About practicallyspeakingwithbrita

I have been a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist for over 10 years in both California and Utah. I graduated from BYU with a bachelors degree in Marriage, Family and Human Development and went on to complete my masters degree in Marital Therapy from Loma Linda University. In addition to the privilege of working with individuals, couples, and families, I also have enjoyed teaching parenting and anger management classes and was a Clinic Manager before I placed my license on inactive status as I focused full time on being a wife and a mother to my husband and our four kids. I have been a speaker at various functions and conferences and enjoy being able to assist others where I can. You can also find me happy in my kitchen assisting myself to chocolate chip cookie dough.

#1 Tip to Finding Joy: Learn How to Celebrate the Little Things

It is important, whether it is in your job, in your marriage, or with your children, that you are able to find joy in the process, not just in the outcome. The thought, “I’ll be happy when…” is the robber of many moments of happiness and joy. The key is to learn to celebrate the everyday small things.

It has been said that Rome was not built in a day. Neither are your relationships with your spouse or your children. In fact, most of the success comes in the small everyday actions that build cities, individuals and families. It is important to look for, recognize and celebrate those small moments that contribute to the process and find joy in them.

This is something that I strive to do and I make an honest effort to catch my children doing something good and I will make a mention of the impact of that effort. Many times they are unable to see how their actions whether they are positive or negative impact the world around them. Just yesterday, I accompanied my daughter’s 4th grade class on their field trip to visit the State Capitol building and I brought my 6 year-old son and my 4 year-old daughter. As we went to enter the building, my son, on his own accord, opened the door and then held that door open for the classes to enter. I mentioned what a thoughtful idea that was and how much he helped using his strength and hard work and how everyone was able to enter the building faster especially the students carrying the lunch bucket. Little did I realize the impact of that compliment and how many doors are part of the tour of the Capitol building ;). It became his mission to open the door whenever he could and to hold it open until he was the last one in the room. It was a small token of kindness but one that brought joy to many and helped him to develop hard work, think of others rather than himself and to be kind. Watching him became a moment of joy in the process of parenting for me.

It is easy to get caught up in the celebrations that are celebrated by others in the world–the valedictorian or the talented athlete. It takes thought and effort to find reasons and ways to celebrate character traits that are not measured by a GPA or a high vertical jump. While excelling in school or on the field are accomplishments from months and years of training, the true joy lies not in the outcome but the process.

I once watched an olympic athlete who placed second celebrate more than I have ever seen- in fact–I would go as far as to say that they outwardly celebrated more than the person who placed first by hundreds of a second. It could have been really easy to focus on those hundreds of a second that cost them the gold medal, but that outcome wasn’t their focus.

At my son’s T-Ball game a few weeks ago I was able to watch that same reaction by an opposing player who had some delays that affected his physical body but not his heart. After swinging and missing a dozen or so pitches, they brought out the Tee for him to hit off which in the Rookie little league is sometimes a fate worse than death. However, this boy appeared unaffected by this “plight” and then swung with all his might and after a few swings and misses from the tee, managed to hit the tee and the ball so that the ball was knocked off the tee and traveled maybe two feet before it rolled to a stop. That young man ran to 1st base pumping his arms in the air like he had hit a homerun in the world series. How amazing would it be if we all celebrated the small meaningful moments like him.

So, look for ways to highlight the small, everyday moments. You’ll be amazed at the joy you can discover there.

Truth or Myth: There is Power and Healing in a Simple Touch of a Hand.

Truth! Professor, Researcher and 2016 Psychologist of the Year, Dr. Susan Johnson actually created a research study to determine the power of a simple touch. While in an MRI machine, participants were told that when an “X” flashed on the screen, they may or not receive a slight shock on their ankle. Participants were recorded alone, with a stranger holding their hand and with their spouse holding their hand. The results were the beginning of a whole new way at looking at love, attachment and emotional bonding. They discovered that the same location that signals physical pain to the brain registers emotional hurt and that in this experiment, when experiencing the shock, the participants would report the shock as “uncomfortable” when they were holding a loved one’s hand whereas alone or with a stranger the shock was registered as painful. Dr. Johnson determined that, “Love is a safety cue that literally calms and comforts the neurons in our brains.” The studies show that just holding your loved one’s hand can calm your brain and shut down fear.

