When Should the Kids Meet the New Boy/Girlfriend?
December 12, 2016 · Posted in Communication, Marriage, Parenting, Relationships, Separation/Divorce · Permalink · Comments (3)

brady250If only life was really like ‘The Brady Bunch’. An easily blended family, no exes to complicate matters, minor disturbances that are resolved with a great little moral lesson. In actuality, real life mirrors what was going on behind the scenes of the show – complicated, passionate, and sometimes stormy. So introducing a new romantic partner after divorce or death is a situation that may not go as smoothly as when Carol met Bob. It is a decision that warrants a lot of thought.

When you meet someone new, your initial instinct will be to want them to meet your children. Your kids are central, important and in many ways the main loves of your lives!  It may feel odd to keep a relationship separate from them.  It may feel sneaky.  You may be inclined to resolve this by having your new lover hang out and share in activities with your children as a new “friend”. Right? Wrong!!!  These reactions are completely understandable but remember, not all are instincts are best followed. Children are no dummies – even children under three will register the different energy present with a platonic vs. non-platonic friend. Furthermore, if there was an extramarital affair involved with this partner  your children will be aware consciously or unconsciously regardless of being told explicitly.  So don’t kid yourself.

A good rule of thumb is wait to introduce your children to your romantic interest until the relationship reaches six months of seriously seeing one another.  This guideline protects kids from experiencing the inevitable romantic ups and downs of a new relationships and of having another potential loss. Shielding your children from the early stages of your relationship will require sacrifice on your part; keeping your private life private takes energy, planning and giving up time with your new lover.  It is not lying, it is not sneaky, it is privacy – necessary privacy.

Children have very mixed feelings about new relationships. They may feel disloyal to the other parent if they have fun with this new person. They become jealous of sharing your time.  They may feel uncomfortable because the sexual energy present with a new relationship is different than that of their married parents. It is not as if kids cannot develop meaningful relationships with girlfriends or boyfriends after divorce — of course they can — but the more thoughtful consideration on your part the better the chances for your children to adapt to the new situation.

It is in your child’s best interest to wait and see if this looks like a relationship that will have sticking power to withstand the pressures of step parenting and blending families. Once the six month mark has come and gone, you are ready to begin integrating this person into your family. Inform your ex of all developments. If he/she introduces your children to a new relationship as well, try to be as generous as you can — keep all complicated feelings to yourself. Your reaction will play a huge role in your kids openness to accept this new person and to experience less conflict over loyalty.

The first kid-new-partner meeting should be activity based. Do something together, a movie, bowling, ice skating — something that comes with distinct time limits and allows your child to ease in to the meeting with focus on the activity rather than “getting to know” your new lover. Gauge your child’s readiness as you decide the frequency of these get-togethers — keeping in mind that slow is always better in these matters. In terms of sleep overs and joint vacations, especially if other children are involved, take it very slowly. No one has ever complained that they wish they had moved faster on integrating families — on the contrary, most difficulties come from rushing in with idyllic expectations. Consider yourself very lucky if all goes smoothly as life is not The Brady Bunch.

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Blind Spots
September 21, 2016 · Posted in Communication, K-5 Kids, Marriage, Parenting, Preschoolers, Relationships, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (3)

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Everyone has blind spots. They are unconscious conflicts from the past that creep up on us unexpectedly and influence reactions we have and decisions we make in the present. They are a normal part of the human experience; pockets of feeling or behavior that are hard to explain or understand, and which seem to control us.

In the course of parenting, we all hit up against these blind spots. Something in our child’s behavior or stage of development triggers an overly intense reaction. We may know that we are “over-reacting” but do not know why. Left to our own devises these areas can become repetitive patterns of negativity in our relationship with our child. At Soho Parenting, we help parents learn to identify their own blind spots so they can untangle the past from the present.


Jeff sits in my office looking sheepish as his wife Tina, frustrated and angry, talks about why they have come for some help. She complains that Jeff continually undermines her attempts to control the wild and often disrespectful behavior of their four-year old son Gabe.

