Ari Sytner

It’s the Most Dysfunctional Time of the Year: Dealing with Family on the Holidays

Posted by in Parenting, Relationships & Marriage, Stress & Adversity

The holiday season evokes many joyous emotions and memories. Yet, research repeatedly demonstrates the increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

At the end of the day, when we gather among family, the experience for many is not one of joy, but dread. Sitting across the table from Grandma or Dad, and hearing a barrage of passive-aggressive questions just hurts.  

  • What ever happened to that last boyfriend, I liked him?
  • Are you still in that same job, I thought you have more potential than that?
  • Any plans for a New Year’s resolution to lose weight?
  • When are you going to give me some grandchildren?
  • Do you always let your kids speak to you that way?

The painful list goes on and on. How could it be that the very people who supposedly love us above all, are most critical? It always amazes me how well-adjusted, socially aware adults can be so clueless about the hurtful things they say to family around the holidays (or yearround in some cases).

If you are reading this and nodding your head, the good news is that you are not alone. This is a universal problem and you are in very good company. Unfortunately, however, we are not easily going to change how our families interact.

So what can we do to best handle these uncomfortable questions?

The first thing to keep in mind is boundaries. Some topics are either too personal or raw that they are just off limits, and its ok to clarify that to family right off the bat. 

But if we are to respond, there are essentially 4 choices.

  1. Avoidance
  2. Sit there and take it
  3. Engage in battle
  4. Disarm and connect

Avoidance is a miserable and lonely answer. If your family is truly toxic to you, where they are emotionally and verbally abusive, then avoid them. However, there is a difference between them being hurtful and being toxic. Most families are hurtful and dysfunctional, but not truly toxic, so give some thought as to how deeply they may affect you.

Option 2 is to sit there and take it, leaving you feeling pretty miserable about how your family treats you. That too, will just send you towards a bottomless pit of pain, and you don’t deserve to be mistreated like that.

The third option is to fight back. For some, this works well, as it creates conversations that are long overdue. However, it is often not without tears, yelling, screaming and using dangerously charged words like “you always” and “you never”. Furthermore, it comes with the risks of escalating a dysfunctional relationship to a non-functional one, where doors can be slammed permanently. That is something we always wish to avoid.

This is why I prefer the fourth option – disarm and connect.

Let’s look into the hearts and minds of our hurtful relatives. In most cases, they don’t ask these questions to be rude. Quite the opposite, in fact; they ask because they care about you. It stems from a place of them spending years nurturing your development and having lofty dreams and expectations of what your future would hold. Your very existence represents decades of investments that they have made in you. What they may fail to appreciate, is that you are now an adult, and their job is to be unconditionally supportive of wherever your life has taken you.

Knowing that their comments are coming from a good place of caring, concern and love, how can you translate them into a meaningful interaction?

Try using a simple question.

Instead of answering their query or getting into a debate, try holding up a mirror to them by asking if they could take you back and describe what it was like for them during that stage of life. This should not a cynical or snarky response, but a humble and genuine one.

Try empowering them to offer their buried wisdom and guidance from their own life-experiences. In other words, we want them to recall what it was like being in your stage of life. Perhaps by recalling their own challenges, instead of delivering barbs, they can give you the much-deserved support and unconditional love.

For example, suppose your mother says something like, “any plans to settle down and get married soon?” Your simple response can be, “it’s a tough world out there, but can you tell me some of the details about how you and dad met – maybe I can learn something”.

With a little extra humility, we can take the high road and be reminded that our seemingly obnoxious relatives are not actually trying to be hurtful, they just really care. Therefore, by redirecting the conversation, we can point them in the right direction of what family is supposed to offer – true caring and support.

So if dad asks how your startup business is going, but he uses air-quotes when saying the word startup – you can either get really annoyed, or just smile and ask for any tips from his own business experiences. You have nothing to lose by this approach and everything to gain. In the best case scenario, you will help take the relationship to a more mature and substantive level, increase the bonding, and who knows, maybe even learn something.

Family is forever. Enjoy and happy holidays!

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What is the One Word Needed for Happy Relationships?

Posted by in Organizations & Leadership, Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

Countless iconic leaders have boasted to the world how they've clawed their way to the top by setting goals, writing them down and tackling them one by one.