In another recent study conducted by The Center for Humanizing Care of 14 hospitals with intensive care units(ICU), 90% of the 125 clinicians surveyed said that family presence during a procedure is a generally positive experience. They found that having someone there to hold the hand of a patient during a procedure can also be beneficial to the doctors as the patients require less restraints and/or calming medications due to the comfort provided by their loved one. Instead of restricting visiting hours at these ICUs, now family members do not necessarily have to leave when doctors are performing invasive or potentially traumatic procedures like an intubation, placing a central intravenous line, inserting a chest tube or even resuscitation a patient.

Research has also shown that having family in the ICU with a patient can help them all deal with the depression and anxiety that often follows a stay in the ICU, called post-intensive care syndrome, even reducing the impact of it long-term.

So, the next time you have a difficult discussion with your spouse or your child or notice that your emotions are starting to escalate, reach for their hand. Emotional connection is more powerful than you realize and that simple act of touch has the ability to calm emotions and situations quicker than you can like this post.

Five Easy Ways To Teach Your Child Empathy

Empathy comes from being able to see something from someone else’s view. Unfortunately, many adults have never developed this necessary skill. Developing empathy is crucial and this is something that will help them thrive in creating connections with their teammates, peers and siblings. Not to mention, that helping your child increase their emotional intelligence and understanding will also increase the likelihood of them selecting a spouse with the same skill set. Being able to empathize with your spouse is one of the most important factors in a healthy marriage as it fosters understanding, forgiveness and connection. So, what can you do to teach your child about empathy? It honestly doesn’t take much and it is never too early to start.

In fact, researchers back in 1982 discovered that within a matter of days, a newborn baby will learn to discriminate between different emotional facial expressions like sad, happy and surprised faces.

By 5 months old, infants will learn to match the image of a sad or happy face with its corresponding voice.

By five years old, the child’s ability to recognize and label facial expression is nearly that of most adults.

It doesn’t take much to be able to teach this essential skill to your children. Here are five of my favorite ways to help them develop empathy.

One: Reading! When you are reading a board or picture book with a child, emphasize the facial expressions and focus on their feelings. “Ooh look at that pig’s face. He looks scared! I bet he is going to try and run fast!” Then, simply put them in that character’s place. “What would you do if your house got knocked down by a big bad wolf?” Do the same exercise yourself. “Oh man! If that happened to me, I would be so scared. I would probably try and run to find somewhere safe too!” Characters in books are a great way at being able to help your children learn to empathize with someone that is in a different situation than they are. Learning that someone could have a different thought or perspective than they do in a book allows them to look for that when they are dealing with situations that arise in their own lives. Books are FANTASTIC at being able to teach about emotions. Correlating facial expressions and emotions is key to helping your child recognize them in others throughout their day. This even works with your youngest kids- mimic the faces in the board books and repeat the word for that feeling: Surprise face in the book, mimic the face and say the word “Surprised.” For older teenagers you can even use books that were made into movies and see how the dynamic of the movie would shift if one of the side characters was the main character in the story. This is a shockingly simple way to see things from another person’s perspective and develop empathy.

Two: Resolving Conflict. Conflict especially between siblings is bound to happen and it can be a great time for teaching empathy. When I can recognize an emotion in one of my kids, I try and emphasize that to their sibling. For example, “Don’t just grab the hair brush from her. You wouldn’t like it if someone did that to you. Next time, just ask her first and she will give it to you.”

Try and place your child in the place of their sibling they are having a conflict with. “How would you feel if that happened to you?” Even if they respond, “Well, I wouldn’t care etc..”, you can redirect them to the facial expression or outward expression of their sibling and explain , “Look at her face. She does care and you would want someone to care if it mattered to you.” Emotions are often times ways to communicate messages that are unheard. Situations escalate when people don’t feel like they are being listened to or have a voice. We all feel emotions and we can relate to them. The emotions that we feel are communicating a message and if we can listen to what they are trying to teach us we can handle the situations better. It is important to help our kids recognize their own emotions and the messages those messages are trying to convey so that they can in turn realize that other people are the same as them–feeling emotions and it allows them to empathize.

