How to Become an Empowering Parent

animal-avian-bird-3114473Our goal as parents should be to raise well-prepared, self-confident future adults who are ready to fulfill their dreams and purpose. Our goal should not be for them to “stick around” as long as possible, to control as much of their lives as we can, or to be their best friend. No, in order to be a parent who empowers, our parenting philosophy and approach need to be aligned accordingly

Of course, it sounds easy to be a purposeful and intentional parent, always keeping our goals in mind. However, it’s more challenging than it sounds! With our busy lives (jobs, activities, travel, friends, kids’ schedules) and constant laundry list of daily to-dos, we are pulled in many different directions. The long and short of it is this: once our teens mature, it’s time to say “goodbye” to a control-oriented approach and “hello” to coaching and empowering. This means giving incremental freedom as our children demonstrate maturity, responsibility, and integrity.

This is one of the greatest gifts we can give them—our belief in them.

So, how do we actually DO empowered parenting?

There are several pillars that we recommend you make a part of your parenting approach, but today we will focus on your parenting philosophy. Philosophically, it all starts with adopting an empowering mindset. Embrace that you are no longer raising a child, but an adult you want to see reach his or her potential. This shift makes a huge difference! Here’s how to get started:

  1. Establish strategic parenting goals. Productive people are goal setters, and this applies to parenting, too. Develop goals and values to guide your children and create your family’s “brand.” This makes a great team-building project to do with your children and can help you better understand each other as you grow together and look forward to the future.
  2. Don’t forget that you’re their parent, not their friend. When our children are little, there’s a maturitychasmbetween us, and it’s easier to feel like the one in charge. However, that gap narrows in the tween years and even more so when they’re adults. When this gap shrinks (and concurrently, when our teens exert more independence and pushback), many parents mistakenly move into a friend role. In their mind, it will help keep the peace and their teen happy. However, this can lead to chaos and disrespect, and your teen can miss out on important life lessons.
  3. Remember, it’s their This may seem to contradict the pointer above, but when held in healthy tension, it actually doesn’t! The difference is the driving philosophy that raising self-confident children is about them, not about us. It’s about helping them understand their potential and chase after their own dreams. We must not impose our own desires, as it will deprive them of the freedom they need to soar. To do otherwise will breed resentment in the adult years that is difficult to overcome.
  4. Teach for independence. Often, parents fall into the trap of doing things for their children because it’s easier, takes less time, gives them a better outcome, etc. However, in order to empower, make sure that instead of doing it for them, you show them how to do it. After all, the acid test of parenting is whether your children can do something well without your help or reminders. This is a vital step in developing the life skills they will need to master as they enter adulthood.

With these pointers applied to your parenting philosophy, we are confident that all parents can position their family for a successful launch. By being intentional and purposeful, we can empower our teens and give them the wings—not strings—they need to soar.

For more information on empowering parenting, we invite you to check out our new book, Wings Not Strings.

 

A Guide for Gen Z: What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 3

family-3817047_1920Recent high school graduates: Do you ever feel unsure of what’s to come? Are you anxious about your future, whether it’s over your relationships, choice of major, or career goals? Do you wonder if life after high school is all that it’s cracked-up to be? 

Parents: Do you worry about the day when your teen will move out and enter the real world? Are you worried they aren’t fully equipped? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, here is some encouragement and insight in this third installment of my “What I Wish I Knew Before College” series.

In case you missed the first two posts on this topic, I’m Heather Sipes, the Communications and Marketing manager for LifeSmart Publishing. I am eager to help you and your student(s) navigate this season of change. You can view the previous weeks’ posts hereand here.

Without further ado, let’s get started. I’d like to close this series with the one final thing I wish I knew the summer after I graduated high school. If I knew then what I know now, I feel that I could have better positioned myself for this big change.