“It’s like having 2 children,” she says in exasperation, “I cannot stand to be the only parent. He just cannot say no to him.”
“I’ve tried to be stricter”, says Jeff, “but I hate it when he gets so upset.”

In trying to understand more about why saying no is so hard for Jeff, I ask him to talk about his own upbringing and early experiences of discipline. Jeff looks uncomfortable and then starts to talk haltingly about his own strict and overly harsh father. He describes him as cold and quick to anger, with little patience for childish behavior.

“My father was always flying off the handle. He wanted us to be like perfect little adults. If I didn’t hang up my towel after a bath he’d freak.”

Jeff has sworn that he will not repeat this treatment with his own son and in these first four years he has been very successful in being a warm, affectionate and available father to Gabe.

So where is the blind spot? Jeff has not been able to see that his old hurt from childhood has been keeping him from entering into an arena of parenthood that is critically important for a growing child’s health and development. Discipline. Not the harsh and punitive kind, not the arbitrary and scary kind, but the kind of discipline that teaches you how to be respectful and gives the feeling of safety that comes with knowing that your parent is the adult and will keep you from getting out of control. It was easy for Tina –and anyone else for that matter– to see that Jeff was not providing the stabilizing function of a strong but loving parent. But for Jeff, who was unconsciously avoiding setting limits for fear that he would “become his father”, couldn’t act on his son’s need for boundaries.

Jeff really understood and felt this connection in the session. He knows now that he needs to actively counteract his worry about “becoming his father” and step up to the challenge of being Gabe’s father. He was thankful for the concrete advice about discipline; having a real game plan was reassuring. TIna felt validated and more hopeful about being allies instead of adversaries. A blind spot uncovered and a path made clearer!

For all parents, raising children confronts us with our inevitable vulnerabilities. If we use these discoveries as an opportunity for growth, we can take more control of our behavior, and be more the parents we want to be.

This article first appeared on A Child Grows in Brooklyn.

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Shared Custody: The Kids Need Time To Settle and Resettle
April 6, 2016 · Posted in Communication, K-5 Kids, Pressure on Children, Separation/Divorce · Permalink · Comments (1)

When your children move from house to house whether every other weekend or every week, there is always a “settling-in time” at each home that is challenging for kids and parents. In spite of the excitement of seeing a missed parent or a loved bedroom, the switch is a reminder of the split and a heightened jumble of feelings. Kids often misbehave during this time and parents worry it is a sign of a difficult visit with the other parent, or take it personally believing their child isn’t glad to see them. While these are possibilities, the most common cause of acting out in the transition time is because the switch is hard, plain and simple.

Here are a few tips that have helped kids and parents alike:

  • Give them space. Let them settle in and approach you.
  • Don’t ask how their time was with the other parent right away. Let this emerge slowly and more organically.
  • Create rituals. Some kids love to take a bath when they arrive, to relax, to “clear the slate”. Some like to have a snack, some need half an hour in their room.
  • Talk to your child about how hard it is to go back and forth and that you realize they might be “grumpy” or not want to talk when they first get home. Your understanding of how things look from their eyes will help them feel known, loved and soothed.
  • Meet outside for the transition between parents, for instance at the park, or at a diner, so that you and your child re-enter the house together.
  • Handle your own guilt or sadness inside so your children can have room to react without experiencing a need to care for your feelings.
  • Schedule hand-offs with plenty of time before bed so kids can really settle in before having to manage going to sleep, which is for them, another separation.
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Talking To Your Kids About Sex in Spoonfuls
July 27, 2014 · Posted in Communication, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments Off

If you feel like everything happens to kids earlier now, you are right! Puberty now begins for girls as early as nine years old, and boys as early as 11. To ensure that kids are not more horrified than they need to be, parents should start talking about the changes their bodies will undergo much before they start to happen. One spoonful at a time. When the topic comes up, which it will given the world we live, you can be ready to take it just as far as your child wants.

Here is where our over-sexualized culture can come in handy. It’s pretty hard to get past kindergarten without being exposed to grown up bodies and sexual energy. So when the topic comes up, you can steer it to their growing bodies.

