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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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    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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    Tips for Controlling Your Emotions

    When you’re in the checkout line at the store and a 2-year-old has a meltdown because they can’t have a candy bar, nobody is shocked because well, they are two. It’s totally another story when an adult who is unable to regulate their emotions has a public meltdown. 

    Unfortunately, a rising number of teens and adults seem to be struggling with emotional and impulse control, and the results are often disastrous. Think road rage, someone cutting in line or even publicly expressing a different opinion in a rude manner.

    The Child Mind Institute defines self-regulation as the ability to manage emotions and behavior in accordance with situational demands. It is a skill set that enables children, as they mature, to direct their own behavior toward a goal, despite the unpredictability of the world and their own feelings. It includes:

    • Being able to resist highly-emotional reactions to upsetting stimuli, 
    • Calming yourself down when you get upset,
    • Adjusting to a change in expectations, and
    • Handling frustration without an outburst. 

    Children who don’t learn this skill struggle to self-regulate as they get older. And, if you’ve ever experienced this out-of-control feeling or been on the receiving end, you know it’s not a good thing. There is good news, though. If you didn’t learn this skill as a child, it is still possible to learn it as an adult. 

    Your emotional brain processes information in two milliseconds, so keeping yourself under control during a frustrating experience involves being able to pause between the feeling and your response. There is a trigger; someone pushes your buttons (we all have an easy button), there is an instant reaction, accompanied by a strong emotion often followed by a feeling of remorse. This is the body’s automatic built-in protection system, also known as “fight, flight or freeze.” 

    Your rational brain, which helps you make sound decisions, processes information in 500 milliseconds, 250 times longer than your emotional brain. People have to learn how to assess situations quickly, but if they don’t pause long enough to discern what is actually happening, their emotional brain can take control before their rational brain has a chance to kick into gear. 

    If you or someone you know struggles with self-regulation, it’s not too late! You just have to be intentional about choosing to behave differently. 

    Think about what you can control and what you cannot. You cannot control how other people behave, but you can choose how you will respond or engage with them. Sometimes, the best response is to do nothing.

    Learn how to master your feelings, versus letting them master you will serve you well. For example, when someone cuts you off when you’re driving, you suddenly feel your heart rate go up, adrenaline starts flowing, and your first instinct is to go after them. However, if you are practicing emotional regulation, you can take a breath, even acknowledge that that makes you angry, but then let it go because the consequences of your actions could bring harm to you, that driver and others who aren’t even involved.

    This should not be interpreted as people not being able to stand up for themselves or being silenced. Instead, learning how to master strong and powerful emotions can help people develop calm and constructive ways to have their voice heard. When people are out of control, it’s highly unlikely that anything positive will come from the situation.

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    Money Basics for College Students

    The average college student will graduate with about $37,000 in student loans, but few students really think about repaying that money after graduating. In fact, many new college students haven't thought much at all about money management, much less paying off student loans at the end of their four years.

    Results from a survey of 455 college students by LendEdu found that:

    • 58% indicated they are not saving anything.
    • 30% indicated their parents taught them nothing about managing money.
    • 51% received no financial education in high school.
    • 43% are not tracking their spending.

    Bryan Bulmer, Coordinator for Financial Wellness at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, knows this all too well. He has worked with college students to help them learn financial literacy.

    “There are two kinds of students I typically see in my office: students who have been taught about money management and have grasped the concepts and those who really have never been shown the impact of money or lack thereof,” says Bulmer. 

    In his student presentations, Bulmer uses a giant Jenga game to show the impact of frivolous spending. For example, buying that cup of coffee each day Monday through Friday is about $100 a month. After four years, the student will have spent $5,000 on coffee alone.

    “That usually gets their attention because nobody ever thinks about how much that small amount adds up to over time,” Bulmer says. “Our goal is to help them know how to be wise with their money.”

    When Bulmer asks students how many of them want to move back home after college, he says not a single hand goes up. However, 60% of them do move back home. Plus, a whopping 39% of them will still be living at home into their mid to late-20s.

    Studies show that annual take-home pay for the average recent college graduate is around $36,000. Bulmer breaks this down for his students this way: If you have a car, college and credit card payments, that will probably take about $1,000. That leaves you $2,000 for everything else including rent, which is usually another $1,000.  So that leaves you only $1,000 for groceries, car insurance, internet and such.

    “Pretty quickly the students begin to realize that while it sounds like a lot of money, it really isn’t if you don’t learn how to manage it well,” Bulmer says.