Come on, let’s be realistic! Nobody, no matter how talented, can just predict and script their future. Failure is a crucial ingredient in the recipe for success! Disappointment is actually one of the greatest tools for learning how to grow stronger. Without a healthy amount of frustration, we cannot develop the resilience we really need to be successful. It is only through a hearty serving of disappointment that we learn to become great!

This rule is true for school and business, and perhaps most importantly, adaptability is one word needed for all successful relationships! 

Every relationship starts with shared foundations. However, they are meant to adapt over time as we hit unexpected bumps along the way. Yet, when one spouse is too rigid to flex, the relationship eventually starts to break under the pressure.

I recall counseling one of my clients, a wonderful middle-aged couple, who reached an impasse. The husband argued that when they agreed to get married, she was dead set on staying home to raise the children. However, 15 years later, she found herself bored and unfulfilled at home and wanted to return to school to pursue her career. He felt that she was abandoning her word, and even worse, their children. She felt that her husband no longer respected her happiness.

What were they to do? The answer is simple. Adapt!

Just because something worked in the past, does not mean you should not revisit it as time goes on and people change. Adaptability is a necessary skill that everyone is familiar with.

detourWe’ve all had the experience of being in the car and getting lost. What do you do - pull over and end the drive? No, you simply reroute, even if it means taking a different road altogether.

The same is true in relationships. When a couple has their first big fight and realizes that the honeymoon is over, it does not mean that they pull off to the side of the road and end the relationship. It simply means that you are dealing with a temporary bump in the road. Whenever you have two different people with different opinions and perspectives, they each need to learn how to adapt. This starts by being humble, actively listing, and lovingly supporting one another.

Only with the maturity to understand that a relationship requires constant work to maintain the love and respect, will they find lasting happiness together.

Think of it this way: We can flex now, or break later. Why not give that gift to the one you love and make the relationship long-lasting and full of happiness? 

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Is Religion Something to be Ashamed Of?

Posted by in Parenting, Relationships & Marriage, Stress & Adversity

Religion often gets a bad rap. We live in a world where moderate religious folks rarely make the headlines. It is the radical extremists that always seem to get the bulk of the attention, making the rest of us look bad.

With such a negative light cast on religion, why would anyone wish to be involved with faith or a religious community?

Even in the mental health arena, religious people have historically been viewed as “unwell”. Sigmund Freud himself established this fundamental belief in the field of psychology. After all, if a person truly was normal, healthy and well, why would they turn to some invisible, magical higher power to run their lives? This ultimately suggested that people of faith are somewhat crazy!

Yet, I recently surveyed a number of research articles that tackled this very notion as to what a life of religion means for one's wellbeing. Not surprisingly, the research shows that people of faith are actually far better off than Freud suspected.

When it comes to dealing with stressful and painful life-crises, people of faith are found to have a higher level of “stress-buffering”. This basically means they have a higher threshold for dealing with life’s challenges, particularly, those of high-intensity pain and trauma.

For example, when comparing the coping mechanisms of couples that have tragically lost a child, those who have strong religious beliefs have reported far better outcomes for coping and healing than those who do not.

Why might that be?

There are a number of explanations for this phenomenon. Some suggest that when a person has faith,faith community it gives them hope and optimism. Rather than falling into the grips of despair and depression, the person who has faith, can be carried through hardships, simply by holding on to the knowledge that they are not alone. They live with the comfort that they can be rescued by God from their darkness.  Furthermore, they find comfort knowing that everything in life happens for a purpose – even hardships which cannot always be understood. Their relationship to a higher being, also allows them to channel their feelings through prayer, which can be a meditative, cathartic and healing process.

Additionally, the research suggests that a person of faith is often connected to a religious community of like-minded people. Therefore, when a hardship may strike, they are supported by a church, synagogue, temple or mosque – filled with friends, family, and a community of people to help get them through difficult times.

On a family level, religious families report having higher rates of satisfaction in marriage, improved physical and sexual health, lower rates of divorce, domestic violence, suicide and substance abuse.

On a societal level, it is often through religious Soup-Kitchen-1communities that charity, philanthropy and social capital emerge. In other words, so many of the soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and educational initiatives are born in religious institutions, aimed at improving the world around us.

When I was a child, I recall that religion was something to almost feel embarrassed about. If I proudly wore a head-covering in my personal life, I might hesitate before wearing it at school or in the workplace for fear of being judged or discriminated against. Yet today, we have moved beyond those feelings. We have evolved to a greater level of tolerance and acceptance, where we can better support and respect the diverse religious needs of those around us.

