We can usually count on getting another chance to respond to a family problem if we get it wrong the first, second, or third time around. But, I know from personal and professional experience that when an issue goes unaddressed, it rarely goes away. Rather, it gains momentum and mass over time.

Instead of perpetuating ineffective patterns, look for opportunities to improve upon them. One way to pull back and deal with a problem that’s spinning out of control is to introduce a change of game plan as an adaptation to new circumstances or information. Situations are always changing with new facts emerging, so an opening will present itself. Over the years, my clients have come up with these direct and relevant game-changing calls:

We’d like to have more family meals together, which can only happen if you drop an after-school activity.

The car insurance premium has gone up so we’d like you to pay for gas to offset the increase.

I’ve gotten busier at work and need you to do your own laundry.

We noticed that you’re slow to rise in the morning so bedtime will be half an hour earlier.

When your brother starts graduate school, your apartment subsidy will end and go toward his tuition.

A gap year abroad is not part of the financial plan we’re offering you for college.

Your taste in clothes is impressive. I think we should split the cost of your jeans.

The truth is that as we’re raising our kids, they’re raising us. Most of us have never done this before. Even if we’ve guided older siblings or step-children through similar stages, each child has a unique relationship with his or her parent and the world. We shouldn’t assume that what worked with one child will work with another. Every day parents wake up to new challenges and calls to adapt.

Changing an arrangement that’s in place by offering a value-based context decreases room for negotiation and increases a parent’s credibility. I prefer to say, “Our circumstance has changed and this is how we’ve chosen to adapt” instead of “We’re changing the rules mid-game because we’re new at this and don’t know what we’re doing.”