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    Fun Ways for Families to Connect During the Holidays

    With all of the expectations around the holidays, things can get kind of crazy. The very time that is supposed to bring families closer together is often filled with extra stress, fighting kids, awkward extended family dynamics and sometimes marital tension.

    Sometimes the craziness gets the best of us and family members start to feel disconnected. This leads to all kinds of holiday drama - the very thing we all want to avoid. 

    Want to help make sure the holidays are a time where family members feel connected and close? Here are some things you can do at home, in the car, during meals and out in the community that not only will create conversation, but also laughter, insight and memories.

    IF YOU'RE TRAVELING...

    Instead of automatically plugging into technology, what about giving your kids a limited amount of time with tech stuff? Don’t be intimidated by the pushback and don’t expect them to thank you any time soon. Get creative and offer some motivation for participation. For example, for every 30 minutes you play the game you get X number of minutes with your screen. During the down times, interact with each other by playing some of these games:

    • Categories:  Pick a category (Disney movies, popular songs, flavors of soda) and take turns naming something in that category until someone is stumped. (This person loses and the winner picks the next category.)

    • Going on a Picnic: This is a memory game for all ages! The first person starts a story with, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring...” and then lists an item. The next person says, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring...” and then lists the first person’s item PLUS a new item. As the story grows and grows, each person repeats the list and adds a new item. The first person to incorrectly list all the items is out! You can keep playing until only one person remains.

    • License Plate Game: Interpret the letters in each license plate you pass. For instance, TMK could stand for “Toasty Miniature Kangaroo.”

    • Peoplewatching: Watch a vehicle traveling on the road near you for a few minutes. Make up a story about the people in the car. Answer questions like: What are their names? Where did they come from? Where are they going? Why are they going there? What are they going to do when they get there? The sillier and more detailed the story is, the better!

    IF YOU'RE STAYING AT HOME AS A FAMILY

    • Plan a walk and play “I Spy.” When you exercise together, your brain releases endorphins that create “feel good memories” you can all enjoy for years to come. Walk around the yard, neighborhood, park or find a local hiking trail, but encourage the whole family to come! To keep the kids engaged for the walk (and to keep things playful for the adults), play as many rounds of “I Spy” as you can. Then keep track of who wins the most “I Spy” rounds and award them with a special treat when you get home, like hot chocolate, a cookie or maybe watching the movie or show of their choice.
    • Make something special. Baking goodies for the ones you love is fun, but baking goodies for someone in need or someone who doesn’t expect it is even more fun. It also teaches the littlest ones in the family that holidays aren’t just about receiving, but giving! Choose one or two people, families or organizations you’d like to delight this holiday season. Then, gather together in to bake something yummy together and share. Consider giving to an elderly neighbor, a family friend, the staff of a local nonprofit your family supports, etc.

    IF YOU'RE SHARING A MEAL WITH OTHERS...

    To avoid awkward silence at the dinner table with relatives or friends you may not see very often, try a few of these conversation starters:

    • What is one way you have helped another person this year?
    • Who is someone in your life you’re thankful for and why?
    • If you could have dinner with anyone (past or present), who would it be and why?
    • If you could have a superpower what would it be and how would you use it?
    • What is the most beautiful place you have ever seen?
    • What is the hardest thing about being your current age?

    It’s possible to be in a room or a car full of people who are not interacting fully with each other, especially when routines get thrown to the side and people are tired and cranky. When people feel disconnected and schedules are upside down, chaos reigns. Instead of chaos, plan for what you know is coming, whether it is boredom, difficult conversations or unwanted silence. During the busiest season of the year, these tips may help lessen the drama and help you make memories with family and friends.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 30, 2019.

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    How to Deal with the Unexpected

    How do you typically deal with the surprises life hands you? How you handle these situations - whether it's a sick family member, a traffic jam on the morning of your big meeting or a last-minute, expensive repair - can determine whether the problem is minor or becomes huge and affects the rest of your day, week, month and beyond.

