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Five Childhood Books That Traumatized Me

I wrote about 6 childhood books that have haunted me my whole life for The Nervous Breakdown, 5 of which I’ve shared below. Because apparently, if an animal dies a horrible death, you should probably write a children’s book about it.

If you want to view the longer piece:

http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/tfreeland/2011/08/six-childhood-books-that-traumatized-me/

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The following are descriptions of 5 books I read as a kid that still haunt my brain to this day, as interpreted by my child-aged self.

1. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Summary: Once there was a tree… and she loved a little boy. She gave him leaves to play with, and he climbed her and swung from her branches. He loved her and hugged her a lot.

And then he grew up and forgot about her until he needed something. He took her apples to sell, like a teenager stealing drug money from a purse, and then blew her off again for a few years.

He came back only to cut off her branches and build a house with her severed limbs. This made her happy, even though cutting off all the branches on a tree would nullify its ability to photosynthesize, killing it slowly. But the fact that she’d helped the boy build a house made the tree happy, because she was a kind and selfless tree. And yet he ignored her again for a long, long time.

The boy didn’t come back until he was an old man, and when the tree asked him to play, he said, no sorry, I’m too old and all I want is to get the hell away from you again, you stupid nice tree. So the masochistic tree told him to cut her down and make a boat with which to sail far, far away from her, because apparently giving chunks of herself to this greedy, selfish man would never be enough to make him love her. And the sonofabitch did it. He said, “Thanks for your body parts!” and sailed off into the sunset. But still, the tree was just happy to have helped.

The heartless bastard came back years later to see how else he might destroy the sweetest tree on the planet, which was now only an ugly stump. The codependent tree stump was so happy to see him that she actually asked him if she could do anything else for him. He told her he was too old and tired to torture her in new and exciting ways, so he sat on what was left of her.

The moral: Sometimes no matter how nice you are to people, you’re still going to end up with an ass on your face.

Hidden message: Mom was right. If you give your body to a man, he will leave you.

Bonus trauma: The photograph of Shel Silverstein on the back of the book.

***

 

2. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Summary: An unpopular boy makes friends with an odd new girl at school. They hang out together in the forest and use their imaginations to create a world in which they aren’t losers.

One day, the boy chooses to hang out with a teacher he has a crush on instead of hanging out with the girl in the woods. The girl goes into the woods alone, falls, hits her head on a rock and drowns in the stream. The boy must live with the guilt for the rest of his life.

The moral: Hey, kids. Guess what? Your friends can die.

Hidden message: Hey, kids. Guess what? That means you can die, too.

Bonus trauma: Awareness of your own mortality.

***

 

3. A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck

Summary: Just in case your parents haven’t yet had the birds and bees talk with you, this book starts off with a cow alone in the woods, failing miserably at giving birth. A wandering boy helps the cow release the calf that is stuck in her vagina like some sort of slimy and bleating mammalian cork by fashioning a crude pulley out of his pants, using a tree as a fulcrum.

The cow rewards him for helping her live by nearly killing him. Her owner then rewards the boy for not suing by giving him a baby pig. He calls the pig Pinky, and she becomes a beloved pet, much like a family dog.

I should probably mention at this point that the boy’s father slaughters pigs for a living. I think you know where this is going now.

They discover that the pig is barren, and therefore worthless. In one of the most horrifying coming-of-age moments ever captured in print, the boy is then forced to help his father murder Pinky. Descriptions of skull-crunching noises and snow-turned-to-red-slush abound. This book holds the distinguished honor of: First Book to Ever Make Me Sob Uncontrollably.

The moral: Living on a farm will make you so lonely that sleeping in a shed with a pig will sound appealing.

Bonus trauma: Highly disturbing pig-on-pig rape scene involving lard.

Quote I still love and should apply to myself more often: “‘Never miss a chance,’ Papa had once said, ‘to keep your mouth shut.’”

***

 

4. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Summary: A young boy saves all the money he makes trapping animals for years to buy two hunting dogs. He names them Old Dan and Little Ann, and the three of them become an inseparable raccoon hunting trio.

Old Dan eventually goes up against a mountain lion and is mortally wounded. Little Ann dies of starvation and a broken heart after dragging her weak dog body to the grave of Old Dan, where the boy finds her stiffened corpse.

He buries her next to Old Dan, and a red fern grows up between their graves. For some reason this ghoulish plant makes the family less sad about the painful deaths of their dogs.

The moral: Your pets will die before you do, leaving you heartbroken and bereft.

