Focus on the Family Broadcast

Game Plan for Having a Happier Family (Part 2 of 2)

Game Plan for Having a Happier Family (Part 2 of 2)

Psychologist and best-selling author Dr. Kevin Leman outlines five key ways parents can improve the relational dynamics in their family. (Part 2 of 2)



Dr. Kevin Leman: What is a dad gonna say to a kid that does that?

Jim Daly: Why did you do that?

Kevin: You did what?! You must be the sucker of the year. You gave your buddy’s two … you’re 14 years of age. You don’t even have a driver’s permit. What is wrong with you? I’m telling you, if a bird had your brain, he’d fly sideways. What is wrong …? That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.”

End of Recap

John Fuller: Well, I wonder if you’ve ever reacted like that over-reacted like that when your child said something or did something that was just ridiculous. That’s Dr. Kevin Leman and he joined us last time to explain why so many families seem more angry than happy and are overscheduled and they just can’t communicate effectively.

We’ll examine those family problems and offer some great solutions on today’s “Focus on the Family” with Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.

Jim: Okay, John, I am grinning ear to ear because I’m laughing at myself, ’cause at times I must admit, that’s me. I mean, I love my boys, Trent and Troy, but I’m guilty of the same thing. I’m laughing because of the overexaggeration that he expressed there. You know, sometimes you just get frustrated and you’re thinking, “My goodness, you gotta be thinkin’. You got a brain in that head of yours? Or what’s goin’ on?”

John: I’ve told you 8 million times not to do that (Laughter) and you still do it.

Jim: Yeah and of course, it wasn’t 8 million.

John: No.

Jim: It’s probably been 5 maybe, but you know, if you missed the program last time, Dr. Leman warned us parents about that. He said that we need to respond, not react. And you know, that’s normal. If you’re a reactionary parent, don’t hang your head. It’s where a lot of us live, but we’ve gotta move to a more responsive reaction to our kids.

He also warned us about being too busy and that’s a good one. We need to prioritize time with our family. I know for busy moms and dads, that can be tough and we need to aim to be together at home instead of chasing all over town with activities. And I’m tellin’ ya, this is something Jean and I have done and it is working very effectively. Let the kids choose one thing to do outside of school, with basketball or football or whatever … band, whatever it might be, just one thing so you don’t have to, you know, be chauffeur for three or four things.

And that ties right into our Make Every Day Count campaign, John, where we encourage families to look for those opportunities to connect throughout the day and especially, at the dinner table. That is a great place to remember to engage in dialogue. And we’ve got some great tools to help you.

John: We do. In fact, you can learn more about Make Every Day Count when you’re at and then look for the CD or download of the entire conversation with Dr. Leman. You can also call us if you’d like and we can tell you more, 800-A-FAMILY.


Jim: Dr. Leman, we covered the first two days from your book, Have a Happy Family by Friday. I’m still workin’ on it. And today we’d like to start with Wednesday, something you called “the perfect storm” of adolescence. And by the way, welcome back to the program.

Kevin: Hey, it’s great to be with you. Thank you so much.

Jim: All right, Dr. Leman, I think John and I, we’re livin’ the perfect storm, right John? (Laughter) The adolescent years.

John: I thought I was livin’ the life and living a perfect storm? At times that seems appropriate, yeah.

Jim: There’s nothin’ like living in the perfect storm. You talk about that, Dr. Leman as your adolescent era, when your kids are at that age when they’re going through puberty. Hormones are changing. It’s chaotic. Describe it as you meant it for the perfect storm.

Kevin: Well, the pubescent and the adolescent are really interesting. They all of a sudden, become creature like. (Laughter)

Jim: Like Black Lagoon type creature? Or what kind?

Kevin: Yeah, a little bit. You know, I remember listening to one of my daughters talking to herself downstairs. And I thought, my goodness, who’s she talkin’ to at this time in the morning, early in the morning? And I snuck down the stairs to just see and she was sitting in the sink (Laughter), sitting in the sink and she was talkin’ to herself. And she was testing her hair and doin’ this and doing all this contortions. And I came up behind her and she saw me in the mirror and her eyes narrowed and she looked at me and she said, “You are so strange.”