    When unexpected things collide with the best-laid plans, some people have a tendency to react to the emotions of the moment. Their anxiety goes through the roof, they begin to panic, thinking about being late and all of the things they are supposed to get done. This often leads to frustration and feelings of helplessness and in some cases, even feeling hopeless. 

    How can you effectively prepare for these situations in a way that will help you remain calm, cool and collected? The key is to learn how to respond versus react, so the first item on the agenda is to have a plan and utilize the resources available to you.  

    The first key: Have a backup plan just in case something goes wrong. This is like having an emergency generator so your life can keep going regardless of the crisis at hand. Be intentional about creating a support network of people who are willing to assist you when you are in a bind. It doesn’t have to be family. It could be teachers, church members, neighbors, the parents of your child’s friends, co-workers, etc.

    The second key:  Step back and assess the situation before doing anything. People often move to action before actually assessing the situation to determine all their options. This includes getting the facts. We are much less likely to do something ridiculous when we think before we respond. 

    Once you have your plans in place, remember to follow your plan when the unexpected happens. Having steps to follow helps to make these situations more manageable.

    • Keep your emotions in check. Don’t let the situation control you. 
    • Be prepared. Keep basic medication on hand, have a spare set of keys for your car, take a lesson on how to change a flat tire, give your neighbor keys to your house, etc. 
    • Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. It is hard to be helpful when people don’t know there is a need. 
    • Ask for a second opinion. Sometimes talking with an objective third party can be helpful.

    All kinds of things will pop up in your life that have the potential to wreck your schedule, cause irritation or create stress, but how you handle it can be a game-changer. The next time you are dealt an unexpected surprise, be ready to respond by staying calm, assessing the situation and working your plan. You will probably be amazed at how quickly you can manage the crisis and get on with your day.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 16, 2019.


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    How to Connect at Family Mealtimes

    We live in a day and time when parents feel like they run from one thing to the next seeking to give their children every opportunity to experience life to the fullest. Many people say there's nothing wrong with that.

    The reality is that children and their parents are experiencing high rates of disconnectedness. They are experiencing a lot of life, but at what cost?

    One of the most powerful ways for families to create connection is by sharing regular and meaningful meals together, which offers a variety of benefits. Studies suggest that having meals together as a family at least four times a week has positive effects on child development and has been linked to a lower risk of obesity, substance abuse and eating disorders, and an increased chance of graduating from high school as well as better family relationships. 

    Family meals also help to:

    • provide a sense of family unity and identity.
    • give children an opportunity to express themselves.
    • teach kids to wait their turn to speak.
    • let them hear many different perspectives.
    • show how to agree to disagree on certain topics. 
    • transmit family values and traditions from one generation to the next
    • teach good table manners and etiquette.

    The American College of Pediatricians notes that the daily coming together around the family table:

    • Provides structure for the day, allowing children to feel more secure and safe by knowing what to expect. 
    • Helps parents monitor their children’s moods, behavior and activities, giving insight into the emotional well-being of their children.
    • Allows children to learn and appreciate social interactions, understand the importance of community and experience different ideas while under the guidance of their parents.

    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 to make them technology-free zones – no televisions, tablets or cell phones allowed.

    You may already know that family meals are a good thing, but maybe you’re just trying to figure out how to make it happen and what to do with the time you have together. Keep in mind it doesn’t have to be dinner, it could be breakfast, and it doesn’t have to be fancy. The goal is for everybody to be together and connect. Making the meal could be part of that or you could even grab something and bring it home.

    If you are at a loss for how to get the conversation around the table going, here are some suggestions to help you get started:

    • Share. Have each person share their best/favorite moment from today or yesterday. Use this time to get updates on each other, friends, co-workers and family. 
    • Ask. What’s one thing you are excited about that is coming up? Who did you notice today and why did you notice them? Is there anything going on in your life or someone else’s life that we can help with? What is the best meal or dessert you’ve ever had?
    • Discuss. If sports are your thing, talk about the latest game or an upcoming championship such as the World Series, Super Bowl, World Cup or NBA playoffs. Find ways to talk about things each individual is interested in or would like to learn more about. Maybe it’s that dream vacation or road trip, birthday bash or even how you’d like to spend your time over the weekend.
    • Listen. During the conversations, make the effort to listen without interrupting. Whatever you do, don’t ask a question and then hijack the conversation. We can learn a lot when we’re not doing all the talking.

