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Friday, November 13, 2009

Getting Ready for College

Every year high school seniors and their families across the US, begin the process of applying, writing essays and seeking acceptance to higher education. For many, the hand wringing and worry have just begun. The education choices have never been more plentiful; between universities, colleges and technical schools a student can learn almost anything. From purely academic subjects that develop the whole human being, to the strictly technical topics that teach a very particular skill.

As a student is looking for a school, the Internet can be a very useful tool. Most schools have web pages that allow you to see the facilities the school has to offer, as well as biographies of the instructors and even pictures of the student body allowing the prospective student to get a feel of the school environment. However with the abundance of school choices available, the student has to beware of schools that are not properly accredited. Accreditation is important because accreditation is student’s and the employer’s guarantee a school is really teaching the curriculum they say they are and aren’t just a diploma mill.

I’m sad to say that the diploma mills have gotten smarter and have developed websites for fake accreditation groups. How does a student know one from another? One way is to find the website for a professional organization for your chosen profession and ask them for the accreditation governing body. This will allow you to know the school you have chosen is fully accredited.

After a young adult finds the right school financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants and loans need to be secured. I usually advise young students to find the right school for them, then figure out how to pay for the school rather than deciding what you can afford and then finding a school. The first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) form at . Students will also want to contact the financial aid office for their school as soon as possible.

Both of my daughters are graduating this year so we are deep in the process I have outlined. We have counseled them to dream big, reaching for international opportunity; beginning to think of interesting internships and how they can network to secure such an opportunity. An unorthodox plan can pay big dividends if the plan is well thought out and the student is willing to put the work in to achieve their dream.

Now is the time for taking the SAT, ACT, and applying to higher education. Whether you choose to study Philosophy at a major university or choose to learn to become a car mechanic; dream big, make a plan and become a lifelong student. The reward will likely be more rewarding than you can see today!

“Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream so shall you become. Your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be. One who cherishes a beautiful vision, a lofty ideal, will one day realize it.” - James Allen

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He is an international speaker with two books and a DVD that can be purchased on He can be reached at

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Standing Tall

Editor’s note: The following is a guest column written by my oldest son Mark William Altman II, a 19 year old Junior at Embry Riddle Aeronautical Engineering University.

“He, who joyfully marches to music rank and file, has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice.” –Albert Einstein

This last Wednesday I was talking to my younger sister about how school was progressing. She was explaining to me that she had begun to question the callousness that her fellow students felt towards the world, a complete apathy towards school, the government, human relationships, and life in general. Without thinking, I reminded her that these students had been trudging along, mindlessly, head bowed, shoulders slumped to the dull beat of society’s drums for so long that they had become accustomed to the rotten stench of their unused minds, and had forgotten what it was like to stand tall and breathe the fresh air of freedom and innovation. It cheered her up to know that there was someone out there empathetic with her, but I couldn’t help but have a nagging feeling that there was more to what I had said.

As fate would have it, the next day in one of my classes we were discussing International Crime. The most disconcerting topic was that of Human Trafficking. I have always known Human Trafficking is present in the world, but never understood why Americans would allow such a human rights violation to continue unchecked, with barely a word against it. I ceased wondering as my fellow students began an in-depth discussion as to the “economic viability” of addressing this crime against their fellow humans; but they failed to discuss the human cost of allowing this egregious sin to continue. I began to question our societal mores. I was not questioning our society due to the free discussion between students; rather I questioned a society that taught its children that the almighty dollar was worth more than a human life.

We teach our nation’s children to go unquestioning into the workforce, and all levels of civil service, accepting that some people are less fortunate than others. We teach our children that the exploitation of foreign workers is acceptable since the pennies we pay these workers are “more than they usually would earn.” We encourage them to lie, cheat, or steal since “everyone else does it.” Most importantly, we tell them that sitting on the sidelines in life is adequate as long as they “grieve” for those less fortunate, and those who do not receive the basic human freedoms they deserve. We do not intend to teach our children these lessons; rather, we allow the sin of omission to run rampant through our homes. By avoiding these delicate and morally complicated questions we don’t give children time to forge an opinion, instead they are forced, as young adults, into the opinion given to them by society.

It is time we no longer allow our children to go through this world unquestioningly. We need to teach them as children to ask why our world acts the way it does. Teach them to allow the views of the past to fade into history, and to embrace the change that the future brings. Teach them to be citizens of the world, as well as American patriots. Allow them to stand tall, breathe deep, and use, not just their basic human instincts, but also their higher moral functions. As Americans, we should not allow ourselves to be of the numbers that march unquestioningly to the beat of the drums; we should instead question the legitimacy of authority, and make our decisions based on our own moral beliefs. Most importantly, we should teach our nation’s children Voltaire’s maxium, “Every man is guilty of all the good they didn’t do.”

Mark Altman II is a Midshipman 3rd Class in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps Program and is pursuing a degree in Aerospace Engineering, and is a graduate of Coeur d’Alene High School.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Looking forward to my “Fun Job”!

A couple of weeks ago now I had the wonderful fortune of running into Bill and Zamie Studt. They are a marvelous couple who introduced me to my dream “retirement job”; driving the Jelly Belly jellybean motor home. They drive all around the East Coast of the US to promotional events, handing out jellybeans and meeting remarkable people.

I say this is my retirement job only partially kidding. I would love the job, but I would eat so many jellybeans I might not fit in the RV! My sweet tooth inspired career plans reminded me that many Americans, like the Studts, find themselves working again after retirement.

They find themselves working again for many reasons: financial, wishing to make a difference, or out of boredom seem to be the most common. There are many benefits to working after retirement beyond the obvious financial gain, such as mental health, staying engaged in society, and keeping skills current. Many retirees find they can take a job purely out of interest or enjoyment, in a way they couldn’t when they were younger raising families.

Many businesses hire workers looking for a “retirement job” for a number of reasons: the worker has many directly and indirectly applicable skills, that don’t have to be taught compared to a younger worker, the retirement worker can often afford to take a lesser salary, especially if the job has some of the other rewards mentioned earlier. Working as a substitute teacher for example, allows a second career largely out of the elements, provides an opportunity to mentor a whole new generation, ensures an income, keeps weekends free, and supplies the local schools with subs when a teacher must be out. As long as the retirement worker is in reasonably good health, and is still mentally active, employers have very little downside.

So how do you find a “retirement job”? Many second careers start the way the first career started, through personal contacts, volunteering for causes and organizations you care about, sending out targeted resumes, and interviewing. The biggest difference for most retirees looking for their second career is they are often in the driver’s seat when it comes to what kinds of job they are willing to accept.

Most retirees have some outside income, even if that income will not completely support them or support them indefinitely; and for many they own their home. They also rarely have children they must support. The degree which each of these factors are true dictate just how picky the retiree jobseeker can be.

If you must keep a job for financial reasons, then planning early is even more important; however, the “cooler” or out of the ordinary a job you desire, will also mean more planning. Jobs abroad, jobs where spouses work together such as driving the Jelly Belly RV, and of course opening a business as a “retirement job” all require more planning. So talking to your financial planner and your family is a good idea before making any decisions, especially if the decision involves running a bed and breakfast in Costa Rica!

However, if done with careful forethought, a second career can be rewarding on many different levels and in ways that may have escaped you in your first career. I wish you luck, but in ten or twenty years, the Jelly Belly gig is mine!

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He is an international speaker with two books and a DVD that can be purchased on He can be reached at

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I met Ryan Schoenbeck, my partner in an upcoming leadership event, for coffee the other day to catch up after his trip to Florida. He recounted to me his flight home, on which there were three people in the row behind him, speaking in a vile and negative manner. Of course as he was at 40,000 feet in a 400 mile-per-hour pressurized can, his options to find different company was severely limited. As they continued, he realized their negativity was souring his mood.

