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    10 Things Healthy, Happy Families Do

    Have you ever had one of those moments where everything seemed to be going right and suddenly, for some unexplained reason, a meltdown occurs?

    It could be your 4-year-old, your 14-year-old, or even yourself. A perfectly fine moment ripped to shreds in seconds and you ask yourself, “Why me? I don’t recall signing up for all this drama.”

    This is one of those "good news, bad news" moments. The bad news is meltdowns come with the territory. Any parent who has walked the road will tell you even with the “easy child” there were trying moments.

    The good news is you’re not alone. If you compared notes with families everywhere, you would find that everybody deals with drama; some of them just have less of it. And that’s what people want: less drama, more fun and adventure as a family.

    Experts examined the qualities of healthy, happy families and found that there are specific things families can do to decrease drama and increase family well-being. Here they are in order of importance. 

    • Problem-solve. Couples and families who are able to identify a problem and agree on a solution tend to do better over time.
    • Affirm. Families who verbally express high regard for one another and show interest in other family members and what is happening in their lives tend to be healthier.
    • Openly communicate. Weekly family meetings where schedules, chores, and issues are discussed teach children how to express their feelings appropriately, how to listen to others and how to problem solve.
    • Have well-defined boundaries and organization in the family provide security for children which helps them feel in control and safe.
    • Establish family rituals and traditions. Studies show that family meals, no matter when they occur, can improve educational performance, lower depression rates in girls and boys, decrease the risk of alcohol and drug abuse and help children feel more connected. Family traditions connect children with family history, giving them a foundation upon which to build future generations.
    • Build trust. Children and adults in a healthy family environment experience high levels of trust. Spouses place trust in each other and model what it means to be trustworthy in a relationship. Children learn they can count on their parents to meet their needs.
    • Discuss sexuality. Age-appropriate, ongoing conversations about body image, the opposite sex and healthy relationships are common in healthy families.
    • Develop family history. Children who are loved and nurtured typically grow into healthy, well-adjusted adults.
    • Share religion, faith and values. Sharing the same faith beliefs and values plays a significant role in family health.
    • Support community connectedness. Families who are well-connected in the community and know where to find help in times of need appear to be healthier than those who are disconnected.

    The more of these characteristics a family has, the more likely they are to be resilient in difficult times. Healthy families find ways to adapt, adjust and stick together as a team no matter what life hands them.

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    Can Your Kids Ask You About Sex?

    Research says that young people who "sext" are more likely to have sex, and that dating violence is on the rise. 

    So, picture this scenario: Your child sits down at the dinner table and asks, “What is sexting? What is sex?” or “How do babies get inside their mommy’s tummy?” 

    In response, would you:

    A. Laugh and change the subject?

    B. Get irritated and tell your child that those questions are not appropriate at the dinner table?

    C. Thank your child for asking such a great question and either seek to answer it or tell them that you will talk with them about it after dinner?

    Just thinking about answering these questions has and will cause anxiety for many parents. When asked about talking with her children about sex, one mother replied, “My parents didn’t talk with me about it. I think I would just die if I had to talk with my son about it. He’ll figure it out.”

    Let's consider that statement for a moment.

    When young people are left to figure things out for themselves, the results can disastrous. Parents can help their children/teens understand that relationships based on sex aren't healthy or cool by talking openly with them about topics such as sex, love, lust and romance. It's also an opportunity to help your child think about how certain actions now can impact their goals for the future.

    If you are on the fence about talking to your children about sex, sexting and the like, consider the benefits.

    • Children develop an accurate understanding about their bodies, and about sexuality, instead of getting inaccurate information from friends or the media.
    • They learn that talking to you about sex doesn't have to be embarrassing.
    • You equip your child with information they need to make wise choices for the rest of their life.
    • You are teaching them life skills like self-discipline, problem-solving and planning for the future… skills that will help them move toward productive living.

