RESISTANCE  TO  CHANGE

If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll keep getting what we’ve always got. To change the effects of our anger, the first step is to make a conscious commitment to change or improve our current anger management skills. Change involves practicing new behaviors that can seem awkward or silly, at first. It also might challenge beliefs we’ve held since childhood. Awareness is the first step in changing any habit. Once we are aware of our unhelpful beliefs, we can choose healthier beliefs, feelings, and responses. Below is a list of unhelpful beliefs that can block our willingness to change.

RESISTANT BELIEFS
 MOTIVATING BELIEFS
I can’t change. It’s just the way I am.
Just because I have always been that way, doesn’t mean I can’t change. It’s my choice.
Something (or someone) makes me do that.
Things happen that I can’t control, but I can control my reaction.
I don’t know why I did it; I just did.
If I ‘just did it’ without thinking, it is a habit—and I can change my habits.
I’d like to do that differently, but it’s just too hard to change.
Change can be scary and difficult. But what I’m doing now is not helpful nor healthy. I can change that—now.
 I’ve never been able to do that. I can’t. (What I really mean is, I won’t.)
Just because I’ve never done it before doesn’t mean I can’t do it. If I put my mind to it, I can.

 

DEALING  WITH  OTHERS’  ANGER  AND  STRESS 

Throughout this chapter, we’ve only focused on coping with our anger—which is an ongoing, lifetime process. We can use most of these same skills to deal with other people who are angry, even if their anger is not directed at us.

 

Teaching  Children  Anger  Management  Skills

Anger and stress management skills are not just for adults, children can learn them, too. Many parents express concerns about their children’s temper, disrespectful responses, or inability to control their emotions. When trying to teach children self-control, identify their recharge and anger energy styles. Then suggest they do activities, during their timeout, that fit their styles. (We learn how to use time-outs appropriately in Chapter 13, “Discipline Toolset.”)

A Personal Story. When Chris was a toddler, I was concerned about his aggression, especially when he was angry. There was one particular friend who tended to push his buttons and their conflicts had gotten too rough on several occasions. Before this friend came to visit, we did some problem solving. I listened to his feelings and frustrations about how the friend bothered him. Chris and I prepared a three-step plan to handle similar situations in the future. First, he would use words. If that didn’t work, he would walk away. If that didn’t work, he’d go to his room or ask an adult for help. We rehearsed his words and his plan.

 

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During the friend’s next visit, the boy’s mother kept talking, oblivious to her son’s behavior. Soon, a conflict was brewing at the end of the yard. Knowing Chris had a plan, I simply observed from afar. I could hear Chris using words, although I couldn’t tell what he said. Even from a distance, I could see Chris’ face getting red, his neck veins bulging, his fists clenched. He walked away, over to the swing set. The friend followed. Chris looked around, then pushed his friend to the ground.

While the other mother tended to her son, I put my arms around Chris, who was still crying and shaking. I said, “I saw you using words! You were angry, but you used words! Then you walked away, but he followed you, didn’t he?” My son nodded as he cried. “When he followed, you could have gone to your room or come to me. What happened?” He sniffled and said, “But I didn’t know how to get to my room!” He was so flustered, he couldn’t figure out how to get to his room from outside! It never occurred to me that we needed a backup plan for outside! I added, “Next time, just open the screen door and go inside the house. Okay?”

Despite the pushing, I was impressed that Chris gave his new skills a valiant try. Our problem-solving session was a major turnaround in his ability to resolve peer conflicts without aggression. Nature had its own timetable and progress was slow. But I was consistent and as he matured, the anger/stress management skills began working—for both of us. By the time he went to preschool, I realized he had progressed from below average in his anger skills to above average. This really reinforced, in my mind, the value of these skills—not just for adults, but for children, too.

Many parents complain about their children’s temper tantrums. It’s helpful to understand that tantrums are natural and healthy for young children. They provide a nonverbal way of getting their anger energy out, until they become more verbal and learn better anger management skills. Obviously, if they don’t learn healthier ways to express their anger, their tantrums continue, in different ways at different ages. (See Chapter 3, “The Universal Blueprint,” for the different types of tantrums and possible responses.)