You might have mixed feelings about your parents. I’ll never forget the week I moved into the dorm in my freshman year. My mom flew down to help get me moved in, and she was more than helpful. She stayed in the dorms with me the first couple nights, and I could tell she was excited for this new season in my life. She wanted to be engaged and involved with all that she could—probably because deep down, she was experiencing the mixed emotions of “letting go” and wouldn’t see me for a couple months. I, however, seemed to have different feelings.

I wanted to meet new friends and flap my newly independent wings. I wanted to hang out late in the dorm rooms with my new hall mates—not my mom! I’d been waiting for my whole life for this stage, yet my mom was lingering around, taking in these final moments before heading home. Looking back, I feel deep remorse about the way I treated her that week, and wish I could have a do-over.

This is what I’d like to impart to you, ten years later. Now that I’m a parent myself, I can imagine how my mom must have felt that week: Scared to let go, sad to say goodbye, and nostalgic about memories with her once little (now big!) oldest daughter. It’s totally relatable. I can’t even bear to think about one of my little girls growing up and moving somewhere 2,000 miles away!

Teens, remember this: Please, please, please try not to take your parents for granted. Know that all of their “hovering” and all of their “hanging around,” is because they love you. They’re proud of you and actually enjoy spending time with you. They love being with the adult you’ve become. They don’t want to put a damper on your next chapter, they simply want to soak up every minute with you they can. Cherish and embrace this and don’t hold back from exploring what a new adult-to-adult relationship can look like with them (rather than parent-child). You may not even realize there is a special, unique friendship with your parents just waiting to be kindled.

Parents: Know that things might get a bit awkward during this time when you want to be present, but they’re feeling pulled to practice independence. Let your teen know that you’ll give them space if they need it, but also tell them you’re always there to help, guide, or offer support. Remember to be their chief encourager during this time as you move from the driver’s seat to the passenger’s seat. Being on the sidelines isn’t a bad thing—you’ll get to root for and encourage one of your favorite people in the whole world. Be their biggest fan—they’ll need it in the years to come!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series as the back-to-school season is approaching. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments—I’m happy to provide any help that I can. Thanks for stopping by!

 

A Guide for Gen Z: What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 2

laptop-3087585_1920Hi, it’s Heather Sipes, LifeSmart Communications Director and “upper millennial,” back for round two! I hope you’re enjoying this series focusing on the things I wish I knew before I started university. Hopefully this is a great resource for those of you who are teens, and also for those of you parents, teachers, mentors, and coaches who are guiding them. In case you missed last week’s post, you can read it here.

This week, I’d like to focus on some other aspects of post-high school education that aren’t usually talked about beforehand, but will give you a broader understanding of what’s to come.

  • If you’re religious, you might come to question your faith. My spiritual beliefs were a big part of my life when I started university. I went to a Christian liberal arts college, and I half-expected some of my classes to feel a bit like Sunday School. Boy, was I wrong! College completely rocked my entire faith system and forced me to question WHY I believe what I believe. One of the greatest takeaways from my college experience was that I built a strong foundation for my personal spiritual values, and learned to not just believe in them because my parents told me they were true. (You’ll soon learn—“because my parents said”—is not a good reason to believe anything! Sorry, parents! We still love you!)
Even if you aren’t religious, you’ll learn that asking WHY in regards to your long-held suppositions  will  benefit you greatly in life. By digging deeper into your beliefs and premises you will build a stronger  foundation of knowledge, confidence, and truth to sustain you in life.

  • This is the only time in your life that you’ll live footsteps away from a gym and your membership will be free. The “freshman 15” is not a myth. It is not going to happen to everyone else except you—no one is immune! When you don’t have class, make physical health a priority and utilize the resource of your school’s free student athletic center. Or, look into joining an intramural sports team (what a great way to make new friends!).

Ten years from now, you may be enjoying your local fitness club membership, but it won’t be  because of the weight you gained in your freshman year of college!