After several minutes of trying to ignore this unwelcome exchange, he put on a pair of headphones to soothe his by now sour mood. As he listened to some music, he had an epiphany. How does our mood, the image we project to others, and ultimately the way we interact with those around us affect and effect others?

When a person sneezes, their germs can travel 12 to 15 feet. I find it interesting that this is roughly the distance the normal speaking voice is heard. In our society, it is considered polite to cover our mouth when we sneeze or cough. Of course, this custom developed to prevent the spread of disease.

If a person were to sneeze in public without covering their mouth, everyone around them would at least provide a disapproving look, and someone might even have a few choice words for the offender. I find it both interesting and sad that we rarely take the same care with our emotional health. We insist that others take care not to pass their sickness to us and our families, but we don’t take the same care with our emotional health.

While we might encourage a person to prevent disease by covering their mouth when they sneeze, with a look or even verbally correcting them, we are very unlikely to change their attitude for the better using the same tactic. So how do we inoculate ourselves against unhappiness and a sour outlook?

The first, most obvious way is to look after our own attitude. Are we passing along kind words, positive thoughts, tenderness, beauty, the capacity to dream, strength, a smile? We have plenty to help us, art, literature, music, inspirational and uplifting movies, and the stories of those empowering people that live all around us. My personal favorite are quotes from those who express such an outlook.

We can’t force others to behave in a healthy way, but as we monitor our own behavior, we can choose to associate with those who try to live and express themselves in a loving and positive manner. For those relationships we have that are neither positive nor uplifting, we can choose to be loving and supportive that they may also become healthy.

I wish to leave you this week with the following quote from psychologist and philosopher William James, “The greatest discovery in our generation is that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds can change the outer aspects of their lives.” May all of your lives become what you dream them to be, but if that is not to be, be able to say your life fueled and supported the dream of another.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He is an international speaker with two books and a DVD that can be purchased on He can be reached at

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Living with Loss

Like many of you, I have had to deal with loss of various kinds; jobs, loves, money, and now my most profound loss, that of my father. Before he was diagnosed with cancer, he knew he had the disease, before begin given the news it was terminal, he braced my mother and I for the reality he knew was coming. From the day he was given the formal diagnosis, he lived exactly 30 days.

There are people we run into in our lives that we intellectually know will one day pass away, emotionally you just can’t process the thought of them not being there. My Dad was one of those people. Stoic in hardship and inexorable in his ethos, but a lover of sweets and laughter; tough and rarely bending as a father, he was a natural grandfather. His loss has been difficult for all who knew him.

It is from this frame of mind that I offer the following to help you get through the grief in your life in a healthy, even positive, manner. In the first few days, as your grief is raw, try to get through day-by-day or even hour by hour if you have to. If you can’t sleep well, at least get plenty of rest. Keep your regular schedule as much as possible.

Eating with an eye to good nutrition as well as drinking plenty of water will give you energy and provide your body with the nutrients to stay physically healthy as you heal emotionally. Try to exercise, even if you are just walking, as the exercise will help relieve stress. Try to contact a support group that speaks to your loss and allow the loving people in your life to help you.

After the first few days, you may wish to help with the planning of the funeral or memorial service. If the service was pre-planned, then you can create a roadside memorial or plant a tree/flowers in memory of your loved one. However, make sure you check with local authorities or the landowner before you trespass.

In my Dad’s case, we set up a scholarship fund to send Boy Scouts who can’t afford it, to scout summer camp; however, donating to any cause important to the deceased in their name is appropriate. Along these same lines, performing acts of kindness to people you wouldn’t have usually in the memory of your loved one is a private way to honor their memory. Make sure you thank any medical or emergency personnel who cared for your loved one; they would likely have done so if they were able and even if they wouldn’t have, it will make you feel better.

These last few items really will increase your resilience, so try to do a few of them: volunteer your expertise or services to someone less fortunate, take a CPR or first aid class as it has the potential to help someone in the future. Last, make sure you tell your loved ones how much you love them and what they mean to you.

Life is finite and far too short, so most of us will experience the pain of losing someone important. It is my hope you will use these tips to be proactive and increase your resilience, then to heal when needed so you may more quickly get past the pain and only have left the special memories of your loved one.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He is an international speaker with two books and a DVD that can be purchased on He can be reached at

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The School bell has rung!!

Well summer, with its picnics, play, and adventure has come to a close while Fall is rapidly approaching. With its arrival comes the lumbering school buses taking millions of school age children to the greatest gift society can bestow upon them; the gift of education. A large piece of the educative process is the effort of committed, involved parents and one of the tools involved parents use is the Parent-Teacher Night or Open House.

When I was a Senior in High School, both of my parents took me to Open House, met everyone of my teachers, and delivered the same message they had delivered to every teacher I ever had: “He won’t give you any trouble, but if he does, paddle his behind and then call us and he’ll get it again when he gets home.” As you might imagine, my parents never got a bad phone call about me! With the precedent set, my parents did the same for my siblings, who consequently, all graduated from High School and went on to college.

When you take an evening, missing (insert your favorite TV show) to meet your child’s teachers, you are showing them how important education is in your family. When this demonstration is coupled with a consistent message, and actions such as providing a quiet place to do homework and using the district provided Internet software to check their grades, children inculcate the lesson of how important education is to you. Another benefit of attending Open House is the opportunity to establish a relationship with the teachers and administrators in the school.

The research is clear; more than 60 studies have shown that when parents are involved in their children’s education, children do better in school. If a parent is actually involved in the school, such as volunteering in the school or in the PTA/PTO organization, then children go further in school and the schools they attend are better.

Many parents are involved in their child’s education when the child is in elementary school; but involvement tapers off through middle school and by the time the child hits high school, is virtually nonexistent outside attending an athletic contest or other extra-curricular event. Again the research is clear, parent involvement in the high school years had the most positive impact on academic success of the factors studied. The overarching message to a child becomes, “home and school are connected-and that school is an integral part of the whole family’s life.”

You can, and should, ask your child’s teachers for strategies and techniques to help you help your child succeed academically, such as how to keep homework assignments organized and how to set expectations that are high but realistic and constantly challenging. For example, if a child is forgetting to do half of their homework in a grading period, the goal should be to improve to only missing 25-30%, once you have achieved that goal, then move to only missing an assignment very rarely.

For better or worse, one early gauge teachers, administrators, and children use to determine the interest level a family has in the child’s education is whether they come to Open House, so make sure you attend. If there is a very good reason you can’t attend that night, then make an appointment to conference with the child’s teachers to gather the information and chance to connect you missed out on. An education is the best gift you can give a child, and your taxes pay for it, get all you can for your dollar!

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb.  You can book him as a speaker at   He can be reached at

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Taking her fate into her own hands

Last week I had the pleasure of spending an evening with friends, both new and old, in support of FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered). I was invited to the benefit by an incredible woman I met in my acting class. A beautiful, talented, vivacious woman who has shown she is made of iron.

As an organization, FORCE’s mission is to help women find out if they are at a higher risk for breast and ovarian cancers due to genetic risk factors. They also help provide information about the medical options for women living with this higher risk, and provide support for both women and their families in the pursuit of these options. They help underserved populations with everything from information to resources such as clinical trials, while promoting research in hereditary cancers.

Hereditary breast cancer is caused primarily by mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Not all mutations will result in cancer but when each of our copies of our damage repairing genes are damaged then when genes become damaged, cancer can develop. In this case, if a woman knows she has a mutation in the BRCA genes, then she realizes her risk of eventual breast and ovarian cancers rise.

