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Articles for Parents

Check out these articles that cover a variety of parenting topics. From newborns to teens, we're here to give you guidance when you need it.

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    Sons, Sex and Standards

    An interesting study just released in JAMA Pediatrics should grab our attention. The study, a joint effort between Johns Hopkins University and The Guttmacher Institute, raises a warning flag about boys and early sex.

    Two national surveys showed that between 4 and 8 percent of boys reported having sex before they were 13. Black males were most at risk, followed by Hispanic males. In some metropolitan areas, more than a quarter of young, African American men reported having sexual intercourse before age 13.

    Young men having sex before age 13 usually haven’t received the appropriate sex education and services, and we need a better system to respond to their needs,” says Arik Marcell, M.D., M.P.H., senior author of the study and associate professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. 

    “The cultural double standard about sexual behavior in the United States, in which it is OK for young boys, but not girls, to be sexually active, has prevented us from effectively addressing male adolescents’ vulnerabilities and their healthy sexual development,” Marcell adds.

    Marcell explained that he has heard boys and adolescents talking about their first sex encounters in a way that suggests they didn’t anticipate, understand or know what was happening or what’s appropriate and what’s not. It is concerning that such early sex experiences happening to boys could be unwanted and influence their future health. Marcell and his colleagues used the survey data to attempt to get a better look at the scale and pattern of this problem across the nation.

    The investigators underscored the importance of recognizing young people’s perspectives, and also noted that reports of whether a first sexual experience was wanted may be influenced by gender and race expectations, stereotypes, peer pressure and coercion. Parental education also appeared to have an impact. For instance, boys whose mothers graduated from college were 69 percent less likely to have sex before 13.

    As to why there are such variations in early sex rates, Guttmacher Institute researcher Laura Lindberg says, "Adolescent males' attitudes and values about their sexuality and masculinity are influenced by the social context of their community. 

    “Our findings reflect that where you live exposes you to different social norms about manhood," she added. "The variation across settings means that programs for young people's development and health need to be tailored and responsive to the communities they are in."

    In many instances, it seems like massive strides have been made when it comes to educating kids about sex, but this study clearly indicates there is still work to be done. All young people need to receive sex education and parents need to be ready to have open, honest and ongoing talks with their kids. 

    The best time to start talking with children about sex is when they are young. Look for teachable moments, such as when you see a pregnant woman or a peer's new brother or sister, as a natural discussion-starter.

    Focus your conversation with elementary-age children on:

    • the correct names of sexual organs and body parts,
    • explaining sex and reproduction,
    • personal boundaries,
    • pregnancy, and
    • building healthy relationships.

    If they are old enough to ask questions, they are old enough to receive correct answers, but make sure to clarify your child’s question. When you understand the question, answer it briefly and simply. Sometimes kids have questions, but they are afraid to ask. This is why it is important for parents to look for opportunities to discuss these important matters.  

    Talking about sex is just as important as talking about drugs and alcohol, smoking, stranger danger and pornography. If this feels overwhelming to you, you might want to practice talking privately with your spouse or another adult first. The most important thing is that conversations are happening and you are an askable parent.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 14, 2019.

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    3 Keys to Deeper Friendships

    Shasta Nelson has spent more than a decade studying loneliness and friendships. Nelson is a healthy relationship expert and author of Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness and Friendships Don’t Just Happen! The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends. She is currently working on her next book, “The Business of Friendship: Making the Most of the Relationships Where We Spend Most of Our Time,” to be published by HarperCollins Leadership.

    Nelson surveyed people to find out how fulfilling their friendships felt from one to 10, with 10 being the most meaningful satisfaction. About 60-70 percent respondents rated their relationships five or below.

    Nelson realized that while people might be in friend relationships or marriage relationships, there was a gap between the kind of relationships people want to have and the kind they actually have. In fact, 80 percent of the complaints about friendships centered around wanting more and deeper connection. She found that people know more people than ever before and are supposedly more connected, yet they are lonelier than ever.

    A 2018 CIGNA study of 20,000 people found that nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone. Additionally, 1 in 4 rarely or never feels as though people really understand them, and 2 in 5 Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful.