Three: Make Discussing Emotions a Part of Your Day. When you are asking your child about how school was you can ask a question that can spark some empathy such as, “When did your teacher smile today? What did your teacher frown about today?” Help them to clue into the emotions of others. During dinner we take turns talking about the best part and worst part of our day. This helps to normalize that we all have difficult events that happen and also to look for good things that happen throughout the course of the day. They are able to develop their skill of empathy listening to others talking about their day. Empathy doesn’t mean that they have to feel the same way as the other person, it just means that they can understand why the person might feel the way they do. For example, one of my daughter’s really doesn’t like math and so it was hard for her to relate to my other daughter saying that math time at school was the best part of her day until we were able to explain it that they way my daughter who enjoys math feels is the same feeling that she has about her P.E. class that she really likes. You are relating the feeling, not having the same feelings for the same events.

Four: Emphasize Your Own Emotions. It is important for your kid’s to recognize feelings in others and there is no one that their recognize more than a parent. You can help them learn to put a label or a name to emotions by doing that yourself. For example, instead of simply saying, “We are going to be late–put your seat belt on!” add in the emotion that you are feeling: “I am nervous that we are going to be late. Put your seatbelt on.” You might just see that putting a label to your own emotions will help you process and communicate better as well.

Five: Seek to Be An Example of Empathy. It is has been said that the number one rule in communication is: “Seek First to Understand, and then be Understood.” It is important for all of us to feel listened to and understood–especially our kids. When your child is explaining why they behaved the way they did or why they made that choice, seek to empathize with them. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a consequence for their behavior, but it does mean that you are trying to understand and empathize with their feelings: “I can understand why you would be nervous and didn’t want to be embarrassed when you showed up at piano lessons with tangled, wet hair.” Kids don’t always know why they do they things they do, but they will seek to look for those reasons the more that we ask about them. When we model seeking to understand their emotions, they will seek more to understanding their own and then at the same time develop that skill to understand and empathize with others.

Truth or Myth: In Order To Be Vulnerable, You Need To Be Courageous

Truth! Society often portrays being vulnerable as the opposite of courage—that if you are vulnerable that you are weak. You need to be invincible and so we seek to try and control as much of the outcomes that we can. However, the truth is that courage and vulnerability work hand in hand and it takes vulnerability to be courageous. The truth is that it takes courage to be the first to say that you are sorry and that takes being vulnerable. It takes courage to bring a child in this world and that means being vulnerable realizing you don’t know how to be a parent. It takes courage to put yourself out there in the dating world and risk rejection and that requires being vulnerable.

Brene Brown, the vulnerability guru, emphasizes this truth about courage and vulnerability describing a visit to Fort Bragg (the largest military base in the world—and where my brother-in-law and his family will be stationed in a few months):

“I was recently at Fort Bragg speaking to soldiers and joint special operations. It’s a hard group to talk about vulnerability with, because in a combat situation vulnerability equals death, and their job is to minimize vulnerability. So I asked them to come up with an example of courage that they’ve witnessed that wasn’t completely defined by a willingness to be vulnerable, a willingness to engage in risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure. And no one could come up with an example.”

So take the leap of faith and have the courage it takes to be vulnerable. Vulnerability holds a lot of power. When you risk and reach out, that is where the magic happens, where connections are made and strengthened. As Brene Brown says: “Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage. Tell me how vulnerable someone is willing to be, and I’ll tell you how brave they’re willing to be.” Be Brave!

5 Ways Humility Can Help You Stop Comparing Yourself To Others

There is a natural tendency that we all have to compare. Even a two year-old is capable of quickly recognizing if they have less fruit snacks than their siblings. Comparing in of itself is not wrong and can be a valuable skill set—for example– comparison shopping can allow you to get the best deal on your new phone, car or groceries. However, we often have a tendency of comparing apples to oranges. We will look at our weaknesses and compare them to the strengths of others. We will stand in awe of the woman who obviously makes it to the gym in the morning when we are struggling to get our kids to school on time. We will focus on something we are struggling with and then notice the person who seems to excel in that area and this usually does not foster positive feelings towards that person. This usually leads in the direction of self-loathing and being critical of our ourselves and our weaknesses or to feelings of envy and jealousy of the person we view as successful in an area we are lacking in. However, there is one characteristic that everyone can develop that will directly counter these outcomes of our natural tendency to compare: humility.

One: Being humble is a way that you can still recognize your own weaknesses and the strengths of another without the overwhelming negative feelings. Humility allows you to recognize and remember that we all have strengths and we all have weaknesses that we can improve. Humility allows us know that there is room for growth in all of us for a reason. We can focus on our own self-improvement and look of ways to work on and get better and allow others the same opportunity.