“Look at her boobies” your six year old daughter says while pointing to a billboard. “Yes, those are big boobies, boobies usually start growing in 4th or 5th grade.” Stop.

“Mom, those two are sexing!” your eight year old son exclaims in response to a smoochy kiss in a movie . “Those two were kissing in the movie. Not “sexing”. Stop.

If we stop after a statement like that, you get to take the temperature of the discussion. Does your son or daughter squirm and slip away, or do they have another question or comment. If you child has more interest give another piece of information and then wait.

“When will I get my boobies?”

“Well, I was about 13 when mine started growing, but it happens a little sooner now. I’m not sure exactly when yours will grow but we will know when they are starting because you will get little bumps under your skin called breast buds–that’s the sign that they are starting to grow.”

 

“Josh told me sexing is when a penis plants a seed in a lady.” He replies giggling and jumping around.

“Well Josh has the right idea, want me to explain it more?”

“Penis plant! Penis plant!..”, he chants and marches around the living room.

“Ok, buddy, we won’t do that now, but another time we can talk about it.”

These little spoonfuls of conversation show your openness, aren’t overwhelming and pave the way for more and more communication about a necessary and important topic.

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Being Right
June 25, 2014 · Posted in Anger, Communication, Marriage, Mental Health, Parenting, Relationships · Permalink · Comments Off

The Curse and Seduction of Being Right

by Lisa Merlo Booth

 

Many people struggle with the curse of being right.  When people struggle with being right it feels as if you’re constantly in an argument about the “facts.”  Sometimes it can feel as if you’re talking with a lawyer instead of a friend or partner.  For example, you might ask your partner to lower their voice and they respond with, “My voice isn’t loud.  I was just being passionate.”  Or perhaps you start to tell a story about work and say, “When I left home at 8 a.m.…” and your partner quickly butts in and corrects you with, “Well, actually you left after 8 a.m.”  Whatever the circumstances are, you feel as if you’re in an endless battle.  All you want to do is share your thoughts or make a request, yet the other person is busy checking your facts instead of listening to your message.

Needless to say, if you’ve ever been on the other side of this dynamic, it can be incredibly frustrating.  If you’re the one constantly “correcting” or arguing the facts, then you can be incredibly frustrating.

Stop correcting and start listening.

Being around someone who is constantly telling others how they’re wrong blocks intimacy and connection.  Ironically though, many people get caught in the being right trap…because being right is seductive.  After all, people think, isn’t it important to have the right facts?  If my partner says he’s angry that I was late for our dinner on Saturday and I know we went out on Friday—shouldn’t I correct him and tell him I was late on Friday, not Saturday?  After all, I’m right—I happen to know for a fact that we went out on Friday because Saturday was our son’s soccer game and we ate dinner on the road while driving to his game.  Shouldn’t I correct him when I know I’m right?

No.

The seduction of being right is that often our information…is right.  We’re not making it up, we’re not giving false information and we’re honestly correcting wrong information.  What’s wrong with that, we wonder?  Several things are wrong with that.  To start with, when we’re so ultra-focused on arguing the facts, we miss the bigger point.  In the dinner example, my husband was upset that I was late.  My focusing on the “accurate” day is irrelevant—even though my information may be correct.  Second, if I’m busy critiquing what he says, then I’m shutting down the conversation.  If I shut down the conversation then I’m blocking repair.  It’s often only a matter of time before people give up trying to talk with someone who seldom listens and instead corrects the minute details.  At some point we just say forget it.When it comes to healthy relationships, remember to not get lost in the details and instead hear the main message.  If you’re stuck on critiquing the messenger, s/he is likely to stop relaying messages.  When that happens, your relationship is in trouble.  The other person gets tired of being blocked repeatedly and in the end they often just turn away.  It’s in your best interest to have the courage to stop getting lost in the details and instead hear the message…and fix your part in the situation.  Insisting on being right is damaging.  Don’t give in to the seduction.