  • Don’t carve your major and minor choices in stone before you start school. If you told me in high school that I wouldn’t end up majoring in what I was convinced I was going to major in, I never would have believed you. Guess what? I changed my major twice, and that’s the norm!  It may sound cliché, but keep an open mind, and take a wide variety of classes your freshman year (especially your first semester or quarter). You never know what may spark an interest you didn’t even know you had! Also, don’t be surprised if your anticipated major loses its appeal when you begin taking upper courses. It happens all the time.    

I hope the above information is helpful as you, or the teens under your influence, navigate this special time in life. Stay tuned for next week when I will share the final installment in this three-part series.

What do you wish you knew before you started college or career? If you knew then what you know now, what would you do differently?

9 Keys to Winning New Friendships

adult-beads-bracelets-371285

January and August. Two months that are as diametrically opposed as day and night, but that share one important characteristic in common: they are the months of new beginnings.

In August, my mind naturally drifts to the new transitions our students will be facing. Perhaps they’re entering high school from middle school, in a new setting and back to being the lowest rung in the ladder. Or, perhaps they’re entering their senior year, knowing this will be their last in familiar territory. Or, maybe they’re off to college, university, trade school, the workforce, or service, in completely new surroundings. With few exceptions, these transitions will make their previous ones seem like a cakewalk by comparison.

No matter what transition they will experience, each will pose unique opportunities and challenges—not only in how they will do, but also in how they will fit in. To that end, change that entails a new environment is generally the most socially demanding of all. That’s because some current friendships will naturally fade away while we seek to grow new ones. It’s why our ability to cultivate new friendships isa critical skill to foster in the children under our guidance.

So, whether you’re an adolescent embarking on a new chapter or a parent or caregiver providing support and encouragement, here are our top tips for successfully landing great new friendships. . .

  1. Remember you are worth knowing! It’s natural to have some doubts when we face new social settings and living environments. This is especially true if it seems like it’s taking longer than we expected to make new friends. But, remember, you are a unique person with great qualities, experiences, interests, and passions and you will be a great friend to others. Own that.
  2. Be choosy. As a Skippy lover, I was nonetheless persuaded years ago by the, “Choosy mothers choose Jif” commercial! And, oh how this applies to friend making! So, make a list of your most important values and interests in a friend and put that into your mental filter as you meet new people. Some will pass your “taste test” but most will not. And, that’s okay.
  3. It’s all about quality. So many young people are misguided by social media into thinking that friendships are all about quantity. Nothing can be further from the truth. All it takes is a few close friends who you enjoy and can trust and you’re on your way! Take depth over breadth any day.
  4. Remember, it’s not a sprint. One of the worst traps we can fall into is trying to make new friends fast. Often, it’s out of a sense of loneliness and impatience. These are the times we are most vulnerable to compromising our standards, and that never ends well. Your patience in waiting for the right fits to come along will be rewarded. Time and testing are necessary ingredients to determining a good match.There’s no need to rush.
  5. Positivity is key. There is a great saying that you become the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time. That’s huge! So, as you meet new people, ask yourself whether they are bringing you and your standards up or down. You’re too important to have any use for the latter. Do you feel you have to change who you are just to fit in? By surrounding yourself with positive and uplifting people, you’ll win in the short run and long run. Oh, and if you want a recent example of a friend-making machine, google “Hinako Shibuno.” In just four days, she literally endeared herself to golfing fans around the world—for good reason.
  6. If they’re not a fit, that’s okay! Friend making is a bit like going to the local buffet. Lots of choices—some you like and others you don’t. In the same way, not everyone is meant to be your friend. Relationships progress in stages, from acquaintance to prospect to friend to VIP. With each stage, fewer and fewer will advance as we get to know them better and gauge the fit. The fact is, most people you will know in life will only stay in the acquaintance stage and that’s okay.
  7. A vibrant tree needs pruning and new growth. One of the most difficult realities with relationships is that some are forever and others for a season (although we don’t know it at the time). As we enter new stages and environments, it’s common to drift away or prune some old relationships where we no longer have the same degree of connection. As difficult as this can be, it’s perfectly normal. Our new friendships are there to take their place.
  8. Get in the game. In life, our best friends usually share our interests and values. So, it makes sense for us to be strategic in where and how we look for new ones. Think about the things you enjoy the most, and then identify where people who share your interests hang out. It could be a club, organization, course, activity, or whatever. Take steps to be present where they are and friendships will naturally flow. The same is true of your values. Where can you find people who share them? Once you know, it’s a matter of getting in the game and seeing where things lead.
  9. Be inquisitive and other-centered. We’ve all known people who try so hard to make new friends that they spend most of their time talking about themselves and how great they are. It’s a constant struggle for them. Contrast this with people who are genuinely inquisitive when meeting others and who let them do most of the talking. They are the friend magnets. When you go out of your way to show interest in others, it will resonate. Then, it’s a matter of time and mutually shared experiences that will determine whether they’ll rise to the level of “friend.”