Jim: She said that to you? (Laughter)

Kevin: I said, “Let me get this straight. I’m strange.” (Laughter)

Jim: How old was she at this point?

Kevin: Got it … 14.

Jim: Fourteen?

Kevin: Yeah. And so, you know, it is that time in a kid’s life but the perfect storm is interesting. This is what I want people to really pay attention to. Your kid is physically growing up. He or she is becoming that young man, that young woman. Again they are naturally … okay, this is part of their development. They’re beginning to withdraw from you.

They’re starting to garner a degree of independence from you. Now this is part of the triad of the perfect storm. Now you couple that with a peer group that’s going through the same thing but they are empowered with technical know-how, by way of that iPhone, etc., that has never been seen before or in our society.

Jim: Right, so socially they’re heavily connected.

Kevin: Now the third part of that is, you have parents who have more on their plate than they can handle and they both work and they’re stressed and the economy’s not what it should be and all those things. You have the components there for the perfect storm, for the Hurricane Sandy, that is gonna be disastrous for the family.

And so, my question is, who is the captain or co-captain of the good ship family? And I know you’re on the sea of life and it’s a little rocky, but the question is do you have a port of call? Do you know where you’re going? Is there direction in this family? And that’s where I go back to what I’ve talked about for years, about being an authority without being an authoritarian.

And it gets back to the Monday part of this about talking to your kids in such a way as that you’re open to what they come up with. Your 15-year-old wants to go to a rock concert 30 miles away. I mean you tell me what most parents say. I’ll tell you what they say. “Hey, we’re not spendin’ my hard-earned money we earned to send you to some rock concert 30 miles away to listen to some meat head sing. That’s the end of the discussion.” Now yeah, that’s one way of handling it, but it’s not a very good way of handling it. It’s certainly nothing that’s gonna foster a good relationship between a dad and a daughter.

But you might, you know, find out, well, who is singing? And I mean, hear the plan out. Am I saying that when a kid comes to you with something, you just rubber stamp it and say okay, yeah, you can do anything you want? No, that’s the permissive parent. You have to be in authority. But you gotta give kids an opportunity to say what’s on their mind. And the smart parent says, “Honey, can I ask your opinion about something?” Now notice, I’m the one that says don’t ask your kids questions. But when you preface it, “Can I ask your opinion about something?” what are you saying? You’re saying, “I value what you think and what you say.”

Jim: Well and you’re also leading them and teaching them how to draw a better conclusion, hopefully.

Kevin: And keep in mind that these kids really want to please you. I wrote a book, Have a New Teenage by Friday. And one of the things I made really clear in that book is, these kids are dyin’ for you to affirm them. Give an opportunity.

Jim: Hm.

Kevin: And kids, sometimes I think we just write them off. We don’t give them an opportunity to really enter into our family. I think your 11-year-old and your 12-year-old could pay all the bills in your family online, better than you could, parent.

Jim: (Chuckling) There’s a challenge for you, John!

John: Uh-hm, yeah…

Jim: You ready for that?

John: We’ve actually tried that. I heard you say that years ago. (Laughter)

Kevin: Yeah.

John: We tried that. Each–

Jim: Did it work?

John: –each child had their season of pain in–

Kevin: Yeah.

John: –trying to manage the family finances.

Jim: How’d your credit score do?

John: Uh (Laughter) …

Kevin: But here’s the point. It’s good for a kid, John, to see how much a mortgage payment is. And how much a car payment is or rent is, whatever. It brings a reality to these kids’ lives. That’s what’s cool–

Jim: I’d–

Kevin: –about this.

Jim: –probably just peek over their shoulder and make sure they’re payin’ it the right way.

John: Well, yeah, you (Laughter) gotta double check. You delegate, but you do double check.

Jim: Oh, without a doubt. Kevin, you talk about maintaining a positive relationship with your teenager, especially when those behaviors or those attitudes are negative and can be difficult. How do you do that really? How do you keep that attitude positive when the behavior is so negative? For whatever reason, you’re there. They’re already exhibiting the kind of negative behavior you don’t want. And I’m lookin’ for that help; where do I find it? What do I have to do, because I’ve got an out-of-control 14-year-old?