When children are upset, we want to avoid getting hooked by the way they express it. Instead, we can use the Child Problem Toolbox to learn what’s really going on and help them deal with their emotions. We can suggest activities (drawing, painting, clay, etc.) that help them express emotions they cannot verbalize or release their anger energy. The key phrase to use in this situation is, “Show me how you feel.” The Problem-Solving Toolset is helpful, not only to plan an anger management program for our children, but to explore possible solutions to their problems.

Sometimes our children’s anger is a problem for us, when it violates our rights, rules, or involves safety. We may need to temporarily move into the Parent Problem Toolbox to set limits and encourage our children to take a self-control time-out.

When we pause to keep our cool, our silence can have a surprising effect. Children look to us for our response to problems. If we take a deep breath, plan what we say, and speak slowly, we can calm down and stay focused. Often, while we are taking a breath, children jump in and take care of the problem!

Sometimes, someone other than the angry person can tell when tempers are about to erupt. At these times, it is helpful to have a family code word that anyone can say to call a time-out. The word can be one small word that is not used often, such as “Break!” Anyone is allowed to say this word; child to parent, parent to child, parent to parent, or child to child. When someone says the code word in the heat of the moment, it means everyone separates, gets out their anger energy and recharges. When everyone calms down, they can come together to resolve the problem more calmly.

A Graduate’s Story. During a family council, we actually used one of those silly ideas from brainstorming. Our children chose the word “pickle” for our family time-out code word. Later that week, we were getting into a heated argument about something that really wasn’t worth arguing about. My youngest daughter called out “Pickle!” We stopped and looked at her, puzzled, as we tried to figure out what she was talking about. Then we remembered our agreement and

 

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started laughing—not at anyone else, but at ourselves. For us, having a silly code word reminds us of what is really important. Every now and then, when the issue is really important, people get a bit irritated having a silly code word. At those times, we don’t laugh, but the code word still reminds us to take a time-out to cool off before we hurt someone’s feelings or say something we might regret.

 

Defusing  Another  Person’s  Anger

When someone is angry, defuse the anger before negotiating a solution or problem solving, with the following suggestions:

  • Don’t answer anger with anger. If people make hurtful comments, remember that anger causes people to say things they really don’t mean. Don’t jump to conclusions or take everything literally, before they calm down. They may be venting. Don’t defend yourself by blaming, even if they are blaming you. For example, “Well, I wouldn’t have done that if you hadn’t . . .”
  • Imagine that you are surrounded by an invisible bubble. Love and positive thoughts can come through the bubble, from others, and out of the bubble, from you. Negative words and actions bounce right off.
  • Keep your ideas, opinions, and explanations to yourself for nowStating your opinions and ideas before angry people defuse their emotional energy only slows down the process and frustrates them. At that moment, angry people are not ready to listen. If it’s necessary to give your side, they will listen better when they are calm. Be patient and wait to take your turn.
  • Try looking at the situation from their point of view. Tell yourself, “If I saw the world the way they do, I’d feel like them, too.” Find a part of what they are saying that is true. You can agree with the facts, their opinion, or the belief involved, such as “I agree, it was inconsiderate of me to be so late without calling.”
  • Make what’s important to them as important to you as they are to you. Use the F-A-X process to let them know you understand how they feel. Restate their views. Focus on their hurt. Remain calm and respectful even if you disagree with them. Avoid the communication barriers listed in Chapter 7, “F-A-X Listening Toolset,” which will only enrage them more.
  • Offer a sincere apology for any part you played in the problem or for upsetting them. Ask for specific suggestions about what they want you to do. Or ask for details about what you did that upset them.
  • Help people discharge pent-up emotional energy by suggesting anger or stress techniques that fit their style of anger (verbal or physical anger energy and internal or external recharge).

Only move to the negotiation phase after they’ve worked through their anger. If it is only their problem, use F-A-X communication in the Child Problem Toolbox. If part of the problem belongs to you, also use the Clear Communication Toolset to reach win/win solutions.