May yours be a lifetime with new and wonderful friendships!

 

 

Take Time to Reflect on the Things that Really Matter…

Even though it’s summertime, our lives are still inundated with the call to be busy ALL. THE. TIME. Summer camps. Special trainings. Sports events. Tutoring sessions. Swimming Lessons. Vacations. Barbecues. Road trips.

Of course, all of these things individually add value to your life in various ways. However, when they are compounded on top of each other, and life feels hectic, they can have a counterproductive, draining effect. The oft-quoted saying, “I need a vacation from my vacation” comes to mind. With all of this busy-ness and filling our schedules to the brim, we are losing the time we need to reflect. And, when forget to reflect, we miss out on the things that really matter. That’s what happens when we sacrifice depth for breadth.

The thing is, although the fun things mentioned above really matter, our relationships matter even more. When we’re consumed with busyness, there are two formidable competitors pulling us in opposite directions. On one end, are the key people in our lives with whom we have relationships (parents, spouses, children, etc.). They want and deserve our time and attention and to enjoy great times together. On the other end is a formidable opponent—our status—which includes our career, our sense of success, and our packed and loaded schedule. These things can easily consume our time and divert us from our top priorities if we don’t take time to reflect.

During the past few decades, we’ve witnessed a cultural shift emphasizingperformance, rather than pursuing in-depth relationships. As adults, it’s apparent in the way we manage our own lives and schedules, as well as the way we parent our children. We’ve also noticed a trend that seems to say, “The more packed your schedule, the more you’ve accomplished” All of these phenomena are pulling us away from the things that matter most. Is it any wonder why anxiety levels are soaring?

But, something even more fundamental happens when we don’t allow margin and reflection in our lives. We sacrifice opportunities to appreciate, ponder, relax, and revitalize. To give thanks and be grateful for our blessings. To fully absorb life’s richness and experiences and commit them to our long-term memories. To humbly consider our shortfalls and how we can do better the next time around. To take to heart the joys of the day. To renew our spirit and face tomorrow with promise, energy, focus, patience, and a positive attitude. To be our best.

This summer, let’s try to remember how truly important we are to others, and how important they are to us. And, let’s make room for the pause that refreshes. In order to do this, it’s crucial to take a step back, clear some time in your schedule, and reflect. Here’s how you can make reflection a part of your daily (or weekly) routine:

  • Start a gratitude journal. Research shows that thankful people are not only happier, but also healthier.
  • Prioritize reflection and “me time” in your schedule. Consider the time of day and the location(s) that will help you make the most of this time.
  • Start each day with a “Top Three Priorities List.” Ensure that if nothing else happens that day, those three things do. As an added bonus, maybe take a moment to ask yourself whythose things are so important.
  • Put your phone away when you walk in the door from school/work/etc.
  • If you are working, consider taking a day off or weekend day and plan to spend it only with your loved ones, investing in your relationship with them. Remind yourself that those relationships are more important than tasks. You can neverget back the time you didn’t spend with them.
  • Remember it’s okay (in fact, it’s healthy!) to say ‘no.’ A packed schedule is not necessarily a good schedule.