 

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“Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire”: Punishment and Children’s Honesty
December 1, 2011 · Posted in Anger, Communication, Discipline, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments Off

A recent article in Child-Psych gives important data about children and discipline and lying. In a nutshell, the harsher the punishments, the more kids lie. Yet another piece of date to support the goal of  approaching punishment from a calm, centered place instead of reacting in anger.

A study conducted by Talwar and Lee looks at two separate West African schools, one with punitive disciplinary practices, the other non-punitive. Children at both schools participated in an experiment to test resistance to temptation and honesty or lying about their success or failure to hold themselves back. While almost all children  failed the resistance portion of the program, the response afterwards varied greatly. Only half of the children at the non-punitive school lied about their actions, compared to the punitive school where nearly all of the children lied. Additionally, the children at the school with harsher punishments made up more elaborate lies as compared to the other.

Harsh and severe punishments will actually increase the likelihood of a child developing a habit of lying. Consequences to bad behavior is crucial, but it is also just as important to keep a level head when communicating it to your kids.

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Spillover Between Teens’ Conflict with Family and Friends
October 6, 2011 · Posted in Communication, Media, Parenting, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off
The July issue of Child Development highlights the impact of conflict at home for teens. It highlights the spill over on their peer relationships and vice versa.
“Adolescents experienced more peer conflict on days in which they argued with parents or other family members, and vice versa. Effect of family conflict further spilled over into peer relationships the next day and 2 days later, whereas peer conflict predicted only the following day family conflict. Adolescents’ emotional distress partially explained these short-term spillovers between family and peer conflict.”
Given the impact of teen-parent conflict, here is a script that, if used regularly, is guaranteed to reduce unhealthy communication between parents and children. Below is an example of a parent and child initiated conversation using the Conflict Script. It may seem contrived initially, but overtime it becomes the default of how to handle disagreements. This communication tool will have positive spillover into your teens relationships outside the home.
The conflict script has rules for the speaker and listener. Both parties have to commit to calm talk and careful listening.
Rules for the Speaker:
1. Permission to speak
2. Objective description
3. Primary Feelings
4. Internal Interpretation
5. Request for the future
Rules for the Listener:
1. Cop to what you did do
2. Apologize
3. Reassure
4. Commit to change
Part 1: Mom is the speaker, daughter listener
Mother: Can I talk to you about what happened this morning? (1. Permission to speak)
Daughter: Sure.
Mother: This morning, when I asked you what your plans were for after school, you didn’t answer me and walked out of the apartment. (2. Objective description)
Mother: I felt anger, shame  and sadness. (3. Primary feelings)
Mother:What I made up in my head is that you don’t respect me and don’t see that I am trying to care for you. (4. Internal interpretation)
Mother:What I would like in the future is for you to answer me when I ask a question or tell me you don’t know if you are not sure of your plans. (5. Request for the future)
Listener:
Daughter: I did walk out of the house without answering. (1. Cop to what you did)
I am really sorry for doing that. (2. Apologize)
I do respect you even if I don’t show it all the time and I do know that you want what is best for me. (3. Reassure)
I will answer you when you ask me a question. I know how annoying that can be.(4. Commit to change)
Part 2: Daughter is the speaker, mom the listener
Daughter: Is now a good time to talk about our fight last night? (1. Permission to speak)
Mother: Let me glass of water and we can sit down on the couch and talk.
Daughter: Last night you into my room without knocking, snuck up behind me and read my Facebook chat out loud.  (2. Objective description)
Daughter: I felt angry and scared. (3. Primary feelings)
Daughter: What I made up in my head was that you don’t respect my boundaries and don’t trust me. (4. internal Interpretation)
Daughter: I really want you to knock before you come in my room and if you are worried abut something going on just ask me. (5. Request for the future)
Mother: I did sneak up on you and read your Facebook. (1. Cop to what you did)
And I apologize for not knocking. (2. Apologize)
I do understand your need for privacy. (3. Reassure)
And I will be more direct about questions that I have about what is going on with you and your friends. (4. Commit to change)
Guaranteed results!

