You are here: Home / HPRC Blog

Filed under: Families

Avoid emotional “bait”!

Learn how your old relationship patterns can pop up and cause you problems now—and what you can do about it.

Tired of having family members “push your buttons” or inadvertently pushing theirs? You’ll be glad to learn it’s something you can fix. How you relate to people as an adult is shaped by the relationships you had early in life. It’s easy to get drawn into old patterns with family members. But there are some things you can do to stop taking the bait and stop putting bait out there for your loved ones to take.

For example, an old rivalry can re-emerge between siblings, even if you don’t do this with any one else in your adult life. Or it can feel like you’ve gone back in time, and you’re an adolescent again rebelling against your parent. Keep these old patterns in mind, because they can creep into your present.

Here are some tips to avoid reliving familiar conflicts or other unpleasant interactions:

  • Don’t put out bait: You can’t control other people’s behavior, but you can control yours. Be aware of what you feel drawn to do, and stop yourself if you know your next move might cause friction (such as calling someone a name, or more subtle moves).
  • Don’t take bait: Others will (consciously or unconsciously) do things that trigger your emotions (such as a snarky comment or an overly long story). Slow down and take a breath rather than responding out of impulse.
  • Assume good intentions: When you feel baited, assume that the other person isn’t intentionally triggering you and that he/she means well. Even if this is untrue, your different style of interacting with him or her can help break the pattern. And it could even start a new, more positive dynamic!

Be a “good enough” parent

Of course you want to be a good parent. Learn why being good enough might be even more important.

Instead of being a “perfect” parent, strive to be “good enough.” As a parent, you want the best for your children. At a minimum, you know you shouldn’t neglect or abuse your children. Ideally you’re a caring parent who sets good boundaries for their safe development. But some parents overdo their involvement.

The problem with working too hard to meet your child’s every need is that your child doesn’t learn to become independent. When children experience some frustration along the way or have to figure out things on their own, they become more equipped to tolerate frustration and face adversity. And they learn how to solve problems for themselves. That said, don’t leave them hanging, but gently guide them to figure out solutions for themselves.

Read HPRC’s Need to update your parenting style? to learn more ways to be “good enough.”

FAQs about relationships

Have questions about relationships? Visit the new FAQs section in HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain to find answers.

Visit the newest section of HPRC’s website—“Frequently Asked Questions About Relationships.” It includes strategies for communicating and managing conflict, building and maintaining strong relationships, and fostering parent-child relationships.

Here are some kinds of questions you can find answers to:

  • Is there such a thing as a healthy argument?
  • How can I be a better listener?
  • Why do I get so angry that I can’t think clearly?
  • Can I win more arguments than I lose and still have a good relationship?
  • How can I change my attitude and focus less on the negative?
  • How can I help my children get through challenging situations?

You can use these strategies in all your relationships—friends, coworkers, bosses, leaders, etc.—not just your intimate and family relationships.

You can find more questions and answers in “Frequently Asked Questions About Relationships.”

Spring cleaning—a mindful approach

Practice mindfulness to help clear out the clutter in your home that weighs you down.

If you’re in the military, you know you may have to move at almost any time, so you try to avoid accumulating things you don’t want to move with you. But whether you’re moving or not, spring is a great time to get rid of the clutter in your home.


There are many resources to help you get organized. But the hard part can be letting go of “stuff” you may be attached to emotionally. The memories pull at you, so the closets stay packed. So why get rid of things? It can save your sanity and lighten your load.

Consider a “mindful” approach to your spring cleaning. The self-compassion and non-judgment of many meditation practices can help you deal head-on with the emotional connections you may have to your stuff. This approach raises your awareness of attachment to belongings. You can see the memories, connections, love, and bonds that the items represent. And then you get to practice self-observation in the moment of letting things go.

How do you do it? Try this meditation: As you sort through items that literally weigh you down and debate whether to keep something, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this object really adding value to my life?
  • Do I need this thing to remind me of a pet, friend, or special time?
  • Can I accept that the object is not a substitute for a person or memory?
  • Can I take a photo of it and then let it go?
  • Can I imagine myself free from this object?
  • Would letting it go mean I no longer care?

