Articles for Parents

Everything listed under: well-being

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    4 Must-Dos for Parents After Divorce

    Based on hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, Dr. Warren Farrell, co-author of The Boy Crisis, says that “Dad’s time trumps Dad’s dime.” 

    “More than 100 psychologists and researchers got together. They wrote in unanimous consent that the children need their father about equally to their mother in the case of divorce,” says Farrell. 

    Farrell explained that for years researchers believed that children did better with an involved father because intact families had more money and lived in better neighborhoods. However, researchers controlled for virtually every variable and found that father involvement plays a vital role in the health of a child. It’s not just about the money he may provide, although that is very important. It is the combination of presence and provision.

    “The degree of difference between the health of a child who has both father and mother involvement, who has four things after divorce is so different from the health of the child that doesn’t,” Farrell says. 

    Farrell goes on to say that whether babies are born prematurely or full-term, the importance of the father being involved is enormous. 

    “Prematurely-born children are more likely to develop their brains better and get out of the hospital sooner and have more psychomotor functioning when the father is visiting the hospital as much as possible, according to research from Yale University,” he says.

    “The father breathing on the child when it’s first born helps the bonding process to occur and changes the dad’s brain,” Farrell says “The sooner the father gets involved with the child, a whole nest of neurons in the male brain begins to develop and connect with each other that mimics the mother instinct - overlapping with mother instinct. Oxytocin levels go up, testosterone levels go down. Dads connect emotionally with their children.”

    According to Farrell, in the event of an unavoidable divorce, here are four must-dos for your child to have a reasonable chance of doing well.

    The first one is ensuring an equal amount of time with mother and father. Being in checks and balance mode with each other never means the father going away and working 80 hours a week and coming back when he is exhausted and the children are in bed. Farrell asserts that children need more than a Disneyland Dad or just a visitor on the weekends. They need time, and plenty of it.

    The second must-do is for the mother and father to live within a 20-minute drive time from each other. This gives children greater stability and creates less resentment, because if parents live further away, the kids may have to give up activities or friends in order to see the other parent. 

    It’s also important that children are not able to hear or detect bad-mouthing or negativity from one parent about the other. If one parent responds negatively about something concerning the other one, it can affect the child’s intimacy with one or both parents. Bad-mouthing isn’t just by words, it’s also via body language and tone of voice. Farrell says that many parents will swear that their kids did not overhear them saying something negative about the other parent while on the phone, but the child could detect the difference in the tone of voice, even from another room.

    Finally, it’s beneficial for the kids if parents spend significant time doing consistent relationship counseling, even if it only happens every few weeks. If parents only seek counsel in an emergency, the chances are you need to solve the problem sooner, and you are more likely to make the other parent wrong and you only see the other parent when you are emergency mode. Therefore, you don’t have the chance to think and feel through with compassion the other parent’s best intent to solve the problem and make decisions.

    “Before you make a decision to have a child, do the research on why children need a significant amount of father involvement so that you don’t raise a child on your own and think it is just fine to do so and think that having a stepfather or you doing the father-type of role is going to be enough,” Farrell says. “If you believe your new husband is going to be a better stepfather than the biological father is a father, know that almost always the stepfather perceives himself to be an advisor, and the dynamic between a biological mother and stepfather is one where the biological mother does make the final decision. All of the dad-style parenting that a stepfather could potentially bring to a child’s life, like roughhousing, is likely to be inhibited by a biological mother with a lot more power and potency than she will use with the biological father. There’s a tendency for the stepfather to back out of equal parent engagement and just become a breadwinner.”

    Since research consistently shows that both parents are the best parents, Farrell expresses concern for unmarried biological moms who are living with the father. Farrell wants these moms to understand that when Mom is the primary parent, it often leads to the father being uninvolved and feeling that he is not valued. In situations like this, many fathers leave the child’s life within the first three to four years. 

    A word of caution here: While there is no question that some parents are unfit when it comes to filling the parent role, careful evaluation may be necessary to discern whether an ex is truly not fit to parent, or if it would "just be easier not to have to deal with them." If your thought process is more along the lines of, “I made a mistake marrying them. I want to start life over again without them. I don't like them. I don't like dealing with them,” it might be wise for you to reconsider your stance.