Two: Being humble also helps us to be kind to ourselves. When my mom is overwhelmed, she often says, “I am only one person.” It is helpful to remember this and that we are not meant to be more than just one person–a person who will make mistakes–a person with flaws but a person who is learning. We are one person but we make a huge difference.

Three: Being humble allows us to create true connections. It does not mean being weak nor that we should allow ourselves to be at the dictates of someone else. Recognizing that we have weaknesses does not mean that we negate our strengths. In fact, it helps us relate and connect more to others realizing that we all have strengths and things that we offer to this world that make a difference. Humility allows for us to reach out for help when we need it and creates connections with others which is the strongest predictor of happiness. (truth-or-myth-connection-is-the-strongest-predictor-of-happiness)

Four: Being humble also allows us to remember that everything we have–our time, our talents and skills, our health and energy, even our very lives come as free gifts from God. When you recognize that you have been given talents and gifts, it makes it much easier to share them.

Five: Being humble means being teachable. We can seek to learn from those that have strengths in areas that we might be lacking. We are not meant to know everything but we are meant be be able to learn. Being humble is what makes the true difference in learning. My daughter was having a difficult time with a particular subject in math. I can remember this feeling as I was in math class in high school. Math had been pretty simple for me growing up and then for some reason geometry happened and I can remember looking around in class thinking I was the only person who just wasn’t getting it. My counsel for my daughter was the same counsel I would have given my 9th grade self–raise your hand. Acknowledge if something is hard for you to understand. Your teacher does understand it and can help you. When you acknowledge what you don’t know, you allow your mind to focus on learning that exact information. Humility is the key to learning.

So, the next time you recognize the feelings of envy that are derived from comparing, give yourself a dose of humility. Refocus your energy on ways in which you can use the talents that you have been given and look to learn from those around you. Being humble makes a real difference.

Truth or Myth?: Forgiveness means that you forget. Myth! {Find out how knowing the truth about forgiveness can help you be more successful.}

Forgiveness is not easy. However, there are a few key myths that make it so forgiveness is even harder than it needs to be. One of the most perpetuated myths is that “You Forgive and You Forget.” Forgiveness does not mean amnesia. We are not meant to have a “Skip That Chapter” mindset in order to forgive. In fact, if you forget there were atrocities, we are likely to repeat those atrocities and if we don’t deal with our past adequately, it will return to haunt us. From an evolutionary standpoint, our brains are wired to remember negative events so that we don’t get bitten by the saber tooth tiger twice.

Forgiveness is not forgetting or pretending that things happened differently than they did. Forgiveness is knowing and believing that chapters in a book are simply that- chapters and not the end. It is the ability to know that you have the power to move forward and write the next chapter without holding onto the anger and the hurt. Forgiveness is the way for you to have a path to move forward to write your story. It does not mean that restitution or justice should not be required or that in order to completely forgive that they need to be a part of your life. Clear boundaries are an actually an essential part of the forgiveness process.

My favorite way to understand forgiveness is a quote by Paul Coleman, a licensed therapist and contributing author to the book, “Exploring Forgiveness”:

“When you forgive, you do not forget the season of cold completely, but neither do you shiver in its memory.”

Forgiveness does not mean that we need to forget but through the process of forgiveness the emotions and feelings–that at the time were so intense and had the power if left there to fester to write a different ending for ourselves– those feelings will dwindle and diminish. Forgiveness does not mean that anger or hurt vanishes immediately but it will wither in time. Despite genuine efforts to forgive, some remnants of the old hurt may remain but they will remind us of that cold season and how far we now have come and how those feelings do not have the power to continue to be the focus of our lives and write our stories. There is no greater gift that you can give to yourself than forgiveness which allows you to flip the page and begin again.

Three Valuable Tips Learned From Being An Ambulance Driver That Will Improve Your Relationship

When my brother was younger, he worked as an ambulance driver. This is a job that I would struggle to do well at since I have a difficult time seeing a bloody nose let alone a more serious injury, but is something that my peacemaker brother really excelled at. He would receive a call with an address and arrive at the scene of an accident where first aid was administered to the person who required the most treatment regardless of who was at fault. That means if a driver was speeding and runs a red light and accidently hits another vehicle but ends up more injured than the other vehicle, the paramedics are trained to treat the speeding driver first.

