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    How to Be a Happier Person

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    How to Help Boys Thrive

    Not long ago, I wrote a provocative column concerning men and marriageability. At the end I asked, “What will we do to help our boys succeed in life and relationships?” The good news is, we can do all kinds of things to ensure that boys and girls have the same opportunities in education, earning potential and life in general.  

    Many researchers believe that the educational system itself plays a large role in how well boys do or don’t fare. Others cite technology and video games, the breakdown of the family, the focus on women’s equality or the lack of positive male role models as reasons - just to name a few. The reality is that ALL of these things contribute to whether boys succeed or fail. 

    Will Honeycutt, assistant director of counseling at The McCallie School for Boys, believes that technology plays a role in disconnecting boys from real life. Whether it’s binge-watching episodes of Game of Thrones over a weekend, playing video games or being entrenched in social media, technology is isolating boys from valuable experiences, interacting with others, engaging in conversation, learning emotional regulation and figuring out who they are as a person.

    So, how can we help boys thrive in an ever-changing culture? 

    Troy Kemp, executive director for The National Center for the Development of Boys in Chattanooga, Tenn., has some ideas we can use, whether at home or in the community. 

    BOYS AND GIRLS ARE NOT THE SAME

    Boys are different than girls - not better than - but different. Their bodies and brains mature differently, and they take in and process information differently. Boys and girls have varying strengths and weaknesses. 

    Research shows that teaching in educational settings leans heavily toward the strengths of the female brain, so actively addressing variety in learning styles and responses is a great place to start. Teachers can choose reading materials to reflect the interests of boys. Boys need to be surrounded by positive influences that will help them break through the popular culture’s narrow definition of manhood, and having more male teachers in the classroom would be a step in the right direction. 

    WHAT ABOUT AT HOME?

    Kemp feels that parents need to educate themselves about how boys (and others who wiggle) learn best and what intrinsically motivates them. Boys need examples of excellence, and using words and visuals can help them see things more fully and hold their attention. It is important that we don’t automatically assume boys aren’t trying if they don’t respond the way we want or expect. It may be possible that we didn’t clearly express our expectations, which may be very different from theirs.

    According to Kemp, boys also need to develop a proper vision for manhood and masculinity. In order to achieve that vision, they need to be exposed to male mentors who are balanced in their approach to life, learning, unconditional love and emotions. Having a community of men who are behind them makes a great impact and prepares them to mentor others. 

    “Boys need a crew and a cause,” says Kemp. “They need to know someone is counting on them and they can count on others. Boys need to know what is important to them is also important to parents…especially their fathers.”

    If you’re a father, get on your son’s level and don’t discount what is important to him. Give him choices within the choices you approve. Parents can model responsibility and healthy relationships with technology and everything else. 

    • Count the number of hours boys are in front of screens. Excessive amounts of screen time for children, especially boys, can be detrimental to healthy brain development. 
    • Make sure they are getting at least two hours of physical exercise every day. Don’t pull your son from a team or group if his grades drop. Work with the coach or group leader and use their power and influence.
    • Be intentional about teaching and modeling the qualities of healthy relationships and don’t assume they know what unhealthy looks like. 
    • Drive-time is a great time for conversation about what a lot of teens consider awkward topics. That way, nobody is looking at facial expressions. You can make it a media-free moment, too.
    • Take advantage of current situations to talk about accountability and responsibility, including healthy ways to handle anger or disappointment and treating people with respect who are disrespectful to you. 
    • Point them toward healthy role models beyond Mom and Dad - coaches, trusted friends and relatives - so they have more than their parents speaking into their lives and encouraging them on their journey into adulthood.
    • Spend one-on-one time with your child. Let them set the agenda for your time together. Fathers, try reading to and with your children. 
    • Volunteer together as a family. Go on a mission trip, help out at a local nonprofit or do something that involves giving to others. There is a real chemical reaction in the brain when we help others in need that makes us feel good and makes us want to do more acts of kindness.

    All of these things combined can help boys thrive in school and in life. Boys with a strong support system have a foundation to build upon as they enter manhood and make wise decisions about their future.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 5, 2019.


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    When Should Your Teen Date?

    “When will I be old enough to date?” - the question many parents dread. You've known it was coming, but you also realize you are crossing over into a whole new world with lots of moving parts, plenty of which you cannot control. 