Only you can answer these questions for yourself. The balance between holding on and letting go is very personal. Use gentleness and compassion with yourself as you move through this exercise and practice being mindful.

Families that play together, stay together

Maximize your family’s together time with fun activities that help you unplug and bond!

All families need to spend some time together to help build strong family bonds. There is no right way or ideal amount of time. Some families like to spend all their free time together, while others may spend a bit of time together throughout the week or dedicate some family time on a consistent basis. But it’s easy to get wrapped up in other things so we spend all our time on work, bills, cleaning house, scheduled activities, or other responsibilities, and family time goes by the wayside.

Think about your own family. Do you have enough time together? What kind of time is it? Is everyone on a phone, computer, tablet, or television? Try unplugging and going outdoors, playing a board game, or getting together and giving everybody five minutes to talk about what they like about each other. You could let your children (if they’re old enough) pick what they want to do on their family day out, and then everyone else needs to come along and make the most of it. If part of your family is deployed, you should still schedule family bonding time. Some of your family time can be spent making things to send to your deployed family member or documenting your fun time with photos or videos.

Stressed just thinking about how to add in some good family time? Just make the most of what you have by focusing on each other without extra distractions!

Set the fitness example for your kids

Parents can help their children be physically active in a variety of ways. Learn more.

Parents are one of the most important factors in their children’s fitness. You can set the example. Children of active parents are more than twice as likely to be active than those with inactive parents. You also can help your children be active by driving them—or better yet, walking or biking with them—to and from activities, being active with them at home, cheering or supervising their play/activity, and getting the right equipment for their activities. It’s important to expose kids to different activities. Once they find something they like, they’ll stick with it. Above all, make it fun!

Help stop bullying

Learn how to stop aggression in teens.

Roughly one in five teens is bullied at some point. It often involves hitting, pushing, or teasing, but gossip (both verbal and text) and being excluded are also forms of bullying.

The reasons for teen aggression are complex, but some school and home factors raise the chance of a teen being aggressive: rejection by peers, situations where aggression is socially acceptable, marital conflict and violence at home, feeling rejected by a parent, physical punishment by a parent, and/or parents who let their teens get away with any kind of behavior.

Since teens are still learning how to manage their emotions, aggressive behavior is a clue that they need more skills in this arena. Aggressive teens also are more likely to have problems at school that can follow them to adulthood, so it’s important to find solutions early. And of course, the victims of bullying suffer too.

Parents, schools, and communities can help stop aggressive behavior. Parents can reduce their teens’ exposure to aggression at home by controlling their own anger and outside the home by knowing where their teens are, who they’re with, and setting clear expectations for how to act when parents aren’t around. Teachers can learn to recognize aggression, communicate that it is unacceptable, and seek help/intervene. Schools can monitor areas where aggression is most likely to occur, such as playgrounds, restrooms, and hallways. (a website developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) offers lots of ideas for how to respond to bullying: Respond quickly and immediately to bullying behavior, find out what happened, and support the kids involved (both the bullies and those being bullied). In essence, don’t be a bystander. To learn more, visit this interactive page. The bottom line is that bullying is not acceptable, but it won’t stop unless you do something about it.

Does “helicopter parenting” work?

Parents sometimes hover (often called “helicopter” parenting) when their child heads to college, but is this helpful? Learn tips for providing your young adults the best kind of support.

As your children head to college, it’s hard to know how much to let go and still support them as they tackle new challenges. It’s a major milestone for both kids and parents, and the milestone is especially relevant for Department of Defense parents (80% of whose children go to college, compared to 66% of graduating high school students in the U.S. with non-DoD parents).

During this transition, “helicopter parents” (so-called because they hover) frequently text or call, continue to make decisions for their children, and directly intervene when problems arise between their kids and other people. It makes sense to let go and give your children “space” as they transition into adulthood. After all, how else is your emerging adult supposed to learn self-reliance and financial independence? But protective parenting instincts can overcome what might otherwise make sense.