There are several things about being an ambulance driver that could be really helpful in dealing with the emotional injuries in our relationships. Here are three valuable tips learned from being an ambulance driver that will improve your relationship.

One: Just like an ambulance driver is not aware of what they are dealing with when they receive a call for help, many times we are just as clueless when we are dealing with a situation or an argument. When they arrive on scene they have little information and a few facts. This is important to remember for us as well. Even if we think we have more facts about the situation we are arguing, it is important to remember that we are naturally biased. We are looking at things through our own biased lenses and we are much more capable of knowing our own thoughts and feelings {since we are the ones experiencing them} than we are at knowing the thoughts and feelings of another {since the only way we truly know what they are thinking or feeling is what they communicate}. Also, naturally speaking from an evolutionary standpoint, anytime we feel hurt, we are going to be more prone to dealing with our own emotions rather than hearing the thoughts or feelings of another. There is a Japanese story that really does a good job illustrating this point:

The man doesn’t know that there is a snake underneath.The woman doesn’t know that there is a stone pressing on the man.

The woman thinks: “I am going to fall! and I can’t climb because the snake is going to bite me! Why can’t the man use a little more strengh and pull me up!”

The man thinks: “I am in so much pain! Yet I’m still pulling you as much as I can! why don’t you try and climb a little harder?!”

The moral is: You can’t see the pressure the other party is under, and the other party can’t see pain you’re in. This is life, no matter whether it’s with work, family, feelings, friends, family, you should try to understand each other, learn to think differently, think of each other, and communicate better. It is important to remember that we don’t know everything.

Broken Heart with Band Aid

Two: After arrival on the scene, the focus of the ambulance driver is immediately on healing. When the ambulance arrives, they are not looking for blame or an explanation. Their goal is to help and administer aid as soon as they can. In fact, many times they begin treating the patient who in fact was the cause of the accident. There is power in being able to take a step back, look at the argument from the viewpoint of an ambulance driver and work on healing rather than being right. When you get in an argument, it is helpful to recognize it the way an ambulance driver would. It is important to recognize and acknowledge what is happening. You are in an argument and regardless of how you got there and whose fault it is that you are here it is happening and your objective just like an ambulance driver should be focused on healing rather than looking for blame, an explanation or to justify hurt feelings (no matter how valid you feel that they are). You can simply acknowledge that you are here that you have had an accident and you don’t want to stay hurt. With a few simple, sincere phrases, you can stop the bleeding and change the focus to be on healing. For example, “I don’t want to fight.” or ” “You matter to me. I’m sorry.” Remember the goal is to heal. Are the words you are speaking working towards that goal even if you are the hurt party in this situation or are they a hindrance to healing? Healthy couples argue and fight but they are quick to repair, fix the hurts and reconnect. Injuries in relationships are inevitable and learning how to repair those injuries is a necessary lifeskill.

Three: The final lesson to be learned from viewing relationships from the viewpoint of an ambulance driver is that speed matters. I was always envious of my ambulance driving brother at times when I was stuck in traffic and late for an event that my brother was able to ignore traffic signals and circumvent the rules of the road to transfer patients. However, my brother would probably be the first to tell you that when he had a patient enroute to a hospital, his main objective was doing his best to get his patient where they needed to be to get the treatment they needed as quickly and safely as possible. This objective should be the same for us with our relationships. Speed and time matter too–and when we are hurt, we often can stonewall or try not to care so much building a wall to protect ourselves and offer the silent treatment to our spouse. This is crucial time as emotional disconnection hurts our relationship more that the injury itself. Forgiveness is a process that begins with the decision to choose to forgive and not necessarily with waiting for the feeling to want to forgive. If you wait until you feel forgiving before you choose to forgive, it may be a long and arduous wait. Seeking to forgive doesn’t mean that instantaneously the hurt feelings simply evaporate but it does allow for a path to move forward on rather to stay in isolation. Be mindful of the fact that emotional injuries derail relationships. You can inflict a great deal of pain on your partner simply because you matter so much–you are the one they depend on. Forgiveness is the key to reconnecting and repairing relationships and the faster you can get to that place of healing for yourself, the better the outcome.

The truth is that accidents happen. What makes the biggest difference in the happiness of couples is not that their spouse never did anything that hurt the other but that they were quick at acknowledging hurt or pain, quick to apologize and seeking to forgive. There is a lot that can be learned by looking at our relationships and treating them the way an ambulance driver would allowing you to be able to quickly repair any emotional injuries you may encounter.