A Graduate’s Story. My family had some horrendous experiences, affecting every one of our lives. My 11-year-old son was overflowing with anger and resentment, which came out in undesirable ways. He had to be physically restrained for periods up to an hour to keep him from hurting himself or another family member. Thanks to the skills we learned in The Parent’s Toolshop, we learned how to defuse that anger, set safe limits, and create positive outlets for these feelings. The Parent’s Toolshop taught us to use reflective listening, giving choices, one-liners, and problem solving to create a more open atmosphere that enables us to move on to more creative ways of dealing with feelings in our home.

 

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My son had a real problem with throwing things, anything, when he was angry. So I figured, “Why not let him throw something he is allowed to throw, like a baseball?” We would go to the backyard and throw a ball when he began to get angry. At first, he could not aim the ball toward me. But as he calmed down, he wouldn’t throw the ball as hard or crooked. When the ball was on target, I could use reflective listening and he could verbalize his feelings. Then we could move on to problem solving. But if he began to throw the ball harder or more wildly during the conversation, I knew I needed to slow down or something else was bothering him.

Knowing that it was okay to be angry and finding a safe way to get his anger out helped him break through and resolve the problem. His self-esteem was intact and he was managing his own anger. He was solving his own problems, which helped him feel more in control. When no one is available to throw a ball, he removes himself from the situation and does things such as roller-blading, walking, running, or batting a ball. He finds it helpful to get his angry energy out so he can move on to reasonable thoughts.

 

Children  and  Stress

Children experience stress, just as adults do. Obvious times of stress are divorce, moving, or deaths (family members, pets, or others). Other, less obvious, stresses can be recurrent problems with a teacher, with other students, or an unrealistic work load. Parents, too, can sometimes be the source of a child’s stress. A parent with unrealistic expectations, unreasonable demands, or perfectionist attitudes causes stress. Parents who are ill or under stress can unknowingly affect their children. When parents try to protect their children by covering up what’s going on, children can tell something is wrong. If they don’t know the truth, they’ll often come to their own (often incorrect) conclusions which are often more damaging than the truth would be.

The best strategy for helping children deal with stress is to be open and honest. Give children the information they need to understand what’s going on. They don’t need to know every detail. Be brief and let them ask questions. Use words and ideas they can understand and tell them in an honest, but reassuring way. (See the list at the end of this chapter for resources that help parents explain difficult topics to children.) Encourage them to express their feelings. If you aren’t sure how or when things will work out, reassure them that you love them and will be supportive, regardless of the outcome. Teach children the stress management skills we just learned. Remember, children often act  out their stress and feelings.2

Excessive stress in children can result in the following warning signs:

  • sudden, dramatic increase or decrease in effort at school.
  • Uncharacteristic, sudden changes in attitude, such as irritability, lack of enthusiasm, or being easily distracted from tasks.
  • Withdrawal or emotional/behavioral outbursts.
  • Recurrent complaints of tiredness, illness, stomachaches, or headaches.
  • Sudden changes in sleeping and eating habits.
  • Drug use or abuse. Unexplained increase in allergic/asthmatic attacks.
  • Avoidance of school or tests by direct refusal or convenient illnesses.
  • Excessive eating, nail biting, or stuttering.

 

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Teenage depression can outwardly appear different among teens. Teens can disguise their feelings through other behaviors that are directed at themselves or others. Although they may not seem to be trying to draw attention to their feelings, many teens are sending a message for help, “I’m hurting! Will someone please see my need and offer me some relief?” Depressed teens believe they cannot solve their problems and have little hope that others can help. We can often trace teenage depression to failed relationships, frequently within the home. Beneath the depression lies built-up frustration, stress, and angry feelings. It is vital for teens to know how to use anger/stress management tools, since they may or may not reach out for help when life seems overwhelming.

 

FINAL  COMMENTS 

In summary:

  1. Admit you are angry and slow down your anger cycle.
  2. Deal with your anger as soon as possible, rather than letting it build up to the point that you may explode. Reduce your anxiety by using energy outlets or recharge activities.
  3. Identify the source or cause of your anger.
  4. Identify and change any unhelpful beliefs you have about the situation.
  5. Recognize the situations you can control and those you can’t. Don’t waste energy on situations you cannot control.
  6. Make a conscious choice whether to express your anger. Consider the effects of your response and how others will react. Rehearse how you will deal with their reactions.