May this summer be a time of renewed commitment to the things that really matter.
 
How are you spending the bulk of your time and energy? Are you focusing enough on building stronger relationships with family and friends? Or, are you allowing other things to dominate your priorities and fill your schedule to the brim? Are you formally scheduling down time in your life? Have you noticed the value when you do?

This Summer, Build Relationship Capital With Your Teen

barefoot-beach-blur-296879

Now that school is out and summer is in full swing (already?), you maybe be wondering, “Now what are we going to do for the next two-and-a-half months?” Summer is the best time to take advantage of your teen(s) presence and availability—use it to slip in some special moments that will build your relationship and just have fun.

Building relationship capital is crucial at this stage in your teen’s life (and your parenting journey!). This will help solidify their values, confidence, and family connection as they begin to prepare for the next season of their lives (college, career, adulthood!). It may seem like simply “having fun,” but these activities may have a more lasting and powerful impact than you may realize.

  1. Go on a hike. What better way is there to have an impactful conversation with your teen than enjoying the great outdoors and some fresh air? Take this time to ask them questions, like their favorite thing about the past school year, what they value, goals for the coming year, and where they see themselves in five years.
  2. Play an outdoor game. Some of my favorite memories with my family happened outside on the lawn, usually right after dinner (magic hour!). Play a game of kick-the-can, “lawn golf” (example here) or corn hole. These games make for great laughter, friendly competition, and help us unwind after a hectic week.
  3. Go to a sporting event. There’s nothing like a Major (or minor) League Baseball game to help you bond with your teen. Don’t forget the garlic fries and a good selfie!
  4. Innertube a river or stream. This one might sound a little lame, and I thought so too until I did it for the first time! I hooked up with a pal and we slowly floated down the gentle rapids while sipping cream soda. It made for some seriously awesome conversation and relaxation.
  5. Consider planning a progressive dinner with your teen’s friends/friends’ parents. If your teen is part of a large group of friends who all live in the same general area, think about a progressive dinner. Appetizers at your house, dinner at a friend’s house, and dessert at yet another! It’s a great way to spend quality time with your teen, see them in their element, and get to know their friends’ parents a little better.
  6. Go on night walks and build campfires. It’s amazing how conversations open up under the stars with a s’more in hand!
  7. Create a dream board. Ask your teen if they’d be willing to make a dream board or notebook that contains all the things they’d like to see happen in the next couple years. Get creative and cut out pictures (examples: a cap and gown to represent high school graduation, the logo of the company they hope to work for, a picture of the mascot of their dream college, a picture of the car they’d like to buy…the options are endless!). This is a great way to keep the end prize(s) in mind as they enjoy the summer.

Have you noticed that your teen often opens up more while you’re doing something else than just having a serious one-on-one conversation? These are a few of many ideas that will allow you to have fun and weave in a topic you’ve been meaning to discuss. Having fun while we talk takes the “edge” off of some touchy subjects and is bound to feel just a little safer to your teen.

Remember, your teen experiences a ton of pressure during the school year with academics, extracurricular activities, plans for future college/career, and more (I still remember it vividly!). Use the summer months as a time to help them (and you!) relax and de-stress. Remind them that it’s okay to slow down and take a breather. Life is meant to be enjoyed, and these younger years will be gone in the blink of an eye! Nip that sense of “overwhelm” in the bud, now!

What timeless memories can you build with your teen this summer? We’d love to hear your own ideas.

