College students

By Ahmad Allaw, Courier & Press, Oct. 27, 2015 –

There is no formula for collegiate success. For one, our goals are not the same nor are our journeys toward those goals. What may work for one student may not work for others.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to blindly fumble around before finding success in college. Often, there are common strategies you can employ to put yourself in a position to succeed.

The defining characteristic of college is independence. You have more autonomy over yourself, your decisions and your actions.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this independence is choosing for yourself how you want to spend the rest of your life, as your four years in college will likely have some bearing on your future career.

That is an immense responsibility. Within four years, you will likely have cemented, to some extent, your future.

So find what you love. Find something that you will not only feel comfortable dedicating your life to but also something you would enjoy spending the rest of your life doing.

Don’t commit too early to a major. Try different classes. Figure out what you do and do not like. You may tap into some intellectual curiosity you did not know existed. You may find something so fascinating that your way of thinking changes.

Once you start taking the classes that interest you, you will find college academia becomes so much easier. Even if the classes are harder and the grading tougher, you will enjoy the daily grind and routine studying. Learning will be fun, and that almost always correlates with success.

You will also have independence outside of the classroom. Often, the people who graduate from college with the most meaningful experiences are those who turn what would otherwise be unproductive into something productive. Fill your free time with meaningful engagements and experiences for you.

The best way to do this is to explore clubs and student organizations. If you are interested in writing there will likely be several publication outlets on campus. If you are interested in community building there will almost certainly be service organizations. Even if you are interested in what might seem to be the most esoteric of things there will still likely be something to match your interest.

Many prospective college students equate collegiate freedom and independence with extended partying and alcohol use. For some, this is an inevitable part of the college experience, although there are a significant number of students who choose to abstain. I cannot tell you to avoid drinking altogether; each person makes that choice individually. However, the danger is that the occasional drink becomes more frequent or that partying turns into over-partying.

That, however, doesn’t happen except when time is left unfilled. Joining organizations that match your interests, partaking in important extracurricular activities such as joining university research groups on campus, will keep you from developing unhealthy and, in some cases, what may become dangerous habits and behavior.

In the long run, you won’t remember the number of parties you attended or the number of drinks you were able to drink. You will, however, remember what organizations you were a part of and what you did to positively impact change either on campus or in your community.

As a final remark, find the right balance between education, extra-curriculars and relaxation. Don’t let academics consume you. Don’t overextend yourself with too many activities outside of class. And don’t forget to take a break every now and then. Have fun — in healthy ways — with your friends.

Boys playing flag football

By Vicki Kirkman, Courier & Press, Oct. 13, 2015 – After a recent hockey game, I overhead my 4-year old son ask, “Did you win, Daddy? Did you beat the other team?” He was jumping up and down with excitement to hear the good news about a victory.

His happy face turned sad when he realized his dad’s team had lost.  My husband saw his disappointment and shared that despite the loss, he did his best and still had a great time playing.

Learning to lose gracefully and be a fair sport can be hard for anyone.  One of the greatest lessons parents can teach their children is to enjoy the experience of sports instead of focusing on the outcome.  Winning a championship game or being ranked number one is great, but learning how to handle disappointment or seeing someone else win is valuable too.

Parents can help their children learn good sports etiquette in several ways.  Encouraging them to try their hardest and focus on aspects of the game like meeting new friends can take the pressure off of winning. Helping children set personal goals allows them to improve their individual growth.

Parents should also stress the importance of cooperating with others, listening to their coach and maintaining a positive attitude. The easiest way parents can teach their kids how to play fair and be a good sport is to model good sportsmanship behavior themselves.

