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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