Truth or Myth: Feeling Depressed and Suffering from Depression Are The Same. Myth! {Four Ways Suffering From Depression Differs}

Myth! Feeling depressed and suffering from depression are two very different things. So what is the difference? For the sake of being able to differentiate the two distinct emotions, I am going to substitute the word sadness for feeling depressed. Here are four ways to be able to distinguish whether or not what you are feeling is sadness or if you are suffering from depression.

How Does Sadness Differ From Depression?

One: Sadness is a normal emotion that EVERYONE will experience at some point in their life. Whether it is because of a friend moving away, or the end of a relationship, the death of a loved one, snowfall in May, or the last cookie being eaten, sadness is usually triggered by a specific situation, person or event. However, with depression, no such trigger is needed. A person suffering from depression feels sad or hopeless about everything. This feeling of sadness becomes so pervasive that suffering from depression causes you to lose the ability to experience pleasure or joy.

Two: Sadness lasts for a temporary time–you might feel down for a few days about the event or situation, but you are still able to enjoy simple things- the smile of your grandchild, your favorite tv show, or your favorite food. With depression, you no longer enjoy activities that you may have once enjoyed. Clients have best described this feeling as “numbness”.

Three: When you experience sadness, you may slightly change up how much you sleep–either more or less–but you are able to sleep as you usually would. Your desire to eat or motivation to accomplish things diminished slightly but you still have an appetite and are able to accomplish some things during your day. When you experience depression, your sleeping and eating patterns are completely disrupted. You have a lack of energy, an overall feeling of fatigue with a diminished capacity to focus and make decisions.

Four: One of the most distinguishing things from feelings of sadness to suffering from depression is your thoughts. With sadness, you might feel remorse or regret for something you said or did, but there is no permanence. Those who are suffering from depression often experience an intense sense of worthlessness and self-directed negative thought patterns. Thoughts of self-harm or suicidal thoughts are not experienced by those feeling sadness but can be pervasive when suffering from depression.

Whether or not you are experiencing sadness, or suffering from depression, there is hope. Although we all experience moments of sadness and depressing events will happen in this life, these feelings were not meant to be permanent. If you can no longer feel joy in your life or have thoughts of self harm or ending your life as an escape from this unending pain, know that there is hope and help. No matter how low you may feel now, there is a way to enjoy life again. This is a road to recovery that is not walked alone. Seek out a trained professional and/or call and speak with a clinically trained professional at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for free 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 or text “talk” to 741-741.

The Art of Inclusion: Two Lessons From “Chalk Day” That Can Erase Bullying

This past week I was able to spend some quality time volunteering at my children’s elementary school. I was lucky enough to be able to pass the last afternoon with 16 of some of the most extraordinary Kindergarten kids on the planet on one of the best days of the year: “C” Day or better known as “Chalk Day”. They were simply given two large buckets of chalk to share and then were given free reign to draw on any of the concrete within the Kindergarten gates (and of course admonished to not draw on themselves or the actual school building 😉 ). I watched in awe as they all, armed with their stick of chalk, went and staked their claim on their concrete slab that would become some of the greatest masterpieces.

I loved how there were no two drawings alike and not one of them seemed worried that they had drawn something different than their classmates. They each seemed to value their own ideas and even if they struggled to make the design come to life that they pictured in their head, they didn’t stop trying. One little girl became frustrated with the star she was drawing. As I bent down to see her drawing I complimented her choice to stick with it. I told her how I could remember being little and practicing drawing stars over and over to try and get it right-just like learning to snap my fingers. I also told her that every star is different but they all light up at night. Reinvigorated, she turned her square into a twinkling skyline that would brighten anyone’s night.

At the end of “Chalk Day”, each student wrote their name under the phrase, “We love Mrs. Wilson” that I wrote. Every name was once again as unique as the personalities that drew it, and together, the combined art became a masterpiece. Experiencing “Chalk Day” reminded me of two points that are the key to address and erase bullying: Kindness and Inclusion.

Kindness matters. Not only is it important to be kind to others, it is really important to be kind to yourself. When things didn’t go as originally planned, I loved how the little girl drawing stars persevered despite the challenges. Eventually, she knew she would get better even if she wasn’t the best right at this moment. This kindness that she showed to herself, to be able to allow for progression, allows her to show more kindness to others. Those who show the most bullying behavior are often the ones who experience the least acts of kindness and have lost this skill to be kind to themselves. It is important to remember that we are all a work in progress.