Bonus trauma: Learning that there have always been bullies, even back in the peaceful olden days when people had dirt floors and pooped outside.

***

 

5. Old Yeller by Fred Gipson

Summary: There is a family of Texas settlers. The dad leaves the farmstead for a few months to travel to Kansas for a cattle drive. His son, a teenager, must temporarily become the man of the house.

A yellow dog comes along and adopts the family. After it saves the younger brother from a bear, they all love it.

After it saves the entire family from a hydrophobic wolf, the boy immediately shoots the dog in the head because it may have possibly caught hydrophobia from the wolf bites.

(It is never mentioned that hydrohobia is old-timey speak for rabies, because creatures with rabies refuse/avoid water. This knowledge might have helped young reader me understand why everyone was killing and burning animals willy-nilly.)

The book jacket explains it all in one sentence: “Travis learns just how much he has come to love that big ugly dog, and he learns something about the pain of life, too.”

Because life is pain, children. Life is pain.

Got it?

Now who wants cookies?

The moral: In order to become a man, you must violently kill something you love.

Bonus trauma: Dogs always die. Seriously. They’re just going to die, kid, no matter what. Why would you get a dog, ever?

***

 

tfreeland

TAWNI FREELAND played guitar and sang for rock bands in Lawrence, Kansas and Los Angeles before settling down in Tulsa. She is working on her first novel. She has no exotic pets.

 

 

Gifted Children: 10 Signs Your Kid is Super Smart

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Gifted children often go unidentified, leading to boredom and frustration in the classroom, which can appear to be ADHD or other behavioral disorders. These improper diagnoses can prevent intelligent kids from reaching their full potential academically, as well as disrupting their emotional growth and well-being.

When smart, sensitive children are treated as troublemakers because they have different needs or require extra mental stimulation, this condemnation from the authority figures in their lives can lead to feelings of rejection and a defiant attitude, turning the negative labels into a self-fulfilling prophesy.

This problem makes it very important to recognize gifted children as soon as possible, with many schools now performing intelligence tests (such as the OLSAT) on the entire student population, beginning as early as 1st grade.

Below are 10 signs to help you know if your child may be intellectually or creatively gifted:

 

  1. A Restless Brain—

Gifted kids have trouble focusing on subjects that don’t interest them, and much of the time when this happens in a school setting, this disinterest stems from the fact that they are being forced to sit through and “learn” concepts along with the rest of the class that the gifted child has already mastered.

 

  1. Many Questions— 

When a child asks questions constantly, especially about the way things work, this can be a characteristic of giftedness. If they seek knowledge beyond the basic answers, or want to study very specific concepts, this can also be a sign of an extremely bright young mind.

  

  1. Endless Energy—

A gifted child often has a body that races along in an attempt to keep up with their rapidly moving mind. This constant mental and physical movement can lead to difficulty sleeping, which you may notice during infanthood; or in the form of an early end to daily toddler naps. It can also lead to a misdiagnosis of ADHD in a child not kept intellectually challenged.

 

  1. Super Sensitivity—

Along with advanced intelligence, gifted children may also show sensitivity beyond what a child in their age group normally possesses. These kids may still be of average maturity for their age while empathetically advanced, causing them emotional issues that may incorrectly present as behavioral disorders.

 

  1. Perfectionism, Please—

Gifted children hate making mistakes, and will often set overly high expectations, becoming agitated and upset when they don’t achieve them immediately. If your child gets frustrated, angry or gives up easily when not instantly good at something, this may be the cause.

 

  1. Natural Leaders—

If you’ve noticed your child tries to dominate the situations or manage groups in which he or she is placed, this can be a sign of intelligence. While shy children can be gifted too, it is very common for smart kids to be opinionated and outspoken, causing them to be seen as leaders by their peers.

 

  1. Intense Focus—

The same gifted children who become unfocused and disruptive when bored by topics they’re not interested in will show an amazing power of concentration concerning anything of interest to them.

 

  1. Advanced Language Skills—

Precocious early reading abilities and a large vocabulary for their age are two common signs that a child may be gifted.

  

  1. Challenges Authority—

With a quick-moving, inquisitive mind comes the need for answers, which can directly clash with the “shut up and do what I say” approach of many authority figures. Rather than robotically doing as they’re told, gifted children are often labeled as rebellious because they question how things are done.

While children definitely need to learn to be respectful, and that there is a time and a place to ask questions or challenge the system, many people misinterpret the curiosity and problem solving skills exhibited by gifted kids as disrespect, not realizing the child is simply using the intellect beyond their years with which they’ve been gifted.