    You may reply sarcastically, “When you’re 30!” Or, you may try to be a bit more realistic and really wrestle with the right age for your child to date, which may be different depending on the child.

    A study published in The Journal of School Health found that dating during the teen years can help teens learn social skills and grow in emotional intelligence. But guess what? Not dating during these years actually has benefits as well. 

    Here's what they found:

    • The non-dating students had similar or better interpersonal skills than their more frequently dating peers. 
    • While the scores of self-reported positive relationships with friends, at home and at school did not differ between dating and non-dating peers, teachers rated the non-dating students significantly higher for social skills and leadership skills than their dating peers.
    • The study indicated that students who didn’t date were also less likely to be depressed. Teachers’ scores on the depression scale were significantly lower for the group that reported no dating. And, the proportion of students who self-reported being sad or hopeless was significantly lower within this group as well.

    Teen dating relationships today are complicated. Here are just a sample of the thoughts teens have, and the drama that often accompanies dating relationships is a whole other discussion that cannot be disregarded. 

    “Does she like me?”  

    “Is he cheating on me?”  

    “I’m scared of what he will do if I break up with him. I think he might hurt himself.”

    “Are his constant questions about where I am, what I am doing, who I am with, and what I am wearing signs of how much he loves me?” 

    “Do I break up with him because he is mean or stay with him because a bad relationship is better than being in no relationship?” 

    In an endless sea of questions, some teens feel intense pressure to date and be in the “cool” crowd while others could care less. Either ways, this is a time to pour into your teen the qualities that will help them navigate relationships in a healthy way, whether it is romantic or not.The following things are important to keep in the forefront of your mind as you seek to teach your teen how to engage in relationships with others. 

    • They still need your guidance. The prefrontal cortex, or the rational part of the brain that helps with planning, decision-making, problem-solving, self-control and thinking about long-term actions and their consequences, is nowhere near fully formed, and it won’t be until age 25 or so. This has huge implications for teen behavior. 
    • Healthy relationship skills don’t come naturally, even if your teen seems super smart. They are the result of intentional teaching and modeling of behavior such as looking someone in the eyes during a conversation, using a respectful versus disrespectful tone of voice, and having high regard for one’s feelings. 
    • What your teen does in high school absolutely will follow them into adulthood and impact future relationships. Set standards, develop a strategy and don’t allow them to believe the lie that how they treat others now (or allow themselves to be treated) won’t impact them later. Unfortunately, this is a harsh reality many have experienced.
    • Sexual activity affects teens’ mental and emotional health. While the culture often pushes that having sex in the teen years is perfectly normal, plenty of young adults now believe that kind of relationship in high school created more anxiety, stress and depression for them and distracted them from truly enjoying the teen years.
    • They need to hear from you that their value and worth is not dependent on their relationship status. Friendships can be rich, deep and rewarding. Teens need to know and appreciate that their uniqueness is what makes them individuals.
    • Experiencing a range of emotions in relationships is normal, and it helps teens build their emotional regulation muscle. Being able to discern how they are feeling and learning to handle the intensity of the emotions that come with being in any relationship with others, whether it is happiness, sadness, anger, elation, disappointment or encouragement, is beneficial. 

    So, when will your child be old enough to date? Great question! It’s definitely something you should consider with great care ahead of time. Waiting until they are 30 for sure isn’t the right answer. Agreed-upon guidelines for when the time is right will be important. And, it may be comforting to you and to your teen to know that in no way does it mean they are missing out if they don’t date at all during the teen years.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on September 21, 2019.

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    7 Ways to Promote Good Sportsmanship

    Tennis phenom, Coco Gauff has quite the following as a result of her incredible tennis skills on the court.

    After losing at the U.S. Open to Naomi Osaka, a tearful Coco headed to the locker room when something amazing happened. Osaka approached Coco, hugged her and asked her to do the interview normally reserved for the winner with her. Coco insisted that she shouldn’t because she would cry. Osaka responded, “No, you’re good. Look, you are amazing.” 

    Coco joined Osaka in spite of the tears. When Osaka spoke she addressed Coco’s parents, telling them that they raised an amazing player. She said she recalled seeing them in the same training facility and that she thought it was really incredible that both of them had made it this far, again reiterating that she thought Coco was amazing. All of this came from the number one female tennis player in the world.

    A winner graciously sharing the limelight with her opponent was a powerful moment on so many levels.