    According to Nelson, modern day loneliness is not because we need to interact more with people; It is due to lack of intimacy. Frientimacy is a relationship where both people feel seen in a safe and satisfying way. When people say they are lonely, Nelson doesn’t believe that answer is to go out and make more friends, but to deepen current relationships.

    “I ask people this question: ‘Do you feel as loved and supported as you need at this point in your life?’” Nelson says. “If the answer is yes, that’s fabulous, but often the answer is no. When that is the case, I encourage them to consider who in their life they would want to build a more meaningful or closer relationship with and then make a list. Start prioritizing those relationships. 

    “Some people say they have no names to put on their list. For these folks, their journey right now is to get out and meet people who have the potential to be future friends. There are a couple of ways you can do this. Going to places you already frequent like school, work, faith-based or civic organizations - proximity and geography matters. Then be intentional about getting to know them better. The second way is to reach out to people you know and ask them if there are people they think you should know. Take advantage of opportunities for introductions to meet new people at their party, book club, discussion group, etc.” 

    Nelson says the more insane your life is, the more you need meaningful friendships. 

    “Often when I am speaking to moms’ groups, I ask them to write what they remember about their mom and her friends,” Nelson says. “A good 70 percent of women have a hard time completing that assignment. I suspect it happens partly because so many moms try to nurture their friendships at a time that doesn’t inconvenience their kids. However, 30 years down the road, your daughters can’t tell me who your friends are. Friendships need to be modeled. Don’t downplay that part of your life. Deep, meaningful friendships make us better.”

    Once you have identified people on your list, Nelson says to then practice the three things that are the basis of every healthy relationship: positivity, consistency and vulnerability, also known as “the frientimacy triangle.” 

    1. Positivity is about feeling supported, kindness, acts of service, affirmation - all the things that make us feel good. 
    2. Consistency is the hours logged, the history built, interactions and knowing there is consistent behavior in the relationship. This is where trust occurs. 
    3. Vulnerabilit is where we share, reveal, let people beyond the formal living room, talk about what is going well and not so well, history, dreams, and where you feel safe to ask for what you need.

    When we have high levels of each part of the “frientimacy triangle,” we feel seen, safe and satisfied, which is what people want and need. We then have the ability to take existing relationships to a completely different level.

    Our bodies are craving this and are literally dying without connections. World-renowned physician Dean Ornish states, “I am not aware of any other factor in medicine (than intimacy and love) - not diet, not smoking, not exercising, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery - that has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness and premature death from all causes.” 

    According to Nelson, loneliness is as damaging to our bodies as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, the equivalent of being a lifelong alcoholic, more harmful than not exercising, and twice as harmful as obesity.

    "How you answer the question, ‘How loved and supported do you feel?’ will tell us more about your health 15-20 years down the road than any other factor,” she says.

    If your relationships aren’t where you want them to be, Nelson encourages you to take action and do something different. Not only do we have the opportunity to make our own lives richer, we can enrich others' lives with our positivity, consistency and vulnerability.

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

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    Preparing Your Child for the Real World

    Many college graduates will soon be joining the workforce, some for the first time. The transition can be a real shocker as they face their new reality of 8-hour days, specific start times, no more spring breaks and a limited amount of time for lunch. Plus, some workplaces expect employees to work at a rigorous pace that is foreign to many college students.

    In the adjustment phase, young adults may complain to their parents about workplace practices, demanding bosses, irritating co-workers and deadlines, just to name a few issues. This is nothing new for sure. 

    Anybody who has held a job can probably relate, but here’s where things get interesting. In an effort to be helpful, many parents jump right in to deal with the issue at hand. In fact, you might be surprised at just how many parents are quick to take the reins and deal with the issue themselves.

    In a recent survey of parents of children ages 18-28 conducted by Morning Consult, 11 percent of the parents surveyed said they would contact an employer if their child was having issues at work. Of the parents surveyed:

    • 76% reminded their adult children of deadlines they need to meet, including for schoolwork. 
    • 74% made appointments for them, including doctor’s appointments. 
    • 42% offered them advice on relationships and romantic life. 
    • 16% helped write all or part of a job or internship application. 
    • 15% told them which career to pursue.
    • 14% helped them get jobs or internships through professional network.
    • 14% gave more than $500 per month for rent or daily expenses.

