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"My 12-year-old son has always been a funny, outgoing, and expressive guy, but lately I’ve caught him lying to me. It’s not about big stuff, but it’s still very concerning. Lying is completely unacceptable behavior as far as I’m concerned, yet whenever I try to impress rules and regulations on him, he just laughs and teases me about being a “fuddy-duddy.” Is lying suddenly okay these days?"...

“I’m writing because my husband and I have run out of ways to help motivate our son James. He has lots of ideas, but rarely puts anything into action. It’s like he gets stuck at the starting point and can’t get going. We had him tested and while the results came back in the normal range, we still need to make lists for him regarding what needs to get done each day. Fortunately, he’s an only child so we do have the time to focus on him. What will it take to help James accomplish things and succeed?”...

“I have two teenage sons who lately seem to be at each other’s throats. Jack can come off like a know-it-all but, in his defense, he is very smart. Timmy doesn’t like Jack correcting him or telling him what to do, but he’s still young enough to make poor choices. I think Jack is just trying to help him, but when he does, Timmy really blows up. I’m concerned because since we moved to a new city, they seem to be fighting more and more.”...

Dear Vicki: I read your post last summer about the woman whose new husband and son butted heads all the time. I have the opposite problem and wonder if you can help me. Last year I married Ted, a divorced father with joint custody of two very active teenage sons. My 10-year-old son Sam and I moved in with Ted and the blended family thing is working pretty well except for one big problem: Sam is miserable and pulling away from Ted. In an effort to bond, Ted wants to play ball with Sam and take him to sporting events or even war movies, but Sam just isn’t into those things. He likes his time alone to read and draw. I’ve tried to explain to Ted that Sam is different from his sons, but he just rolls his eyes and questions whether we’re going to raise a wimp. How can I help Ted and Sam get along? I love them both and want everyone to be happy in our home. Signed, Worried in Washington Dear Worried: First, let’s focus on the positive fact that Ted wants to do a good job raising Sam. That means he cares. Second, Ted is approaching the challenge of getting along with Sam like someone who has a lot of Wood energy in his personality. Competition is key to a Wood’s approach to life, and nothing says competition like sporting events and war movies. But Sam clearly isn’t a Wood person. Preferring time alone to read or draw sounds a lot more like a Water personality. In the Five Elements model, Wood and Water relate to each other on the Nurturing Cycle, so you’d think the relationship between Ted and Sam would be naturally nurturing. And it can be.  However, this particular Wood/Water relationship is a parent/child connection (or at least step-parent) where the child’s Water feeds the parent’s Wood, and this will make a subtle difference in the dynamics of the relationship. We’ll come back to that later, but first we’re going to talk about the most dramatic issue between Wood and Water, and that’s the concept of structure. Wood and Water people differ radically in their approach to and appreciation of structure. Wood people are usually very structured and quite focused on productivity. Waters are very “go with the flow” and don’t need or necessarily like structure of any kind. Water people usually don’t plan and are willing to trust the outcome of anything. Woods, on the other hand, love plans. Plans propel Wood people forward, define their expectations, and provide the needed assurance that they’re never out of control. Going with the flow not only lacks control, but can seem undirected, chaotic, or even lazy to Woods. As a Wood person, not only will Ted appreciate structure, he will enjoy games and competition, especially if he (or his team) wins. And if Ted’s children have turned out well, he might also expect that Sam will turn out well if he takes the same structured, competitive approach with him as he did with them....