    So, here are some helpful tips for taking the plunge and starting that conversation with your kids:

    • Be an askable parent. Encourage open communication. Tell them it is okay to talk with you. If you don’t know the answer, find the answer together.
    • Don't overreact. The number one complaint from teens is that parents jump to conclusions when they do ask questions. The goal is to keep the dialogue going.
    • Take advantage of teachable moments. The latest sexting research, the pregnancy of a friend and television sitcoms are teachable moments.
    • Listen. Sometimes the best thing you can do is listen as your child shares. It is a great way to learn what they are thinking. Hint: If you want to know what is really going on, do carpool duty and keep your mouth shut.
    • Less is more. State the facts, be honest and keep it simple and age appropriate.
    • Share your expectations and values, too. Whether it is sex, drugs, alcohol or something else, tell your children what you expect. Be clear about your family values.

    The best way to protect young people is to educate them. Are you an askable parent?


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    Steps to Help Your Kids Handle Conflict

    Conflict. Just saying the word makes some people break out in a sweat while others want to run for the hills. Surprisingly, some people enjoy engaging in conflict, although most people prefer to avoid it at all costs. While many think that conflict is bad, it’s actually neither good nor bad; it’s what you do with it that can create either a negative or positive experience. The reality is, conflict is part of life. The good news is, engaging conflict properly can lead to some really powerful outcomes.

    Life can be stressful for sure. We often face complicated situations that require navigating differences of opinion, problem-solving and sometimes, agreeing to disagree. One of the greatest things parents can teach their children is the art of managing and/or resolving conflict at home, at school, in the community or on the job.

    If you are a parent, consider how you currently handle conflict. You’ve probably heard that it’s always best if your kids don’t witness an argument, but taking your disagreements behind closed doors all the time isn’t necessarily helpful. It’s a learning experience when young people see their parents disagree, work it through and make up. That’s the first step in helping children prepare for dealing with conflict in their own life, especially in those moments when you aren’t around.

    It's also helpful if you don’t step in every time your child disagrees with someone. Instead, ask your child about the issue at hand so they learn to identify what they are irritated or angry about. Then ask what they think their next best step might be. This will help them learn how to think critically and brainstorm potential next steps. It may be tempting to just point things out to them, especially if you are in a hurry, but it’s far more helpful in the long run to teach them how to do this for themselves.

    Ask your child about their role in the conflict. It’s easy to assume it is totally the other person’s fault when both parties may have contributed to the situation at hand. Helping your young person understand how they may have contributed to the issue could give them some insight into their own behavior and how they might want to handle things differently in the future.

    Before deciding what happens next, it is wise to address the feelings connected to the offense. Stuffing those feelings doesn't help, but neither is physically attacking someone or doing something else to get back at them. Teaching children how to constructively handle their emotions will serve them well for the rest of their lives. Sometimes the best lesson is experiencing how it feels to be treated a certain way. As a result, they will know how not to treat people in the future.

    Finally, it’s time for your young person to decide their best next move and take action. They might want to rehearse a conversation with you before facing the other party. Writing out their plan might be beneficial. If you’re hoping for a constructive outcome, perhaps both parties could respectfully share their perspective of the situation. Even if nothing gets resolved at this point, they are making progress. 

    Throughout this process, your child learns how to handle conflict themselves, which is a major confidence-builder. They will also learn how to slow down long enough to identify their feelings, brainstorm the possibilities when it comes to managing or resolving the conflict, and come up with a constructive way to move forward. These tools can’t be purchased at the hardware store, but they are certainly valuable ones to have in their toolbox.

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    The Power of a Parent's Words

    Plenty of parents have been at their wits’ end when words rolled off their tongue that they later wished had remained unspoken. In fact, at some point you've probably even told yourself, “You’re an idiot,” or “How stupid can you be?” Have you ever thought about how impactful your words really are?

    “Our words create our world,” says Dr. Justin Coulson, father of six and best-selling author of 10 Things Every Parent Needs to Know and 9 Ways to a Resilient Child.