 

  1. Unusual Interests—

Gifted children are known for finding something that fascinates or challenges their mind, and wanting to delve deeper into the subject than what would be average for their age. They may also start odd collections of things typically not considered collectible.

 

 

While there is no universally accepted definition of gifted, generally students who score 130 or higher on IQ tests, show consistently high academic achievement, or test 2 or more grade levels above average for their age are considered intellectually gifted. Children who show advanced artistic or musical talent may also be considered creatively gifted.

No matter what the definition may be, it is clear that gifted children have different psychological and educational needs that should be addressed and supported by the parents, teachers and other adult advocates in their lives as early as possible. If you believe you may have a gifted kid, communicate with your school’s administrators to ensure your child receives the academic and emotional encouragement they need to thrive.

Hiring Like a Boss: How to Recruit Efficient, Effective Employees

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It’s easy to find adequate employees who can do the job required of them, but most companies are seeking more than satisfactory: they want to recruit workers who will help the company move forward. The world is full of clock-watchers, but assembling a team of motivated self-starters can take any business to the next level.

Below are 7 tips to help anyone hire the best employees for the job.

 

1. Let Diversity Deliver—

When considering new employees, avoid hiring a team full of people like yourself. You already have your point of view to offer, and hiring those with similar backgrounds might feel comfortable, but it won’t take you anywhere you haven’t already been.

The world is multicultural, and if you’d like to profit from it, you need to echo this diversity within your team. Having a variety of life experiences from which to pull ideas is a valuable resource that can push your company in profitable directions you might not have imagined.

 

2. Be Clear on Compensation—

To avoid wasting time spent interviewing someone who isn’t going to accept the job offer if you decide to make it, clearly establish the available position’s job requirements, salary, bonuses, benefits, vacation and sick leave from the very beginning.

If there is room for negotiation, set your limits early, and if the work compensation is set in stone, let the applicant know this early-on to avoid pointless follow-up interviews.

 

3. Call on the Crew—

Having current employees participate in the hiring process via group interviews can help you determine who might be the best match for available positions. Your present team knows exactly what the job involves because they do it every day, and might offer valuable insight on potential new hires.

Including the crew will also allow everyone the chance to interact interpersonally during the interview, to confirm compatibility amongst employees.

 

4. Don’t Discount Different—

When perusing potential job candidates, avoid following a formula of rigid requirements, and listen to your intuition. Don’t discount someone lacking experience or a traditional background for the job, because people may surprise you when they adapt quickly and excel in a new field.

The charmer with a theater degree might be amazing at sales, for example, because one of the most important aspects of sales is selling yourself, which is what actors do best. If you have a good gut feeling about a non-traditional applicant you’ve interviewed, consider giving different a chance – you may be pleasantly surprised.

 

5. Find Former Feedback—

People can change, but you don’t want to waste your training time and money undoing bad work habits you didn’t detect in the screening process. For this reason, calling former employers of potential new hires to ask about their job productivity is a smart move.

If there are no references, this should set off warning bells in your head, but be sure to ask why before you throw the application into the “no” pile. There may be a logical reason (i.e. the company went out of business) or a situation that can be explained.

 

6. Consider Commitment—

Training can cost money, not to mention the time lost by mentors teaching trainees new skills. This makes it important to hire people who see your open position as a career and not just a stepping stone.

Ask probing questions during interviews to make sure you’re hiring someone seeking a future with your company, and discuss long-term employment goals.

 

7. Grab the Go-Getters—

Unfortunately, when faced with an amazing candidate, some managers avoid hiring them for fear of losing their job to the motivated soul sitting before them. This is a huge mistake, because exceptional employees are not competition: they are the people who will make you look good for hiring them.

Be confident that your job is secure, and consider a smart new hire the person who will help you achieve your next promotion.

 

As the boss, you feel excited about the success of your business, and need to hire employees who not only share your enthusiasm, but want to work hard to turn all potential opportunities into victories. Use the hiring tips above to recruit the most efficient, effective employees possible to increase profits and make your company a success.

Are You That Person? 8 Common Gym Etiquette Offenders

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Those who work out in a gym may recognize certain people who annoy others with rude or oblivious behavior. Discourteous actions can put a damper on a workout, making it a frustrating and irritating experience, rather than a positive one.

Read below about 8 common gym etiquette offenders anyone can avoid becoming with a little consideration for others.

 

1. The Slammer—

You may be startled this person’s weights crashing to the ground, or by their weight machine clanking deafeningly between repetitions.