It is empowering to know what to do with our anger. It can be a great revelation to realize “I can control my own emotions. No one can make me feel anything. I can choose my reaction, response, and perception in any situation.” Such knowledge, however, doesn’t bring magical overnight change. These are just tools. Each of us must take these tools and be willing to use them until they are a new way of responding. Like any habit, anger and stress management take time and patience. Our progress may be gradual and slow. At first we notice an increase in our patience, simply because we have more tools at our disposal. With time, we can look back and see how far we’ve come in our ability to handle stress and anger.

It is not too much to ask that we control our behavior, since that is what we are expecting of our children.

 

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SUMMARY SHEET
KEEP YOUR COOL TOOLSET
 

Anger is a physical and emotional reaction to a perceived threat. If we don’t use the muscle tension and chemicals the body releases in anger, the build-up can lead to serious illness.

 

STEPS OF CONSTRUCTIVE ANGER/STRESS MANAGEMENT

 

a. Become aware of your anger cycle ☆☆☆☆

EVENT ———> BELIEF ——-> FEELING ——> RESPONSE
Changing beliefs affects the rest of the anger cycle.
Passive anger = stuffs and denies feelings.
Aggressive anger = takes out emotions on others.
Passive-Aggressive anger = hurts others in passive ways.
Assertive anger = a balanced, honest, respectful response.

 

b. Relieve the pressure of anger and stress

Smoldering embers need stress management. ☆☆☆☆
•  Internal rechargers get their energy from within themselves.
•  External rechargers get their energy from outside themselves.
Flash fires need healthy eruption outlets. ☆☆☆☆
• Verbal anger energy = feel like yelling
• Physical anger energy = feel like hitting
Personalize your program: P/I, V/I, P/E, V/E, VP/I, VP/E. ☆☆☆☆
Use an anger log to re-program your response. ☆☆☆☆

 

c. Plan an assertive response to the problem

(Chapter 10, “Clear Communication Toolset.”)

Children experience stress and anger, too. Explain stressful situations in honest and reassuring ways. Be a role model and teach children anger/stress management skills, based on their recharge and anger-energy styles.

Permission  for  reader  to  reprint  this  page  for  personal  use  only  granted  by  author,  Jody  Johnston  Pawel,  LSW,  The  Parent’s  Toolshop,©  2000.

 

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 PRACTICE  ~  USE  AN  ANGER  LOG ☆☆☆☆

An anger log helps us look at the various steps in our anger cycle, identify trigger buttons or symptoms of stress overload, and plan more effective ways of expressing anger in the future. We can use it after an explosion, to understand what happened and re-program a trigger button, or during a time-out to think more clearly and plan an assertive response.

Here are directions for using the anger log that follows. We go through each step twice. First, we go through all four steps of the anger cycle, reliving the angry attitudes, thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Then we go back to step one and rewrite more healthy beliefs and perceptions. Once we do this, we usually have more clarity about our feelings and can plan a helpful response.

  1.   Describe the event. In the Before column, write a description of what happened.
  2.   What do I believe about this event? In the Before column, we write what we told ourselves when this event happened. These are our thoughts, opinions, and interpretations about what happened.
  3.   How do I feel? In the Before column, we write how we felt. If we were calm just before the event occurred, the event might have pushed a trigger button. If we were tense or overwhelmed, we make note of the physical symptoms, so we can catch ourselves the next time, before we blow. (Be careful to catch thoughts we often misinterpret as feelings. For example, “I felt like he was doing it on purpose” is a belief and interpretation, not a feeling.)
  4.   What was my response? In the Before column, we write what we said or did.

Now, move to the After/To Reprogram column.