For many women, having this information is certainly frightening and disconcerting, but it is also very empowering. You can’t fight what you don’t know about and in this case information provides these women the opportunity in large measure to take their fate into their own hands. If you have ovarian or breast cancer in your first or second generation family you should at least consult with your doctor about genetic testing.

Due to medical advances, women now have a number of options when faced with this news. If it is determined a woman’s hereditary risk is ovarian cancer then she has several options. One of these options is to take oral contraceptives as this has been shown to lower the risk for ovarian cancer. At the other end of the treatment scale is a “prophylactic oophorectomy” which is the removal of healthy ovaries or she can have a “bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy” (BSO). While some consider these surgeries drastic, they have been shown to be an effective way to lower the cancer risk.

If the genetic risk is determined to be breast cancer, then similar to ovarian cancer risk, there is a spectrum of options. One of these options is close surveillance under which a woman begins self-breast exams at 18 and clinical exams bi-annually at 25. There are also procedures such as MRI and “ductal lavage” that should be discussed with your doctor. While it is possible for men to have breast cancer, even high-risk men are at a lower risk than high-risk women.

The most drastic method of breast cancer prevention is a mastectomy. Today there are many kinds of mastectomies and several options as to reconstruction. Again if you are determined to be at high risk genetically then you should have a conversation, or several conversations with your doctor about these options. You can find further information at

Of course, nothing in this column should be thought of as a substitute for professional medical advice. My intent is to pass along the work of a great support group, to start a conversation amongst ourselves and hopefully prompt many conversations between women and their doctors.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Thank you to Everyone

I wish to thank everyone for the prayers and well-wishes as my father makes his journey through hospice.  He is mostly pain-free and while he would like more time, as any of us would, he is in good spirits and in peace with his journey.  If how to die well is the last lesson the dying give the living, then Dad is providing a heck of a final lecture.

My Mom is doing as well as can be expected and is taking great care of Dad.  For all of us who are married, their love story continues and continues be an inspiration.  We are very lucky to have both of them as parents.

If you get the chance, a message to Mom on Facebook, or if you know her, a phone call or email would be very welcomed I am sure.

I will keep everyone updated as Dad walks his journey, and I’m sure all of you will understand if we don’t get back to you right away, but we will as time allows.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Loss of a Child

Most lives are filled with love and wonderful memories, that are unfortunately punctuated by periods of grief and sadness. For many, the highest joy we can feel is that of having a child; loving, and being loved, so unconditionally. It may be obvious then, the deepest pain we can feel is when as a parent, we lose a child.

Part of this pain stems from our belief the natural order of life is that parents precede their children in death much in the way parents have preceded children in the other stages of life. A friend of mine, who has lost three children, made several beautiful, poignant, observations to me as I prepared to write this column. The first of these observations is, “When you bury your children you bury your future.”

Another observation is, “To bury your children is not normal no matter their age or yours!” While I do not wish to put words in her mouth I believe she is telling parents who have lost a child, they are not going crazy; life has been turned on its head, but eventually, as one expert put it, “you will find a new normal.”

However, my friend also provides us gentle wisdom, “Don't obsess on the moment of their death, focus on their life instead or else you will be defining them by their death instead of their life.” Another parent who lost her 21 year old son to a drunk driver, passed on something I have written in the past in other circumstances, but in this context carry more power, “I am so glad I told him I loved him before he left. It is true be careful of what you say to someone. It may be the last words you speak.”

Both of these parents talked about enjoying talking about their children, the deceased and the living; however, they know that sometimes people are cautious or uncomfortable knowing how to go about it.

I feel the same inadequacy writing this column as one might have in talking to a parent who has lost a child. My advice is limited to the following: if you have lost a child, please seek out a support group. There are many out there, some faith based, others that are strictly secular.

Every parent I talked to that went to a support group found it helpful. Grieving is different for each person, and as such, takes its own path and its own time. There is no “right” way to grieve as long as the bereaved does not engage in destructive behaviors. If you have such concerns, address your concerns openly and honestly with the person and suggest they get professional help through their grieving process.

If you know someone who has lost a child, providing meals for a time and listening to the bereaved parents talk is very helpful. Encourage the remembrance of happy memories and share some of your own. Be aware of milestones, such as graduations, birthdays and anniversaries. A phone call or card can mean so much during these times. If the parents have other children, offer to spend time babysitting or just spending time with those children to give the parents a chance to grieve without the constant worry of taking care of other children.

In the end, the most important advice I have applies to all of us at all times. Love those around you; tell them constantly and unequivocally you love them with your words, and show them with your actions. Life is always too short for anything less.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He is available for speaking events and workshops on goal setting, leadership, team building and romance, and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Road Trip!!!!

With the end of summer almost here and Labor Day coming up, many families will be taking their last vacations for the summer. To save the money for airfare and the hassles of a crowded airport, many families in America decide to drive to their destination. The downside of such trips can include being crowded into a cramped vehicle for hours with everyone just wanting to arrive.

                A couple years ago Dawn and the kids and I drove from Idaho to Michigan for a family reunion. As with most things, we did some things right, but there were few things I wanted a “do over.” For example, I wish we had taken some time to see more things along the way. Of course this would have either added to the length of the trip or limited our time with family. In our case, because the kids do well academically, I would have opted to extend the trip a day or two.

                This brings me to my first suggestion, take plenty of time. Adding a day or two to your trip is not likely to break the bank, or in the case of trips during the school year, cause your kids to become high school dropouts. If you can, arrange to get any schoolwork they will miss before you go and they can do the work while on the road. This has the added advantages of keeping the kids mostly quiet and allows you to help them and be involved in their education process.

                In this same vein, try to stop at places of educative value and places you are not going to see very often. We made the mistake of not going 50 miles out of our way to go to Mt. Rushmore, but one time we stopped at a small town festival we ran across and it was really a lot of fun, with great food and incredible hospitality.

                If at all possible, travel in a vehicle big enough for the length of the trip. We were in our suburban that allowed the kids to spread out a bit.  Please make sure everyone keeps their seatbelts on, trouble can find you quickly on the road.

                Technology has found its way into road trips. GPS has had the benefit of keeping us from getting lost, but unfortunately we miss out on the adventure of getting lost and the camaraderie of figuring it out together. We did not have a DVD player or one of the entertainment center so many vehicles have these days, but one of the kids brought a portable DVD player that had been a Christmas present. I don’t know who bought it for them or how much it was; but when the kids got tired, or Dawn and I wanted a little time to talk to each other, that person was my nominee for “Person of the Year.”

                On long trips, we have found it a lot of fun to take one route there, and another route home. We haven’t found it to take that much more time, the new scenery makes it seem like two trips in one and well worth the effort. A little planning allows you to take advantage of more scenic destinations along the way.

                Long trip or short, family or fun, school year or summer vacation, road trips with your family can be a fun and fairly inexpensive way to spend quality time and see some of the wonderful sites our nation has to offer. My family wishes you all a safe trip with the sun in your face and a fair wind to your back. Bon Voyage!

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center.  He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb.  He can be reached at

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Restaurant Behavior

For many parents, there are few events that fill them with greater dread than the misbehavior or worse, meltdown, of a child in a crowded restaurant. Of course, being in public with your well-behaved children will often lead to praise and congratulations to both the parents and the children from appreciative fellow restaurant patrons.

People who know I write this column, often make the observation to me that children are not as well behaved as they once were. I don’t know if this is true or just seems true, but I will say that we are in public far more than our grandparents, and we certainly eat out more than our parents or grandparents generations did. With most of us taking our kids into public more often than the past we open ourselves to more chances of meltdown.

