they will view it as THEIR LAW. they will have ownership of it . . . because they helped create it!

As for "accountability," when expectations, chores, duties, etc., are agreed upon . . . THEN parents ask their children:

What should be a consequence
IF someone fails to follow through with the family laws?

Within Parent-Child relationships, the most effective consequences are not merely punitive, i.e., going to jail, getting flogged, or being put in "the stocks." Instead, the best consequences are ones that are mutually agreed upon in a Family Council, and are naturally connected to the behavior that went against "Family Law."

For example, if a bed is not made in the morning, a connected consequence may be . . . to "make the bed." But not just that person's bed, . . . a negotiation can be agreed to . . . that the violator of "bed making" receives the consequence of making everyone's bed the next morning? When consequences are harder to do . . . than simply following the law in the first place, . . . then those consequences will be an effective learning experience that teach and reinforce obeying the Law from the start.

If parents have deeply ingrained "sheepherder" tendencies . . . then . . . it is a most wise for them to consider "Changing Their Stripes." For if they don't change, . . . such parents will "pass on" their unhappy legacy of coercive influence to the next generation.

Becoming the kind of parents that children will love, respect, and honor . . . is an influence that will be felt for decades to come.

When it comes to goal setting . . . beginning with the best goals is essential:

In setting goals, one must realize that not all goals are worth getting. To arrive at the best destination . . . one must begin the journey by moving the correct direction. This idea is addressed in my book:

Beginning Right: Good Questions, Good Answers. To arrive at good answers, we must first ask good questions! When we start with bad questions, we begin wrong . . . and thus, we will most likely end wrong. Asking unsound questions leads to second-class solutions. When our premise is poor, it's hard to acquire the prize. But the truth is . . . we would not be asking a bad question, if we knew it was bad to begin with, . . . right? The saying goes:

It's not what you don't know that makes you a fool;
but what you "think" you know, . . . that ain't so!

Beginning with a bad assumption is like climbing a ladder leaning against the wrong wall . . . It leads to "progress" . . . that ain't progress at all! So, to begin right, it is wise to question the question, . . . thoroughly double-checking assumptions before launching into an avenue of inquiry. But how do you know when you've got a good question? (Changing Your Stripes, page 157)

Just as entertaining bad questions is a waste of time and energy, setting bad goals is equally unfruitful. When it comes to goal setting for children and young adults, they are especially vulnerable to beginning wrong . . . because they sometimes assume that the "bad examples" in their circle of influence are doing what should be done; and so they follow ill-advised trends and traditions and get their goals from unstable sources.

Every good goal must be weighed against the standards of integrity. An excerpt from my book speaks of the "social pull" to pursue the popular and appealing way, . . . instead of the compassionate and fulfilling way:

Agendas to push, reputations to prove
always on the go . . . busy, hurried, harried.
There is another way to live, there can be calm and flowing ease
where layers of complexity peel away, . . . the pace relaxes.
For there is no other place to be but . . . Here
and no other time to live but . . . Now.
There is nothing more important
than savoring the moment
with ones we love.
Living Simply . . . Simply Living!

(Changing Your Stripes, page 101)

Valerie V. also asks:

"How do parents help keep children accountable throughout the year, . . . especially when they see their own resolutions slipping?"


Children will learn to keep their word and follow through with their commitments, as their parents do the same.

The parenting pattern of "do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do" will backfire in the long run. While many parents may be able to "police" their children into conformity, . . . that superficial compliance will only occur while the "parent/police" is watching. Also, when children grow up and are on their own, . . . . they will be guided by their independent internalized integrity, . . . or lack thereof. When children are taught the hypocrisy of "do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do" . . . they will tend to "pass on" this lousy legacy to the next generation.

So, to the scenario of helping kids follow through with their New Years Resolutions even when the parents are slipping on theirs. . . . What to do?

Again, parents need to realize that being lazy and complacent about "slipping" on their resolutions . . . will be the legacy they pass on to their children. So, all moments of such "slipping" needs to be met with a humility sufficient to admit and "own" one's errors, and further, a resolve to recommit and continue on with one's resolutions.

