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At Land Combat Expo 2005 in Heidelberg, John Covey held seminars on successful family life.
At Land Combat Expo 2005 in Heidelberg, John Covey held seminars on successful family life. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

HEIDELBERG, Germany — The Coveys live in a world where families have lots of children and husbands and wives stay married forever. A world where parents never really discipline children; where all thoughts are positive.

They brought that world to the U.S. Army Land Combat Expo this week, and people loved it.

Motivational speaker Jane and John Covey pulled in capacity audiences each day of the expo, extolling what they say are the seven habits of successful military families.

Their 90-minute seminar Friday, which drew about 150 people, was quite a contrast to the explorations of war-making and combat.

Instead of using force to impose your will on others, the best families discard negative habits and adapt habits of listening to one another instead of dictating. They identify one another’s best points, dwell on them instead of the negative, and incorporate them into the fabric of the family, the Coveys said.

Heavy on clichés, simplistic assumptions, and platitudes, their message — frequently called “pop management” — nonetheless was detailed and personal.

The Coveys have seven children and 47 grandchildren, and they used their own pitfalls to demonstrate how they changed their behavior: condemning bad behavior and cultivating the best traits.

Habitually, 80 percent of family conversation is negative, Jane Covey said: “‘Can’t you do something with your hair?’ ‘Not that dress!?’ ‘You have terrible eating habits.’”

John Covey, in particular, conceded that he had been a less-than-perfect father, and that even good families — “and I mean the best families” — veer off course. They become negative and self-centered — “that’s how John Covey was” for many years of his 46-year marriage.

The key point, they stressed, is that people have the capacity for dramatic and profound change.

Genes, environment and circumstances lead people to say, “‘It’s not my fault,’” Jane Covey said. “Yes, it is.”

And once they realize this, successful families can break bad habits by taking the time to identify and practice core values, such as faith and love, then change habits that make one another unhappy, and their family weak, John Covey said.

Each person must take responsibility for poor behavior and change it, they said. People make deposits and withdrawals in the family bank of encouragement and praise. If children don’t get that at home, Jane Covey said, they’ll go elsewhere and may find that encouragement with destructive people, such as drug users.

Successful families also have to consciously built connections through family traditions.

Her husband, Jane Covey said, would pick one child each week “just about dinner time, and say, ‘Lets go to The Cottage,’” the local ice cream parlor. “He used to say, ‘You can have anything you want,’ words that never came from his lips!” Years later, the couple was shocked to hear their kids say memories of trips with their father to The Cottage are among their fondest.

John Covey, a Harvard graduate and former professor at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, is the brother of Stephen R. Covey, whose book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” sold more then 15 million copies in 38 languages. The Coveys’ Friday session was titled “7 Habits of Highly Effective Families.”

Critics have accused Stephen Covey, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of repackaging Mormon teachings. But in interviews, he’s stressed the theme of strong families in all religions, and recommends tracts from Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other religions.

Stephen Covey also is vice-chairman of FranklinCovey Co., a diversified retailer that make a variety of professional organizing and time-management product such as the Franklin Planner.

Seven habits of successful military families

According to Jane and John Covey, the following are essential to fostering a healthy, happy family life:

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