However, this also means we have more chances to work on behaving appropriately and politely in public. I must confess I do not have much experience with my kids misbehaving in public. I was spoiled in that our kids usually picked up on their surroundings and acted appropriately. When MarkII was a toddler we were quick to correct his behavior, but we also did some things to set him up for success.

His early success led to people complimenting his behavior and he quickly figured out that if he wanted to be praised he just had to be good in public. By the time the twins came around, they just watched their older brother and followed his lead. Usually if the kids were too rowdy in public it was because I had instigated it!

Success in public is tied to success in private and I maintain there are some things you can do to help yourself and your child. Consistency of both expectations and consequences is something that must be part of your discipline system. Having Mom and Dad on the same page is also critical. You don’t like to serve two bosses at the same time and neither do your kids.

When the kids are behaving well, provide plenty of attention and positive reinforcement. Pointing out a kid’s success is a lot more pleasant for everyone than correcting mistakes and the lesson lasts longer. Use other children’s behavior to highlight what you expect from your kids. Although, once in a crowded restaurant, a child had melted down and the mother was trying to get the kid outside. During a lull in the melee, my youngest son, who at the time was three years old, loudly pointed out, “Daddy, that boy needs a beatin’!” The woman and I were both mortified, but the older couple behind us dang near had a stroke from laughing.

Some other helpful suggestions: try to go out when your kids are well rested and if you can’t go to a restaurant where they have a playground for kids to burn off some steam and be with other kids. From the time the kids could talk, I had trivia questions I would ask from history and science. The kids would stay entertained and after a time, could answer questions that again brought positive attention from other patrons who would overhear the exchanges.

Most of the kids I see who are misbehaving, in or out of restaurants, do so because they want an adults’ attention. If they can get it through positive means, great, but if they have to get it in a negative manner, so be it. Make sure you aren’t so wrapped up in adult conversation or your own needs that you forget to make the evening enjoyable for them as well.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sure you’re who you say you are…

This week I had the pleasure of talking to one of my high school classmates; but the conversation was blunted by the harrowing, frustrating, tale he had to tell. Two years ago, he and his wife had their identity stolen making a purchase at a local mall.

It took two weeks for them to realize their identity had been stolen; and they only found out when a Wal-Mart employee called to check a credit application that looked strange. After finding out, my friend cancelled credit cards and sent out letters to the credit checking agencies. This barely began to stop the nightmare.

During that two weeks, the thieves managed to steal over 250,000 dollars, and came within a postage stamp of taking out a second mortgage on my friend’s house. The thieves sold the identity after it was stolen, and one of the buyers managed to obtain a driver’s license that was a very good copy of my friend’s, with the exception it had the buyer’s picture.

The buyer then went to a jewelry store to buy a $5800 necklace. The cashier checked the ID, then called the “safe number” my friend set up after reporting the theft. When she began talking to my friend, in Texas, she confirmed her suspicions, as she was in Virginia! Thieves, using my friend’s credit, have purchased at least three vehicles.

Credit is usually stolen in one of the following ways: going through your trash, stealing your information with a special storage device when you make a purchase, by pretending to be a financial institution thereby convincing you to reveal personal information, stealing your wallet, or using false pretences to get banking institutions or utilities to divulge your information. Once they have one piece of your information, they will use that to get other information to make a more complete picture. Once they have enough information, identity thieves can get a job using your social, open utilities accounts in your name, commit all kinds of bank fraud in your name, and even give your name to police if they get arrested.

The government website,, has lots of useful information about preventing identity theft and what to do if your identity is stolen. In brief, you should file a police report, check your credit reports, notify your creditors, and begin to challenge any disputed charges already on your accounts. Time is of the essence because identity thieves act quickly, knowing you will take these steps once you realize you are a victim.

If your identity has not been stolen, consider getting identity insurance. Most insurance companies have policies that will help pay to restore your credit and good name. However, if you purchase the policy after you are a victim, then the insurance is far less effective, because the insurance won’t cover you between the theft and purchasing the policy, and you will have a difficult time convincing the insurance company it wasn’t related to the earlier theft.

My friend and his wife are still recovering two years later. It has taken a huge toll on them, their relationship, their kids and of course their finances. Every time they think they are at the bottom, a new hit appears on their credit. I hope you make it a point to safeguard your information and check your credit reports often just like a medical checkup.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University. He can be reached at

Friday, July 24, 2009

Temper, Temper

For the first year of writing my column I had my own idea of what information I needed to pass along, and what topics needed to be addressed. But after talking to family, friends, and readers I will likely never meet, I came to realize I am much more effective when I write about the challenges my readers have on their minds. So, I began asking readers, former classmates and social networking site friends, what topics they needed me to research and address. Such is the case this week.

One of my high school classmates posed the question, “Do temper tantrums change over the years from the ages of two to fifty?” While her question is somewhat tongue in cheek, the answer is a bit more complicated. When children are small, approximately from one until three years of age, they, like the rest of us, wish to control their world. Unfortunately, they are largely unable to do so.

In addition to constantly being inundated by a great deal of visual and auditory stimulus, and a limited ability to process the stimuli, they are less able to express frustration. So the first suggestion from the experts is to try to avoid situations of lots of stimulus when kids are tired, hungry, etc. Try to give kids positive choices over little things and consider the child’s requests and accommodate when you can. Last, make sure you are providing LOTS of attention for positive behavior.

For adults, tantrums are a seemingly more common occurrence, and likely for some of the same reasons children have them. When adults are stressed beyond their capacity to process their stressors they can melt down into a tantrum. Almost all of us have seen the person at the airline ticket counter who, when facing the prospect of missing a flight or being delayed, goes into meltdown. In a world moving ever faster, and more visual and auditory stimulus competing for our processing capacity, it is little wonder that those with limited self-control and maturity will succumb.

The commonality between children and adults doesn’t end at the causes for a tantrum. Adults prone to tantrums should self-monitor to avoid becoming over tired or allowing blood sugar levels to drop too low. Key to dealing with anyone in the throes of a tantrum is to stay calm and avoid feeding into the tantrum. This is especially true with an adult, as they can become dangerous if they become physically violent.

With both adults and children, make sure you do not give to their tantrums. If a child throws a fit when asking for a toy or a treat, let them know that while you might have allowed it, you will not give the item this time, but maybe next time if they can behave. With an adult, if you see the tantrum coming, you can leave the room. If there isn’t an audience, they have no one to feed on. Another tactic for both is to try to distract them by getting them away from the stimulus causing the outburst; this can be especially effective in children because of their shorter attention spans.

Last, when the tantrum is over, speak to the tantrum thrower in a loving and age appropriate manner. Explain it hurts you to see them in such a state and you hope they will allow you to help them. For a child, keep in mind tantrums are usually short lived in the grand scheme of things, and for an adult, reminding them that such outbursts can drive away the people who care the most can sometimes cause them to rethink their actions. In both cases, don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you believe it’s needed.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Blanket Ladies

The best part about my job as a leadership speaker, is that I get to give of myself to the audiences I speak to; addressing problems they are facing, and inspiring them to overcome those challenges. The next best part though is that sometimes, many times, they inspire me right back.

Recently I spoke to a men’s breakfast group at a church in the nearby community of Liberty Hill, Texas. The church was founded in 1854, and the building, while going through additions and renovations, has parts dating from 1870 and is listed as a Texas historic site. The church has served as both a public school and a Masonic lodge in its early history.

After my talk, I was given “the nickel tour” by my hosts. As a historian, I was in hog heaven (no pun intended). The church still has a bell in the steeple and the kids get to ring the bell at the end of services every week. The stained glass in the church was begun in 1918 and finally completed in 2004 and is absolutely beautiful.