One Unforgettable Gift to Give Your Teen This Summer

academic-dress-beautiful-facial-expression-1139249One of life’s pleasures is giving our children a truly meaningful and unexpected gift. But, let’s be honest—with the convenience of gift cards, technology, and online shopping, it might be easier to stick with their Amazon wish list. (I know it’s my surefire way of guaranteeing they’ll like my choice!) Well, today, I’m going to share a gift idea they would never conceive of, but which will go down as one of their most valuable ever. And it won’t cost you a thing. It could be the perfect solution to the graduation gift situation you just haven’t been able to figure out.

I call it a “blessing packet.”

Imagine your teen receiving an unexpected, gift-wrapped package. It’s light in weight and makes a shuffling sound when shaken. When unwrapped, the first thing they’ll see is a small envelope containing instructions. They’re told to open the larger envelope when they have uninterrupted quality time to digest its contents.  At that seminal moment, they’ll discover a priceless collection of smaller envelopes inside.

Within each envelope is a personal letter honoring him or her with words of affirmation, encouragement, and confidence in their future. Loving perspectives of their uniqueness and value and what they’ve meant to each author. Special verses or inspirational messages. Pictures and mementos of precious times together. Expressions of how much they are loved and believed in.

It’s simple, yet profound! (Some schools even arrange retreats where each student receives this gift, generally coordinated with the parents.) Here’s all you need to do…

First, consider the people who have occupied a special place in the life of your teen… usually family members, friends, teachers, coaches, and mentors. Then, ask them to craft a personal, inspirational letter in a privately sealed envelope you’ll collect and deliver to the unsuspecting receiver. That’s it!

Not only is this a wonderful gift to receive, but it’s also a special occasion for the givers. It offers them a unique opportunity to say what’s on their heart to a special person in their life. Having written a few of them for my teens and their friends, I can attest that this can be quite an experience!

A keepsake gift like this will strengthen your teen’s self worth, identity, and sense of significance and calling. It’ll remind them of their passions, talents, and special qualities as seen by their many fans around them. It’ll offer encouragement to persevere through life’s challenges.

As the school year comes to a close (and perhaps graduation and moving off to college are mere weeks away) a blessing packet might be the perfect gift to give to your teen!

Have you ever given a non-material or sentimental gift to your son, daughter, or another teen in your life? How did they respond? Do you have other suggestions of ways to bless teens before they transition to life after high school?

This V-day, Believe in Your Teens Unconditionally

affection-dad-daytime-960829Have you ever had someone believe in you more than you believed in yourself?  How did that make you feel? It probably made you feel like you could take on the world (or whatever situation you faced at the time). That is how powerful unbridled belief from others can be.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, the world is ablaze with talk about romance, kind gestures, and LOVE. At LifeSmart, we believe that believing unconditionally in someone is one of the most powerful ways to demonstrate love.

Many successful people also point to their parents’ or guardian’s belief in them as the driving force behind their success. They believe that if their parents hadn’t been confident in them from the get-go, they wouldn’t be in the same place today. I am precisely one of those people, and I will be forever grateful for my parents’ unconditional love and belief in me (even if I may not have always felt deserving). It helped more times than I can count—including when I dropped a full grade point on my GPA during my first year of college versus high school. I remember how this caused me to question whether I was college material. However, I was sustained by their belief in me and turned things around the remainder of my academic career.

Teachers are also in a special position to demonstrate belief and affirmation in their students. I remember being one of the shortest boys in 8th grade, and this sometimes affected my self-confidence. I’ll never forget when my favorite teacher, Mr. Wulgeart, wrote the following in my yearbook, “Denny, there’s a saying that good things come in small packages. I think you prove that saying.” That meant the world to me.

Do your children (or other young people in your life) know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you love them unconditionally and believe in them unequivocally? Do they know that you see them as talented, worthy, and brimming with potential? Make certain they do rather than assume they do. It is a tremendous asset for teens to be surrounded by adults who believe in them—who can affirm their uniqueness and value. This Valentine’s Day, make sure your belief in them is an inner voice, encouraging them to dream big and persevere through life’s challenges.