    If you want to help your college student be financially literate, Bulmer suggests that you:

    • Involve the student in the family finances. Let them see what it takes to keep the lights and water on, the cost of Wi-Fi and keeping the refrigerator filled with food.
    • Talk with them about how credit works. Credit card companies are notorious for stalking freshmen and older college students with deals that are too good to be true, and plenty of them fall for it only to find themselves in debt way over their heads. They often have no idea how to get out.
    • Teach them the basics of money management (e.g. banking, paying bills, safe use of debit cards, MobilePay, ID theft and such).
    • Address student loan requirements. If your student is taking out student loans, make sure they know what this means in four years. Some students are not aware that they have student loans. This should not be a surprise to them when they graduate.

    Having a college degree gives many people an advantage. According to the National Financial Educators Council, studies show college graduates will earn almost a half-million dollars more over their lifetime than someone who has not received their college degree. But, if they have no concept of personal finances and how to manage the money they are earning, it will be of no benefit to them. 

    “All of our students who come into our office that are financial literate give credit to their parents for helping them be literate,” Bulmer says. “Statistical information says 34 percent of students feel financially literate and that 37 percent of parents share financial literacy skills with their students. I believe those numbers show parents are the number one provider of financial literacy skills in the lives of their children.”

    Give your kids the edge they need for future success by teaching them how to manage money wisely now, regardless of their age. 

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

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    How to Start School Routines

    How is it that summer just started, yet the school supplies are already out in stores? In a few short weeks that will feel like they fly by, your baby will be headed to kindergarten. At this realization, in the midst of a little freak-out and hidden tears, parents will try to put on a brave face as they leave their little one in someone else’s care.

    Preparing for that day is important not only for your child, but for you as well. A month may seem like a long way off, but when it comes to establishing new routines and rituals, it’s actually the right time to put things in motion.

    Bedtime: For example, if bedtime has been at 8:30 or later during the summer months, but a 7:30 bedtime will be in place during the school year, moving bedtime up in 15-minute intervals from now until the school year starts will help your child adjust and keep the drama about it still being light outside to a minimum. As a side note, blackout curtains might be a great investment.

    Routines: Consider what morning and evening routines will be like, especially if this is your first child to head off to school. It can be unsettling for children when everything is changing, so it’s helpful to think about routines and rituals like a security blanket. Children find real comfort in predictability. If you put things into motion now, it will help your child feel more confident on that first day of school. For instance, practice getting up, getting dressed, brushing teeth, eating breakfast and figuring out the best order to accomplish those tasks and any others that must be done before leaving for school. Adapting your evening routine to how things will be during the school year will help as well. 

    After school: Being at school and holding it together all day long is exhausting. Your child might come home from school and want to take a nap or they might have a meltdown, especially as they are adjusting to their new routine. Comfort them and help them put words to their emotions. In time they will adapt and adjust.

    Independence: Remind yourself repeatedly to let your child do for themselves what they are capable of doing. Things like dressing themselves, putting on their shoes and velcroing or tying them, going to the bathroom, pulling their pants up and even buckling a belt are important to know how to do. If they are planning to buy their lunch at school, let them practice carrying a tray with their food and drink from somewhere in the kitchen to the table. That balancing act can be a little tricky. If they are taking their lunch, teach them how to pack it themselves. If they are riding the school bus, practice walking to and from the bus stop together.

    Practice: Make practicing these things fun by turning them into a relay race or a game. When you do that, you’ll be giving them a strong foundation to stand on as they head to school.

    Organization: Work with your child to find a location in your home where all things school-related live like backpacks, homework or notes that need to be signed. Helping them get in the habit of placing things in one location will make mornings easier for everyone.

    Read: Start reading with your child daily (if you aren't already). Even if you aren’t a fantastic reader, just holding a book, pointing out pictures, colors, numbers and words, or teaching your child to turn the pages from right to left will help prepare them for kindergarten.

    Other adults: If you have told your child they don’t have to listen to anyone but you, now is the time to change that. When your child is at school they will need to be able to listen and follow instruction from their teacher and others. Additionally, if you have never left them in someone else’s care, try to arrange some time between now and the first day of school where they are in the care of other trusted adults. It is good for them to know that others can take care of their needs, and teachers will appreciate that you have helped them practice listening and following instructions from other adults.

    Technology: This year will be different for your child, so consider a technology plan for your home when school starts. They will be expected to sit, listen and engage in activities, but screen time  is probably the last thing they need when they get home. Instead, playing outdoors in the fresh air can help them release stress and relax.

    Emotions: While you might be excited about your little one reaching this milestone, it would also be normal for you to feel some anxiety. Most of our children can read us like a book. If you are feeling uptight about the beginning of school and trying to hold that inside, your child will likely pick up on this and think you are not OK or that you do not want them to go to school. Acknowledging that and talking with other parents who are ahead of you on the journey could be extremely helpful to you and your child. 

    Thinking about all that needs to happen before school starts may feel a bit overwhelming. The good news is, if you start now, you will already have your routine down by the time school starts. Both you and your child can head into the first day of school with confidence and great expectations for the school year.

