Category Archives: Family Tips

Yards After Contact

Guest Post By Brittany GardenerBrittany Gardener

The Unconquered Scholars Program at Florida State University has been a tremendous blessing in my life. I’ve been around since the program’s inception five years ago, and I’ve witnessed the program’s tremendous growth and impact it has had on its students and the community. To use a football metaphor, every individual must maximize his or her “yards after contact.”

Life has its struggles and hurts, but I’ve learned along the way that even in the pain of life, there are yards to be gained. Our interpretations of events and our responses to them become the ideas that define us.

As I’ve matured, I’ve learned that we all face unique challenges and hardships. We are all on our own in this world, but the thing that most connects us is our stories and experiences. We can all admit that you don’t begin to come into the full knowledge of what you’re made of until you’ve had some encounters that leave you with no other choice but to be strong.

Each one of us can look at ourselves as players on the football field of life. Yards after contact are the yards a player gains after the player is initially hit. When I think of a running back, I think of the focus he must possess in order to gain yards after being hit by defensive players. I think of his relentless drive in spite of all the hits he takes. The running back is always running with aim; he is running to secure a first down that will ultimately lead him and his team to scoring a touchdown. Gaining that first down may seem like an insignificant accomplishment, but it is a small victory that contributes toward the ultimate goal of winning the game.

The ball is our purpose. The ball is our future. The ball is what Unconquered Scholars have held onto for so long. Some of my program peers were in foster care, others were wards of the state, or homeless. As for myself, I was in relative care. In the program, there are plenty of situations in which defeat was calling – challenges that were trying to snatch the ball out of our hands. Each Unconquered student has played the role of a running back. We’ve taken some hard hits; we’ve even had to stiff-arm some pretty scary situations. If we had stopped running, then we would have lost possession. We had to run with stamina and power because our future depended on it.

When I reflect on my own story, I think of my initial hit when my mother passed away unexpectedly, so I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I was just a freshman in high school. I had to be my own parent and take care of myself in all respects. One day when I was at school, I intentionally avoided my peers so that they wouldn’t see me crying. I felt myself breaking down inside. I raised my hand so that I could be excused. I felt alone; I felt as if no one understood the pain I was dealing with. I started to cry uncontrollably – the kind of tears that only come from the worst pain deep within. But in that very moment, I heard in my spirit a voice reassuring me that in a little while, things would get better.

Then I realized, life is about the small victories, that is, the yards you gain when you are experiencing adversity. I, for one, am so glad that I kept running. I’m so glad I had the courage to stiff-arm my hardships and to see beyond the obstacles. Through my mother’s death, I learned the importance of perseverance and what “yards after contact” really means. I advanced the ball because, unbeknownst to me, the opportunity to attend Florida State University would be only a few yards down the field. These extraordinary students shared in this video where they started on the field and where they are now because of Unconquered and the Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (C.A.R.E.).

VIDEO: The Truly Unconquered –  From Homeless Youth to College Graduate

Thank goodness all the other students in the program also advanced the ball so that Unconquered could open up a wide hole for us to run through. A hole was made by this program that allowed us to gain those tough yards. We kept on running with our future in mind and our purpose in our hands. Unconquered has been an invaluable support system for each of us. Without such a resource, our lives would in all likelihood have taken a drastically and tragically, different turn. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Unconquered Scholars Program, the C.A.R.E. Program, and our beloved Florida State.

I realized three years ago that attending college was going to be one of the most significant life transitions I would ever undergo. I knew the weight I would have to bear as a first-generation college student and as a student who had been in relative care. I did not know how I was going to pay for college, let alone what to expect once I arrived. Today, I look back at my initial hit. Today I look at where I started on the field. Today, I look at the yardage that has been gained by each and every student in this program. We’re not just running for ourselves; we are running for the future generation of students who will come after us.

In our lives, there were plenty of situations in which DEFEAT was once calling, CHALLENEGES that were trying to impede our date with destiny. But it took only ONE opportunity, ONE door opening, ONE yard- the Unconquered Scholars Program – to demonstrate what is possible when students are handed the right tools to go into battle against what seem like insurmountable circumstances.

In Unconquered, there are students who have not only dreamed, but have fought the good fight as well. Students who have had to ride through dark clouds, at times, unable to see the road ahead. I am talking about students who have managed to gain yards after contact in spite of life’s constant blows. I hope you can see and feel just how much strength, determination, capability, and resilience abound in this program.

For more information on the Unconquered Scholars Program, visit http://care.fsu.edu/USP or contact Lisa Jackson, Assistant Director of the Unconquered Scholars Program at FSU’s Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement at lisa.a.jackson@fsu.edu or (850) 644-0120.

Brittany Gardener graduated from Florida State University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Marketing and currently serves in DCF’s Office of Civil Rights.

 

Ask Dr. Phelps: How do I explain death to my young children?

Guest blog column by Dr. Pam Phelps is the owner/director of the Creative Center preschool and doctor of Early Education. Her posts answer parenting questions.

Parent:

Dear Dr. Phelps,

Our dog just passed away and we aren’t sure how to explain it to our 3-year-old and 5-year-old daughters. How can we help them understand that our dog will not be coming back home without scaring them?

— Doggone in South Florida

Dr. Phelps:

Dear Doggone,

Deaths are hard for any of us to understand. Below are some tips to help children cope:

  • There are some lovely books about death that help young children.
  • Collecting pictures of the family with the dog and making a book about the experiences can be visited over and over again.
  • Discussing the gifts that the dog brought the family and what children loved about him helps also.