Unfortunately, extremists of many varieties have hijacked the good name of religion. Too often, there is a stigma of irrationality, anger and fanaticism associated with religion, which may prompt many ordinary religious people to feel the need to conceal or subdue their religious lives. When those among us who are more "enlightened and progressive" look down upon the religious community as being antiquated and outdated, or as something we are just stuck with and must tolerate, it stands to push the many benfits of religion away. Yet, as a truly progressive society, it behooves us to turn to the successful models found within all faiths and religious communities and explore ways to learn from them and collectively support society around us.

There will always be extremists and religious fanatics who hog all the attention. Society, however, must rise above that, and keep in mind that those are the exceptions, and perhaps the ones that Freud was most concerned about for being emotionally or psychologically unsound.

While each religious community must maintain their distinct viewpoints and values, the common strengths and benefits that we share should be recognized and celebrated by all people.

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Here’s a Quick Way to Stop Those Embarrassing Texts

Posted by in Organizations & Leadership, Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

The pen was once mightier than the sword. Today, there is something even more dangerous – the send button.

I am not afraid of the words I write, for they are easy to edit, undo and delete. The part that scares me is that little send button. It represents a tiny, but dangerous window between myself and the rest of the universe.

Who hasn’t experienced the embarrassment of watching a text message being sent, just as your brain registers the autocorrected version of your text? Instead of telling someone, “ I love you”, you might have just accidentally said, “I loathe you”. Slight difference, right?

What about those times where you sent the right text, but to the wrong person? As one of my clients explained, “My neighbor Jody was really annoying me, texting me day and night. I was so frustrated that I texted my sister to tell her how much I can’t stand Jody. The only problem was that instead of texting my sister, I accidentally sent it to Jody”.

Who hasn’t been copied on a group email from their manager, but inadvertently “replied-all” when responding to their colleagues regarding their ongoing frustrations about the boss?

I shudder to think about how many relationships have been derailed, how many jobs have been lost and how many people have been devastated by such impulsive and silly mistakes. All of these could have been prevented if only a little more restraint was exercised before pressing send.

Abraham Lincoln was famous for composing scathing letters to his critics, where he would unleash his wrath against them. The only caveat was that he would seal the envelopes and place the letters in his desk, never to actually be delivered. He found this exercise to be cathartic, allowing him to say what he felt, but to take great care to not hurt the feelings of others. This form of restraint is a perfect example of how one should pause before pressing the send button.

I have implemented a practice of my own, which I call, “The Slow Send”.

Whenever I am sending a text, Tweet or email, I press my finger on the send button, but I do not let it go for a few seconds. Often enough, during that brief moment of reviewing my message, I will notice an error in what I have said, or to whom I am saying it. Without lifting my finger, I can then slide it over to the side, which resets the send button and prevents the message from being sent, allowing me to correct it before it gets away from me.

While we are so blessed to have so many forms of awesome communication, we must be careful in how we use them. The fast pace and impulsive nature of life around us is aimed at tripping us up and, therefore, requires extra pause. I am glad to hear a lot of awareness regarding the dangers of texting and driving. Perhaps the conversation should start by realizing how dangerous texting could be just while standing still.

Consider using a “Slow Send” and please share below to comment and let me know if it works for you! 

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How to Have a Business You Can be Proud of: Why Venture-Philanthropy is a Game-Changer

Posted by in Organizations & Leadership, Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

Years ago, an older man visited our synagogue once each month to make a modest donation. Although I thanked him each time, he always gave the same reply, “rabbi, please don’t thank me, I do it because I am selfish. I just enjoy the way I feel when I give charity”.

Whether helping individuals or organizations, everyone has different motivations for why they donate, volunteer or help out. In the corporate world, there are new massive trends which encourage charity and volunteerism.

Why would a company care whether their employees donate to charity? Why would corporations like Apple and Google offer programs, where they match the charitable contributions of their employees?

It could simply be because they want to be a part of the culture of “do-gooders”. It might be because industrial psychologists have suggested that employees are more productive when they feel that they are helping the world (not just selling technology). Or, perhaps they give so generously to avoid the extra tax burdens, which will inevitably hit their multi-billion dollar bottom lines.

Regardless of their ulterior motives, you have to admit that great things are happening as a result of these corporate trends which encourage kindness and philanthropy. But, let’s be clear, most companies do not exist, nor were they created just to bring social welfare reform to the world. Only as a result of their incredible success, are they able to give back to the community and help the world.