    “Whatever direction your words lead, your mind and body will follow. We believe what we tell ourselves. Language is powerful. Words don’t just affect us and the way we see ourselves. They affect the way we see our children.”

    When Coulson asked a frustrated mother to describe her teenage daughter, the mother said things like, “She’s disrespectful, She’s wasteful. She treats our house like a hotel.” But when Coulson asked about her daughter’s strengths, the mom talked about how caring and generous her daughter was and the fact that she was a great sister. It was almost like she was describing two different people.

    “The language we use about one another, and towards each other, impacts how we see one another,” Coulson shares. Coulson suggests that sometimes we say things in a way that is not helpful and may possibly be harmful. 

    Here are some phrases Coulson encourages parents not to use, along with better ways to express the same sentiment:

    • Don’t say: “Calm down.” Say: “You are so upset.” Telling someone to calm down actually has the opposite effect. It’s dismissive and it denies emotions. Instead, focus on labeling the emotion. If you can name it, you can tame it.

    • Don’t say: “You’re so clever.” Ask: “How did you feel when…” Research indicates that praise leads to inferences of low ability. The best thing you can do is turn it back on the person/child. For instance, you could say, “Hey, you seem really happy with that outcome. Tell me what you did to get it.”

    • Don’t say: “Ugh, you’re just like your mother.” Say: “Wow, this is really challenging for you.” Avoid comparisons. Highlight what you are observing. Maybe you could say, “In these situations, you seem to struggle with…” Then offer to help.

    • Don’t say: “Because I said so.” Instead, say: “Let me tell you why this matters.” When people have a rationale for the requests we are making they are far more likely to be compliant.

    • Don’t say: “I was lousy at that.” Perhaps you could offer this:  “It’s amazing what we can do when we try.” We can promote a growth mindset (Carol Dweck has research on this) by highlighting what happens when we have a go at it, put some effort into it and work hard at something. Can’t yet doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t ever.

    • Don’t say: “Don’t be so stupid.” Say nothing. Simply pause and walk away. We don’t motivate others by making them feel lousy about themselves. If they are doing something stupid, ask them to stop. Stupid to us may not seem stupid to them. Be curious, not cranky. There is always a reason for challenging behavior.

    “Saying horrible things to others is every bit as damaging as other forms of abuse,” according to Coulson. “It affects cognitive function. Things will come out of our mouths that will hurt. The trick is to say fewer of those things and to build our children up.”

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    7 Benefits of a Summer Job

    If you're a parent, you're probably bracing yourself for the summer with your teen. There are so many things to consider: everything from what time your teenager needs to be out of the bed in the morning, how much time they should spend gaming, expectations around the house and curfew, just to name a few. And typically, the teen’s perspective is vastly different from your point of view.

    Obviously, the school year can be very taxing and it’s nice to have less stress during the summer. But experts encourage you to avoid throwing structure out the window as your kids rest up for the next school year.

    One way to keep your teen constructively involved is to strongly encourage them to find a summer job. While 13 or 14 may be too young for employment, they do have other options. It isn’t too young to do yard work, babysit, clean houses, or some other type of work.

    Teens can learn so much from a job experience. In fact, it can help prepare them for life. Actually going through the interview process is a serious accomplishment, as many young people struggle with conversations that don’t involve texting. Learning how to look someone in the eyes and answer questions about yourself is huge.

    Once they have secured a job, they typically have the chance to learn a few things, like how to:

    • Get along with a diverse team of people,

    • Manage their time,

    • Deal with authority figures other than their parents,

    • Engage with people who are rude and difficult,

    • Build relationships with kind and encouraging people,

    • Develop an understanding of a work ethic, and

    • Handle the money they earn.

    One teenager accepted an 8-week job as a summer camp counselor. The job was not glamorous and many of her co-workers were challenging, so the teen frequently talked with her parents about the difficulties she was experiencing. Halfway into her commitment, she told her parents that four other camp counselors had just quit. The parents felt like the teen was looking for a way out as well.