The website provides other helpful tips for children and young adults to remember.  Those 10 tips include:

  1. Be polite to everyone you’re playing with and against. Keep language polite and don’t “trash talk.”
  2. Don’t show off, just play your best. If you’re good, people will notice anyway!
  3. Tell your opponents “good game” whether you have won or lost.
  4. Learn the rules of the game and show up for practices and games on time.
  5. Listen to your coaches and follow their directions about playing.
  6. Don’t argue with an official if you don’t agree with his or her call. If you don’t understand a certain call, wait until the end of the game and ask your coach to explain it to you.
  7. Don’t make up excuses or blame a teammate when you lose. Take responsibility for your own performance and try to learn from what happened.
  8. Be willing to sit out so another team member can get in the game, even if you think you are a better player.
  9. Play fair and don’t cheat.
  10. Cheer for yourself and teammates. Keep a positive attitude!

There are many benefits to playing sports.  Participating in sports is an excellent way to get physical exercise.  It can help children burn off extra energy, manage stress, lower depression and maintain a healthy weight.  Being involved in athletics teaches teamwork and responsibility. It also allows children to meet other kids with similar interests.  Lastly, children that participate in sports often have a positive body image and gain confidence in their abilities, which leads to higher self-esteem.

Teaching kids the importance of being a graceful winner and loser is a necessary part of the game.  When good sportsmanship is practiced everyone wins!

This column is contributed by Vicki Kirkman, school social worker for Youth First, Inc., a local nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families. To learn more about Youth First, visit or call 812-421-8336.

By Donna Wolter, Courier & Press, Oct. 6, 2015 –

Did you know that laughter and stress have the exact opposite effect on the body and mind? Laughter is a natural cure for reducing stress, anxiety and health problems. Laughing at a funny joke, reading the comics or watching a humorous show is a fun way to improve your overall health.

In the book, “A Better Brain at Any Age: The Holistic Way to Improve Your Memory, Reduce Stress and Sharpen Your Wits,” author Sondra Kornblatt writes that a new field called gelotology is exploring the benefits of laughter.

Kornblatt writes that in Norman Cousins’ memoir, “Anatomy of an Illness,” he talks about how watching funny shows helped him feel better and get pain-free sleep. That is because when we laugh, our pituitary gland releases its own pain-suppressing opiates.

Kornblatt also lists the following benefits of laughter:

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Increases vascular blood flow and oxygenation of the blood
  • Gives a workout to the diaphragm and abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg and back muscles
  • Reduces certain stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline
  • Increases the response to infections by producing immunoglobulin in saliva, even reducing the frequency of colds
  • Increases memory and learning

In a study at John Hopkins University Medical School, humor during instruction led to increased test scores, improved alertness, creativity and memory.

Along with this new field of gelotology, we now have over 400 laughter clubs in the U. S. According to Laughter Yoga International, a group led by founder Dr. Madan Kataria, there are about 6,000 laughter clubs worldwide. “Laughter yoga” is based on the simple truth that children instinctively know laughter makes you feel better. Children laugh about 400 times more per day than adults, who average 15 times per day.

Like aerobics, laughter can boost our energy level by providing more oxygen to the body. Laughter yoga involves prolonged voluntary laughter. It is done in groups with eye contact and playfulness between participants. Forced laughter gradually turns into real and contagious laughter.

Dr. Lawrence Shapiro writes in his book, “The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook for Kids,” that laughter is a social lubricant, especially for children. One study of children 3-18 asked, “What are three things you like about your friends?” The phrase, “likes to laugh and have fun” appeared in the responses in every age group. This finding adds another layer to the importance of laughter in reducing stress in children. Peer interaction is an important stress reducer, while social isolation is one of the most significant stresses of childhood.

Here are a few activities you might want to try to bring the benefits of laughter into your home.

  • Make fun of a stressful situation. (For example, I know I am really stressed when I can’t find my glasses, and they’re on top of my head.)
  • Have a joke night at your house and have each family member tell a joke.
  • Make a poster of funny photos of your family.
  • Post funny comics on the refrigerator.
  • Have a crazy dress up night.
  • Have a fun game night playing charades, Pictionary, etc.

Trying these simple activities with your family can be fun, and you just might benefit from improved health, decreased pain, reduced stress and improved memory. Form your own laughter club and laugh your way to a better life.