Imagine, however, if we flipped the model. What might it look like if a company were formed exclusively to help the world, while also yielding a profit?

I recall once partnering with a very generous oral surgeon, who invested in an ice-cream franchise. I curiously asked him why he was expanding into this market, if he was already maintaining a highly successful and lucrative medical practice. He responded, that he works as hard as he does just to be able to give more charity. However, he was frustrated by his own financial limitations.

Therefore, instead of donating $200,000 to charity, he invested it in a business, which was going to yield more than double his initial investment.  Then he would donate every penny of the annual profit to charity. Additionally, his kindness was bringing a family-friendly business to the community, as well as offering employment to a number of people. Many other small businesses will equally allocate a tithe of at least 10% of their profit to go directly to charitable causes. Thus, the more successful they are, the more they can give back to their community.

It is this win-win-win model of Venture-Philanthropy, which puts the desire to help others as the foundation and motivation to running a successful company.

I was recently introduced to another such inspiring company called Book Bugs (www.bookbugs.net). Their motto is, “where reading meets giving”.

They are basically a monthly book club for kids, where children can receive a brand new book each month to help inspire them to read. Here’s the best part - for every three books that your child receives, a brand new book is donated to an underprivileged child.will

When I heard their mission, I simply could not resist and immediately signed up. While three of my kids love reading, I have not been able to motivate my youngest 3rd-grade daughter to read. I’ve tried getting her all the “usual” books (Harry Potter, Babysitters Club, Junie B. Jones, Magic Treehouse, Judy Blume), none of which kept her interest for more than 10 minutes.

When I joined Book Bugs, they had me fill out a form telling about my child’s interests and hobbies. I was shocked when a few days later a book that I had never before heard of arrived in the mail. It was absolutely perfect and she could not put it down! Clearly they know more about what 8-year-old girls like to read than I do!

Now, my daughter looks forward to a new book every month. But more importantly, I love that I am also helping the world, by supporting a company that is giving the same gift of reading to a less fortunate child. (Its good to note that the company is running a promotion now, where you can get your first month for free with the promo code: GIVEBOOKS2015).

I hope that more companies will embrace this model of Venture-Philanthropy, where their business model will foremost aim to do great things in the world, beyond the wonderful products or services they offer.

While it feels great to donate and help other people, I would hardly call any act of charity selfish! Anyone who helps others is doing a good deed. But if we could direct our entrepreneurial motivations to be built upon compassion and altruism, perhaps we could inspire and help more people in the process. I am not suggesting that a company earn less and report smaller profits to their shareholders. Rather, to change their definition of success altogether.

Perhaps the very success of a company should be measured, not my how much they bring in, but my how much they can give back.

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Are there too Many Choices for Communication?

Posted by in Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

It seems today we are bombarded with more options than ever before, and the truth is, we crave them. When I buy a car, I want to make sure I can get the most number of options available, so that I have the choice to not use any of them!

When it comes to dating, there are so many avenues that one can take, that it only adds to the confusion. In some cases, it even prevents people from taking that important step forward, as they are more obsessed with considering alternatives, than committing to the one person they love.

When I was a child, I recall a sign hanging in many kitchens which read:

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Having many choices feels great, but it often gets in our way. I have found the same phenomenon when it comes to digital communication. Whenever I schedule a meeting online with someone, we find ourselves in this awkward dance. Should we call, Skype, FaceTime, Blab, email, Periscope, Google Hangout Webex, Viber, G-Chat or Facebook?! It can be so overwhelming, especially in light of so many new options being added each week. In the end, while we like having choices, too many does not really help anyone.

I have found that most people are just technologically not on the same page. If you’re like me, you prefer to keep your Skype and FaceTime address books for only friends and relatives. Some people don’t mind giving out their cell numbers, and others prefer to only speak from their office phone. As some of us only use Mac and others Windows, some on iPhone and others on Android - this chaotic world of communication options only discourages direct and meaningful contact. As I conduct a great deal of online trainings and communications, I have been searching to find a way to go back to basics and communicate without going through that awkward dance of asking people what platforms they are on, or suggesting that they first download software, apps, plugins and updates.

Thankfully, I am back to basics! While I always prefer face-to-face communication, I have been pleasantly surprised by how simple it is to just use a free web-based service like www.freeconference.com. For starters, what I like is that nobody has to download software! You can just have a regular call or conference call, or even a video chat with multiple participants that can see each other. (Personally, I use lots of slides and demonstrations, so I enjoy the screen-sharing and recording).