    Both parents strongly advised her not to quit, reminding her of the commitment she made. She stayed, and to this day has never forgotten the lessons she learned about how to treat people, what respect looks like and that she had it in her to overcome adversity and finish what she started. She also learned a lot about herself that summer, and while she wouldn’t want to repeat it, she would not trade those valuable lessons. 

    Summer jobs can teach the life lessons most parents want to instill in their children as they prepare for independent living. If you're wondering where to start, First Things First is offering Success Ready on May 31 and June 1 at Chattanooga State. It’s a 2-day networking experience for teens ages 16-18 who are interested in summer employment.

    Day one consists of communication skills, going over the basics of a job application, how to prepare for and what to wear for an interview, managing conflict and keeping drama to a minimum. Day two will feature a job fair with a number of employers who are ready to hire for summer jobs. You and your teen can find more information about Success Ready here.

    Your teen may simply want to build their resume for college or prepare to learn a vocation. Either way, securing a summer job can be just the character-building experience they need to give them that extra boost. It will certainly teach them lessons that will serve them wherever life takes them.

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    Technology and Relationships

    Have you ever thought about how today’s amazing technological advances affect relationships?

    There are very few places where you can’t technologically connect in some way. You can place calls whenever and wherever. It’s fairly inexpensive and there are no additional fees. In real time, you can show or tell anyone what you are eating, post your latest fashion escapade or something that just happened. Who would have guessed you can actually conduct business halfway across the planet with someone you may never meet in person?

    Why would anybody need to read books anymore or memorize anything when with a few keystrokes the information can be on a screen in front of you? The world has never been so flat when it comes to communicating.

    How does all of this impact relationships?

    What if you get an email from a friend who lives out of town who is really struggling? Inventions like Skype or FaceTime make it feel like you are practically there live and in person, which is good. But does it replace being able to hug someone when things are tough?

    Do you remember calling home from college once a week to talk to your parents? It required remembering all that happened during the week before and that also meant there were many things you had to figure out on your own because mom and dad weren’t available at the drop of a hat to give you their best problem solving maneuver. So - how are young people impacted by constantly being able to be in touch with their parents when life gets challenging versus taking a stab at trying to figure it out for themselves?

    Have you ever experienced miscommunication in a text message? For example, take the word “fine.” You text your spouse saying you want to go out to eat tonight. Your spouse replies, “Fine.” There are tons of ways to interpret that word and the person's intent behind it.

    How about boundaries? At first, constant connectivity was super-exciting for everyone. Now people realize that being reachable anywhere and anytime may not be so great. Constant pings at the dinner table can make it challenging to have meaningful conversation with family and friends.

    There is a fair amount of chatter these days about how digital devices and other technology have changed thinking and behavior. Is technology overload a thing? Does constantly switching back and forth between incoming text messages, email and the task at hand affect attention span? Has creativity diminished?

    And, have we replaced meaningful conversation with friends and family with photos and the snippets of life we see on Facebook?

    Ask yourself. How can you enhance your most meaningful relationships if you change or limit the way you currently use technology?

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

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    The Value of Family Meals

    For more than 40 years, Lynn and Pat Panter have been hosting family dinner on Sundays after church.

    "It's funny, this is just something we have always done," says Lynn Panter. "When our children were little, we had Sunday dinner after church. As they got older, we kept on doing it. Here we are 40 years later with grown children, spouses, boyfriends and grandchildren seated around the table."

    Unlike some, the Panters don't require or expect anyone to come for family dinners.

    "There is no pressure to come," Lynn says. "If they have something else to do, they know they are free to go do it with no repercussions for not being present. We usually have between eight and 16 people seated around the table on any given Sunday."

    Between the laughter, the stories and discussions about the morning sermon at their respective churches, it is always a lively experience and a great way for the family to connect.

