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How to help a loved one break a bad habit

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Family

How to help a loved one break a bad habit

Approaching someone close to you about personal habits that you perceive to be dangerous or risky can be a very sensitive situation. Perhaps you're concerned about your husband's chain-smoking or you're uncomfortable with your sibling's tendency to get behind the wheel after a few too many post-work beers. Or maybe you're alarmed by a parent's unhealthy eating habits. Whatever the harmful habit may be, how you approach the issue is key to helping your loved one understand your concerns and effect change.

We asked Timothy Gauthier, an Ottawa-based mental health coach and the founder of SmartLife Wellness Co., about some useful approaches for initiating dialogue and how to best support a loved one who is open to a healthy lifestyle change.

"Sometimes harmful behaviour is a call for help. Your loved one may actually appreciate you voicing your concerns," says Gauthier. "Speaking up is a good idea when you feel that ultimately this behaviour will continue to negatively impact your loved one's life and that it will place increasing amounts of stress on your relationship."

1. Focus on the positive
By communicating your feelings about your loved one's behaviour you are letting them know you care, whether or not they are immediately able or willing to acknowledge or commit to a lifestyle change, explains Gauthier.

"Having this conversation can bring so many positive outcomes for your relationship: better communication, increased closeness and the opportunity to become stronger both individually and collectively."

2. Consider your approach
Bear in mind that as difficult as it may be for you to bring up the negative behaviour of a loved one, it will be equally difficult for them to hear.

"Take some time to think about how you would appreciate being approached if the situation was reversed," advises Gauthier. "Be careful not to point fingers or blame, but instead come from a place of compassion and genuine concern for their well-being."

Page 1 of 2 -- Discover five more tips for helping a loved one break a bad habit on page 2. 3. Timing is everything
If this is the first time the person is hearing your feelings about his or her behaviour, be considerate and pick a time when you can have some privacy.

"Generally, not in front of others is a good rule, unless it is deemed important to have a third person present. But it if is serious enough, there is no time like the present," says Gauthier. "The reality is some conversations will be difficult no matter what."

4. Useful phrases
Take a non-critical, non-judgmental approach when sharing your feelings. Gauthier suggests phrases such as: "I've noticed you seem more stressed than usual. Do you want to talk about it?" Or: "I'm really concerned about (insert harmful behaviour here). Is there anything I can do to help?"

Reminders such as -- "Because I love you, I am committed to working through this with you" -- can also be reassuring.

5. Ask for help
Approaching someone you care about to discuss a serious problem can be daunting, so don't hesitate to ask for help, says Gauthier. "You can always speak to an expert or professional who has experience working with people who have the same issues, and if you are concerned about your own safety or security, consider bringing in a third party."

6. Be supportive
"Support is good, but be careful not to do all the work when trying to secure outside support or services," cautions Gauthier. "The person with the problem needs to take ownership of their behaviour and take action toward getting help, otherwise there is risk of creating further dependence," he explains.

It's also important to remember that the person in question may not even perceive his or her behaviour or habits as a problem. "Their reaction will give you a good idea of how harmful they perceive their behaviour to be," says Gauthier. "Ultimately, they need to decide if they want help."

7. Be patient
If your loved one resists change -- or if you feel that the process of change is moving more slowly than you had hoped -- try to be tolerant and exercise patience.

"Give them space and time to reflect on their priorities," advises Gauthier. "By opening up this dialogue it lets them know that you care and that you see that they are struggling. It gives them a gentle wakeup call that this behaviour may need some attention, and has opened the door to further communication around the issue."

If the behaviour of someone close to you is having a negative effect on you and your relationship, it's important to speak up. Good communication, healthy dialogue, patience and a considerate approach are essential. Letting your loved one know that you are concerned and available to support them will go a long way in helping them drop their harmful habits for good.

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