My biggest pet peeve, however, on conference calls, is when multiple people speak at the same time, then apologize for interrupting and awkwardly remain quiet. Inevitably, after that uncomfortable silence, they all chime in again at the exact same time (and you know exactly who you are, because we’ve all done it)!

This type of simple platform gives me the ability to visually see who is on a call, allow for a real-time chat box, and even allow participants to “raise their hand” in order to speak.  Plus, I can mute that one person who has screaming kids, or the TV playing in the background.

The bottom line is that communication is easier today than during any prior generation in history, and it really should be more convenient for people to just connect. However, while we have more options than ever (and the technology is quite awesome) we should not take it for granted, nor let it inhibit our connections. The best solution is to choose a universal platform and stick with it.

Remember, communicating effectively is about connecting with other people. We should, therefore, try to take whatever steps possible to remove any barriers that slow us down, and instead, jump at the opportunity to enjoy a fluid and meaningful exchange of ideas.

For a Free Guide on how to Overcome Digital Distraction Click here4 tips

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When a Leader is So Funny, it Hurts

Posted by in Organizations & Leadership, Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

How Humor Can Help or Hurt Relationships

Although every leader has their own style, some are genuine and others are manufactured. Steve Jobs was terrific at inspiring his employees with the innovative vision that Apple so desperately needed. Yet, he also managed to instill terror in the hearts and minds of his employees. Regardless of whether this approach is a replicable model to be taught in business schools, it was genuine. Like it or not, this is just who Steve was. He was not out to make friends, rather, he was committed to his vision and mandate.

Then, there are the leaders take a folksy, humorous approach, where self-deprecation paves the way to creating an environment of humility and friendliness. Employees seem to enjoy coming to a work environment where the boss has reduced the culture of stress and fear and create one of camaraderie. But does this approach really work for maximizing productivity?

It all depends on whether this person is genuine or fake.

Humor is a powerful tool to help put people at ease and build bridges. However, many people use humor as a defense mechanism aimed at protecting themselves when feeling vulnerable. When the CEO is insecure and hides behind humor, it will only last so long before he or she is exposed.

For instance, if unable to remember the names of his or her employees, the CEO dodges uncomfortable encounters by injecting humor, quips and creating witty nicknames, it might seem funny (at least for the first or second time around). However, when this pattern is compounded, people recognize it as being disingenuous. Ultimately, the leader is seen as a fake and may quickly lose the confidence of his team.

There is little shame in being genuine and showing that you care enough to ask an employee to remind you of their name. When employees only see a façade and cannot quite put their finger on who their boss really is, it creates a heightened discomfort, fear, and inability to trust.

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While Steve Jobs may have scared his employees half to death, they knew full well who they were dealing with. However, when a leader is disingenuous and hides behind quick one-liners, he or she may feel safe and protected, but the organization as a whole will remain vulnerable.

Employees thrive when they feel that they are part of an organization which engenders trust and honesty.

A strong leader will constantly strive to be self-aware, know their talents and humbly own their weaknesses. It is through genuine honesty and even being fallible from time to time, that leaders can instill trust, faith and loyalty in the hearts of their employees. 


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Self-Improvement 101: How to Fill the Negative Spaces

Posted by in Addiction, Relationships & Marriage

Change is hard. Who doesn’t enjoy settling into a comfortable routine? However, when a person is finally motivated to break their mold and strive for self-improvement, the shackles of our habits can be debilitating.

It is for that reason that I look forward to the Jewish High Holidays, which give me an opportunity to look at my habits – both good and bad take a personal inventory of how I can improve.

However, beware the trap of the negative space!

When a person digs deeper and deeper, chiseling away at the parts of themselves they wish to change, they will eventually be left with a gaping hole. For example, if a person decides to reduce their laziness and increase productivity, they may find themselves successfully cutting out TV, movies, Facebook and other distractions. However, if they are not filling that extra time by focusing on meaningful tasks and goals, they will likely fail altogether when the boredom takes hold and catapults them back to their previous ways.

To illustrate this phenomenon, imagine your dentist discovers a pretty nasty cavity in your molar. After drilling, scraping and hollowing out the tooth, the dentist proudly reports that the cavity is gone. However, let’s be honest, until the hole in your tooth is properly filled, you’re just not out of the woods.

The same idea applies to self-improvement. It is insufficient to simply cut out the negative behaviors if we do not replace them with positive ones.