Your child, mentee, or student will make his or her share of mistakes along the way (I know I sure did!).  But having the benefit of unconditional acceptance and belief from you will soften those blows and provide a safety net they can always count on.

Not so sure how to let them know you’re their biggest fan? Here are some ideas:

  • Be upfront. Whether it’s at a meal, during a tutoring session, or after a class, be willing to open up. Tell them that you believe in them (and why). Call out some of their greatest assets and character traits. Don’t just compliment them for their achievements; look for opportunities to appreciate their most admirable qualities and when they do something kind.
  • Write them an affirming letter or note. Stick a note in their lunchbox, or if you’re a teacher, consider putting a sticky note on one of their assignments. Knowing you went to the effort to do that will speak volumes to them!
  • Be generous with your time. What says, “I believe in you” more than carving out time in your busy schedule to do things they will enjoy?
  • Let them overhear a compliment you make to another.
  • Speak from experience. Share your own downfalls, mistakes, and past life experiences. A little perspective from a “pro” can boost their confidence and build trust!

We can be the cheering squad that calls out the strengths and affirms the dreams and potential of the young people in our lives. It’ll let them know that if they were a stock, you’d be a buyer! And, the best part of all? Your belief will breed their belief in themselves.

Who could benefit from your gift of affirmation and belief today? What ways do you show you care about the children, students, and mentees in your life?

Better Yourself (and Your Holiday Season) by Expressing Yourself to Others

adults-affection-christmas-family-1261368

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

-Brene Brown

With Christmas just around the corner, most of us will be spending time with family in the coming days and weeks. Although family time is incredibly precious and shouldn’t be taken for granted, it can still be very difficult (strained, tense, emotional, etc.) for some. How does time with people we love end up being so tough sometimes? It’s hard to fully understand, but it’s a reality for a lot of us.

Perhaps it’s because it feels easier to put on our “everything is A-okay” face, and we don’t express ourselves honestly and openly. Deep down, we feel vulnerability, so we put up a wall that blocks anyone—even people close to us—from seeing how we really feel. We stuff our emotions, pretend everything is fine, and sweep conflicts and complaints under the carpet (until next year). Or, we find the path of least resistance is to keep a grudge and revert to passive aggressive behavior rather than reconcile with our family members (hmm, how well does that work?).

Many of us (especially us guys), have been led to believe that expressing our feelings is a sign of weakness. We think it makes us look like “less of a man,” overly-emotional, or out of control. However, that’s not the case at all—it’s actually a sign of emotional maturity! But whether it’s from our upbringing or a distorted perception of what “weakness” is, we pay a price if we don’t express our feelings. Being honest and authentic with others is a healthy practice, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

Brene Brown, a world-renowned psychological researcher says: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

“What’s so wrong with not talking about how I feel?” many may be asking. Well, for starters, plenty! First off, it deprives others of knowing how you really feel (How can they contribute their support or apologize if they don’t know what’s wrong in the first place?). Second, suppressed feelings can cause stress and, if severe, illness and depression. Third, deep-rooted offenses and resentment can cause explosive reactions when they’re eventually released. The balloon pops rather than gently losing its air. It’s not good for anyone.

This Christmas season, I encourage you to learn how to freely and appropriately express your feelings to the people in your life. Here’s a short test to help you judge how easy (or not) it is for you to be “real” and authentic with your emotions. Consider the following phrases and ask yourself how often you share them with others:

I love you

I am proud of you

I respect you

I made a mistake

I am scared right now

I am grateful for you

I am sorry

I am worried about…

Please forgive me

I’ve really had you on my mind.