Children’s first experiences with death will help them with later losses so encourage them to talk. Little ones have no concept of time so they may ask where the pet is over and over again. It is a good idea not to say things like, “He went to sleep” or “He just got sick” because they can become frightened about themselves or other family members. Statements such as “his body was just old” or “his body just couldn’t work anymore” are less frightening. Here are some suggested book titles:

  • Jim’s Dog Muffins by Miriam Cohen
  • The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst
  • Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie

Ask Dr. Phelps: Is my toddler being bullied at school?

Guest blog column by Dr. Pam Phelps is the owner/director of the Creative Center preschool and doctor of Early Education. Her posts answer parenting questions.

Parent:

Dear Dr. Phelps,

My 3-year-old daughter often comes home from school very upset and says one of her classmates is being mean to her. Specifically, she said the other child takes her toys, calls her bad names and hits her. Is it possible that she is making these things up to get attention? What should I tell her to do in these situations? Should I ask to have her moved to a different class?

— Bullied blue in Northeast Florida

Dr. Phelps:

Dear Blue,

Your child is probably not making this up but may be in the middle of it herself. You don’t want her to be a victim, so help her to learn strategies for dealing with conflicts and practice with her.

When the other child takes her toys, hits her, or calls her names she needs to say, “I don’t like it when you do that and I will find someone else to play with.” Teach her to be strong and walk away. If this is really happening the way your child describes, the other child sounds like a “bully” and 3 year olds learn that words are powerful and can be used to hurt others. Your daughter will face this kind of situation many times in her life and learning to stand strong and move away is the best tactic. It is good that she is telling you and you should have a conversation with the teacher in the classroom so that you know the entire story.

Ask Dr. Phelps: How can I get my toddler to stop biting?

Guest blog column by Dr. Pam Phelps of The Creative Center for Childhood Research & Training Inc. and doctor of Early Education. Her posts answer parenting questions. 

Parent: 

Dear Dr. Phelps,

My 2-year-old son is usually very well-mannered and loving, but recently he has started biting. Usually it happens if another child takes a toy away from him, if he doesn’t want to do another activity, if he gets frustrated, etc. He bites his 5-year-old sister at home and has also bitten children a few times at school. Why did he start doing this all of a sudden? Is there anything I can do to help him stop?

— Biting the dust in North Florida

Dr. Phelps:

Dear Biting,

Big sister needs to hold her hand up when he looks like he is going to bite and say, “No, do not bite me” in a firm voice (not screaming). You should move in and help him begin to use some sign language or a few words such as “play” or “turn.” This can later be moved into, “I want to play” or, “Can I have a turn?”

Young children often bite and it is usually over a toy. Toys draw children into social interactions and young children do not have language skills that allow them to discuss problems.

In group child care settings children often bite because there are not enough of the same kind and color of toy and/or the adults in charge are not paying close enough attention. Children need to be taught how to solve these conflicts. When adults are attentive they can intervene before the bite happens, modeling and scaffolding a positive social exchange. Time-out teaches nothing. A child on time-out knows no more when the time-out is over then he/she did before it started.

Random Act of Kindness Project

Guest post by Dena Sokolow, a Florida mother, attorney and Cwazy Town blogger.

Jenna putting quarters on a candy machine as a part of the Random Act of Kindness

There is nothing like experiencing the holidays through a child’s eyes, with all of its magic, joy and tradition. This is the first year my 3-year-old daughter, Jenna, seems to genuinely understand Christmas/Hanukkah (we celebrate both in our house) and it makes this holiday season that much brighter. In this time of overindulgence, it is important for me that Jenna learns to appreciate what she has and understand that not all children are so lucky. This is a big concept for a 3-year-old. I decided it would be easier for her to grasp if she was actually participating and doing charitable deeds. So I started the Random Act of Kindness Project for our family. Every day in December we do at least one nice thing for someone else without wanting or expecting anything in return.

We started small. First, we took carts from people in the parking lot at Walmart and pushed them back to the store for them. We also picked up toys on the toy aisle that were on the floor and put them back (Jenna did amazing at this). Jenna also wanted to contribute to the Salvation Army bucket. We both walked away that day in such a good mood and for the first time EVER Jenna did not ask me for one of those tiny princess dolls they so brilliantly place at the checkout aisle.

Jenna putting a note and present in the mailbox for the mail carrier

We kept going. Together we made a “kindness list” of things we could do.  Once I gave her suggestions Jenna came up with a lot of ideas on her own: draw pictures for her favorite teachers, hand out candy to kids in the park, bring cookies to the firefighters she met on her recent field trip, give blankets to people who are cold.

The next day Jenna asked me for a quarter for a piece of candy from a gumball machine.  I asked her if she would rather leave surprise quarters for other kids to find.  She loved the idea and taped quarters to the gumball machines herself with a note saying how we were celebrating the holidays by performing random acts of kindness (RAK). She giggled the whole way home about how some little boy and girl was going to be “soooo happy” when they found those quarters.  She never did get a piece for herself. I could see she was enjoying the thought of surprising another child.

Jenna brought cookies to the firefighters and left treats and thank you notes (drawn and decorated by Jenna) for our mailman and the garbage collectors. She handed out candy canes to kids in the park (after first asking permission from their parents) and gift certificates at the grocery store. She delivered holiday goodies and a picture she drew for the servers at her favorite restaurant. Every RAK is greeted with surprise, enthusiasm and gratitude.

Now Jenna wakes up every morning and asks, “what are we going to do nice today?”  Our “kindness list” of ideas grows every day. This project has turned into so much more than I anticipated. It has become a wonderful way to spend quality time with my daughter while teaching her an important lesson of charity and generosity of spirit. The feedback we have received has been overwhelming. People are so touched and grateful. I love hearing how people are adopting this tradition for their own family or “paying it forward” after receiving a RAK. It is what the holidays are all about.

For more information or ideas about RAK please visit my blog, Cwazy Town. There is also a download on the blog for our RAK card that we leave behind.