Consider how many intelligent and determined people have failed at diets for this reason. They decided it was time to get healthy, banished all fried foods, butter, trans fats, red meat, eggs, salt, sugar, mayo and of course, ice cream. Yes, they had the right idea, “cut out all of the bad stuff”. However, if there is no an alternate plan to substitute healthy menus for every meal, they will likely crash and burn when hunger gets the best of them.

Research on addiction has pointed to the same conclusion. People who wish to quit smoking, drinking, gambling, gaming, shopping, pornography, overeating – all have the same challenge. They will put 90% of their self-control and energies towards NOT engaging in a particular behavior. However, instead of only focusing on the negative, if they were to also expend a great deal of energy pursuing positive behaviors, they would more likely succeed simply because they are busy chasing their dreams and ambitions.

It is for this reason that Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12-Step programs, put such an emphasis on the many levels of personal growth beyond just the value of “quitting”. By discovering and pursuing one’s spiritual self, a person is more likely to engage in meaningful relationships and seek life-goals that are inherently motivating, fulfilling and rewarding.

Sure, becoming a better person can be a huge undertaking! However, if overcoming my challenges compel me to focus positively on my dreams, then my weaknesses actually become the greatest of life's gifts! (Think about it).

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Technology Overload: What is Real Anymore?

Posted by in Addiction, Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

twitter reality

It was a beautiful Labor Day weekend and I decided to take my children fishing. As I stood with them at the water’s edge, I tried to let go of all of my responsibilities, work and social media connections. I proudly watched my children as they were trolling for sunfish and feeding the geese. It was truly a beautiful moment in time.

Then it happened!!

I heard the chirp. That high pitched tweeting sound that pulled me right back into the world of social media. For a moment, I felt angry. It was that stupid app, which was now robbing me of the opportunity to enjoy life, family and nature. No longer could I appreciate the sites of the children, birds and the water. I suddenly found myself traveling down a technology black hole, as I was eager to check my phone. I tried to resist the urge to take out my phone and look to see who tweeting. However, before I knew it I heard the tweeting sound again and could not resist.

As feelings of guilt took hold of me, I reached into my pocket and looked at my phone. Surprisingly, the screen was blank. I checked again, only to realize that there were no tweets, messages or alerts. I was baffled.

We’ve all experienced phantom vibrations from our phones, where we can practically feel the phone vibrating and we often jump up to answer it, only to realize that it's actually plugged in to the wall in a different room!

But who has ever heard of phantom tweet sounds?

Was I losing my mind!? Was I so addicted to technology that my brain was imagining it? Then I heard it again and I looked up.

I saw a magnificent nest in a tree just a few feet away from me. It was filled with the most beautiful family of birds, all chirping and whistling away. It was at that moment, that I realized how terribly skewed my reality had become. Instead of hearing a chirp and thinking of the obvious, my mind was in a far-off place. I had become disconnected from the present moment and part of my mind was living in an alter digital reality.

In the medical profession, there is a diagnostic concept, framed by Dr. Theodore Woodward, known as “The Zebra”. In other words, if you hear hoof-beats, think horse, not zebra. Thus, when a patient presents with obvious symptoms, consider the obvious diagnosis, rather than the exotic. Yet, in today’s world of technology-overload, the distracting zebra has now replaced the ordinary horse. It is both funny and quite sad that, when I hear chirping today, I think Twitter and not birds.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for technology! I even yearn to one day call myself by the esteemed title of Geek. However, this particular incident was a wake up call. It reminded me of just how aware I must be to separate between my digital world and my actual reality which is filled with countless amazing moments with my wife and children.

How often are couples, coworkers or parents guilty of being drawn into their devices at the expense of enjoying and interacting with one another? Psychological research has demonstrated that even when a phone is nearby, a portion of our minds are distracted by their presence. Consequently, our cognitive abilities become compromised. The research shows that the closer the phone is to us, the greater the cognitive impairment. The only solution is to give oneself the gift of powering down from time to time and recalibrating.

By disconnecting our devices, even just for dinnertime, or while on a date, it frees up more cognitive ability to allow us to enjoy each moment and really make our life experiences into more meaningful ones.

Hopefully, the next time you hear the sound of a birds chirping, think life, nature and real birds – not @Twitter.

For a Free Guide on how to Overcome Digital Distraction Click here4 tips

 

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4

Confessions of a Mom/Teacher: How Do I Help My Child Succeed in School?