Parents that can show humility to their children, . . . will teach the same behavior to their children. Parents that are defensive, rationalizing, and "always right" (even though they ARE sometimes wrong), . . . will teach the same behavior to their children.

New Year's Resolution
for Influencing your Children:
Do what I do, follow me, I will lead the way!

Realistically speaking, we all "slip" at one time or another, . . . and thus, goal-setting expectations need to include a practical flexibility that regroups and recommits and refocuses whenever needed, and then keeps moving forward. My book also speaks to this idea:

You can try to run from your troubles, but you cannot run from yourself. Wherever you go, . . . you will bring yourself with you. Within each of us are unresolved problems waiting to happen. Old unresolved issues that are like land mines longing to be stepped on, . . . anxiously waiting to explode. And these same old issues arise because of who we are! All our problems are portable; we bring them with us wherever we go! Without a fundamental change from our core, . . . a change from the heart, our built in troubles will eventually surface as we face future situations we have yet to master. Hence, the same old creature relocates to a new relationship, or a new situation, with energetic hopes and optimistic anticipations, only to find the same stale issues arising again . . . and again. This broken-record routine will tend to play its annoying tune over and over until you . . . Change Your Stripes!

Mastering a challenging situation is ultimately a matter of mastering yourself! You must not expect that things will get better simply because tough times decrease via avoidance. Life is to be lived with gusto! Challenges are to be met head on, . . . for it is directly "in" our challenges that we find our ultimate destiny. In the ever-appearing adversities of life, we can increase in strength of character; a character that at mortal death is the only possession of which it can be said: "you took it with you." What you will take into the eternal world is . . . what you become!

The greatest prize
for Life's labors isn't
in material possessions
or impressive accomplishments,
but in the progress of personal character
You labor for your own becoming, this is your richest reward.
Who You Become is your greatest possession.
Make it your Masterpiece!

(Changing Your Stripes, page xvi)

But what if a New Year's Goal IS . . . to become a person of higher character? Thus, if a person lacks integrity in the first place . . . how then does that same person muster the fortitude to follow through with the goal of getting higher character? In other words, when a person lacks integrity, . . . that same disposition of "lower character" tends to perpetuate itself over time, because "low character" people, by definition, are the ones that fail to follow through.

I answer this self-defeating cycle at another page at this website; the key to escaping this character conundrum is understanding what I call "The Migraine Mental Block" OR "Einstein's Mind Bind. You can read about this at the "Ask Dr Matt" page: Why can't I keep my New Year's Resolutions?

Valerie, as you apply these ideas in your family setting, they will make a profound difference.


Matt Moody, Ph.D.
Social Psychologist

P.S. Here are some quotes contained in my book on the subject of Change and Fulfillment.

The Journey
by Reed H. Bradford

For this is the Journey that men make: To find themselves.
If they fail in this, it matters little whatever else
they may achieve: Money, Fame, Revenge.
When they end the Journey, they can put them all into a bin marked "ashes."
They mean nothing. But if one has found that he has within him a divine soul,
if he has discovered the principles upon
which the fulfillment of that soul is based, and
if he implements those principles, then he has a mansion
within which he can live with dignity and joy each day of his life.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

They must often change, who would be constant
in happiness or wisdom.

- Confucius

The only man who behaved sensibly was my tailor;
he took my measurement anew
every time he saw me,
while all the rest went on with
their old measurements and expected them to fit me.

- George Bernard Shaw 

A great many people think they are thinking
when they are really just rearranging their prejudices.

- William James

Not everything that is faced can be changed,
but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

- James A. Baldwin

If we work upon marble, it will perish.
If we work upon brass, time will erode it.
If we rear temples, they will crumble to dust.
But if we work upon men’s immortal minds, if we imbue them
with high principles, with love of God and love of their fellowmen,
we engrave on those tablets something which no time will erase.
and which will brighten and brighten to all eternity.

- Daniel Webster

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