Helicopter parenting can essentially be an overdose of previously good instincts. To your kids, it can feel as though you’re trying to control how they act or feel. Even though you have good intentions, your behavior may feel intrusive to them, and it might not be obvious that “solving” your kids’ interpersonal, school, or work crises actually causes problems. In fact, helicopter parenting usually leads kids to feel less engaged with college, more anxious and depressed, and less pro-active.

Here are some tips for less-direct ways to help that also keep you grounded instead of “flying away” as a helicopter parent:

  • Resist the urge to make decisions for your kid. Instead, ask open-ended questions to get him or her thinking.
  • Ask your kid to set his/her own boundaries for how much he or she wants you to intrude (such as how often to text or call), and accept them!
  • Encourage your kid to have direct conversations with other important people such as professors.
  • Give tips on how to do things such as grocery shopping (rather than just doing it yourself).
  • Avoid tracking grades; encourage your kid to set his or her own goals and sub-goals.

If you are a helicopter parent, you don’t have to change radically overnight. But make sure you talk to your kids about the changes you’re planning, and then gradually make them happen. Give your kids more power and autonomy, such that you become a trusted advisor rather than a dictator. The milestone of college isn’t a time for parents to withdraw completely, but it is a time to trust that some of what you taught your children actually sunk in.

Need to update your parenting style?

Your parenting style has an important impact on your teen’s behaviors. And it turns out that many parents change their style along the way. Learn more about different styles and changes.

You can think of parenting styles as having two key elements: control and compassion. At one end of the spectrum, you can demand a lot of your child to get him or her on the right track. At the other end, you can let him or her do whatever he or she pleases. Similarly, you can show interest, respect, and caring warmth toward your child, or at the other end of the continuum, show disinterest.

There are four parenting styles that combine these elements:

  1. Drill Sergeants: These parents are very pushy and not very warm.
  2. Warm Leaders: These parents are fairly demanding but also warm.
  3. Teddy Bears: These parents are not demanding and are very warm.
  4. Ghosts: These parents are uninvolved—neither demanding nor warm.

Why does it matter what parenting style you use? Your style not only affects how your kids are bonded with you, but your parenting style is also linked to your child’s outcome. For example, Warm Leader parents are more likely to have well-adjusted kids who have fewer behavior problems and are less likely to get in trouble.  

Parenting styles commonly change over the course of a child’s life; a change can happen because of divorce, life events, or any number of other reasons. So what happens when parents change their parenting approach?

When Drill Sergeants become Warm Leaders, parent-child bonds can improve. When Teddy Bears and Ghosts become Warm Leaders, the bond typically improves and so does behavior. But when Teddy Bears become Drill Sergeants or Ghosts, kids tend to engage in delinquent behavior. In other words, either clamping down hard or dropping out of a kid’s life after being warm but undemanding won’t help your kids become happy and well adjusted.

If you are a Warm Leader parent already, you may need to give your teen more space as he or she matures (which is developmentally appropriate), but overall, keep at it! If you’re not, consider moving towards becoming a “Warm Leader.” To do so, focus on being rational, warm, and consistent in your interactions with your teen. 

Take a moment to connect with kids

Take a moment to connect with the children in your life this year. It can have amazing benefits.

The smallest acts of kindness and caring can have powerful results for kids of all ages. With everyone so busy juggling multiple responsibilities—especially military families—it can sometimes feel as if there’s never enough time to have meaningful connections with children. But kids still need those moments. A meaningful connection can be a hug, a smile, a loving word, a compliment, or just giving them your undivided attention for a few minutes to listen to a story they are telling, to sing a song, or dance together. Feeling loved in these small moments stays with a child his or her entire life. This New Year, set an intention to make a meaningful connection with any child(ren) in your life regularly. And remember: Adults also benefit from heartfelt connections. Hug your loved ones today.

RSS Feed