Posted by in Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

Guest Post by Author & Parenting & Educational Specialist, Dawn Casey-Rowe

DawnWhether you’re putting a kindergartener on the bus for the first time or sending off a senior in high school, you’re probably wondering if you’re doing all you can to help your student succeed.

“Does anyone have the school supply list?”

“I lost the summer reading--can someone post?”

“We haven’t touched the summer computer math.”

Those are the types of things I hear from most every parent I meet.  Even though I’m a teacher as well as a mom, I often feel completely unprepared.  This year, I was a bit ahead of the game.  I didn’t lose the supply list.  I bought the required number of folders, pencils, and crayons, plus a few extra to share.  I felt proud.

Still, I’m not perfect.  I didn’t log my son’s summer reading even though we read books for fun.  I also lost the login for the computer math program he hates so we did our own fun math and science this summer instead of fighting about requirements.  I hope it counts.

“Mom, if I cut the head off a hydra five times,” Declan asked after watching Percy Jackson, “How many heads will I get?”  That’s a great question.  I take every opportunity I can to sneak in learning--they get wise to this quick as they get older.

“If it grows back two heads every time, and we cut them off five times…” We start figuring out the solution. That’s an exponential equation--not bad for an eight year old.  Even little kids can understand advanced math if it’s explained in terms that interest them.  “You know that applies to germs and fruit flies, too?”  He’s familiar with fruit flies.  We have a lot of them.  He helped me research and make traps for them.  That’s applied science.

Those are the types of things I did this summer--no lists, packets or assignments, but lots of learning and fun.

I feel like a terrible mom for not doing things exactly the way they’re supposed to be done.  I hope I haven’t started my son off on the path to failure by not doing the computer math or logging the reading.  When he becomes an unemployed liberal arts major with $300K in student loan debt, it’ll be all my fault.

I was at a soccer practice with parents wondering about whether they’re doing all they can to help their children succeed.  “I can’t do the ‘new math.’ I’m old school,” one said.  

“My boy picks the easiest book off the shelf to do his reading homework, and what’s the point of that?” said another dad.  I commented how I’m exhausted by the hours of crying over a math paper, so we didn’t finish the homework.

We all wonder if we could do more.  Most of us second guess our efforts.  The truth is we want to know the best way to support our kids in school. Even seasoned parents struggle with this sometimes.  How can we best help?

Here are five simple tips to help your child from a mom who is a teacher.

1. Encourage your student.  Bring learning into family activities.  It’s tough to find out what kids do in school.  My son always says ”nothing.”  When I sneak the information out of his backpack, I try to reinforce the lessons at home in fun ways. Last year was all about bugs, so we collected bugs, talked about bugs, drew bug pictures, bought bug larva, wrote bug books, and made a bug poster.  It didn’t seem like learning at all, which is the way we learn best.  We all had fun with bugs.  I learned a lot, too.

Be involved.  Many parents have jobs.  It’s tough to be involved in school activities. You may not have time to join the PTO or go to school functions held during the day, but there are still opportunities for you.  I missed Declan’s first grade play--he was a duck.  I felt like the worst mom alive. His principal let me do other things.  I helped with the lemonade truck they brought at the end of the school year.  I stayed for recess and read a story.  I did what I could during the times I could take off from work.  It was a big deal for Declan, too.

Schools want parents to be involved.  If nothing looks doable, don’t hesitate to call in and ask.

Build a relationship with the school.  It takes a village to raise a child.  I connect with Declan’s teachers as soon as possible so they know I’m supportive in their efforts.  My son’s not the easiest student, and I want his teachers to know I appreciate them.  Good family-school relationships are critical in both good times and bad.  Building a good relationship goes a long way and can be done with notes, emails, phone calls or quick hellos during drop off and pick up times.

Ask questions. Many parents assume the teacher knows best.  Communication is a two-way street.  If something is or isn’t working for a student, have that discussion.

I encourage my students to advocate for themselves--I can be flexible, adapt things, change a deadline or incorporate their interests. I want them to ask questions. Asking questions helps improve things for everyone.  Don’t blindly accept things that don’t serve you. Ask. There may be a reason, but there may be some way to improve the situation as well.