    With the possible exception of giving romantic advice, none of these behaviors on the part of the parent are helpful in preparing a young adult for the real world.

    Instead of jumping in to rescue them, it would be helpful to assist them in being prepared to deal with real-life work situations. Here's how you can start:

    • When they encounter a difficult professor, process with them potential ways to approach the professor and have a conversation. 
    • Teach them how to make their own doctor’s appointments. 
    • If they have internship possibilities, rehearse with them how to make the initial phone call or introduction and talk with them about potential interview questions. 

    If they believe they are being treated unfairly or inappropriately at work, get a good understanding of what is happening. Then:

    • Attempt to walk through the situation with them, but realize the situation is not yours to handle. 
    • Ask them what they think they need to do besides quit, which sometimes ends up being an option if nothing else works, and then help them figure out an action plan they can execute by discussing the pros and cons of all viable options. 
    • If you don’t think you have the knowledge or skill set required to help them decide how to move forward, connect them with someone you believe has the knowledge to do so. Avoid the temptation to make the call yourself. 

    It can be painful to watch your young adult deal with difficult and sometimes very complicated circumstances, especially if they are a hard worker and what they are walking through seems unjust. However, it is not healthy or helpful to jump into circumstances they need to learn how to handle themselves. Life is for sure not fair, and this will likely not be the last time they have to navigate dealing with a difficult situation. 

    Whether your adult child is still in college or in the workforce, writing papers for them, calling them to make sure they are awake, reminding them of deadlines or interfering at work does not prepare your child for the reality of living an independent, productive life. Doing these things will make them more dependent on you and less prepared for dealing with what life hands them on their own.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on March 31, 2019.

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    The Dangers of Overparenting Your Child

    The largest college admissions scandal in history has many people shaking their heads in disgust. 

    In hopes of getting their kids admitted to prestigious schools, parents used bribery, paid off test administrators to change test scores and paid athletic directors and coaches to add names as potential recruits for sports teams. This is troubling on so many levels. 

    Many kids actually worked hard to earn their way into college, but they may have lost their place to someone whose parents worked to play the system. This scandal exposes significant problems in the college admissions process, along with another major dilemma affecting many young people today: overzealous parents trying to snowplow the roads of life for their children.

    One parent arranged for someone else to take a college entrance exam for his son. He told the third party it was imperative that his son never know about it. Imagine being the son who thought he earned the score on that test, only to find out from the media that his father made it happen. Talk about robbing someone of their confidence

    Parents who do things like this often say the motivation behind their behavior is wanting the best for their child, but at what cost? Keep in mind the definition of success for one child might look very different for another. Parents who create a false sense of accomplishment for their child aren’t helping; they are hurting. In the end, these young people will pay a hefty price for their parents’ actions whether they knew about their parents’ actions ahead of time or not.

    Warren Buffett once told a group of Georgia Tech students, “If you get to my age in life and nobody thinks well of you, I don't care how big your bank account is, your life is a disaster.” Buffet realizes that money can’t buy love or happiness, nor does it guarantee success. 

    When parents don’t allow their children to fail and learn how to pick themselves up and keep putting one foot in front of the other, they are doing an extreme disservice to their children. Failure is a part of life and can be incredibly motivating when one isn’t afraid of taking risks. Allowing them to experience failure and supporting them as they regain their footing is a very powerful confidence-builder.

    Parents have to ask themselves if the motivation behind the behavior is self-serving. For example, does it just make you look good as a parent or is this in your child’s best interest? 

    If your child has no aspirations to attend college, none of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering you do will change that. In fact, it will likely take a huge toll on your parent-child relationship instead.

    So what can parents do?

    See your child for who he/she is in their gifts, talents, dreams and passions. They will likely have different passions and areas of giftedness that may take them on a path for which you haven’t prepared. You may even be tempted to tell them, “You will never be able to support yourself doing that.” 