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Open Heart
August 11, 2011 · Posted in Communication, Parenting, Relationships · Permalink · Comments Off

The following is an enlightening piece by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. that appeared in Family | Social, on July 7, 2011. Enjoy!

Put No One Out Of Your Heart

What is an open heart? The Practice

Put no one out of your heart. Why?

We all know people who are, ah, . . . challenging. It could be a critical parent, a bossy supervisor, a relative who has you walking on eggshells, a nice but flaky friend, a co-worker who just doesn’t like you, a partner who won’t keep his or her agreements, or a politician you dislike. Right now I’m thinking of a neighbor who refused to pay his share of a fence between us.

As Jean-Paul Sartre put it: “Hell is other people.”

Sure, that’s overstated. But still, most of a person’s hurts, disappointments, and irritations typically arise in reactions to other people.

Ironically, in order for good relationships to be so nurturing to us as human beings – who have evolved to be the most intimately relational animals on the planet – you must be so linked to others that some of them can really rattle you!

So what can you do?

Let’s suppose you’ve tried to make things better – such as taking the high road yourself and perhaps also trying to talk things out, pin down reasonable agreements, set boundaries, etc. – but the results have been partial or nonexistent.

At this point, it’s natural to close off to the other person, often accompanied by feelings of apprehension, resentment, or disdain. While the brain definitely evolved to care about “us,” it also evolved to separate from, fear, exploit, and attack “them” – and those ancient, neural mechanisms can quickly grab hold of you.

But what are the results? Closing off doesn’t feel good. It makes your heart heavy and contracted. And it primes your brain to be more tense and reactive, which could get you into trouble, plus trigger the other person to act worse than ever.

Sometimes you do have to hang up the phone, block someone on Facebook, turn the channel on TV, or stay at a motel when visiting relatives. Sometimes you have to put someone out of your business, workgroup, holiday party list – or bed.

In extreme situations such as abuse, it may feel necessary to distance yourself utterly from another person for awhile or forever; take care of yourself in such situations, and listen to that inner knowing about what’s best for you. But in general:

You never have to put anyone out of your heart.

How?

When your heart is open, what’s that feel like? Physically, in your chest – like warmth and relaxation – and in your body altogether. Emotionally – such as empathy, compassion, and an even keel. Mentally – like keeping things in perspective, and wishing others well.

Feel the strength being openhearted, wholehearted. Be not afraid, and be of good heart. Paradoxically, the most open person in a relationship is usually the strongest one.

Get a sense of your heart being expansive and inclusive, like the sky. The sky stays open to all clouds, and it isn’t harmed by even the stormiest ones. Keeping your heart open makes it harder for others to upset you.

Notice that an open heart still allows for clarity about what works for you and what doesn’t, as well as firmness, boundaries, and straight talk. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama are famous for keeping their hearts open while also being very effective.

Seeing all this, make a commitment to an open heart.

In this light, be mindful of what it feels like – physically, emotionally, mentally – to have your heart closed to a particular person. Be aware of the seemingly good reasons the reactive brain/mind throws up to justify this.

Then ask yourself, given the realities of this challenging person, what would have been a better path for you? For example, maybe you should have gotten more support from others or been more self-nurturing, so you wouldn’t have been as affected. Or spoken up sooner to try to prevent things from getting out of hand. Or managed your internal reactions more skillfully. Maybe you’ve done some things yourself to prompt the other person to be difficult. Whatever these lessons are, there’s no praise or blame here, just good learning for you.

And now, if you’re willing, explore opening your heart again to this person. Life’s been hard to him or her, too. Nothing might change in your behavior or in the nature of the relationship. Nonetheless, you’ll feel different – and better.

Last, do not put yourself out of your heart. If you knew you as another person, wouldn’t you want to hold that person in your heart?

* * *

Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom. His work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Consumer Reports Health, U.S. News and World Report, and Huffington Post, and he is the author of the best-selling Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. He writes a weekly newsletter – Just One Thing – that suggests a simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind and heart. If you wish, you can subscribe to Just One Thing here.