Kevin: I can tell you exactly what can help you, Jim and John, but you’re not gonna believe me. Toilet paper.

Jim: (Laughing) Toilet paper?

John: Toilet paper!

Kevin: Toilet paper, yeah.

Jim: This is for you, John!

Kevin: Okay, I got a 14-year-old and he’s not doin’ things I want to do. He’s not doin’ school well. He’s got a mouth goin’ on. He’s got an attitude that’s out there, okay. Toilet paper. I’m gonna get toilet paper, 18 sheets–

Jim: (Laughing) You’re kidding!

Kevin: –double-ply. And I’m gonna say, “You and I need to have a talk.” And I’m going eyeball to eyeball with him and I pick these up and I’m gonna tear off 14 of ’em in a row. And I’m gonna drop ’em to the floor, which leaves four standing.

And I’m saying, “You know, we’ve come to a precipice here in our family and quite frankly, I’m not sure what to do. But we need to have this talk. You have four more years to serve in this prison. And you’ve made it very clear to Mom and I that you are very unhappy here. And by law, you know, again you have four years to serve here. And these next four years, they can either be positive years where you reap the benefit of being a member of this family, or they continue to just slide backwards like they are right today.”

“You think that we are the two most “out-of-it” people in the world, that we’re restrictive of your freedoms, that we don’t know much. And all that could be true and I realize that’s your reality. And I’m gonna give you that reality. I just want you to think about this. You’re gonna be 16 in just two years.” Again, you’ve got toilet paper in front of him, okay?

“Do you really think that Mom and Dad would ever give the keys to our car to a kid that was not responsible in the home or school? It’s just a question. You don’t have to answer but it’s just a question for you to think about. So, really, you know, I’m sorta puttin’ the tennis ball light back on your side of the court. I need to see some evidence here that you want to be a willing member of this family. I’m sick of asking you to do things. There’s some basic things that you know you need to do every week. You have responsibilities in school and quite frankly, it takes an awful lot of effort to bring the grades home that you’re getting, ’cause you’re not getting’ much.”

Kevin: “You go to a public school. This isn’t rocket science. What we’re asking of you isn’t really that much. But here’s what I want you to think about. In just four short years, somebody’s gonna look at a piece of paper or a computer screen that’s gonna have some numbers on it and some facts about you. That person’s gonna make determination about who you are based upon what they see on that piece of paper.”

“And it’s gonna determine what kind of car you drive someday and what kind of house you live in and where you live and the kind of money you’ll make and the kind of freedoms you’ll have as an adult. So, I know you ‘re not enjoying this conversation. I can see it in your eyes. And I’m gonna give you that right, you don’t have to say a word. Just think about it. But you just need to know that things are gonna continue to go downhill here shortly unless we have an attitude adjustment on your part. I’ll be glad to meet you halfway, but I have to see somethin’ short of shortly.”

Jim: And that’s one way to deal with that perfect storm.

Kevin: Well, it’s one way you know, there’s a slow leak theory or a blow-out theory. I’m of the blow-out theory variety. If we’re gonna have a blowout, let’s have it now at 14 and not let things slide till he’s 16 or 17 and all that. And all I’m saying is, in reality, yeah, we just want you to pull your weight–

Jim: Right.

Kevin: –you know. I know your sister’s over the top. And maybe she’s that little Miss Goody Two-Shoes that’s the Honor Society student and all that and well-liked and here’s this kid who doesn’t measure up; I understand that. But somehow you gotta get behind his eyes and say, “Yeah, I know it’s hard following her. I’m not asking you to be who she is. I just want you to be [a] responsible you.”

Jim: Hm. Sometimes I’m sure that child can feel it’s hard following you as Dad or as Mom, too, right?

Kevin: Oh, yeah.

Jim: To measure up to your standard, what they see in you.

Kevin: Well, that’s where the critical eye that I’ve talked about for years comes into mind. If you have that critical eye, critical spirit and you’re so good at nailin’ what’s wrong, you’re gonna drive the determination and the need to please you right out of your kid. They’re not gonna care about pleasing you at all.