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    Free Summer Meals Programs for Kids

    In 2010, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department-STEP One conducted an independent study which found that many Hamilton County students who relied on the breakfast and lunch programs during the school year were going hungry in the summer. 

    “Less than 7 percent of the children enrolled in the food program through the schools were actually receiving assistance during the summer months. Several community leaders, John Bilderback, Carol Ricketts and myself realized what was happening to these children in our community, and it became our mission to do something about it,” says Rush, who is now the director of the James A. Henry Community YMCA in Chattanooga.

    The USDA says that more than 12 million children in the U.S. live in "food insecure" homes. These families don't have enough food for every family member to lead a healthy life, according to No Kid Hungry. This doesn't always mean there is nothing to eat, though. It can mean that children get smaller portions than they need or that parents aren't able to afford nutritious foods.

    To help feed these children, Mobile Fit began in 2011 as a partnership between the United Way of Greater Chattanooga, Hamilton County Department of School Nutrition, the Hamilton County Health Department, YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga and the YMCA of the USA. 

    “The YMCA of the USA had just partnered with Walmart to help YMCAs across the country address food insecurity in their community through seed grants," says Rush. "Our group considered this prime opportunity to address the issue here locally. Our first year the YMCA opened seven sites and they served just under 200 meals a day. Through the years, however, the program has evolved and grown like crazy.”

    Kids Count data for 2017 indicated there were 20,840 Hamilton County school children enrolled in the food programs. The YMCA partners with Hamilton County Schools, Northside Neighborhood House, Girls, Inc., the Boys and Girls Clubs and many other non-profit organizations to prepare and distribute 7,000 meals a day from kitchens in Hamilton, Rhea and Bradley counties. There are 130 summer sites and 87 after-school sites, and since launching in 2011, the food program has prepared and delivered more than 2 million meals - 750,000 in the last year alone.

    “The meals get to all of the different sites in a variety of ways,” says senior program director Laura Horne. “In addition to the school-based locations and partner agencies, we have 25 Mobile Fit sites that pick up meals and deliver them to parks and apartment complexes Monday through Saturday. I love that we provide food for the children, but that’s not all we do. Children who come to eat also get to participate in activities, learn about water safety and STEM, and we can connect both children and parents to helpful resources.”

    For example, one mother of four whose husband had recently left her was having difficulty with her two older boys. In addition to feeding the four children, the Y was able to take the boys on a canoe trip and connect them to Tech Town where they attended a camp. 

    Packaging 7,000 meals takes a lot of hands, but it’s not just about the meal; it’s about connecting the kids with the resources they need, building trust and healthy relationships, and providing opportunities for encouragement.

    “It takes about 250 volunteers to make this happen during the summer,” Horne says. “We have some volunteers who have been with us since the beginning. Small groups, churches and school groups have come to help us. What I love about this program is it not only provides for people in need in our community, it also provides a place for people to give back.”

    If you would like more information about this program or want to be a Food and Fun volunteer, call Laura Horne at 423-805-3361 or email her at [email protected].

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

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    4 Must-Dos for Parents After Divorce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    10 Tips for Getting Fit as a Family

    There seems to be constant buzz about how little time busy families spend together. Even during summertime, between work, screens, music, sports, and other commitments, families stay on the go.

    According to “The State of Obesity: Better Policies for Healthier America” survey released in 2015, some 78 million Americans are obese, which puts them at an increased risk of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. 

    In 2018, the adult obesity rate was at or above 35% in seven states and at least 30% in 29 states - but in 1980, no state had an adult obesity rate above 15 percent. Among children and teenagers, 31.8 percent were overweight or obese and nearly 17 percent were obese, including 5 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 and 6.5 percent of those between the ages of 12 and 19 who were severely obese. 

    "In order to build a national Culture of Health, we must help all children, no matter who they are or where they live, grow up at a healthy weight," said former Robert Wood Johnson Foundation President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey. "We know that when we take comprehensive steps to help families be more active and eat healthier foods, we can see progress."

    Regular exercise, adequate rest and healthy eating can be the difference in a family that lives, plays, learns and works well together and one that does not. 

    “Research shows that children need regular exercise to build strong bones and muscles,” says Teresa Wade, Health and Fitness Director at the Sports Barn. “Exercise also helps children sleep well at night and stay alert during the day. Habits such as these, established in childhood, help adolescents maintain healthy weight despite the hormonal changes and social influences that can lead to overeating. Active children are more likely to become fit adults.”

    Getting your family in shape does not have to be costly, but it does require you to move away from the screens and do something. Here are some suggestions for busy families who want to get and stay active during the summer months.