    Instead of saying those words, help them know what it will take to succeed. Encourage them and put parameters around where you must draw the line, then be brave enough to let them try. Even if they fail, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a valuable experience. It also doesn’t mean they can’t change their direction if they decide what they are doing isn’t working.

    Pediatrician and author Meg Meeker shared these thoughts in a blog post addressing this issue:

    “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where, or if, your child goes to college. It matters that he is prepared and equipped to lead a healthy adult life. Give him that and you will have given him more than an Ivy League education ever could.”

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on March 24, 2019.

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    What Your Child Needs to Know Before Starting Kindergarten

    Many parents feel pressure to make sure their child is actually kindergarten-ready. But, are they really focusing on the things that ultimately prepare their child for future success?

    Knowing their name, being able to tie their shoes and going to the bathroom by themselves are important for sure. But did you know that social competency skills such as being able to listen, share material with others, solve problems with their classmates, cooperate and be helpful are every bit as important, perhaps more so?

    Researchers from Penn State analyzed 753 children in Durham, N.C., Seattle, Nashville and rural Pennsylvania and found that children who were more likely to share or be helpful in kindergarten were also more likely to obtain higher education and hold full-time jobs nearly two decades later. Kids without these social competency skills were more likely to face negative outcomes by age 25, including substance abuse problems, challenges finding employment or run-ins with the law.

    The researchers found that for every one-point increase in a student's social competency score, he or she was:

    • Twice as likely to graduate from college;
    • 54 percent more likely to earn a high school diploma; and
    • 46 percent more likely to have a full-time job by age 25.

    For every one-point decrease in the child's score, he or she had a:

    • 64 percent higher chance of having spent time in juvenile detention;
    • 67 percent higher chance of having been arrested by early adulthood;
    • 52 percent higher rate of binge-drinking;
    • 82 percent higher rate of recent marijuana usage; and an
    • 82 percent higher chance of being in or on a waiting list for public housing at age 25.

    The research shows that high-quality relationships and rich social interactions in the home, school and community prepare children well for the future. Never underestimate the importance of a stable home in the life of a child.

    No matter your child's age, you can help them learn what they really need to know. Parents and extended family, child care providers and neighbors - everyone really - can help young children develop these social-emotional skills.

    Try these strategies to help children develop social/emotional competence:

    • Let them figure out how to solve their own problems (within reason).
    • Instead of making decisions for them, help them make decisions.
    • Teach them about emotions and help them understand other people's feelings.
    • Give them opportunities to learn what it looks like to share with others.
    • Provide experiences where they can be helpful.
    • Teach them how to express themselves appropriately with direction.
    • Be intentional about giving them instructions and helping them follow through on what you asked them to do. This will serve them well when it comes to listening and following instructions in the classroom.
    • Give your child the chance to engage in activities with others where they learn to cooperate without being prompted.

    Providing these opportunities is beneficial, far beyond kindergarten. Although it may be easier for adults to make these things happen for their children, easy isn't always best. Step back and see what they can do - that's some of the best kindergarten prep you could ever do.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on March 17, 2019.

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    How to Handle Grief

    It’s been 10 years since Ron and Nan Deal unexpectedly said goodbye to their middle son, Connor.

    “You never expect to outlive your children,” says Ron Deal. “We actually joked about the fact that Connor, who was 12 at the time, was the healthiest of our three boys. The other two could come down with the flu and Connor kept on trucking. One day, he got a headache. We gave him ibuprofen and sent him to bed early. Ten days later he was gone.”

    The Deals have no idea how Connor contracted MRSA, an infection that is very difficult to treat.

    “I love talking about Connor and at the same time, I hate talking about him because it is so incredibly painful,” Deal says. “I now talk about life before Connor died and life after Connor left us, and I long for the innocence of before. I am keenly aware now that life can turn on a dime and you will never be the same.”

    When talking about the grieving process, Deal shares that early on, it felt as if they were buried up to their necks in mud.

    “You can’t walk and can’t move,” Deal says. “In the beginning, I think my wife and I grieved similarly, but as time moved on, we have grieved differently, which has meant we have to pay really close attention. After Connor’s death, I went for years literally not able to experience joy of any kind. My wife didn’t smile or laugh for a year. The grief just consumes you and you feel like a shell of a person. 