    It might seem hard to believe that just having a meal together where you are connecting can be such a huge preventative factor for so many things, but it’s true. The key is to be intentional and keep it simple. 

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 9, 2019.


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    How to Prevent Depression in Teens

    A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics indicates that the suicide rate among 10- to 24-year-olds has increased a startling 56% over the last decade. Suicide has become the second-most common cause of death among teenagers and young adults. 

    “Pediatricians have indeed seen a huge increase in depression and anxiety in adolescents over the last few years,” says Dr. Nita Shumaker, pediatrician. “I spend a lot of time talking to parents about lifestyle choices affecting mental health.”

    While no one knows for sure what is causing this dramatic increase in teen suicide, the trend is extremely disturbing. Some experts are referring to this as a public health crisis and wondering why there is not more of an outcry for something to be done.

    Part of the problem may be that no one is clear about what is causing this uptick. It could be technology, violent video games, television shows, bullying, not enough likes on Instagram posts, the ease in which someone can compare their life to their friend’s highlight reel or who knows what else.  

    “It is clear that there are a lot of factors at play when it comes to teens and their mental health,” Shumaker says. “I start early talking about letting electronics into the home. It is a portal for both good and evil to enter into children’s lives. And electronics are really not the problem, it’s the all-access pass that so many children have to technology that is the problem.”

    Another issue Shumaker notes is sleep deprivation. 

    “Sleep deprivation is a torture technique and a well-documented trigger for anxiety and depression,” Shumaker says. “Not getting enough sleep leads to more impulsive behavior as well as poor performance in school.”

    The current recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is that children and adolescents have no electronics in the bedroom.

    “Allowing electronics in the bedroom means that adolescents spend an enormous amount of time alone, unsupervised and on the internet,” Shumaker says. “This means that fundamentally they are separated from the family, which I believe is another potential cause of depression and anxiety. Having electronics in the bedroom means parents don’t put their kids to bed anymore - their electronics do.

    “We are missing such valuable time with our children and their mental health is suffering from it. We as a culture are abandoning our children to the internet and it is literally killing them.”

    What can we do to help our kids?

    • Your presence matters. Practice what you are trying to teach. Be intentional about disconnecting from your phone and other technology and actively engage with your kids.
    • Set limits with technology use, including amount of time on screens and where technology lives in your home. (And don’t expect your children to thank you for setting boundaries!)
    • Be vigilant about making sure they get enough rest and seriously limit distractions that could keep them awake. Help them make healthy food and exercise choices, as these can impact other areas of life.
    • Talk with them about the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety and discuss ways to manage them so they are educated not only for themselves, but also for their friends. Contrary to what some believe, talking about these symptoms or the topic of suicide does not increase the risk of suicide.
    • Make them aware of helpful resources both locally and nationally. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) 
    • Suicide Resource Center - The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has a whole host of resources for teens and families.
    • Give your teen household responsibilities. You may think your teen already has so much on their plate, but including teens in household chores helps them feel connected and it teaches them responsibility as well as how to manage their time.
    • Create space for your family to do things together on a regular basis. Make sure they are getting helpful information from you, and not just taking their cues from their friends.

    Our children are living in a complicated world for sure. Although no one can definitively say why there is such an increase in suicide among our young people, we cannot afford to sacrifice the mental health or lives of our children. We must be intentional in our efforts to help them. Whether they will admit it or not, they are counting on our guidance to navigate this time in their lives.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 3, 2019.


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    How to Be Present During the Holidays

    It’s here - that season when you throw sanity out the window and with wild abandon throw yourself full throttle into the holidays. I mean, there are things to do, people to see, places to go and only a certain amount of time to make things happen. Right?