    Perhaps parents and players alike could follow Osaka’s lead: playing hard, leaving it all on the court or the field and practicing humility whether you are the winner or not.

    You can encourage great sportsmanship by intentionally teaching your kids what it looks like. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

    • Bring your best to the game. Be as prepared as possible and give it your all.
    • Discuss what being a gracious winner looks like and how to accept loss without being a sore loser.
    • Talk about what good sportsmanship looks like during the game - playing clean and fair, helping opposing team members up, not bullying, and shaking hands at the end of the game regardless of whether you win or lose.
    • Avoid letting others’ behavior dictate how you behave.
    • Teach your child to learn from their mistakes versus sulking.
    • Discuss the importance of following instructions.
    • Talk about what it means to be a team player, even if you are the best player on the team.

    It's so easy to get caught up in the game when your kids are playing. But remember - your kids either follow your lead or are dying from embarrassment because you are that parent. Consider these things as you sit on the sidelines: 

    • They have a coach. Let their coach do his/her job.
    • Avoid arguing with the coaches or referees.
    • Be respectful of the other team regardless of their ability.
    • Keep your perspective. Regardless of the sport you are watching, these are kids, and even the college students are still in their teens. Most of them will not go on to play professional sports. They play for the love of the sport.

    Someone once said, “Sports don’t build character, they reveal it.” 

    Osaka’s gracious behavior was not a fluke. It is something she learned over time and has exemplified on more than one occasion. Although Osaka was the winner, she left her opponent feeling good about herself. That’s the sign of someone who has their ego in check and understands the impact of their behavior on others. Modeling great sportsmanship and character will teach your child skills they can use on and off the field. 

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on September 6, 2019.

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    4 Ways to Adjust as Your Child Leaves for College

    When children leave the nest, it can be a very traumatic time for parents. You may second-guess how well you have prepared them to be out on their own. You might even be thinking about how things will be different at home with all the new time you have on your hands. This is what you’ve been working toward all these years, but there’s just something about letting go. 

    There is no question your role as parent shifts as your young adult grows even more independent. While your child is becoming his/her own person and pursuing their dreams, some parents really mourn this milestone - and there is nothing wrong with that. It is for sure a shift. Now, you get to watch them spread their wings while you take a background role of being supportive and encouraging as well as providing a safe place for them to come for rest. 

    If you are just beginning this adventure, it might be helpful to know a few things. Not everybody deals with this transition the same way. One parent may be experiencing tremendous grief while the other is excited not just for their college student, but also for the transition at home. Be careful not to judge. Instead, check in with each other to see how each of you is navigating through the change.

    Talk about ways you can encourage your student while also caring for your own needs. Since you won't be seeing your son or daughter every day, it might be helpful to write them weekly letters. Students say there is nothing better than going to their mailbox and actually having real mail. Periodic phone calls are great for staying connected, but letters are something they can keep and read over and over again.

    If you are in the midst of making this transition, here are some suggestions for getting through the initial shock: 

    Plan ahead. Don’t wait until the last minute to think about how you will deal with the extra time on your hands. Have some projects planned that you can focus on. Be intentional about planning things you can do on the weekend.

    Set limits for yourself. As your child settles into a new routine, there will be lots of demands on their time. Instead of calling every day, let your child make the first phone call and try to limit yourself to checking in once a week. Email is also a great way to stay in touch and be supportive without being intrusive.

    Be there when your child needs you. The first few months may also be hard for your child. Encourage them to hang in there. Send care packages and cards. Make your home a refuge they will want to come back to. Avoid making major changes to your child’s room.

    Consider the next thing. As your parenting role changes yet again, you will want to consider what’s next. Keep your eyes and heart open to where you need to go in life and what you want your life to be about. 

    Letting go can be especially hard, but it would be a shame to be so wrapped up in your loss that you miss what your child needs from you in this season of their life. Different seasons call for changes and adjustments, and although this particular season is new to you, remember that you’ve dealt with changes and challenges since you brought them home. All those moments have led you to this place.

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

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    How Not to Hate Your Husband

    Tamara’s second child was six months old when her best friend invited her to read How Not to Hate Your Husband After You Have Kids by Jancee Dunn.