Hands off when necessary.  Homework time is not fun in my house.  It’s torture and crying.  When I come home from school, I can predict the quality of my afternoon by the amount of homework in Declan’s folder.  Incidentally, this totally changed my view of homework as a teacher.  Last year, homework time became so unbearable I met with the teacher, who said, “Don’t worry, just send it back.” I felt like a bad parent and educator.  Declan’s teacher told me she wanted him to become more independent, and she reinforced that at school.  She was magic.

The message: sometimes hands off is the best approach as a parent.  We have to guide our kids not hover over them.  Before long, Declan was doing the homework on his own--his teacher helped me establish a routine that worked for him.

Show a great example.  I’m always learning.  My son sees this.  He sees me reading, doing projects, researching new things, and writing.  I talk about it with him.  He knows learning is important--not only learning in school, but learning in life. Over time, he’ll understand that learning is a core value in our family and I hope he will bring that with him through life.

The moral of the story is that there is never a right answer about how best to be supportive and get students to succeed, but by making home and school a team, we have more people involved looking for the best ways to motivate our children.  This works for homeschooling parents as well--if you’re working with cohorts, other homeschooling parents, or outside extracurricular activities, all those people are partners in educating your child.

Ultimately, our children have to find their inner light and move forward.  Our job is to support and encourage passion for learning.  Some students seem to have that fire right away, and others take a little longer. The good news is learning is 24/7, everywhere around us--they will always have the resources to learn.

Dawn Casey-Rowe is the author of Don't Sniff the Glue: A Teacher's Misadventures in Education Reform

cafecasey.com @runningdmc

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Facing the Fear of Falling: Overcoming Stress & Anxiety

Posted by in Stress & Adversity

It was time for the training-wheels to come off, literally. With his helmet fastened and standing next to his two-wheeler, my son had a mixture of pride and panic on his face. Like every parent that has done this before, I told my son, “just pedal, I’m holding on to the back of your seat so you won’t fall."

The logical part of his brain says, “you’ve got to be crazy to try this.” Yet, amazingly, the calming voice of a parent overpowers the grips of anxiety and stress. With just a little reminder of the parent’s hand holding the back of the bike, a child’s nerves will be soothed to the point where, even though they are afraid, they can trust that we will catch them if they fall.

As I have told many of my clients, “children are mirrors, which adults can look at to learn about themselves.” Whenever we face stress, anxiety or fear it is important to realize that is not just a silly feeling to ignore. Most often, the physiological responses (such as sweaty palms, shaky nerves and tightness in the chest) are rooted in something real – where the brain is telling us to be careful and avoid a situation, which is flagged for risk or danger.

Nevertheless, it is not realistic to stay in hiding and avoid uncomfortable circumstances. How then, can we move past those crippling feelings of angst?

For the child on the bike, their comfort comes from knowing that a parent’s hand is holding them upright. However, there is that singular moment when a child is pedaling furiously and turns around to see their parent in the distance, chasing behind with a big smile. That moment is filled with exhilaration and accomplishment. Yet, it is tinged with an element of intense fear. If the fear is given a voice – the child will panic and fall to the ground. However, if they just keep pedaling, the anxieties will quickly dissipate.

That moment represents a critical epiphany in the child’s development when he or she realizes abilities that were previously unknown. It is the moment when they understand that the parent’s support was only required to get them started. Now, however, they are free to shed the fear and enjoy life.

So too, with adults who are afraid to venture outside of their comfort zones and confront anxiety-inducing situations. A starting point, from which to embark is having faith. For some it will be faith in their own abilities, upbringing and education; while for others, it will be a rock solid faith in God.

If we could only see the hand that is holding firmly to the seat of our challenges, steadying and supporting us as we go – it reminds us to shed our fears and just go for it. Yet, it is important to be aware that once we step out of our comfort zone, a moment will arrive, and we look back to realize that we are going at it solo. That fearful moment presents two possible paths: It could be the child who, despite now being able to ride independently, just panics at the thought of being alone and consequently, falls of the bike. Or it could be one who stays focused and just keeps pedaling while enjoying the exhilaration they’ve earned through their accomplishments.

Whether that steadying hand belongs to a parent, friend or God, we should not be afraid to ever take a first step. For once we do so, even if we may fall at first, we can keep getting back up with their outstretched hand to aid us. Remember, the goal in achieving our own success, is not to take their hand with us everywhere we go. Rather, it is for the hand to set us free and proudly watch us sail through life, navigate the obstacles and utilize all the talents, skills and blessings that we have been given to fulfill our dreams.

To contact Ari Sytner for counseling, interventions or feedback, please click here.

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