    There’s a big difference between safety and abuse issues and misunderstanding the other parent’s reasoning, thought processes or parenting style. If the goal is for children of divorce to be healthy in adulthood, it is important to follow these 4 must-dos after a divorce when it is possible and safe to do so.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 7, 2019.

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    How Connected is Your Family?

    Ready to take a short connectedness quiz?

    1. Who is your child’s favorite teacher of all time?
    2. What is your spouse’s favorite thing to do in his/her spare time?
    3. What is your child’s favorite meal?
    4. Given the opportunity for a night out, how would your spouse prefer to spend the evening?
    5. What person outside the family has most influenced your child’s life?
    6. What household chore does your spouse dislike the most?
    7. What accomplishment is your child most proud of?
    8. If money were no object, what one thing would your spouse most want to purchase?
    9. Who is your child’s hero?
    10. What makes your spouse feel truly loved?

    Now, go check out your answers to see how close you were to getting them right. The only way to know all the answers to these questions is through being truly connected to your family.

    “From a cultural standpoint, the connections that people have with one another and through social networks have been shown to improve the mental, physical and spiritual health of individuals,” said Christopher Brown, anthropologist and president of the National Fatherhood Initiative. “There is something that happens physiologically when people are connected, which is why people do better when they are involved in healthy relationships with others.”

    One of the most powerful relationships is between a parent and child. Studies show that parents are the first and most important teachers of children. Kids thrive when they can depend on a reliable parent when they need to talk, when they want input, when they need a hug, or want assurance that life will work out. 

    Research from the University of Michigan found that the connectedness that takes place during frequent meal times with the family was the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behavioral problems, even better than time spent studying or in church.

    Experts agree that:

    • Family dinner table conversation has been shown to increase children’s mental and verbal abilities;
    • Eating together promotes good communication, and strengthens family bonds and relationships;
    • Families who regularly eat together have more cohesion and unity; and
    • Family meals give children a sense of security. 

    Connections count every day of the year. If you didn’t do so well with the quiz above, this could be a great opportunity for you to re-evaluate how you connect in your home. 

    Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 18, 2018.

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    Dealing With Anxiety After Tragedy

    Whether you were actually in Dallas, Baton Rouge, Falcon Ridge or another city when shootings took place, constantly watching the media coverage can cause you to experience the very real phenomenon of vicarious traumatization.

    “What people often don’t realize is you don’t have to be present at a traumatic event to be traumatized,” says licensed clinical social worker, Pam Johnson. “Just hearing something can create a traumatic event in your mind. Add the visual of repeatedly watching the news segments and you can create some real anxiety. The deeper mind does not differentiate what is happening in real time and what happened in Texas to someone else.”

    Think about the last time you watched a scary movie and you realized your heart rate increased and you became jumpy and tense. Your body reacts physically because your mind does not know you are not actually part of the scene you are watching.

    “People have to be careful how much they expose themselves to because it can become toxic,” Johnson says. “The human mind cannot be in a creative problem-solving mode and a fight-or-flight mode at the same time. It is like trying to put a car in drive and reverse at the same time.

    "If we want a productive response to what has happened, individuals have to calm themselves down and get their emotions under control. Then we can have effective dialogue and begin asking questions such as, ‘How have we gotten here? What can we do to get ourselves out of this place?’”

    While emotions are understandable, they are often not helpful. If you feel them, be mindful of them, but don’t let them direct your behavior. If people run around angry and frightened, the problems will only get worse.

    Johnson offers a few tactics to help you constructively deal with your anxiety:

    • Limit the amount of time immersed in media. If you just cannot pull yourself away, take a pulse check – literally. If your pulse is high, stop watching. Be mindful of your feelings. Are you angry? Anxious? Tense?

    • Take action to reverse the anxiety. Go for a walk. Meditate. Get involved in constructive conversation with others. Pray.