    “I was in the thick of raising two children. Both my husband and I worked full-time jobs and the biggest thing I was struggling with was feeling like I was doing everything," Tamara said. "I was frustrated because I couldn’t figure out how to get my husband to jump in and just do stuff without me having to ask. He was very willing to help, but he just wanted me to tell him what to do.”

    After reading the book, Tamara felt like she was armed with some tangible ways to engage with her husband differently.

    “We actually sat down and divided up chores,” Tamara said. “Clarity around responsibilities was huge for us. He does the dishes and puts them in the dishwasher. I unload the dishwasher. This used to be a huge point of tension for us. I don’t mind letting dishes pile up in the sink and he can’t stand that. Now we’ve got our dance going.”

    They realized that the chore one of them liked the least, the other one didn’t really mind doing. Clarity around who was going to be responsible for doing what removed a lot of frustration from their relationship.

    Another huge takeaway for Tamara was to stop correcting her husband every time he did something.

    “I used to go behind him as he was doing things and either redo them or point out that’s not the correct way to do whatever,” Tamara said. “Like the time he took initiative to sweep our hardwood floors... but his sweeping technique was subpar in my opinion, so I waited until he was finished and then swept after him and took a picture of the huge pile of dirt and hair that he had left behind to show him that if he's going to do something, he needs to do it all the way, not half-heartedly... (I'm not proud of myself.) Talk about creating tension between the two of us. I totally did not stop to think about how it would make him feel. He just basically started backing off because what’s the point in trying to help when the person comes right behind you and does it their way? Letting go of that was big!

    “Probably the most valuable takeaway from this read was understanding that we needed to learn how to actively listen to each other instead of allowing our conversations to get hijacked by our emotions,” Tamara shared. “I think everybody could benefit from learning this.”

    Tamara said she was reminded of her high school anatomy and physiology class discussions about the brain being the center of logic and emotions and the limbic system, more specifically, the amygdala, processes emotions such as fear, anger and the “fight or flight” reflex. The prefrontal cortex controls judgment, logic and thinking.

    Guess what happens when our amygdala is firing on all cylinders? The prefrontal cortex stops working at optimum levels. Stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol rush through our body, causing us to turn into something close to The Incredible Hulk. Our body is physically preparing for “fight or flight” from the perceived threat. This makes us hyper-focused on our goal of survival, which makes it next to impossible to actually understand or even hear what other people are saying. Think of a child’s teeter-totter on the playground with emotions on one side and rational thinking on the other side: When emotions go up, rational thinking goes down.

    “Maybe the biggest takeaway for me from the book was learning how to deal with my anger differently,” Tamara said. “When things went south with us, both of us could ramp up very quickly. Harsh tones and hurtful words resulted in even more tension. The book talked about exactly what is happening in our brains when we are so angry with each other and it said I needed to handle the situation as if I were an FBI hostage negotiator. Say what?”

    What would an FBI hostage negotiator do? They would use the Behavioral Change Stairway Model. It involves five tried-and-true steps to get someone to be able to understand your perspective and change what they’re doing. These steps are:

    1. Active Listening - Listen to their side and let them know they have been heard.
    2. Empathy - You understand where they’re coming from and what they are feeling.
    3. Rapport - What they feel in return from your empathy; they start trusting you.
    4. Influence - Work on problem-solving and come up with an action plan.
    5. Behavioral Change - One or both of you does something different.

    Many couples immediately jump to number four before they do the first three steps which can and usually does sabotage the process of coming to a resolution. Hostage negotiators will tell you, active listening is the most important step in getting someone to calm down. 

    Here are six techniques to actively listen like a boss:

    1. Ask open-ended questions - You want them to open up, so avoid yes/no questions. A good example would be, “You seem upset. Can you help me understand what exactly is bothering you?” If something is bothering you and someone asks this question, seek to avoid responding with, “Nothing is wrong.”
    2. Effective Pause - Try remaining silent at appropriate times for emphasis or to defuse a one-sided emotional conversation (since most angry people are looking for a dialogue.)
    3. Minimal Encouragers - Let them know you’re listening with brief statements like, “Yeah” or “I see.” If you show a lot of emotion in your facial expressions, seek to keep those to a minimum.
    4. Mirroring - Repeat the last word or phrase they said. This shows you are trying to understand them and encourages them to continue. (Note: Don’t overdo it… mirroring could become really annoying, really fast.)
    5. Paraphrasing - Repeat what the other person is saying back to them in your own words. Not only does this show you are truly seeking to understand, it gives them an opportunity to clarify if you don’t quite have the whole picture. 
    6. Emotional Labeling - Give their feelings validation by naming them. Identify with how they feel. It’s not about whether they are right or wrong or completely crazy; it’s about showing them you understand and hear them. 