I am grateful for you

This is how you made me feel…

Some of these are naturally easier to express than others, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Expressing your feelings and communicating openly and honestly are life skills that can be learned and refined. With that, here are three simple tips to help you open up:

  1. Be sincere. Speak the truth, and speak from your heart.
  2. Be mindful of your body language and tone of voice. Certain body language (arms crossed, hands on hips, standing above the other person, etc.) or voice tones may counteract your words. Sincerity is key to any apology.
  3. Avoid finger pointing and accusations. Instead, talk about how certain situations made you feel and strive for understanding.

As we enter the Christmas season, I hope you enjoy your times of togetherness. Use them to practice expressing the “real you” and maybe to repair a strained relationship. Remember, successful people express themselves not only for their own benefit, but also for the benefit of others.

Happy holidays from all of us at LifeSmart, and may your holiday season be filled with open, communicative, and fun-filled time with your family and friends.

How would you rate when it comes to expressing yourself? Are there phrases on the above list that you have difficulty saying? Why?

 

What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 3

adult-architecture-backpack-1251861High schoolers and new college students:Do you ever feel unsure of what’s to come? Are you anxious about your future, whether it’s over your relationships, choice of major, or career goals? Do you wonder if adulthood is REALLY all that it’s cracked-up to be? 
Parents: Do you worry about the day when your teen will move out and enter the real world? Are you worried they aren’t fully equipped? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, here is some encouragement and insight in this third installment of my “What I Wish I Knew Before College” series.

In case you missed the first two posts on this topic, I’m Heather Sipes, the Communications Director for LifeSmart Publishing. I am a millennial myself, and eager to help you and your student(s) navigate this season of change. You can view the previous weeks’ posts here and here.

Let’s get started. I’d like to close this series with the one final thing I wish I knew the summer after I graduated high school (or even during the first couple months of college!). If I knew then what I know now, I feel that I could have better positioned myself for this big change.

You might have mixed feelings about your parents. I’ll never forget the week I moved into the dorm my freshman year. My mom flew down to help me get moved in, and she was more than helpful. She stayed in the dorms with me the first couple nights, and I could tell she was excited for this new season in my life. She wanted to be engaged and involved with all that she could—probably because deep down, she was experiencing the mixed emotions of “letting go” and wouldn’t see me for a couple months. I, however, had unexpectedly different feelings.

I wanted to meet new friends and flap my newly independent wings. I wanted to hang out late in the dorm rooms with my new hall mates—not my mom! I’d been waiting for my whole life for this stage, yet my mom was lingering around, taking in these final moments before heading home. Looking back, I feel deep remorse about the way I treated her that week, and wish I could have a do-over. (Note: we’re all good!)

This is what I’d like to impart to you, nearly 12 years later. Now that I’m a parent myself, I can imagine how my mom must have felt that week: scared to let go, sad to say goodbye, and nostalgic about memories with her once little (now big!) oldest daughter. It’s totally relatable. I can’t even bear to think about one of my little girls growing up and moving a couple thousand miles away!

Teens, remember this: Please, please, please try not to take your parents for granted. Know that all of their “hovering” and all of their “hanging around,” is because they love you (granted, some parents do go overboard, often out of fear). They’re proud of you and actually enjoy spending time with you. They love being with the adult you’ve become. They don’t want to put a damper on your next chapter, they simply want to soak up every minute with you they can. Cherish and embrace this and don’t hold back from exploring what a new adult-to-adult relationship can look like with them (rather than parent-child). You may not even realize there is a special, unique friendship with your parents just waiting to be kindled.

Parents: Know that things might get a bit awkward during this time when you want to be present, but they’re feeling pulled to practice independence. Let your teen know that you’ll give them space, but also tell them you’re always there to help, guide, or offer support. Remember to be their chief encourager  as you move from the driver’s seat to the passenger’s seat. Being on the sidelines isn’t a bad thing—you’ll get to root for and encourage one of your favorite people in the whole world. Be their biggest fan—they’ll need it in the years to come!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series as we are all getting settled into our new routines and roles. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments—I’m happy to provide any help that I can. Thanks for stopping by!