    • Focus on things over which you have control. Get adequate rest. Eat healthy. Watch sitcoms or movies that don’t aggravate stress. Do things that are calming and soothing to you. Create an emergency plan with your family. Discuss what you would do if you heard gunfire in a public place.

    “Most importantly, I would tell people to learn to talk so people will listen and listen so people will talk,” Johnson says. “This is a crucial need in our society. We need to learn how to listen for the need and the heart of another person.

    "It is a trait of human beings to look at differences in other human beings and attach a negative meaning to the differences. This has been a protective measure in humans since the dawn of time. Hundreds of years ago humans needed this defense mechanism. Today it is not helpful. We have to remember, it is not us against them. It is all of us against violence.

    “The only way we can move beyond this problem is when people are willing to listen. It is through listening that the deeper mind has the time to discern that the person might think differently, but that does not necessarily make them dangerous.”

    While no one can predict future incidents, everyone can do something to help make a significant positive difference. What will you do?

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    Helping Kids Handle Mean Behavior

    Popular artist Taylor Swift is aware of her critics and the harshness of their comments, especially after the time she sang off key with Stevie Nicks. One critic said it was the beginning of the end of her career.

    These comments definitely affected Swift. So, what was her response? She wrote a song: Mean. 

    You, with your words like knives and swords and weapons that you use against me,

    You have knocked me off my feet again, got me feeling like I'm nothing...

    While there have always been mean people, many would agree that there seems to be more mean behavior than even a decade ago.

    “I believe as a society we are seeing more meanness and we have become more tolerant of it,” says Dr. Gary J. Oliver, emotional intelligence expert. “While bullying has always been around, we have seen an escalation of inhospitable, hurtful and demeaning behavior - and not just in adults who have lived a rough life. We are seeing this behavior in children as well.”

    So, as Swift asks in her lyrics, why do people have to be so mean?

    “I think there are a number of reasons,” Oliver says. “People seem to be more accepting of mean behavior instead of stopping it. And we have a lot of hurting people out there. When a wounded person feels threatened, they lash out in an effort to protect themselves. These people are almost always unhappy, insecure and frustrated. Their effort to make themselves feel better and safer comes at a great cost to those who become the target of their anger.”

    Oliver also believes mean behavior has increased because of humans' natural instinct to fight, run away or freeze when they feel threatened. People who don't how to handle a mean situation often resort to fighting back or attacking someone out of anger.

    “Most people do not realize that when they feel threatened, the emotion portion of their brain gets hijacked. If they have never learned emotional self-awareness, they resort to instinctive responses,” Oliver says. “Parents can teach their children how to handle their emotions in a way that is assertive yet not mean and disrespectful.”

    Dr. Oliver shares these tips to teach children emotional intelligence:

    • Love your children.

    • Keep expectations realistic. No child can be number one at everything.

    • Help your child to recognize his/her strengths.

    • Teach them healthy boundaries.

    • Model how to treat others with kindness and compassion even when treated disrespectfully.

    • When someone makes a mean statement to your child, teach them to ask themselves if it is true. If not, they can dismiss it. If it is, they can do something about it.

    “Nobody likes being treated mean – not even the bully,” Oliver says. “Teaching your children that they don’t have to react to every stimulus and that they can remain calm will serve them well on into adulthood. How far your child goes in life depends more on emotional intelligence than having a degree from an Ivy League school.”

    Who would you prefer your child to hang around, someone who is mean, disrespectful and rude or someone who is compassionate, kind and respectful?

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    Tips for Creating a Family Safety Plan

    In a matter of days there has been a mass shooting at a Florida school, a drive-by shooting at a local eatery and bar, and a tragic accident resulting in a young mother’s death.

    Some say these events make them want to go somewhere and hide. Unfortunately, running away from it all is not an option for most people, but you can take steps to help keep your family members safe.

    We have all been taught to “stop, drop and roll” in the event of a fire, and for years we have taught children about stranger danger in an effort to avoid child abductions. Now, ready.gov says we should be ready to “run, hide and fight.” 