    “My sister saved us,” Deal says. “We really went numb for a couple of years. She would show up once a month for an entire year just to be with us. The kids were thrilled because she would cook for them.

    “Once we got to the 3-year, 5-year marks, I found that I could compartmentalize my grief to some degree, but then out of nowhere a song or a smell would take me right back to that place,” Deal shares. “Nan has carried it with her 24/7 like a parka you never take off.”

    The Deals learned they had to be intentional about talking and engaging with each other. Through the grieving process, Deal says they learned many other lessons, too.

    Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing after Loss is a must-read for anyone entering into a hard space with someone who is grieving. If you haven’t walked this road, just show up. Step into the living room and be present. You can’t fix it.” 

    When you lose somebody, studies show that about a third of people in your life are helpful. Deal learned it was his job to seek out the therapeutic third and hang around them.

    He found that sometimes even extended family members weren’t part of their third when their grief was big. During the early years, the Deals were never at home for the holidays or on Connor’s birthday, but they made it a point to go be with safe people or get involved with an activity where the day passes quickly.  

    Deal maintains that in any loss in our lives, we need to find an expression of that loss equal to the magnitude of the loss. You have to find some radical way of blessing other people.

    “Give expression to your grief and sadness, especially those you share it with,” encourages Deal. “You will be tempted to isolate yourself. Don’t do that. You have to get outside yourself.

    “Through a crazy series of events, we ended up going to Ghana, West Africa, working with a ministry that rescues trafficked children,” Deal says. “They raise and educate them. We decided to build an art center in Connor’s name that provides therapeutic, emotional and psychological support for them in the healing process. We get to go once a year and be with the children. Connor would love it! He was artsy and musical. There is a lot there that is him. My grief is alive when I am there. I can’t get Connor back, but I can bless others. These are children who have been sold into slavery. To be a small part of rescuing them and helping them heal is such a joy.

    “Serving others is not denying your own sadness; if anything, it’s saying I know what I am going through and I need to do something with this energy. You do that with tears and you do that with action.

    “We had a counselor to help guide us through this,” Deal says. “The seasons change and with it comes a new little hurdle. It’s helpful to have a professional to walk with you over the course of time.

    “The grieving process is not a sprint or even a half-marathon. It’s a full-on marathon and you have to stay after it. There are lots of ripples from the grieving. Some are beautiful and some are painful. It is a long road. Over the last 10 years we have seen beauty out of the ashes, but it doesn’t get rid of the ashes.”

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 17, 2019.

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    3 Ways to Avoid Jumping to Conclusions

    In January of 2019, someone posted a video of a young man standing in front of a Native American veteran. The young man was accused of taunting the man while he was drumming, and his classmates who were standing nearby were accused of making disrespectful comments aimed at the Native American. The video blew up on social media. The teens’ school even responded to the incident, stating the teens would be disciplined up to and including expulsion.

    However, when additional information and longer portions of video emerged, news anchors admonished viewers that jumping to conclusions can be harmful in so many ways. 

    The teen at the center of attention shared his version of what happened. CNN’s Jake Tapper obtained a statement from Nick Sandmann, a junior at Covington Catholic High School, who said he is the student in the video. Sandmann said he was trying to diffuse a tense situation and denied insinuations that anyone in the crowd was acting out of racism or hatred.

    An ancient proverb says it is foolish to answer a matter before you hear it.

    Millions of people looked at the video and immediately jumped to conclusions without having context or perspective. As a result, a young man was accused of taunting a Native American veteran, being racist and numerous other things. Additionally, a young man who attends the same school was falsely identified as being present. His family was accused of being racists, and they received threats throughout the weekend.

    Have we become a culture that responds to what we think we see? Or have we always been people who respond this way? Are we looking for any excuse to be outraged?

    Just one day after this video was posted, another video started making the rounds. This one showed a barefoot 2-year-old girl with her hands held high in the air after getting out of a car stopped by police. Officers were in the midst of arresting the little girl’s father, who was a suspect. Looking at the video and seeing officers with their guns pointed at the car, many assumed the guns were pointed at the little girl. 