However, for all the church’s history and physical beauty, what inspired me is a particular project the ladies of the church have undertaken over the last several years. Many of the ladies in the church make blankets for Project Linus. In case you haven’t heard, Project Linus provides blankets to children in need of warmth, security and love. Nationally, to date over three million blankets have been given to children undergoing hospitalization, who are abused or entering the foster care system, or children whose lives have been interrupted when the police have been called because of parents who are abusing each other.

While the cause is certainly a worthy one and warmed my heart, what inspired me, and frankly blew me away, was the stories of the ladies themselves. For example, a couple of the ladies are in their 80s and still making blankets. Another lady suffered a stroke, but told her fellow blanket makers “Don’t worry, I’ll be a little slower now, but I’ll get my blankets done.” And she does. Yet another has arthritis so bad she can’t hold a regular crochet hook, so she had someone modify the hook, making the handle larger so she can hold it and still make blankets.

One of the ladies has made over 180 handmade blankets, and several others are well over 100 blankets. Local police officers carry the blankets in their cars; hospitals have them on hand, and CPS officials always make sure to have a few as well. The women get thank you notes on occasion addressed to “The Blanket Lady,” and those notes help them stay focused on the needs of the child that will one day use the blanket for warmth of body and strength of soul.

I urge all of you to give of yourselves, as all of us have something beautiful inside us that we should share with another. While the direct payoff is to the people we help, we also receive the blessing. Our resilience is increased, our families are served by our good example, and our community is strengthened; paying its own dividend to us in ways we may never fully realize.

Ladies, my hat is off, my head bowed, and my heart filled by your example. Thank you.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Friday, July 17, 2009

Frequent flyer miles for Cupid?

Earlier today as I began to write, I noticed an article that people were moving less due to the recession, in fact moving less than anytime in the last several decades. Perhaps not surprising, is the trend that many couples are living apart while one continues in a job and the family home, the other partner lives in another city chasing work, the family unable to move entirely to one city or the other.

I didn’t realize how many people I know, who are engaged in a long distance relationship. Not counting my former soldiers who are serving in Afghanistan, my oldest son is dating a girl who lives in Iowa, but goes to school in Texas, while my son lives in Texas and goes to school in Florida. I have a friend who just moved his wife of three months with him while they still try to sell her house in Houston.

As you might imagine, marriage and relationship experts have some advice for those of you who are either already in this situation or for those of you considering such an arrangement. The first thing they suggest, is for those not married make sure you define what you relationship will and won’t be. How exclusive will each of you commit to being with the other?

For all couples, married or not, long distance or not, the key to the relationship is communication. Keep lines of communication open and constantly try to find new ones. One idea for all of us, is to write 10 things per day you appreciate about your partner and then give all 70 things to your partner at the end of the week.

When I travel, I use this trick; I take my wife’s pillow case on my pillow. Then I can smell her as I sleep, and it keeps me really connected to her while I have to be away.

Keep a daily journal. It will encourage you think about your feelings, will provide a personal history for the two of you to review one day, and will hopefully spur the two of you to discuss your expectations from each other while apart and the expectations you have when you are about to be together again.

Continue to be honest about your fears and challenges while separated. Make sure you are living up to being a good partner. You can’t control the actions of others, even those you love, but you can control your own. Be the partner/spouse/ lover you want and you might be surprised at how much you get in return. There are a number of websites where you can have a photograph of the two of you turned into a jigsaw puzzle. Then mail your spouse a few of the pieces every day.

The Internet is a great communication tool for separated lovers. You can email, instant message, chat, even talk on the phone, or view live video of the other as well, all via the Internet.

Most of us will have a long distance relationship at least once in our lives, with a lot hard work, understanding and commitment, your relationship can not only survive separation, it can thirve. Remember, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

To graduate early or not to graduate early- that is the question!

The other day I had to drop by the kids’ high school counselor, to see what classes they ended up with for what would have been the girls’ Junior, and Matthew’s Sophomore year. As the counselor handed me the kids’ schedules she noticed something odd on Meagan’s schedule. This prompted her to take back the sheets and double-check them.

Between moving schools from Coeur d’ Alene to Austin, and taking dual credit classes, the girls got a bit ahead. I found out that if the girls take their Senior English class after the school day this coming year, they will graduate a year early. This realization left us with several options, all of which have a potentially significant downside.

If the girls graduate early, they will miss one year of their “High School Experience.” In their case, they are each in sports and FFA, but competing at the Collegiate level is not something they want. If this is important to your student, they probably want to stay in high school.

They will also be leaving friends behind a year sooner than they would otherwise have to, but both realize this was inevitable given they plan to go out of state for school, hopefully internationally. Last, we are really scrambling to apply for admission and financial aid a year earlier than we planned.

If they take the English class over the summer, between their Junior and Senior years, then they would not be able to “walk” with a graduating class. While not a deal breaker, the girls decided they wanted to attend the ceremony.

Another option was to take only the English class at the high school their Senior year. We were concerned about having one foot in the college student stage of life and another foot in the high school stage, being excited about moving on but having to tidy-up the last high school requirement.

With them graduating early, we will have them at home with us one year to guide their early University experience, helping them to adjust to a new mindset. While NIC’s program of dual enrollment was a great start for MarkII, the transition to a University was still significant.

This will mean they will attend a local University for what would have been their Senior year, then they will apply as transfer students to the University of their choice. In their case, they plan to attend the University of Texas in Austin for one year, with Meagan then applying to Oxford, and Bailey having yet to decide where to transfer. For us, this hiccup appears to have a happy ending, but it did make me reflect on how easily the girls’ education could have been negatively impacted.

From our experience, I suggest to the parents of high schoolers, to make sure every summer you go talk to your child’s counselor; especially if your child is at either end of the educational spectrum. If your child is in AP, dual credit, International Baccalaureate classes, or has transfer credits, correspondence credits, or credits by exam, you need to make sure you know where your child stands for the same reasons we needed to. However, if your child is in danger of not having enough credits to graduate, then staying on top of where they stand allows for earlier intervention and keeps options open.

Communication with teachers and school counselors is critical to your child leaving high school behind with the best chance at higher education and life success. For this reason make sure you don’t put your kids on “auto-pilot” during high school. Keep your hands on the stick, get them off the ground in good flying condition, and then watch them soar!

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Tasty Legacy

During summer holidays or long weekends, my father would put a brisket, or rack of ribs on our family barbeque pit. Dad’s barbeque pit is a thing of beauty, even by Texas standards, the meat compartment of our pit must be six feet long, has a separate firebox to provide, dry, indirect heat, and is mounted on a double-axle trailer. The trailer itself is large enough to carry the wood to smoke a side of beef, several pigs’ worth of baby back ribs, and a partridge in a pear tree.

The meat for a family get-together was chosen carefully at the store, and Dad was not above going to as many stores and butcher shops as it took to find quality meat. He was equally picky about the wood he used. He always had a supply of mesquite, pecan, and a variety of hard and fruit tree woods to impart the right nuances of flavors he wanted. He was always collecting, and making his own, rubs, marinades, and sauces. He even was an award-winning cook on a barbeque team that competed in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

Hours around the pit were spent adjusting the airflow and adding wood, sometimes deep into the night, to keep a constant, low heat. That time was also spent talking with my Dad about politics, religion, ethics, morality, movies, girls, family, scouting, school, and a million other important and not so important topics. Because as a teenager, my stomach often over ruled my brain, I’m not sure I realized it at the time, but as I write this, I have come to know that those hours and the sleep deprived nights, were one of the myriad of ways he showed our family his love for us.