  5.   Am I being objective? We look at the description of the event we wrote in the Before column. An objective perspective of the problem is factual, the way a camera sees it. Anyone in that situation would see the situation the same way. In the After column, rewrite any judgments or assumptions in a more factual, objective way.
  6.   Are my beliefs healthy? We look at the beliefs we wrote in the Before column. Are they helpful or unhelpful? Rational or irrational? Objective or judgmental? 
Is there anything about the way we perceived the situation that could have contributed to our anger?
For a belief to be helpful, rational, and objective it must meet at least three of the following four guidelines:
 
a.  The thought is objective and nonjudgmental. It is respectful of me and the other person.
b.  The thought helps me better understand the problem or the other person’s perspective.
c.  The thought helps me think more about how to resolve the problem.
d.  The thought makes me less upset.

Rewrite each unhelpful belief in the After column, using the guidelines above and those described earlier in this chapter (page 237).

  7.   Now, how do I feel? Now that we’ve rewritten our beliefs, what are we feeling? List these new feelings in the After column. Look at the feelings we listed in the Before column. We usually find that we are now more in touch with our primary feelings, the ones closer to the core of our onion. We also usually understand the other person’s point of view better.
  8.   How can I respond? Once we have rewritten the first three steps, we can plan and write a new response in the After column, using the Universal Blueprint’s PASRR formula.


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BEFORE/DURING ANGER

 

Describe the event. What happened?

 

Joey, 12, rode his bike to Jacob’s house to play before football practice. He’s late and the phone is busy, so they’re probably playing on the Internet. Now I have to drive all the way over there just to get him to practice on time.

AFTER/TO RE-PROGRAM ANGER

 

Am I being objective? Look at the Before description. Change biased comments into factual, objective terms.

 

Joey was late and had lost track of time, but the boys weren’t the one’s tying up the phone line. I don’t have to drive to Jacob’s, but can choose to if I want.

What do I believe about this event? When the event happened, what did I tell myself?

 

Why is he so irresponsible? Is it too much to ask that he look at the clock now and then? He takes me for granted to remember every thing for him. I shouldn’t have to drive over there to get him. He’ll probably want me to bring his bike home in the van, too. At this point, he’s sure to be late.

Are my beliefs healthy? Look at each belief listed to the left. Rewrite unhealthy beliefs using helpful, positive words.

 

When kids are playing, they can easily lose track of time. There was no clock outside, but Joey was wearing his watch with an alarm. It would have been nicer if the phone line was free. I could choose not to drive there and let Joey experience the natural consequences of being late and the coach’s reaction. I can also choose whether to pick up Joey and/or his bike. we might be late.

How do I feel?

 

 

Furious, put out and inconvenienced, taken advantage of, rushed.

Now, how do I feel after looking at the healthier beliefs and thoughts above?

 

 

Frustrated, rushed, unsure whether to rescue Joey from being late.

What was my response?

 

I drove to Jacob’s house. Joey was jumping on the outdoor trampoline. I yelled at him to come NOW. I refused to take the bike and followed him home. I stewed while he got his equipment together and lectured him about his irresponsibility the whole way to practice. He was still late and we both were upset.

How can I respond in a helpful, healthy, rational, and positive way?

 

Prevent the problem next time, by verifying that Joey has set his watch alarm before leaving. Decide up front, with Joey, what will happen if he is late. If he is late anyway and I choose to pick him up, I can be calmer and more relaxed. I can simply state the facts and ask Joey how he plans to get to practice on time. I can breath deeply while he is getting ready and drive calmly. I still probably won’t pick up the bike.

Permission  for  reader  to  reprint  this  page  for  personal  use  only  granted  by  author,  Jody  Johnston  Pawel,  LSW,  The  Parent’s  Toolshop, ©  2000.

 

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BEFORE/DURING ANGER

 

Describe the event. What happened?

 

Joey, 12, rode his bike to Jacob’s house to play before football practice. He’s late and the phone is busy, so they’re probably playing on the Internet. Now I have to drive all the way over there just to get him to practice on time.

AFTER/TO RE-PROGRAM ANGER

 

Am I being objective? Look at the Before description. Change biased comments into factual, objective terms.

 

Joey was late and had lost track of time, but the boys weren’t the one’s tying up the phone line. I don’t have to drive to Jacob’s, but can choose to if I want.

What do I believe about this event? When the event happened, what did I tell myself?