    However, the arresting officer had his bodycam rolling. His footage shows the officers stop the vehicle and tell the suspected armed adults to step out of the truck. After the adults were out of the truck, the child unexpectedly climbed out and imitated her parents by walking toward the officers with her hands raised. An officer can be heard comforting the child, saying, "You're OK, come over here sweetie, you're OK," and "Sweetie, put your hands down, you're fine."

    Ultimately, two men were arrested and their mother was allowed to take care of the children. 

    These are just two instances out of thousands of videos where people are put in a position to draw conclusions about what really happened. Is it possible that we are being baited?

    This seems like a great teachable moment for us all. Many allowed their time, emotional energy and bandwidth to be hijacked by a situation that may or may not have been what it seemed to be. When people live on the edge with short fuses and expect to be offended, people can pretty much be assured that they will be. 

    Jumping to conclusions can be very damaging to relationships, but these three tips can help you think more clearly about the things you see (or think you see). 

    • Pause. Relationship expert Hal Runkel stresses the importance of "the pause." Pausing allows people to take in what they are seeing, obtain more information and then make a decision about the best way to respond.
    • Dig deeper. Ask questions and see if more information is available. Gather all the information you can, and look for other evidence on the subject - whether you agree with it or not.
    • Give the benefit of the doubt. Seeing is not always believing, especially at first or if you are being manipulated in some way. Relationships are built on trust, so make sure you know everything you can possibly know before you make an impulse decision about a matter.  

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 28, 2019.

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    Why Standards Matter

    John Scolinos retired after coaching baseball for 42 years. In 1996, he asked more than 4000 baseball coaches the following questions: 

    • How wide is home plate in Little League baseball? 
    • Do you know how wide home plate is in high school, college and the major leagues?

    In case you don’t know, it’s 17 inches.

    “Seventeen inches!” Scolinos confirmed. “And what do they do with a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over 17 inches? They send him to Pocatello! What they don’t do is this: They don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy. If you can’t hit a 17-inch target, we’ll make it 18 inches or 19 inches. We’ll make it 20 inches so you have a better chance of hitting it. If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say 25 inches.'

    Scolinos encouraged coaches to uphold the sport's standards for everything from attendance and tardiness to behavior and personal appearance. 

    Why? Because there can be massive consequences when people fail to meet standards.

    Consider this: At least 15 touches are necessary to ensure the safety of donated blood before it can be given to someone who needs it. If any one of those 15 touches are missed or incorrectly completed, serious issues could result for the recipient.  

    When it comes to building overpasses and bridges, engineers carefully calculate weight, force and stress to determine how to build the right kind of structures to accommodate traffic flow. It would be unacceptable for the structural engineers to say they were pretty sure they got their calculations right. One degree, plus or minus, could result in a catastrophic collapse - and it could be the difference between life and death.

    Is it better to bend the rules or the standards in an attempt to make children feel better about themselves, or is it more beneficial to teach children how to accomplish the goal the way it was intended to be met? 

    Scolinos warned the coaches that failing to hold themselves and those in their sphere of influence to a high standard would result in dark days ahead. 

    Before passing away in 2009, Scolinos imparted much coaching wisdom over the years that is still useful in all areas of life. While times have changed, people still count on quality and safety standards for air travel, automakers, restaurants, schools, hospitals, hotels, etc. 

    It’s pretty clear that teaching the importance of accountability starts early and in the home, but it extends far beyond that. In fact, setting and holding to standards lets people know what to expect and where to aim, and it holds them accountable if the standards are not met. Should we expect anything less?

    Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 13, 2019.

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    Why Giving Makes You Happy

    You've probably seen stories in years past about the Secret Santa who travels the country, randomly handing out $100 bills just before Christmas. In 2018 he struck again, but this time he landed in Phoenix, AZ and enlisted some help from a homeless man named Moses to give away - get this- a total of $3000. 

    Moses chose to give $100 to anybody who actually noticed him, and although many recipients were complete strangers, others were not. Moses also received a Secret Santa gift that he described as a new beginning for his own life. 

    You might think that Moses was happier about getting something for himself, but that's not the case. Despite being homeless, he said it felt so good to give to others.