    • Schedule a regular time throughout the week for physical activity. 
    • Take turns selecting a weekly family activity. 
    • Start a log of daily fitness activities for each family member. 
    • Adapt all activities to suit those with special needs and preferences. 
    • Help everyone find something active that makes them feel successful. 
    • Buy equipment or toys that promote physical activity.
    • Discover what free and low-cost physical activity spots are nearby (park, bike trail, hiking trail, tennis court, swimming pool, etc.). 
    • Limit screen-time.
    • Use physical activity as a reward instead of food (e.g. Family goes skating). 
    • Emphasize the importance of having fun and learning. Avoid a push "to win." 

    “I encourage families to slow down a bit, schedule time in your week to be active together - actually pencil your family into your planner,” Wade says. “If you wait for it to happen, it isn’t going to happen. Believe it or not, exercise can be fun. Start slowly with something like walking or biking in the neighborhood. When my grandchildren are with me, we often take a walk around the block at night before we go to bed. It is a wind-down time and helps us connect before the end of the day.”

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

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    9 Ways to Support Military Families

    Kelli Day met Shawn Campbell her junior year of college at Texas A&M in College Station. 

    “He was already on the military track and dreamed of becoming a pilot. We were working together at a coffee shop when he asked me to go mountain biking and the rest is history,” said Kelli Campbell. “We got engaged a month before he left for officer candidate school and got married a week after he came home after completing school, and had four children Tristan, Kenna, Kate and Donovan, who are now 15, 12, 10 and 5.”

    Shawn became a Marine and flew the CH-53, the Marine Corps’ largest helicopter, known as the Super Stallion. Maj. Campbell was deployed three times in the Middle East during his 15-year military career.  

    In 2016, Campbell went on a routine night-training mission at his home base in Hawaii. Just before midnight, his helicopter collided with another and 12 Marines were killed, including Campbell. 

    “Years ago we decided that if something happened to Shawn, I would take the kids and move to Kansas City where my family lived,” Kelli says. “We went there not knowing if we would stay. Shawn and I had dreams for our kids, plans for things we would do together as a family.”

    While in Kansas, Kelli was introduced to Folds of Honor, an Oklahoma-based charity that provides educational scholarships to the children and spouses of fallen and disabled service members. Founded by Maj. Dan Rooney, a former Air Force F-16 fighter pilot with three combat tours in Iraq, and current Air Force Reserve pilot, the organization has awarded more than 16,000 scholarships in all 50 states, as well as Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

    “Folds of Honor gave us a way to start over and honor Shawn’s legacy by giving the kids the things we wanted for them,” Kelli shares. “Scholarships from Folds of Honor allowed our three oldest children to attend a school together where they were provided with the educational, extracurricular and personal support they needed. They gave our children a lifeline because they understood their needs at a very difficult time.” 

    While Memorial Day is typically seen as the kickoff to summer, it is also a day to pause and remember that the reason we get to celebrate is because of the brave men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice.

    “I don’t think Shawn would want us sitting around having a pity party on Memorial Day, but he would want us to stop what we are doing and say the names of people we know who served and gave their life for our freedom,” Kelli says. “We used to make a point of taking the kids to the closest national cemetery to look at headstones and remember friends we had known and lost. We both felt it was important for our children to understand the significance of this day.”

    Kelli describes her husband as “not your typical hardheaded Marine,” but soft-spoken, kind, gentle and fun. She intends to keep her husband’s memory alive for her children by reminding them how he lived and served our country. She also wants to help other families who are on a similar journey. She is currently a regional development officer for Folds of Honor and also serves on their national speakers bureau and Kansas Chapter board.  

    As Americans, our job is not only to keep the memories of these men and women alive, but to come alongside their families and walk with them. Here are just a few of many ways we can support military families:

    • Give respite to the single parent by taking the children for a few hours.
    • Say thank you. These families make a significant sacrifice on behalf of our country. Acknowledging this is huge.
    • Include the sons or daughters of deployed or fallen parents in your parent/child activities. 
    • Organize meals just like you would for a new baby. Set aside one night a week to deliver food to the family.
    • Have your whole block tie yellow ribbons around trees to help everyone remember their deployed or fallen neighbor.
    • Check on the family regularly. The spouse who is left behind needs to know that another grown-up is around even if they don't need anything.
    • Invite the family along on outings with your family even if it's just for a quick ice cream.
    • Think about chores the fallen parent would have normally done. Help with the garbage cans each week or offer to change the oil in the car. Help with the window air conditioners or just getting the Christmas tree into the house.
    • Write letters or send cards to let them know you are thinking about them. 

    We need to intentionally and proactively serve military families. They have made and continue to make it possible for us to reap the benefits of their willingness to serve. 

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on May 26, 2019.

    Maj. Shawn Campbell

    Kelli Campbell and her children

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