Jim: You talk also about that perfect storm Wednesday. That’s the place we’re at by Having a Happy Family by Friday. We’re on the Wednesday of that process. You also talk about, as a parent, stepping over volatile situations, rather than stepping in it. What did you mean by that?

Kevin: Well, sometimes when kids are kids. They’re gonna slam doors. They’re gonna roll eyes. They’re gonna do, you know, they’re gonna have a little attitude. And I think sometimes we just meet that bad attitude with another bad attitude. “Hey, don’t you roll your eyes in this house, young woman!” You know …

Jim: You guilty of that, John?

John: Oh, all the time! (Laughter)

Kevin: It’s just so smart to say, “Oh, Honey. Oh, that was so good. Do that again only do it in slow motion.”

Jim: It’s counterintuitive, Kevin. I mean, it seems so much more natural to say, “Hey!” Get in your face and let ’em have it.

Kevin: Well, and what does that slammed door mean? Does it mean you’re sick of living in this four-bedroom home with Wi-Fi and all the (Laughter) amenities of life? I think sometimes, you know, humor. When I go and do some of the shows that I do, the secular shows in particular, and we’re talking about a subject like sex or something like that, I use humor just to keep ’em at bay a little bit. And I think humor is an essential ingredient for a family to have. And sometimes the humor has to be directed at yourself as a parent, where you say, “Well, I made a fool of myself, didn’t I?” And kids remember. I mean, my kids throw up things that I’ve said that are just stupid and funny and …

Jim: We tend not to remember those things (Laughing) very well as parents!

Kevin: Well, but the kids remember ’em and you don’t want to come across as holier than thou. I always tell people in churches, so many people speak in “Christianese.” And Christianese isn’t gonna bring anybody to Jesus Christ in their life, you know.

Kevin: But being a friend, helping people, just loving them as they are is a great witness to the fact that you do love God and you have a heart for other people. So, I think anything we do to get kids to get into other people’s lives who have little and show kids how to service other people, I think goes a long way in developing the kind of character you want to develop while the kids are in your home. So, you have to agree that we leave an indelible imprint on our kids’ lives. But what kind of an indelible imprint? A critical-eyed one? Or one that just says, you know, I accept you as you are. You’re different from your brother. You’re different from your sister and I flat out love you.

Jim: So, is that stepping over it rather than in it?

Kevin: Well, yeah, stepping over it is not to make a mountain out of a mole hill. I mean all of a sudden, your kid goes Goth on you. (Laughter) And they’re dressed in black and the grades have fallen off the table from an A, A-student to an F-student. This kid’s smokin’ weed or something worse than that. I mean, when that happens, and that precipice is there and he falls off it, something major is happening.

But I mean, kids want to get an earring or color their hair weird or whatever. I mean, I bleached my hair in high school and mine turned out orange, you know. I mean, I smoked Salem cigarettes when I was a kid. When I met my wife as a janitor, I was smokin’ cigarettes. She told me later kissing me was like kissing an ashtray. But for several months we dated and she was the real believer. I wasn’t, although I was brought up in a church. But she didn’t beat me over the head. She just loved me.

And I think so many times we sort of bend over our kids and say, “Bloom, bloom, bloom. When are you gonna bloom?” And one of my favorite one-liners is, “a watched bloomer never blooms.”

Jim: A watched bloomer never blooms.

Kevin: You have to back off and you know, you’re gonna find out, I’m tellin’ you. With kids your age and the teenage years, you get a few curve balls. You know, because they grow up. You think they’re goin’ in this trajectory and all of a sudden, they hang a left or right-hand turn and you say, “What’s that all about?”

Jim: Right.

Kevin: And your boys are gonna be night and day different.

Jim: Oh, yeah, they are already.

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: Talk about the bread and water strategy. There’s something in me that’s very attracted to that! (Laughter) The bread–

Kevin: Well–

Jim: –and water strategy.

Kevin: –you know, sometimes when kids become over the top and just demanding and everything else, I think you come to a point where a kid ask[s just a simple question for mom, “Can I get a glass of milk? Would you bring me a glass of milk?” You give him that Vitamin N, which is, “No, honey, I don’t feel like gettin’ you anything right now” and you walk away.