    “Reading this book made me more aware on so many levels,” Tamara said. “Even recognizing that it is important for me to do things that refuel my tank, but also actually telling my husband I need reassurance from him that he is good with me doing things with friends or going to work out because I can let “mom guilt” get the best of me. He actually told me not very long ago, ‘Taking time for yourself made you a happier person, happier mom and wife. I can see the change in you.’ That made my heart happy for sure.”

    Tamara's advice to new moms? Read the book, but recognize that implementing the strategies takes time and intentionality.

    “I think both of us would say we have seen significant improvement in the way we engage each other and that has been a really good thing for us and for our children,” Tamara said.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 18, 2019.

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    How to Be a Happier Person

    A few months ago, I asked my Facebook friends what brought them happiness. Although their answers varied, people said things like family, friends, being in nature, their faith, pets, their spouse and more made them happy. 

    Here’s what I found interesting: Nobody listed money as something that brings them happiness, yet it is the thing many of us devote our lives to getting more of in the pursuit of happiness.

    Gary Kunath, author of Life...Don’t Miss It. I Almost Did, worked in corporate America and bought into the idea that the more money you make, the happier you will be. The only problem was, he wasn’t happy and he was working long hours away from his family. Through a series of events, Gary did some tough soul-searching and decided to leave his corporate job and do something different.

    He learned that the quest for net worth at the cost of life worth is not a good trade-off.

    “A truly rich person is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least. The only reason to focus on net worth is to underwrite life worth,” said Kunath. “I promise you that in the end no one will care what kind of car you drove when you were 35 or the square footage of the largest home you ever owned. What will count and what does matter is what people remember about you.”

    While heredity and other things affect happiness levels to a certain point, studies indicate that we can do certain things to impact our happiness levels. Kunath shared these keys to happiness: 

    • Money doesn’t make you rich. How you think about money really sets the tone for your priorities in life. Do you value things or experiences with others? Do you spend your money impulsively or are you thoughtful about expenditures?
    • Help other people with no expectation of anything in return. Kunath shared a story about a college intern for a baseball team who noticed a little boy at one of their events sitting on a bench crying his eyes out. The intern went over to see if he could help and showed great kindness to the little boy. Three months after his internship ended, an executive with the baseball team called to request his presence at a meeting. When the young man showed up, he learned that the little boy had lost his mom earlier that year and the kind gesture of the intern was not lost on the father of the little boy who happened to be working on a corporate sponsorship with the team. The father requested that the intern be given 100 percent of the commission from that deal. 
    • Practice the art of savoring. Kunath suggests that happiness comes from savoring moments versus being focused on the next thing. He shared that the three greatest gifts you can give your family are time (small things matter), memories and traditions.
    • Perspective is powerful. Don’t major on the minors. Irritating things happen to people all the time such as being cut off in traffic, being lied to by a co-worker or being taken advantage of. Consider how you will allow these things to impact your happiness quotient. The truth is, these incidents are moments in time and will only rob you of your joy and happiness if you allow them to. 
    • Life is fun and fun is good. Kunath quoted Dr. Gerold Jampolsky, saying, “We can only be happy now, and there will never be a time when it is not now.” In other words, fun matters. Don’t take yourself too seriously. You don’t have to have a lot of money to have fun. Fun enhances relationships, decreases stress and creates great memories.
    • Refine your relationships, or as Kunath puts it, thin the herd. It matters who you surround yourself with as you go through life. Kunath suggests that we take a look at who we have allowed in our inner circle. If there are people who are sucking the life right out of you or who are constant takers, some pruning might be in order. It isn’t that those people shouldn’t be in our lives at all - we just shouldn't be spending most of our time with them. 

    So, if you’ve been looking for happiness in all the wrong places, incorporate these keys into your life. Remember unconditional love, making a difference for someone else, giving without any expectation of getting anything in return, appreciating the beauty of family and true friends, slowing down and savoring life, and having fun are important components of happy experiences for yourself and the ones you care about. 

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 12, 2019.

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    How to Be a Happier Person