Dear Vicki: I hope you can help. After 10 years as a single mom/widow, I recently married a guy I really love who brings a great deal of stability to my life. Brad is a smart go-getter who I believe has a lot of Wood in his personality. Unfortunately, my teenage son is also a smart go-getter who has a lot of Wood in his personality. When Brad and I first started dating, he and Gordy (my son) got on great. They played football, discussed sports, and even went driving together in Brad’s sports car. But that all changed when Brad moved in after the wedding. Now, life here is like The Battle of the Titans. I had such hopes for a happy and harmonious family life, but this is absolutely crazy. I love them both, so what can I do? Signed: Weary in Wisconsin   Dear Weary: You have described life with two Wood people very well; it can be a constant battle. And since both guys love you, it’s not surprising that they were both on their best behavior during the courting period. Woods like to make good impressions because what people think about them matters a lot. From Brad’s perspective, he knew you and Gordy were a package deal, so would have put almost as much energy into impressing Gordy as he put into wooing you. And from Gordy’s perspective, the idea of a cool step-dad after no father figure for 10 years was probably appealing. But as you have discovered, the reality of day-to-day life with two Wood guys living in the same house can be a challenge. So let’s look at ways to make this situation work for everyone. As you know if you’ve read anything about the Five Elements model, the elements all relate via the Nurturing or Controlling Cycles. For example, while you don't mention what element you think is primary in your personality, your desire for “a happy and harmonious family life” suggests that you have a lot of Earth energy. Home and family matter deeply to Earths, and conflict of any kind is painful for them. Woods and Earths relate via the Controlling Cycle, with Wood controlling Earth. But because Earth is involved, it is a gentle type of control (unlike, for example, Water controlling Fire where Water actually diminishes Fire by putting it out). In nature, Wood “controls” Earth by using its root system to stabilize the ground. Brad’s presence feels stabilizing to you because, at an elemental level, it really is. And in some ways, Gordy probably felt stabilizing to you, too. As you have discovered, the problem isn’t you with either of your guys, it’s the two guys together. That’s because they have the same elemental personality. When two people of the same element are in a relationship, there isn’t a dynamic energy flow between them like the Nurturing or Controlling Cycles to keep things moving and fresh. This means that two of any element in a relationship can take on a static, and yes,...

Dear Vicki: I’m writing about my son Jacob. He graduated from law school four years ago and moved to New York from our small town in Pennsylvania. Growing up, Jacob was a quiet, studious child. He was something of a loner, but always seemed to appreciate the love and attention my husband and I showered on him. We supported him through college and grad school, were always so proud of him, and felt his continued gratitude. But since he started work as a corporate attorney, he has changed. He often won’t return our calls, interrupts or loses his temper when we do talk, is pretty critical, and has generally turned into a not so nice guy. Children change as they grow, I know, but this seems very dramatic. He has put a lot of pressure on himself to advance in his career, but why is he so different? It feels like we’ve lost him. Did we do something wrong? Signed: Puzzled in PA   Dear Puzzled: You are correct: Children do change as they grow. They learn about the world and their place in it. They make new friends and grow from these new relationships. They take continuous steps to become more independent. But they usually don’t change so dramatically over the course of just four years, so I think there has to be something else going on with Jacob. Let’s see if we can figure it out. You don’t mention what primary element you think he is, but the fact that he was a quiet, studious child means he would likely be a Water or a Metal. His choice to practice law, however, would require the structure necessary to withstand the rigors of law school. That structure would be seen in both Metal and Wood. The overlap here is Metal, which also fits with the fact that the attention to detail necessary to practice corporate law usually sits in Metal. And this is just a guess, but your worry and concern about your son, and the fact that you so easily assume you might have done something wrong in raising him, suggest that you are probably a primary Earth element. This means that you and Jacob relate on the Nurturing Cycle of the Five Elements model with your Earth feeding his Metal. On the surface, this should be good news for both of you. Earths love family, children, and helping people. Metals often expect attention and support, especially from Earths. Your relationship of parent to child also supports this natural flow of energy from Earth to Metal in the model. So what isn’t working? Why has he changed seemingly out of the blue? Remember that while we usually act and react to the world through the lens of our primary element, we do have all five elements in our energetic make up. I suspect that as part of adjusting to his new work environment, Jacob has stepped into his Wood element. Manifestation, competition, and individual accomplishment all sit in Wood, and in our current culture,...