    For the most part, we’ve gotten really good at our to-do lists. We get the coveted gifts for our family, hopefully at the prices we want to pay. We plan holiday gatherings and assign tasks to our guests. We ferociously clean and shop and wrap and eat and, if we are honest, we often complain either inwardly or outwardly about how we try to make the season merry and bright for the ones we love. When that is the case, we look a lot less like Santa and a lot more like the Grinch.

    Maybe you gave up aiming for the “perfect” holiday, but still find yourself stressed about all that you want to pack into the month. Even if you've opted for simpler moments of peace and quiet, you may find yourself wrestling with everybody else’s expectations. 

    In reality, the holiday season is full of opportunities for us to really be there for our friends, family and even strangers. Though it may be tempting to rush through it all and complete our to-do list with as little financial and emotional damage as possible, this season has the unique potential to create a mindshift, not only for this month, but on into the new year.

    A couple of years ago, a holiday to-do list went viral, probably for a lot of reasons, but perhaps the most important is that in spite of how “connected” we say we are, people are longing for the presence of people in their lives. The list is a great reminder of ways we can be present in the lives of those we know and those we have the opportunity to get to know. 

    Keeping this list in mind can set the tone for how you give what you give during the holidays and beyond. It’s kind of amazing that the gift we can give to people that means the most doesn’t actually require us to spend money, but in our minds it may be the most costly present because we can’t be completely present with someone while focusing on something else at the same time. Perhaps the best present is to be present. Time is the one thing that once it’s spent, you can’t get it back.

    Dr. Suess said, “Sometimes you never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” There will always be things to buy, but the moments when we give our best selves to people are what make lasting memories.

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

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    Fun Ways for Families to Connect During the Holidays

    With all of the expectations around the holidays, things can get kind of crazy. The very time that is supposed to bring families closer together is often filled with extra stress, fighting kids, awkward extended family dynamics and sometimes marital tension.

    Sometimes the craziness gets the best of us and family members start to feel disconnected. This leads to all kinds of holiday drama - the very thing we all want to avoid. 

    Want to help make sure the holidays are a time where family members feel connected and close? Here are some things you can do at home, in the car, during meals and out in the community that not only will create conversation, but also laughter, insight and memories.

    IF YOU'RE TRAVELING...

    Instead of automatically plugging into technology, what about giving your kids a limited amount of time with tech stuff? Don’t be intimidated by the pushback and don’t expect them to thank you any time soon. Get creative and offer some motivation for participation. For example, for every 30 minutes you play the game you get X number of minutes with your screen. During the down times, interact with each other by playing some of these games:

    • Categories:  Pick a category (Disney movies, popular songs, flavors of soda) and take turns naming something in that category until someone is stumped. (This person loses and the winner picks the next category.)

    • Going on a Picnic: This is a memory game for all ages! The first person starts a story with, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring...” and then lists an item. The next person says, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring...” and then lists the first person’s item PLUS a new item. As the story grows and grows, each person repeats the list and adds a new item. The first person to incorrectly list all the items is out! You can keep playing until only one person remains.

    • License Plate Game: Interpret the letters in each license plate you pass. For instance, TMK could stand for “Toasty Miniature Kangaroo.”

    • Peoplewatching: Watch a vehicle traveling on the road near you for a few minutes. Make up a story about the people in the car. Answer questions like: What are their names? Where did they come from? Where are they going? Why are they going there? What are they going to do when they get there? The sillier and more detailed the story is, the better!