Now that’s what I mean by the bread and water treatment. You don’t do anything for ’em. “Mom, you gotta drive me over to the library. We have a meeting over there. I gotta be there.” And she’s the secretary of the group. “Honey, the car’s not going anywhere and neither are you. I’m not drivin’ you anywhere.” Sometimes you gotta give kids just a little reality discipline that says, “You know what? I wasn’t put on this earth to be walked over by you.” And when the kids gonna pressure, “What’s wrong with you? You always let me go here. You always let me do that.” “Well, I’m not real happy about our conversation we had, to tell you the truth.”

Jim: Now when you say that, temperament I’m sure has to play into this and I’m thinking of the parent’s temperament. I’m thinking of a mom’s temperament that maybe she’s got that Golden Retriever heart that’s hard for her to do. It’s hard for her to say no. That’d be too harsh for her to say no to driving them to the library. How do you encourage them to get over that heart feeling?

Kevin: Well, I wrote a book called Smart Women Know When to Say No and it talks about the pleasers. And here’s the problem with you women, lovely creatures that you are. You tend to be the pleasers, where men tend to be the controllers, okay?

Now I try to teach women to develop what I call “no power,” which is starting the sentence with the word “no.” But here’s the principle. It’s a biblical principle. If you love your child, you’ll discipline him, okay? And so, women tend to be that softness. That’s what makes us a couple, okay?

And so, that woman’s softness can’t undermine, you know, Dad. You have to be on the same page. You have to come together if you’re gonna do the toilet paper thing or you’re gonna have a little reality with this kid, you’re gonna pull both ears in and sort of give ’em a little focused attention which he might need or she might need. You have to be on the same page. If you don’t, you will be defeated by the enemy and that enemy is your child. (Laughing) You brought the Trojan Horse in your home.

Jim: We’re movin’ into Day 4. We gotta cover Day 4 and 5 quickly. But we’ve talked about choosing your words on Monday.

Jim: And how you spend your time on Tuesday. The perfect storm on Wednesday. And of course, now we roll into Thursday, aiming for a happier family by Friday. And we’re talking about focusing on your marriage. Now here at Focus on the Family, I’m curious as to why it would wait until Thursday, that your marriage is so critical. I would expect that to be Monday or Tuesday. But uh–

Kevin: Yeah, I’m gonna call my publisher–

Jim: –Thursday.

Kevin: –and tell him to change those chapters! (Laughter)

Jim: Tell me why–

Kevin: Jim Daly said it.

Jim: –tell me why–

Kevin: –so …

Jim: –Thursday was the day to work on your marriage? It seems late in the week to me!

Kevin: It is. Well, I start off I think, if I remember right, in the book about the foundation. We built one home in our 40-some years of marriage.

Jim: That’s why you stayed married.

Kevin: Yeah. (Laughter) Yeah. I’m a lucky dude. But I remember being out there early one morning and the main contractor, the head guy was out there. To show you how stupid I was, I said, “What are you doin’ out here?” He says, “Well, today we’re layin’ the foundation.” And stupid me, I said, “Well, what’s the big deal? Why you’re here? How come your brother isn’t here?” ’cause he’s the construction foreman. He said, “Well, Kevin, we’re doing your foundation today. And if the foundation isn’t right, the whole building’s wrong.”

And so, you have to remember that the best thing you can do as a parent with kids is to make sure you’re a couple, to be thoroughly married, to take time for your marriage, to take time to refresh, to regenerate, to put each other first, to show your kids what a loving union’s all about. ‘Cause they are taking notes, emotional notes, psychological notes, spiritual notes, on are you for real or not?

See, your kids want to see you live that faith out. But kids see that. They see our heart. They know who we are. I have this conversation with Sande a lot. I tell her I want to finish strong. I want to finish strong. I want to make sure that I’ve given everything I have to help families. Young families today are rather clueless to put it bluntly. They don’t realize you need to discipline kids, that discipline is a part of life, that you need to be a couple. These are simple things. Don’t let all these other things get between you. You know, be a couple. Be a good parent, not a perfect parent. Be a good parent. Be a good husband. Be a good wife. I mean, I think if you do those things, you’re gonna really receive the blessings from your heavenly Father.