    Although the thought of having this discussion with your kids can make you sad, talking about it and sharing ways your children can protect themselves may help them feel more secure. Your discussion will certainly vary based on age, however. 

    For elementary-age children, the American School Counselor Association recommends the following: 

    • Try to keep routines as normal as possible. Children gain security from the predictability of routine, including attending school.

    • Limit a younger child’s exposure to television and the news. This is actually good for adults as well.

    • Be honest and share as much information as your child is developmentally able to handle. Listen to their fears and concerns. Reassure them that the world is a good place to be, but there are people who do bad things.

    For older tweens and teens, specifically talk with them about how to take action should they find themselves in danger. For example, if they see something, they should say something. Show them how to be aware of their environment and to notice anything that looks out of the ordinary.

    In addition to these things, you can make a family plan to ensure everyone anticipates what they would do if confronted with an active shooter or some other type of violent situation. Look for the two nearest exits anywhere you go - the mall, a movie theater or restaurant - and have an escape path in mind or identify places you could hide. 

    If you ever find yourself in an active shooter situation, getting away from the danger is the top priority. Leave your belongings behind and get away. Help others escape, if possible, but evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow. Warn and prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be. Call 911 when you are safe, and describe the shooter, location and weapons if you can.

    If you can’t escape, hide. Get out of the shooter’s view and stay very quiet. Silence all electronic devices and make sure they won’t vibrate. Lock and block doors, close blinds and turn off lights. Don’t hide in groups - spread out along walls or hide separately to make it more difficult for the shooter. Try to communicate silently with police. Use text messaging or social media to tag your location, or put a sign in a window. Stay in place until law enforcement gives you the all-clear. Your hiding place should be out of the shooter's view and provide protection if shots are fired in your direction.

    As a last resort, fight. Commit to your actions and act as aggressively as possible against the shooter. Recruit others to ambush the shooter with makeshift weapons like chairs, fire extinguishers, scissors, books, etc. Throw items to distract and disarm the shooter, and be prepared to cause severe or fatal injury to the shooter. 

    Clearly, this sensitive and intense topic should be handled with the utmost care. You know your family and what is in their best interest. These are trying times for everyone, so make sure you take the time to listen to your children. Encourage them to ask questions and to share their thoughts and feelings. Watch for any changes in their behavior, too, because stress and anxiety can show themselves in different ways depending on the child.

    Our world has changed, and many are experiencing a level of fear and anxiety that has not been present before. Sticking our heads in the sand or being unprepared is not constructive, and although accidents happen and you can’t prepare for everything, the best offense may be a good defense. Just as “stop, drop and roll” has saved many lives, learning protective strategies to implement in the event of violence can also make an impact. 

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    Body Image and Your Kids

    Did you know that nearly half of girls ages 3 to 6 worry about being fat, and about one-third would change a physical attribute, such as their weight or hair color? That’s what Stacey Tantleff-Dunn found when she conducted a study at the University of Central Florida. 

    Girls and boys of all ages are bombarded with messages of how they should look and dress and what defines beauty. Based on these definitions, they begin a lifelong quest to be beautiful - often doing unhealthy things that could impact them for the rest of their lives.

    “Between movies, television shows and airbrushed photos in magazines showing women with ‘perfect bodies,’ impressionable young girls get the idea that it just isn’t acceptable to be anything but a size 6 or smaller,” says Pamela Kelle, licensed nutritionist and registered dietician. 

    “What many don’t realize is what they see on the screen isn’t real. Their body was never intended to be that size, yet they go on fad diets and do all kinds of obsessive workout routines to get themselves down to their dream weight. The only problem is, even when they get to the size they wanted to be there is still this small voice inside saying, ‘It’s not good enough.’”

    Just recently, CVS Health stated they would stop significant image touch-ups in its advertising for beauty products. The company said it has a responsibility to think about sending messages of unrealistic body images to girls and young women. From this point forward, they are committed to not “materially” altering photos used in stores, on websites and on social media by changing a model’s shape, size, skin or eye color or wrinkles. They will use a watermark to highlight materially unaltered images beginning this year.