So of course, now that it has become my turn to cook for such occasions, my first phone call was to my Dad. He reminded me of a few things I would need to know, and even gave me a few of his special secrets. I found a good brisket that had a nice layer of fat, put a flavorful rub all over in a thick layer and wrapped it in aluminum foil, just as I had seen him do it a hundred times.

I had the pleasure of both my sons’ company during the process; they were able to help and learn a bit, just as I did over the years. We talked about politics, movies, girls, family, scouting, and school, leaving the heavier topics for another time. I woke up every few hours to make sure the temperature stayed constant while the boys slept, each of us knowing there will come a day when they will be the ones missing a little sleep.

Ten hours or so in a smaller version my Dad’s pit, eight of that sealed in the foil and the balance open so the smoke flavor would infuse into the meat, and the masterpiece was finished. My family and in-laws were very appreciative of the results, and I think Dad would have been impressed. However, I’m positive he is pleased to see his legacy in action.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University. He can be reached at

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Moving Day

Americans have always been a nomadic people, ever since our ancestors came here from divergent places around the world. We still move on average, every five years. Largely, our moves are driven by the economy, mirroring our career moves. Sometimes we move due to divorce, and sometimes moving is a catalyst for divorce. Summertime is the most common time of year for moving, partly because kids are out of school and the weather is good.

Recently I was asked to help someone move their things out of a rental property they sold. The day was difficult because they were not prepared for the help when it arrived, and didn’t have a plan. To be fair, moving is a stressful time and almost never goes as you envision or hope it will.

In the hopes of saving some of you the pain we endured, allow me to make the following suggestions when contemplating a move:

  1. Don’t do it! Convince everyone else to move where you are. If that sounds like a lot of work, remember the last time you lifted the couch rearranging the living room furniture, only to throw out your back?
  2. If you are unsuccessful convincing your new company and your family to move near you, then begin by deciding whether you will hire someone to move your stuff, will you do it on your own, or some combination of the two? If you decide to have someone move you, maybe your new employer will be willing to defray some or all of the moving expenses, and often you can claim moving expenses when filing your income taxes. Whatever you decide, make sure you thoroughly investigate the moving company.
  3. As you begin your plan, start with a timeline of when tasks such as renting a truck, or turning off utilities at your old place and turning them on at the new place, need to happen.
  4. Make a checklist to help you keep everything straight. It is very unlikely you will remember everything; but in the stress of moving, you may forget something very important without a checklist.
  5. Make a list of those things you do not want other people to move, those things you don’t want on the main truck because you will need them immediately, or things you are leaving behind.
  6. Consider a garage sale a few weeks out from your move. You will lessen the amount you have to move and may make a tidy sum at the same time.
  7. If you are towing a car, make sure your car will fit on the trailer you are renting, and then make sure the towing vehicle can safely pull the loaded trailer. Make sure your car insurance or homeowners insurance will cover you as you are driving the rental truck. If not, consider the rental truck insurance.
  8. Once you arrive at your new home, consider replacing flooring or painting, if needed, while the home is empty of furniture. While another stressor, you won’t have to move the furniture in and out of the house in the first couple of months.

Moving is something most of us will do several times in our lives, and for most this will never become pleasant; but with some planning and “a little help from our friends”, our move can go smoothly while providing an opportunity for new family adventure. Just don’t attempt it during a Texas summer!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Water Safety

When I was eleven years old, I saw a boy drown. As a brand new Boy Scout, I helped adults try to save his life. When he didn’t make it, I determined I would never see another person drown.

Two years later, I barely weighed 100 pounds with five pounds of shot in my pocket. Despite the concerns of my parents, in June of 1978, I took Lifesaving merit badge at a Boy Scout summer camp much like our own at Camp Easton. I passed the merit badge, came home on a Saturday, then on Sunday saved a girl from drowning while we were at a family reunion. There is no doubt my training saved my life and hers.

Accidents in the water are all too common in America. Part of our propensity for trouble around the water is that we love the water so much. People will swim, dive, fish, canoe, kayak, tube, boat, ski and scuba dive in any body of water big enough to hold them and their chosen activity. We will do these activities without lifeguards, no thought to preparing and inspecting the swim area, with little to no adult supervision, in spite of poor environmental and weather conditions. All too often, our activities around water involve the use of a substance we in the South refer to as “ignorant oil”; most other places in the US know this substance as alcohol.

Given that 97 percent of US children ages 8 to 12 say they have been swimming in the last year, it is not surprising the CDC reports there are roughly 5,000 drownings or near drownings per year in the US. With drowning claiming 859 children under 14, drowning was the second leading cause of injury related death of children as of 2001, despite a 40 percent decrease over the previous decade; seventy-five percent of these drownings occurred because of a lapse of parental supervision. You may be surprised to know that most drownings happen both quickly and silently.

Under the best circumstances water rescues are dangerous, should only be attempted by trained personnel, and then only with equipment. The number of drownings that are double drownings are a testament to the danger involved. Far better is to prevent the need for a water rescue at all. With the summer sun and the water calling, please do these simple things before having fun around the water.

· Please adequately supervise your children. Many children drown while in the presence of one or both parents. Children can drown in the time it takes you to answer the phone, not talk on it. Do not play cards, make lunch, or go get lemonade while watching your kids in the water. Do not read or drink alcohol while children are in the water.

· The Red Cross and most YMCAs provide swim lessons for kids and training for parents on how to conduct water activities safely. These classes are very inexpensive, especially when you consider the ability to swim is a lifelong skill providing confidence and safety.

· You can make or buy simple devices to help in case of an emergency such as a shepherd’s crook, or a gallon jug with some water in the bottom for weight tied to a good nylon rope.

· Use life vests if boating. Yes, I know you don’t like them. I usually don’t either which is why an investment in a good PFD that fits properly is such a good idea. If you have a boating accident many times you will not have the time to grab a life jacket and if you have little eyes around you can bet your bottom dollar they are looking to your example.

Almost anything that can be done is more fun when you do it in the water, but please do it safely or it can cost you your life; or worse, the life of someone you love.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University. He can be reached at

Friday, June 12, 2009

D-Day Anniversary

Last week our nation, and much of Europe, celebrated the 65th anniversary of the D-Day

landings. As I watched the speeches from Normandy, and the specials on the History channel, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Does the world still produce such men?” Each of us can have our own answer to the question and I don’t purpose to hash it out here.

While I would have guessed the number to be much higher, World War II veterans only made up roughly ten percent of the nation’s population in 1945; as of 2006 there were only slightly more than 3 million surviving. Growing up, I only knew three WWII veterans. I should say, three I knew well. One was my Great-Uncle Ralph, and the two others were adult leaders in Boy Scout Troop 143 in Conroe, Texas. From my Uncle I learned a zest and love of life and humor, while the other two gentlemen taught me about adventure, the beauty of the outdoors, and reinforced the lessons my father provided on how to be a good man.

While I am historian enough to know that the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who fought against the Axis saved the world from a darkness we might never have come out of; I am tempted to argue the service they performed as citizens upon coming home has been of as great of value. When they came home, they enrolled in colleges and universities in greater numbers than at any time in our history, providing our nation with an educated workforce that brought to light technologies their parents could not have dreamed.

I do not wish to forget the spouses and sweethearts they left and came back to and then built lives with. Without the women who provided goods manufacturing, war support and morale, the prosecution of the war would have likely been impossible. Like their veteran, these women continued service to nation as a way of life, by helping to heal those scarred by their war and raising the generation who would finally push civil rights over the tipping point.

They built and bought homes, largely thanks to VA loans, in staggering numbers. The high percentage of homeowners changed our economy, and our attitudes about home ownership and personal finances. Many of them, having experienced true terror, found the courage to risk enough to start their own businesses and became captains of industry.