 

Why is he so irresponsible? Is it too much to ask that he look at the clock now and then? He takes me for granted to remember everything for him. I shouldn’t have to drive over there to get him. He’ll probably want me to bring his bike home in the van, too. At this point, he’s sure to be late.

Are my beliefs healthy? Look at each belief listed to the left. Rewrite unhealthy beliefs using helpful, positive words.

 

When kids are playing, they can easily lose track of time. There was no clock outside, but Joey was wearing his watch with an alarm. It would have been nicer if the phone line was free. I could choose not to drive there and let Joey experience the natural consequences of being late and the coach’s reaction. I can also choose whether to pick up Joey and/or his bike. we might be late.

How do I feel?

 

Furious, put out and inconvenienced, taken advantage of, rushed.

Now, how do I feel after looking at the healthier beliefs and thoughts above?

 

Frustrated, rushed, unsure whether to rescue Joey from being late.

What was my response?

 

I drove to Jacob’s house. Joey was jumping on the outdoor trampoline. I yelled at him to come NOW. I refused to take the bike and followed him home. I stewed while he got his equipment together and lectured him about his irresponsibility the whole way to practice. He was still late and we both were upset.

How can I respond in a helpful, healthy, rational, and positive way?

 

Prevent the problem next time, by verifying that Joey has set his watch alarm before leaving. Decide up front, with Joey, what will happen if he is late. If he is late anyway and I choose to pick him up, I can be calmer and more relaxed. I can simply state the facts and ask Joey how he plans to get to practice on time. I can breath deeply while he is getting ready and drive calmly. I still probably won’t pick up the bike.

Permission  for  reader  to  reprint  this  page  for  personal  use  only  granted  by  author,  Jody  Johnston  Pawel,  LSW,  The  Parent’s  Toolshop, ©  2000. 

 

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ADDITIONAL  RESOURCES

If you would like to do more work on your anger management skills refer to the resources listed in the end-notes or consult the following resources:

  • Dr. Weisinger’s Anger Workout Book, (William Morrow & Co., 1985).
  • The Dance of Anger, Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D., (HarperCollins, 1989).
  • Anger Kills: How to Control the Hostility That Can Harm Your Health, by Redford Williams, (Random House, 1993.)
  • The Angry Teenager, Dr. William Lee Carter, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995).
  • Taming the Dragon in Your Child: Solutions for Breaking the Cycle of Family Anger, Meg Eastman, (Wiley, NY: 1994).
  • Tantrums: Secrets to Calming the Storm, Ann E. LaForge, (Pocket Books, NY; 1996).
  • When Kids Are Mad, Not Bad: a Guide to Recognizing and Handling Children’s Anger, Henry A. Paul, (Berkeley Books, NY, 1995).
  • The Relaxation Response, by Herbert Benson (New York: William Morrow, 1975), offers instructions for meditation.
  • How to Talk to Your Kids About Really Important Things: Specific Questions and Answers and Useful Things to Say, by Charles E. Schaefer, Ph.D. and Theresa Foy DiGeronimo, M.Ed.(1994, Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco.) Topic chapters have suggestions by age groups.

 

WHAT’S  NEXT?

We want to practice stress and anger management skills daily. When we take the time and make the effort, we experience less stress buildup and angry explosions. Once we have our logic back online, we can plan a constructive response to the problem. To do this, we move to the Clear Communication Toolset to plan the words we want to say.

Chapter 10, “Clear Communication Toolset,” explains Step C1c: Plan an assertive response. Whether we use no words, one word, or several sentences, this chapter provides many tools we can choose. When the prevention tools are working most of the time and we have a positive relationship with our child (thanks to the listening tools), problems can still occur. Since we already took these first two steps of the PASRR formula, we can use the communication tools, immediately and by themselves, to stop the problem before it develops or worsens.

 

REFERENCES

  1. Anger cycle steps are based on a model developed by Albert Ellis, author of A Guide to Rational Living(Prentice-Hall, 1961).
  2. The Effective Parent (The Next STEP), by Donald Dinkmeyer and Gary McKay with Donald Dinkmeyer Jr., James S. Dinkmeyer, and Joyce L. McKay (American Guidance Service, 1987) p. 84.