DEAR HARRIETTE: My son has been very mouthy of late, and it is driving me crazy. When I ask him something, he starts arguing with me immediately or being belligerent. He is 11 and usually a good kid. He is smart and a quick thinker, which makes me think that part of this behavior is him exerting his independent thinking on the situation. That's all well and good, but the attitude has to stop. What can I say to him to get him to tone it down? -- Frustrated Mom, Chicago
DEAR FRUSTRATED MOM: I talk to my daughter about tone all the time. How you say something is often more important than the words you actually use. When you are not in the midst of an emotional meltdown, talk with your son -- calmly. Explain to him that you value his thoughts and ideas, but that he needs to work on how he expresses them. Ask him if he likes it when you two argue. Chances are he does not. Tell him you do not like it either. Come up with a sign, maybe a hand gesture, that you can both use when you feel that you are going into argument mode. You can use the sign to indicate that you want to call a truce.
This actually works very well on both sides. Essentially, it allows whichever one of you notices the argument swelling first to call it off rather than fall more deeply into the mire of it. For you, remind your son of tone as often as necessary. Let him know that you appreciate his thinking and want to know what is on his mind as you also expect him to follow directions and be respectfully responsive. It is a dance that will last for a long time, so let go of your frustration and invite your son to dance with you! It may feel clumsy at first, but as you practice the art of communicating without arguing, you both will benefit and eventually become graceful at it.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a client who is a good salesman. He comes up with these wacky ideas and convinces people to sign on and work with him. The only problem is, he often doesn't have the resources to pull it off. On one hand, the ideas are so exciting that you want to be a part of them. But this is my third time signing on board, and I am mad at myself. He owes me money from the last event, and it looks like he is going to owe me again this time. What can I do to take care of myself and help a man with big ideas? -- Deflated, Jackson, Miss.
DEAR DEFLATED: As you already know, you cannot blame your client at this point, given that you know his track record. Since you do believe in his ideas, maybe you can help him to be better organized on the front end, either personally or by referring him to an expert who can help him. You can also require your money up front in order to work with him. If he cannot pay you, do not continue to work with him.