For many of them, civic activism and service became a way of life and they found themselves drawn to politics. From the early 1950s through the early 1980s, it was virtually impossible for a non-veteran to beat a veteran in almost any election, and it wasn’t until the early 1990s that we had a President who was a non-veteran.

If you have never been to the beaches of Normandy, you cannot appreciate the feats done there in early June 1944. Go see the landing site and cemetery if you possibly can. Like the Battle of Thermopylae, I believe the beginning of the end of WWII, will echo through the ages.

These veterans, whom we owe for so much more than their war records, are leaving us in ever-increasing numbers. The last service they may provide for our nation is to continue a debate on whether the development and defense of societal ideals, and love of service, are born through the sacrifice of hardship and separation during prolonged national emergency, or is it possible to develop these traits without enduring the heat. If so, how do we propose to make it happen? If you do not know a WWII vet, please get to know one.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Sum, sum, sum, summer time fun!

Every year in the US, millions of school kids end a school year of reading books, writing papers and doing math problems. As important, or maybe more important to the development of a child, is the growth in logic systems and imagination. No less than the eminent physicist Albert Einstein commented, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions.”

While formal schooling provides it’s own set of growth opportunities, as a parent you can provide other opportunities for imagination building, physical fitness and cultural growth. Here are a few ideas:

Make a lemonade stand. There are several organizations to help with plans and advice as well as charities who benefit from the proceeds of lemonade stands each year. Great opportunity to learn about most of the aspects of running a small business. Don’t forget to check your municipality to see if you need a permit.

Build a fort or tree house. This provides a chance to learn building techniques and historical fort construction. An internet search will provide a plethora of plans, from historical scale projects to playhouse style forts made from old fence pickets. You can use “the fort” as a reason to study history, “a castle” to study literature, and both to fire an imagination.

Take a hike. Almost everywhere in the US families will find interesting hikes local to them where families can see art and architecture, flora and fauna, and even opportunities for a small community service project.

Take swimming lessons. Everyone should know how to swim, and organizations like the Red Cross and YMCA provide lessons for thousands of children every year.

Go to outdoor art exhibits or plays. Most communities have art exhibits or sales in local parks, and some community theatre groups perform plays in the parks during the summer. These can be a great way to introduce your family to the great playwrights and their works. I never liked Shakespeare in particular, or theatre in general, until I saw a play in London at Shakespeare’s New Globe Theatre; but my son, Mark who was with me, has always loved both.

Enroll in a personal growth class at a local community college such as photography or sculpture. Being on campus and the interaction with college students is worth the price of the class if your child comes to think of higher education as something everyone does and is expected of them. Beyond that is the growth due to obtaining a new skill that maybe far removed from anything they have done before.

These are just a few of the activities you can enjoy with your kids during the summer, which will provide a fun, family friendly backdrop to spending time together. Academic information can be taught, family history passed on, and life lessons imparted. I know that most parents have to continue working during the summer, but with school out of session and no homework to worry about, it makes the planning a bit easier. Older kids can actually take the lead in planning events, providing another growth opportunity.

As a parent you only get a limited number of summers, don’t let a one slip by.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Monday, May 25, 2009

Watch Your &@%*$ Mouth!

Most of us, at one time or another, have let loose with one or more expletives that would do the most seasoned sailor proud. Most of us recognize, that while there may never be a time or place to use such language, there are a plethora of situations we should refrain from swearing.

The other day I was in a home improvement store where I saw a woman walking with her husband, pushing her baby daughter in a stroller. Given my interest in families, I was pleased to see a young, loving family enjoying an afternoon together; imagine my surprise to read the “f-word” written prominently on the shirt in several places. My first thought was “she will need to get rid of that shirt before her beautiful daughter can read,” and that thought was quickly followed by “why is she not more considerate of other people, especially those with children, who read that shirt.”

Jim O'Connor, author of Cuss Control: The Complete Book on How to Curb Your Cursing says "In using profanity the speaker is usually just being lazy, avoiding having to use more descriptive words to express himself". "Cursing," O'Connor states, "does little to convey our real message or the fact that our education continued beyond the fifth grade. This laziness of language can have detrimental effects when it is directed at children. In fact, a number of researchers argue this use of language is tantamount to child abuse. Even when children do not show outward effects of verbal abuse, they still learn cursing as a preferred form of communication, and verbal abuse as an acceptable way to treat others.

Most children swear at some point as they are growing up. Often they swear not knowing what the word means, they are just imitating an adult. If they get a desirable reaction such as laughter, or attention for their choice of language, they are likely to repeat it. Before rushing to correct your child, make sure both parents are on the same page as to how important the issue is in your family.

If your child is young, often if you show that the word has no visible effect on you then your child will be less likely to use it again. If your child swears when angry, help him learn to express his anger in more effective language. This will likely take more patience than just punishing the bad behavior; however, in the long run this strategy will not provide your child an increased ability to constructively express feelings and deal with emotions. Suggesting words that are more effective than swear words can be helpful as well.

For older children, explaining why such language is not acceptable and why the use of swear words makes you unhappy. If the use of this language is to impress friends, then you are less likely to hear it so you will have to convince your child of the logic of your position, you won’t punish or reward your way there. However, after your child clearly understands your position on swearing and you have corrected your own language, then you should treat swearing as any other discipline problem.

A reasonable standard, clearly communicated consequences to misbehavior, consistently applied will provide the best chance for success. The challenge for all of us to not succumb to a culture in which swearing, poor emotional response and treating others with indifference is all too common.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Monday, May 18, 2009

To test or not to test, that is the question.

More specifically, to test students for illegal drugs is the question; and the knock-down, drag-out fight, in some places. This topic came to the forefront for my wife and I last Monday, when our youngest daughter Meagan came home and announced she had been selected for a random drug test at school. At the beginning of the year, my wife signed the release allowing the school to test our kids as part of their random drug-screening program.

For a variety of reasons, we are confident our kids do not use drugs, smoke, or drink, and therefore for us (our kids included), we couldn’t care less if the kids are tested. However, if we had the slightest suspicion they were using any of those substances, we would want them tested so we could get them help. I spent an entire career being tested in the Army, my wife has been a teacher her entire career, and our oldest is embarking on a career as a Navy pilot. Given our career choices and family circumstances, you might understand why we didn’t realize the intensity of the debate over this issue.

When Meagan was tested, I began to look closer at the debate; and while I have not changed my mind on the topic, there are a number of contentious points raging across the education, legal and parenting communities. At the top of the list are the privacy issues; although so far, the Supreme Court has decided schools do have the right to randomly drug test students.

Another hotly contested issue is the efficacy of drug testing in reducing the numbers of drug users in school. Critics of drug testing argue kids will shift to designer drugs or prescription medications. I find the best argument against testing in its current form, is that we don’t test for enough substances; alcohol is by far the leading killer of teenagers in comparison to other drugs, and underage drinking costs the US more than $50 billion a year.

On the other side of the debate are those who argue for many kids, knowing they may be tested is both a deterrence and an “out” with their friends, as to why they can’t take drugs. They point out a kid who doesn’t use drugs has nothing to fear from submitting to a test. Further, if experimentation is fueled by peer pressure, then reducing drug use amongst athletes and other student leaders has a ripple effect across much of the student body.

My intent in this column is not to solve, or even advocate, one position over another; my purpose is to begin a conversation in our communities as to whether we wish to expand testing to include alcohol and tobacco, or continue testing our kids for illegal drugs at all. My guess is if you tested every kid, every single day, it would not have the impact of loving parents, modeling good behavior, and communicating the reasons behind that behavior, in a loving and honest way. When a teen’s parents talk to them regularly about the dangers of drug abuse, the teen is 42% less likely to use drugs, and 63% of teens who drink say they initially got the booze from their own, or a friend’s house. Let the debate continue.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Monday, May 11, 2009

Become like Gumby!