    "Even though my husband was on the road a lot when our daughters were young, the expectation was that we all ate dinner together," Lynn says. "This was our time to catch up with each other and the events of the day. It kept us connected even when schedules were hectic."

    Research shows that regular and meaningful family meals offer a variety of benefits both to children and adults. Studies suggest that having dinner together as a family at least four times a week positively affects child development and is linked to a lower obesity risk, substance abuse and eating disorders, and an increased chance of graduating from high school.

    Additionally, meals provide a sense of family unity and identity as well as teaching traditions. Discussions around the dinner table not only give children an opportunity to express themselves, they also teach them to wait their turn to speak and hear many different perspectives. In some instances, they learn how to agree or disagree.

    Family meals help parents transmit their values from one generation to the next and teach good table manners and etiquette. These times together as a family create a bond and shared memories that children carry with them long into adulthood.

    The key to the success of these gatherings is making them technology-free zones - no televisions, tablets, or cellphones allowed.

    "Some people probably wonder why we still have the Sunday dinners." Lynn says. "I think the biggest reason we still do it is because we really enjoy being together. We look forward to catching up with each other. It's not formal and everybody pitches in -- which is a good thing. In order to do something like this, you need to enjoy doing it, otherwise, it becomes a burden."

    If family meals has been on your "to do" list, this is the time to make it happen. Set a date, keep it simple and watch what happens. Family members, i.e., children, may balk at first, but once they get in the routine, they will look forward to time together. Who knows what may be happening at your house 40 years from now?

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    How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids

    Imagine walking out of your bedroom on the second floor and seeing your two-year-old climbing the outside of the staircase. That’s exactly what happened to Hal Runkel, marriage and family therapist and bestselling author of ScreamFree Parenting.

    “My son looked up at me with a smile on his face and said, ‘Hi Daddy!’” says Runkel. “He was over five feet off the ground. My anxiety level was off the charts, but I knew if I gave in to that anxiety, if I yelled or lunged for him, it would increase his chances of falling.”

    From biting or refusing to eat, to asking about sex or learning to drive, our kids are constantly testing our anxiety. Runkel contends that more often than not, parents fail those tests by “screaming.” Anxiety says we need to control our kids.

    “If you’re like me, the more you try to control your kids, the more out of control they become, and the more out of control I become,” Runkel says. “If you are yelling at your kids, you are saying, ‘Calm me down. I need you to change your behavior so I can change mine.’ When parents learn to manage their anxiety and teach children tools to manage their own behavior, there will be more young people prepared to launch into the real world. We have to remember, the goal is not to protect our kids in order to calm our anxiety; our goal as parents is to prepare our kids to live a productive life without us.”

    Who Is In Control?

    Runkel believes that good parenting is about parents learning how to take back their own emotional remote control. When a parent screams, they have lost control of the situation and handed the emotional remote control to the least mature person in the household.

    “When parents focus on becoming ‘ScreamFree,’ calming their own emotional reactivity, they begin to make parenting decisions out of their highest principles instead of reacting out of their deepest fears,” Runkel says. “There are specific ways parents can do this such as:

    • See children as individuals in their own right, with their own lives, decisions and futures.
    • Don’t preach or threaten. Let the consequences of a child’s choices do the screaming.
    • Change your vocabulary. Avoid labeling children or pigeonholing how they see themselves. Labels can be very destructive.
    • See yourself as being responsible to your children - not for them. For example, when your child throws a temper tantrum in Walmart, you’re not responsible for it. But you are responsible for how you handle it.

    According to Runkel, every child wants parents who can keep their cool, even when things get heated. They want parents who are less prone to knee-jerk reactions and more level-headed.

    Runkel’s message is making a difference. For example, when Runkel and his family were eating out once, a young waitress recognized him from an appearance on The Today Show. She tearfully told him, “Thank you for giving me my parents back. They heard you on television, bought your book, and now we just don’t fight as much. They respect me, and I respect them.”

    For more information on how to stop yelling at your kids, visit screamfree.com.