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Are You Living With A Woman Who Struggles with Intensity? What To Do and Not to Do
July 21, 2011 · Posted in Communication, Marriage, Relationships · Permalink · Comments Off

by Lisa Merlo Booth

A common union I see in couples is a very strong woman partnered with a fairly passive man.  The men often say their partners are overbearing, controlling, intense, critical and never satisfied.  The women say the men don’t talk, are walled off, often passive-aggressive and say yes just to get the women off their backs.  Often they’re both right: the women are over the top and the men are too passive.

If you’re a male and happen to be living with a woman who matches the descriptions above, here’s your cheat sheet for being in relationship with her.

1.    Stop ducking in response to intensity.  The worst thing you can do with an angry woman (or man for that matter) is to duck.  If your partner is coming at you with high intensity (yelling, swearing, raging, name-calling, etc.), then set a limit on the intensity.  Don’t try to talk her down or jump to do what she’s asking of you until you address the way she is speaking to you.

2.    Say what you mean and mean what you say.  Learn to become a man of integrity and stop lying to avoid her intensity.  Do not just “yes” her to get her off your back.  If you say you will do something, do it.  Otherwise, say no.

3.    Ask for your needs and wants.  Stop being resentful that you’re constantly trying to please her and stand up for yourself.  Healthy relationships require that both partners ask for their needs and wants.  The more you try to do what she wants without asking for what you want, the more resentful you will get.  Pay attention to what you want and learn to ask for it.

4.    Don’t play the victim.  Too many passive men act as if their wives/partners make their lives miserable.  No-one has the power to make your life miserable without you allowing it.  Look at how your behaviors contribute to your unhappiness and address those.

5.    Be direct.  Do not sideswipe your partner by throwing out underhanded comments, sarcastic quips or disdainful looks.  If you’re not happy about something—speak it.  Don’t stoop to being passive-aggressive by emotionally withholding or being behaviorally irresponsible.  Those are child-like responses to adult issues; step up like an adult and address things directly.

If you’re with a woman who you believe struggles with intensity, start looking at what you’re doing that is not helping the situation.  Remember that you deserve to be treated with respect at all times.  If your wife or partner is highly intense or reactive, she is not being respectful.  It’s your job to teach her how to treat you.  Do not play the victim to her rants…or you will ensure they will continue.

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Pappa Don’t Preach: Talking To Your Teens About Sex
July 14, 2011 · Posted in Communication, Parenting, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off

A counterintuitive and interesting study was published in the Journal of Family Psychology about what helps and what hurts in talking to your teens about sex. Conversations warning about the possibility of contracting an STD and disapproving of sex in general, were actually correlated with higher levels of sexual initiation, unprotected sex, and sexually transmitted infections. It seems that the largest influence for safer sexual behavior was the teen’s positive perception of the relationship with their parents, not specific information.

The investigators found that higher levels of adolescent independence and lower levels of parent-adolescent relationship quality significantly predicted lower levels of condom use and this held especially true for younger adolescents.  Additionally, the teens that had lower levels of condom use could be predicted by having parents that disapproved of teen sexual activity.  So the more time the teen had unsupervised, the lesser the quality of his/her relationship with parents, and the more the parents outwardly disapproved of sex, the more likely their teen was to have unprotected sex.

Almost 80% of the adolescents that reported being abstinent during the beginning of the study reported the same a year later.  What predicted sexual activity for the remaining 20%?  Some of the strongest predictors were low parent-child relationship quality, higher levels of parent disapproval of sex, and parents’ talks about sexual costs such as STIs.  That’s right.  The parents that disapproved of sex and emphasized sexual risk had a higher likelihood of having a sexually active teen.

The best route for parents when it comes to their teens and sex is to focus less on the specific behavior/consequences and instead, spend more time ensuring there is a healthy relationship that allows for open communication.

Source:
Deptula, D., Henry, D., & Schoeny, M. (2010). How can parents make a difference? Longitudinal associations with adolescent sexual behavior. Journal of Family Psychology, 24 (6), 731-739 DOI: 10.1037/a0021760

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