If you will recall from your youth, Gumby was a claymation cartoon character who was very flexible. Like Gumby, we should all strive to be flexible, developing the ability to regain our original form after a tragedy. This is the definition of resilience.

There are few things in life a person can count on; but one of those things is the necessity of facing tragedy, either yourself, or a close loved one. While the bad news for us as emotional beings is the commonality of tragedy, the good news is the almost equal commonality of resilience in the face of such tragedy. One might even argue tragedy is necessary for our personal growth.

A testament to the universality of grief and resiliency came to me after I proposed this topic on my Facebook page. Several people wrote to me telling their own stories of grief, healing and resiliency. So the question becomes how do they, and by extension we, increase our capacity for bouncing back after tragedy and even becoming the stronger for having lived through the experience?

Mental health professionals counsel that resilience, or the ability to cope and even thrive, under difficult circumstances is a group of traits or a skill set anyone can develop. This development is best begun as a child, is never too late to develop and we should all be strengthening. Mentoring others to greater resilience is a good thing to practice, for it not only benefits the person you mentor, it reminds us how to be resilient during our own tragedies.

The American Psychological Association suggests ten ways to build resilience and the first is making connections. The love of family members and close friends is important, and should be cultivated long before tragedy strikes. If family is unavailable for some reason, then groups like faith based groups or civic organizations can be a source of strength.

Another trait to be developed before you need it is to develop a positive view of yourself. Developing self confidence and learning to trust your decision making processes is key to becoming resilient. Taking care of yourself physically, and emotionally, will provide some reserves of strength that may prove critical in a crisis.

When challenges occur, whether the loss of a loved one or a turn of economic fortune, try to keep the long-term perspective in mind and maintain a positive outlook. This allows you to believe that grief will not last forever, and challenges are not insurmountable.

Make a special point to continue to move toward your goals. If you don’t have written goals established, this is a good time to consider what they might be. Act upon those goals and take positive steps toward making them happen. The other half of goal achievement is the owning of circumstances that can’t be changed, and accepting that change is a part of living.

Last, look for opportunities for self discovery, as the grieving process is often an introspective and educative one. Much like saving money for a rainy day, the time to develop resiliency is when things are going well in your life and resiliency isn’t needed.

Along the path we travel, all of us experience grief, whether the sting of marital breakup or the knife thrust of losing a loved one. Know that we pain with you, but you are resilient and will come through the other side. Ask us for love and help today, so we may ask it of you tomorrow.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Monday, May 4, 2009

One More time on the Merry-Go-Round

I realized as I looked at my columns over the past few months, that I haven’t written a column for the over 50 among us. To rectify this oversight I wish to provide some help and support to our parents and grandparents who while they enjoy these roles would also like to enjoy a role some of us take for granted: that of lover. Now before everyone gets their dander up, let me be clear; while I am not excluding sex from my definition of lover, I do not exclusively mean sex.

By lover, I mean lover in several connotations including companionship, dating, emotional connection, passion, and understanding. People in the US are living longer and in better health than at any time in our past. This has lengthened the time we can enjoy the various roles we play in life such as athlete, student, producer of work, parent, spouse, passionate and sexual being and so on.

Even the advent and popularity of the Internet has played a role with senior dating sites becoming very popular. A simple search reveals a number of sites that cater specifically to single seniors, although even these sites have their share of cheating seniors. Cheating aside, another problem the internet can’t solve is the fact that women outlive men and therefore more women are looking for love and companionship than men.

If you are a senior and have recently lost a spouse through either death or divorce, after you go through the grieving process, there are some very good reasons to be interested in finding a new love. There is a growing amount of research, demonstrating that being in a healthy relationship helps stave off everything from dementia and depression to heart disease. Besides, with families often separated as they move to chase careers, parents are often left to their own devices.

For those seniors willing to take a chance on finding love again and those who just want to have companionship, there are some things to keep in mind. While the internet is a wonderful tool, your friends, family, church, etc. are still better places to find someone. I say partly because of the scams perpetrated against seniors on online dating sites. If you use the internet, make sure it is a reliable dating service.

Before getting on the merry go round of love get a complete physical from your doctor so you know how fast you can ride, and then as appropriate, be honest with any potential partners about your health; in case you needed another reason for eating right, staying active and not smoking!

Next, remember the rules of dating and polite behavior still apply; just because the pharmacy gave you the ability to tag all the bases, doesn’t mean your new date wants to play ball, yet or ever. Talking about your exes or former spouses is ok if done in a limited way, and certainly remain respectful of that life together, but at the same time keep in mind that living in the past, regardless of how wonderful and special, can stifle the development of something beautiful.

When my grandfather passed away, he found a woman to share his remaining years. She wasn’t my grandmother, but she certainly provided him some happiness in his twilight. I wish the same for all of us.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University. He can be reached at

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Close of another school year ends; another summer begins

Several of my friends suggested topics for this week, and while a number of them were certainly worthy of being written about, I settled on reminding all of us that the arrival of spring brings with it, in a month or so, the end of the school year.

Personally, this means my daughters being asked to prom for the first time (although this is my last year of reprieve as neither are 16 yet). With mixed emotions, this summer marks the girls’ first college classes and our realization we are only three years from an empty nest. For many parents this marks a time of fervent activity in the form of summer sports and family activities. To our communities, this means another batch of teenagers driving to parties and prom nights, and another class of seniors preparing to move on to higher education or enter the workforce.

These realities force upon us, both as individual parents and as a community, the responsibility to have some earnest conversations with our high school students. The first conversation should concern our expectations of behavior as it relates to driving. While not the only item on the agenda of the driving conversation, drinking must be at the top of the list. Letting your teen know that drinking and driving, or getting in a vehicle with someone that has been drinking, is never acceptable and can lead to their death or the death of someone else.

I can hear some of you now, admonishing me, that teens know that handy tidbit of information and they are either going to heed it or they won’t, and therefore, it is unnecessary for parents to have that uncomfortable conversation. In response, I point to any number of studies, some of which were completed by the alcohol industry, that show teens who are reminded repeatedly, long before they can drive, are far less likely to drink and drive, especially if the parent models the desired behavior. This general idea works for any number of teen pitfalls, drinking, reckless driving, sex, drug use, to name a few.

Sitting your teen down to deliver a lecture isn’t nearly as effective as taking advantage of the topic popping up in conversation during a family dinner. Of course, this means in order to have the necessary, potentially lifesaving, conversations, your family will need to sit down to a meal together several times a week.

I suggest a family requirement of four nights a week. If your teen balks due to a schedule that would do the President proud, make it more palatable by allowing them to invite a friend. For the price of an additional place setting, you get valuable intelligence on who your teen is hanging around and both teens are more likely to let their guard down.

With kids being off school during the summer and presumably the parents still going to a normal work schedule, teens have more time on their hands. The old adage, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” certainly comes to mind. Keeping your teen busy with some kind of summer school, or a part time job can be helpful.

A curfew is another parental tool that should be used. Anyone out after midnight is much more likely to be killed than someone home by the witching hour and for teens the statistics are even clearer. The community can play a role by checking IDs before selling alcohol, and calling law enforcement to escort unruly teens, or those who are out too late, home to worried parents.

Summer is a wonderful time of the year, especially for a teen, more so for those about to embark on the next phase of life. Parents and the community at large, have a compelling interest to partner together to make sure the transition is a flawless one.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University. He can be reached at