    “There is a connection between unrealistic body images and bad health effects, especially in girls and young women,” says Helena Foulkes, president of the pharmacy division at CVS. 

    “At every turn, sometimes even in the home, teens are bombarded with negative messages about how they look,” Kelle says. "I strongly encourage parents to be aware of how they talk about food and weight. Many parents talk negatively about their own looks. Teen girls pick up on this and often internalize it. If mom doesn’t think she looks good, the daughter thinks she must not look good either. The goal for our kids should be overall health, not a certain weight.”

    You can protect your kids from the dangerous lies in the culture. If you want to teach your children about healthy body image, Kelle's tips can help you out:

    • Encourage and model healthy eating and exercise;

    • Provide healthy foods and nutritious meals consumed by the whole family;

    • Don’t talk negatively about your own body; and

    • Don’t expect perfection.

    All their lives, women hear things like, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts,” and “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Nonetheless, they are bombarded by messages that say looks are the most important thing. As parents, we have to be conscious about the messages we are sending to our kids - both girls and boys. 

    Imagine a museum visitor tumbling right into a valuable, centuries-old painting at a busy exhibition. It actually happened on a visit to a Leonardo da Vinci-themed show when a young boy was so intently focused on the piece of art that he stumbled. As he tried to steady himself, he tore a hole "the size of a fist" in a $1.5 million artwork. Do you think they threw the valuable piece of art in the dumpster? No. They recognized its value and began work to restore it to its original beauty. 

    It would be a really good thing if we could help our children see themselves for the valuable, irreplaceable masterpieces they are. We all come in different colors, shapes and sizes, and we are all distinctly different from anyone else. That’s not a bad thing, it’s actually a beautiful thing.  

    For tips on parenting, get our E-book, "How to be a Guide for your Teen." Download Here.

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    Teen Sex and the Brain

    There is an ongoing debate about whether teen sex is really harmful over time.

    Drs. Joe McIlhaney and Freda McKissic Bush, authors of Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children, contend that casual sex during the teen and young adult years affects the ability to bond later in life.

    Imagine you adhere a strip of clear shipping tape to your sweater to remove lint. The first time you pull it off, it grabs fuzz and some hair. It still has some stickiness so you continue to use it, but eventually, the tape loses its stickiness.

    Similarly, research indicates that sexual activity and having multiple partners hinders the ability to develop healthy, mature and long-lasting relationships. 

    What does teen sex have to do with brain development? Probably more than you realize.

    • The prefrontal cortex is still developing until the mid-twenties. This part of the brain is responsible for setting priorities, organizing plans and ideas, forming strategies and controlling impulses. It also initiates appropriate and moral behavior.

    • During the teen years, sexual activity triggers chemical reactions within the brain that help shape it.

    • This brain transformation has a huge physical and psychological impact on all things sexual. A person’s decision-making ability, coming from the highest centers of the brain, can lead to the most rewarding sexual behavior. That is, unless premature and unwise sexual behavior during adolescence damages the brain's formation for healthy decision-making.

    Additionally, the authors sound the alarm concerning an apparent relationship between teen sexual activity and depression. Studies indicate that sexually-active teens are three times are more likely to experience depression than their abstinent peers. 

    Sexually-active girls were three times more likely to have attempted suicide, and sexually-active boys were seven times more likely to have attempted suicide than their virgin friends.

    If you want to help your teen's brain develop in a healthy way, McIlhaney and Bush suggest that you recognize the critical role parents play.

    • Surveys consistently show that teens primarily look to their parents' advice about sex. Structure, guidance, and discipline from caring adults can positively mold the adolescent brain.

    • Teens need parental support as they take healthy risks, like learning to drive, trying out for sports or going off to college. Activities like these help young people separate from their parents and grow as individuals.

    • If parents or other caring adults don't guide their teens, their poor choices can negatively impact for their future.

    Although it may be complicated and uncomfortable, you can prepare your child for some very real threats to their well-being. These threats include sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and the emotional baggage of seeking to bond with multiple sex partners. Taking these issues seriously and keeping the lines of communication open are essential to healthy relationships in the future.