The second key to decreasing bullying is inclusion. The world was created to be different. Somehow as we grow older we lose the ability to recognize that our differences and what makes us unique is what makes us stronger. Instead, we have a tendency to try and fit into what we view as expectations rather than focus on progressing and growing the talents and abilities that we have been blessed with. Maya Angelou was quoted as saying, “It is time for parents to teach young people early on, that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”

There is an importance to not just accept but celebrate our differences and that we are unique. I loved how each student on “Chalk Day” had their own idea of what they wanted to draw—no one was worried about what was expected and each felt valued for what they wanted to contribute. I can assure you that unfortunately “Chalk Day” in my daughter’s 4th grade class would not have been the same as it was for my son in Kindergarten as they are already concerned with fitting into the “norm” and meeting expectations. How boring would this world be if we all drew the same art with the same stick of chalk? Different view points and talents are what make the world diverse and together the world is better and stronger. Every parent desires for their child to fit in and it is heartbreaking when you recognize when they are being excluded. The greater lesson to teach your child is how to embrace their being created to be unique and how their gifts and talents matter in the world. Help them to recognize and celebrate the uniqueness in others. Once as I was leaving a tumbling class with a group of young tumblers and their mothers, a tumbler looked at the sucker one of the classmates was delightfully devouring. With all the disgust a 4 year old could muster, she turned to her friends and pointed at the classmate and said “Gross!”. The young girl quickly pulled out her sucker and was about to put it in the trash when I intervened and said, “Isn’t it great that God gave us all our own tongues to decide what we think is gross?” The girl quickly reinserted her sucker into her mouth and said, “My tongue loves it!” There are unique things about us all that need to be recognized and celebrated.

So, today’s tip: Learn the art of inclusion. Seek to develop an inclusion mindset– to look for ways to include others and create an environment where everyone has value. Find ways to celebrate the differences of others and to share what is unique about you. This world was created to be full of diversity and everyone contributes to this masterpiece.

Truth or Myth? Curiosity May Kill The Cat, But It Can Save Your Relationship. Truth!

The truth is that our brains are wired to crave new things. Our brains love to learn new things and you can see from a survivalist standpoint why our brains would want to notice and be alerted to new things and thus survive any new threat or overcome any new obstacle. However, unlike the curiosity that kills the cat, maintaining or creating this curiosity in your relationship can actually can save it.

There are two ways that curiosity can save your marriage. For one, curiosity is the spark that can ignite your brain to pay more attention. Remember when you first met your spouse? How you wanted to know everything about them? Psychologist Dorothy Tennov back in the 1970s first coined the phrase limerance which refers to the sometimes intense state of mind at the beginning of a relationship–where you want to know everything about that person and want them to reciprocate the same desire.
Since then, there have been several studies on the effects of “falling in love” and the brain. Researchers have found that increased levels of dopamine are released in your brain which are responsible for the feelings of pleasure and euphoria. Love is like an addictive drug. When the novelty of a new relationship wears off as your brain chemistry changes (usually around 12-18 months), you can jump start your desire to continue to learn more about your spouse by simply staying curious. What is their favorite part of the day? What is something they have always wanted to do but never done before? How do they feel loved? What is something that makes them feel successful? Curiosity is what can keep your desire to increase your connection with your spouse even after the novelty wears off.

The second way curiosity can save your relationship is by being curious together. Recent research by Dr. Arthur Aron, a professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and one of the top researchers on romantic love, indicates that couples can recharge their romantic chemistry by intentionally opting for novelty in something new they do together. In these studies, couples who engaged in fresh activities gave their relationship significantly better satisfaction ratings afterward.

The theory is that dopamine and norepinephrine highs are generated both by novel activities and romantic love. To some degree, your brain doesn’t care whether the source of the high is from your partner or the things you do together. When you do something new, interesting or exciting together, some of the novelty chemistry positively impacts your relationship.

So, go on a new adventure- learn a new skill you have never learned before (snowboarding, horseback riding, deep sea diving, kayaking etc), go to a new picnic spot, take up a new hobby together, move the furniture, try a new restaurant. Do something novel together and see how being curious about each other and new activities can excite and save your relationship and increase your connection. Yes, novelty by design wears off, but curiosity never has to.