    “Kindness is a bridge between all people,” said the Secret Santa. “If you are ever down and you want to lift yourself up, go do something kind for somebody.”

    Believe it or not, there is truly something magical and actually chemical about the feeling you get when you give to others.

    According to a U.S. News and World Report article, What Generosity Does to Your Brain and Life Expectancy, studies have consistently shown that giving makes people feel good as the body responds by producing “happiness” chemicals such as dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin. Selfless actions like volunteering or donating money can help to decrease the risk and symptoms of depression and stress. One study even found that giving time and assistance to others also reduced the mortality risk tied to stress, a known risk factor for many chronic diseases. 

    Another study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that volunteerism reduced mortality rates more than exercising four times weekly and attending church regularly, which is also linked to improved mental health and a longer life. People who volunteered for two or more causes had a 63 percent lower mortality rate than those who didn't volunteer during the study period. 

    Many believe it is better to give than to receive, and the research seems to confirm that giving in various forms contributes to our well-being. It has been said that giving is good for the soul, but it turns out that it is not just good in December. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that giving is good all year long. 

    Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 23, 2018.

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    6 Simple Ways to Enjoy the Holidays

    What are your goals for this holiday season? If you want to provide a time and place where people can relax, celebrate relationships, laugh, count their blessings, play, and help create warm memories, you may want to rethink how you've always done things and change things up a bit. As the old saying goes, simple is better… and it’s often a lot more fun for everyone involved. These ideas can help you celebrate with more focus and less fuss. 

    • Make a list of everything you plan to do. Divide it between must-do, would like to do and not really necessary. 

    • See what you can mark off your list. For example, maybe you won’t send holiday cards this year. Instead of throwing a holiday party now, put it off until July. 

    • Let each family member choose a few of their favorite decorations to put out and leave the rest in the closet. 

    • Participate in alternative gift-giving. Tell everybody that all gifts have to be homemade this year. Challenge your children to be creative and let them do it themselves.

    • Donate to the favorite charity of a family member or friend in their honor instead of spending hours at the mall purchasing a gift they don’t really need or want. 

    • Ask family members to bring a favorite dish to the family gathering instead of doing it all yourself. 

    The key to feeling good about the way you spend your time and money during the holidays is to make a plan and stick to it. It is important to involve your family in the process, so share your goals with them and discuss ways you would like to simplify. Encourage them to find creative ways to celebrate. Then work your plan together.

    Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 25, 2018.

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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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    4 Ways to Have Difficult Conversations During the Holidays

    As you gather with friends or family, chances are good that at some point you will encounter people who don’t share your point of view about topics that you feel strongly about, such as politics, faith, raising children, immigration, or... you fill in the blank.

    While emotion surrounds these topics, it is possible to have civil conversations about any one of these things with capacity to agree to disagree and remain friends or connected as family.

    Keeping the following things in mind can help create more civil conversations:

    • Remember that what you believe makes perfect sense to you, but other people have reasons for why they believe the way they do. Instead of shutting them down, ask questions to help you better understand why they believe the way they do. You may still walk away from the conversation shaking your head, but having a reasonable conversation may lead to better understanding on both sides of the fence. Many of these issues are not cut and dry; they are often deep and complicated.
    • Your words are like a construction site; they can either build people up or tear them down. You have the opportunity to be respectful and gracious regardless of the topic at hand. When children in the room watch you navigate a complicated conversation in a respectful way, you are teaching them. Whether you believe they are paying attention or not, they are more than likely taking in your words and your every move.
    • Speaking respectfully makes a difference. If you demean, degrade and disrespect the person you are speaking with and then walk away from the relationship, they will have one less person in their life who has a different perspective that could elicit thought-provoking conversations.
    • Self-control is key. We are all in charge of our own emotions, actions and behaviors. Even when people are disrespectful toward us, we can choose to respond in kind or to do something different. It absolutely takes two to tango, but it only takes one person to change the dance. If you refuse to escalate and meet like behavior with like behavior, it becomes a different kind of conversation.

    In the end, we must figure out how to live civilly with people who don’t think exactly like us. Thinking about those conversations ahead of time can help you handle those difficult topics with confidence.

    Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 11, 2018.

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