Jim: Well, that brings us to Day 5, the completion of Have a Happy Family by Friday, which is build that family legacy. What did you mean by that? What does it mean to build a legacy in your family? To know that port of call you talked about earlier, what are we aiming for as mom and dad, husband and wife?

Kevin: Well, I thought about a tombstone lately. The older you get, you think about things like you’re not gonna be around forever. And a real perk in life for me personally is, in the summertime I get to leave Tucson, Arizona and I hide out at a little lake in Western New York State, in Upstate New York. And I want to have a, I guess it would look like a tombstone, laid in the earth there that just says, “Welcome to the Blue House.”

It’s not the house itself that makes this house so special, but the people in that house [who] come and enjoy the Blue House. I’d like that to be there for my kids. That’s a house that … as a little boy, we were poor. I had one vacation in my life, one weekend vacation and one week vacation with an uncle and aunt. I remember as a little boy thinkin’ about someday I’m gonna have a cottage on a lake. And now I have that cottage on the lake. And I’d like my kids to be able to come back to that and that would be their place of refreshment. But I want to remind them that, of all things, it’s the people in that home. I want them to know that their mom and dad loved them with all their heart.

Would I take a bullet for my kid? Absolutely. For my wife, without a doubt. I want them to know that I really love them. And I want to make a difference.

Jim: Well, and I think you’ve described what that legacy should be like–

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: –that your children are really the legacy. It’s not necessarily the home, but the people in the home.

Kevin: Well, you have a legacy, you know. John has a legacy. All of us have a story and all of our stories are different. And none of our stories are more important than the other person’s story. And that’s one of the things I’m really proud about our kids. Our kids are givers. We’ve got five kids, who are givers and not takers. You look around life today; most kids are takers. They’re on the take.

Jim: Yeah.

Kevin: So, I’m just glad to be a small part of creating five people and helping them find their way in life.

Jim: Yeah, it’s been good.

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: And you talked about that perfect storm of adolescence. I like the use of the toilet paper. If you missed that, get the CD or download it, how to train your 14-year-old with toilet paper. I’ll leave it at that. But so many good things, Kevin that you’ve left with us this time and last time. Thanks for being with us. Author of the book, Have a Happy Family by Friday, Dr. Kevin Leman, great to have you. Thanks.

Kevin: Hey, my pleasure. Thanks for havin’ me.


John: And I gotta say I really appreciated your reminder, Dr. Leman, about keeping a strong marriage. It really is the foundation of the family and we need to keep that solid. Well, what a great two-day conversation we’ve had and what a resource this is for your family. Now you might laugh a little bit about the title of Dr. Leman’s book, but as you’ve heard in the past couple of days, a few simple things could really change how you communicate and focus your priorities and how you give that long view to your family, that legacy. And if you’d like to get a little bit of encouragement today, order that book when you call 800-232-6459. it’s 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Of course, we have it as well, at .

And it’s hard to believe, but we’re heading into the holiday season pretty soon here. I’d like to encourage you to please, consider becoming a part of our family support team, if you don’t already contribute to the financial needs of Focus on the Family. We really do cherish your prayers and your financial gifts that you provide to keep this family ministry going. We’re listener supported and that means you can help us reach out and empower parents through conversations like the one with Dr. Leman today, our websites, our counseling team and so much more.

And the good news is, that together we’re having an impact. During the past 12 months, our research tells us that 660,000 households have told us that Focus on the Family, with your help, has enabled them to build stronger, healthier, more God-honoring families. And so, thank you and if you haven’t yet joined the team, please do so today. You can donate at or by calling 800-A-FAMILY. And when you make a gift of any amount, we’d like to say thank you by sending a complimentary copy of Dr. Leman’s book, Have a Happy Family by Friday. It’s a great resource for you or to pass along to someone you know, who might be struggling a bit, particularly with those adolescent years.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow for a powerful story about an abandoned child and how God worked miracles out of a tragic situation. That’s next time, as we once again, help your family thrive.

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