    IF YOU'RE STAYING AT HOME AS A FAMILY

    • Plan a walk and play “I Spy.” When you exercise together, your brain releases endorphins that create “feel good memories” you can all enjoy for years to come. Walk around the yard, neighborhood, park or find a local hiking trail, but encourage the whole family to come! To keep the kids engaged for the walk (and to keep things playful for the adults), play as many rounds of “I Spy” as you can. Then keep track of who wins the most “I Spy” rounds and award them with a special treat when you get home, like hot chocolate, a cookie or maybe watching the movie or show of their choice.
    • Make something special. Baking goodies for the ones you love is fun, but baking goodies for someone in need or someone who doesn’t expect it is even more fun. It also teaches the littlest ones in the family that holidays aren’t just about receiving, but giving! Choose one or two people, families or organizations you’d like to delight this holiday season. Then, gather together in to bake something yummy together and share. Consider giving to an elderly neighbor, a family friend, the staff of a local nonprofit your family supports, etc.

    IF YOU'RE SHARING A MEAL WITH OTHERS...

    To avoid awkward silence at the dinner table with relatives or friends you may not see very often, try a few of these conversation starters:

    • What is one way you have helped another person this year?
    • Who is someone in your life you’re thankful for and why?
    • If you could have dinner with anyone (past or present), who would it be and why?
    • If you could have a superpower what would it be and how would you use it?
    • What is the most beautiful place you have ever seen?
    • What is the hardest thing about being your current age?

    It’s possible to be in a room or a car full of people who are not interacting fully with each other, especially when routines get thrown to the side and people are tired and cranky. When people feel disconnected and schedules are upside down, chaos reigns. Instead of chaos, plan for what you know is coming, whether it is boredom, difficult conversations or unwanted silence. During the busiest season of the year, these tips may help lessen the drama and help you make memories with family and friends.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 30, 2019.

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    How Can You Show Generosity?

    A CBS piece shared the story of Dale Schroeder, a humble man from Iowa who worked as a carpenter at the same company for 67 years. He never married and had no children.

    Since he had no living relatives, he approached his lawyer about a plan for his money after he passed away. When his lawyer asked him how much he was talking about, Schroeder told him, “A little shy of $3 million.” The lawyer said he almost fell out of his chair when he heard the amount.  

    Schroeder never had the opportunity to attend college, but he wanted to help kids from Iowa who otherwise would not have the opportunity to receive a college education. Schroeder passed away in 2005, but his legacy lives on. 

    In all, Schroeder provided college tuition for 33 people who call themselves "Dale's Kids." They are now teachers, therapists and doctors, among other professions, all without any college debt thanks to Schroeder. While none of them can thank Schroeder personally, they can pass on his generosity to others.

    Certainly, giving financially to a worthy cause is one way to be generous, but that’s not the only way. You can also be generous with giving your time or lending a listening ear.

    For example, a 90-year-old woman sent a note to her next door neighbor saying she was lonely, scared and had no friends. She asked the neighbor if she would consider spending some time with her. Sometimes just your presence is an incredibly generous gift. 

    However you choose to be generous, here’s the really cool thing: not only does it benefit the person you are helping, it also benefits you.

    “Helping is love made visible in acts of generosity small and large,” says best-selling author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People, speaker and Stony Brook professor, Stephen G. Post. 

    Post says that generosity is good for our self-esteem and well-being. In a study of people over the age of 65, those who volunteered in the past scored higher in life satisfaction and had fewer symptoms of sickness. Those who did not volunteer proved to be sicker and unable to give to others. Post believes that feeling happy and connected to others are fundamental components to overall health, and that being generous with others forms bonds that are meaningful which then increases our happiness. Being a generous giver actually makes us want to be more giving in the future. 

    Post also finds that generosity is empowering. It inspires others to be compassionate and pay it forward. 

    “When the happiness and security of others is as meaningful to you as your own, you are a person of love and you will flourish,” Post says.

    Being generous is contagious. When someone else is generous to you, it encourages you to be generous to others, too. Giving of your time and resources can really feel good, and it has the potential to create a ripple effect of kindness in your home and community. Giving to others is powerful and makes for happier, healthier people.  

    As we head into Thanksgiving week, think about the many ways we have experienced blessings from others and the chance we have to bless people we know, as well as perfect strangers. The good news is, you don’t have to have saved $3 million dollars in order to be generous.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 23, 2019.