Dear Vicki: I am new to the study of the Five Elements and find it fascinating. In looking at our family, it seems that my husband, myself, and our two daughters are all Fires. Our son, Mike, is definitely a Wood, which helps me understand why he feels uncomfortable when we are all together. When Mike was younger, he would take a pillow and curl up somewhere quiet to nap because we seemed to exhaust him. Now that there have been additions to the family – two sons-in-law (one Water, one Metal) and a grandson (Wood) – Mike seems to handle family gatherings a little better. But with the holiday season coming up, how can we help Mike be even more comfortable for the numerous times we are all together?  Are there colors or things to add to the environment that would be helpful? We love him dearly. Signed: Mom Dear Mom: As a Wood myself, I feel for your son growing up in a family full of Fires. Wow! Life would never have been boring! And even though Wood and Fire relate on the Nurturing Cycle, it’s Mike’s Wood that had to feed all four of your Fires. That’s a lot to ask of one Wood and totally explains why he not only appeared slightly uncomfortable, but also snuck away for naps. Feeding four Fires would exhaust any Wood. Even Fires will admit that too much Fire energy can become chaotic, and chaos takes a Wood down quicker than almost anything else. That’s why Woods are often perceived as control freaks. But in truth, they don’t want control, they just want to prevent things from getting out of control. Living with four Fires, Mike was not only exhausted from trying to feed your Fire (in relationships, this means being the audience for the Fire), he was also likely trying to manage what he perceived as chaos. When younger, withdrawing from the drama was probably the best way for him to retain his own balance. And as you may have discovered, it works for adults, too. It’s not surprising that maturity and additions to the family have made things a bit better for Mike. The good news is that Woods have great boundaries and, as an adult, it’s probably easier for Mike to draw a line now than it was when he was young. If things get too chaotic now, he can easily excuse himself (having work to catch up on is a great Wood excuse) and seek out a quiet area. There are different elements in the mix now, too, which also takes some of the pressure off of Mike, although it will be important to understand the specific relationships he’ll have with each of the new additions to your family. One of your daughters is married to a Water and if he’s a balanced Water, Mike probably gets on well with him. Mike and this brother-in-law relate on the Nurturing Cycle, with your son-in-law’s Water feeding Mike’s Wood. However, if your Water son-in-law is...

Dear Vicki: My 12 year old son has always been funny and outgoing, but lately I’ve caught him lying to me. It’s not really big stuff, but it’s concerning. For example, when Todd spent the weekend at his fathers (we had an amicable divorce five years ago), Todd reported that he and his dad had lunch with the mayor. When I checked, it turns out that the assistant mayor is an old high school friend of my ex-husband and that’s who they lunched with. When I challenge Todd, he laughed and said it’s a better story to have lunch with a mayor. Another time Todd complained that his history teacher assigned 100 pages to read over the weekend. It turned out that the assignment was 50 pages, but they could do more for extra credit. His response when I asked was to cop a dramatic attitude and laugh. I’m beginning to wonder if Todd’s a Fire who’s out of control and that’s why he’s lying. Regardless, I'm very upset, my Metal will not tolerate it, so how do I get him to stop? Signed: Disturbed Outside Denver Dear Disturbed: Teaching children that honesty matters is an important part of parenting. It will be especially important to you as a Metal because following rules and maintaining high ethical standards matter greatly to Metals. The norm for our culture has been that lying is wrong, and Metals are our guides for determining right from wrong, so you are probably upset that your son isn’t getting with the program. In truth, your son’s lying strikes at the core of your values as a Metal. We’ll address his lying first, but I suspect there’s another issue at play that’s part of what’s upsetting you, and we’ll cover that later. But first, the lying. It’s interesting you suspect that Fire would be the element to lie. That’s possible, yet all of the elements will lie. But the reasons they lie will be different. When Fires lie, it’s usually for a sense of drama. Todd’s correct, it’s a more dramatic story to say one has lunched with the mayor than the assistant mayor. Fires exaggerate a story for the effect, too. Fires enjoy being the entertainer and garnering the attention. When Earths lie, it’s usually to protect someone’s feelings. Earths don’t like to hurt people or make them feel left out. They will deny attending a party to which you weren’t invited, or tell you that the painting you made for them is beautiful, even if it isn’t. Earths care and don’t want people hurt. When Metals lie, which isn’t very often, it’s usually to discredit a fact  or idea that would negatively affect something they know to be true. It’s much more compelling to say that the committee unanimously agrees with a specific course of action even if, in truth, there were a few dissenters. Other times Metals lie it’s usually because their secondary element kicks in for a sense of drama, to protect feelings, etc. When Waters lie, it’s usually...