Not only are these loud noises annoying for those near The Slammer, people with anxiety disorders such as PTSD can find them to be anxiety triggers, turning a trip to the gym from cathartic to stressful.

The Slammer is also known by anyone with knowledge of proper form as The Cheater, because not controlling weights on the way down doesn’t allow muscles to be fully used, and is lazy lifting.

 

2. The Super Soaker—

Yes, sweating at the gym is normal, but people should realize that excess sweat has to go somewhere, and unfortunately, the weight machines, bikes and benches are not made of sponge.

Most gyms have paper towels available and conveniently placed, hoping people will wipe up their own wetness. But if your gym doesn’t offer this feature, there is an amazing moisture-absorbing invention called a towel we can all use so the person after us won’t be forced to share our DNA.

 

3. The Machine Monopolizer—

Boy, you’d love to use that weight machine. And that one, too. But that person at your gym has decided to drape a towel over each one to “save” them while rotating, making it so nobody else can use the machines they’re monopolizing.

This is very rude, because by making people wait to use an empty machine, The Monopolizer is saying to everyone, “My time is more important than your time.”

Working different muscle groups is effective, but can be done without hogging machines.

 

4. The Slowpoke—

The Slowpoke is that person casually reading a book, or sitting for long stretches of time between sets on the same machine, not really working out hard enough to accomplish anything.

Usually only at the gym to placate their nagging doctor, or to feel like they’re “doing something for their health,” what The Slowpoke doesn’t realize is that if they aren’t going to actually work the muscles, they’re only wasting their time. And yours.

 

5. The Cardio Keeper—

The general rule in most gyms, whether posted or not, is that if the cardio machines are full, gym members should limit time to 30 minutes to allow other members a chance to warm up.

You’ll recognize The Cardio Keeper as that person who sees people waiting to use a cardio machine, but inconsiderately stays on for an hour.

 

6. The Weight Leaver—

The most perplexing of gym etiquette offenders, The Weight Leaver is an elusive and confusing creature.

You won’t see the weight leaver, but you will know them by their trail of weights. You know… the weights they came to the gym to lift, yet lazily left on every machine they used?

Gym etiquette experts have yet to figure out why anyone would come to a gym to use their muscles, but then be lazy about doing exactly that.

Perhaps someday the mystery of The Weight Leaver will be solved, but until then, the rest of us will have to rack the weights these slothful mammals leave behind.

 

7. The Expert—

That’s funny – you don’t recall hiring a personal trainer. Yet looming over you while you work out, giving you “pro-tips” is a complete stranger who has decided to boost their ego by telling you what you’re doing wrong.

If nobody asked, there’s a reason for that, but The Expert seems to have no clue. The best way to avoid The Expert is by ignoring them until they go away.

 

8. The Yapper—

This person has a cell phone, and they’re not afraid to use it – loudly – and usually while you’re trapped next to them, trying to get some cardio.

Try as you might to outpace their conversation, it will race along beside you, forcing you to be an unwitting participant in a complete stranger’s relationship with another human.

When faced with The Yapper, feel free to hum loudly, or even join in on the fascinating discussion about what their co-worker said today and what they’re making for dinner.

 

It really isn’t difficult to be a considerate gym member or human. By trying to avoid the behaviors above, and having respect for the people around us, we can all have a great gym workout every time.

Fueling the Engine: What to Eat Before and After Exercising

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Knowing what to eat before and after exercising can drastically amplify the results achieved by a consistent workout routine. Although many fitness fans believe fat is burned faster by exercising on an empty stomach, most experts warn against this potentially metabolism-lowering practice.

Studies have shown that eating small meals before and after exercising can dramatically improve performance by keeping blood glucose levels stable—but it’s important to eat the right types of food at the right times.

Below are some useful fueling tips to enhance any fitness program:

 

1. Water Works Well—

The number one rule of effective exercise and recovery is proper hydration. We need fluids before, during and after workouts to keep all systems running smoothly and body temperature cool.

Plain water, coconut water, herbal teas or other types of non-caffeinated beverages are highly recommended, and be especially sure to hydrate 1-2 hours before exercising.

Well-timed pre-hydration will prepare the body for exercise without causing the sloshing, stomach-cramping feeling that drinking liquid too close to a workout can create.

 

2. Post-Exercise Hydration Helps—

Post-workout liquids are a great way to replace lost fluids, and including protein in these drinks can help muscles heal.

Protein shakes are a favorite recovery drink because they’re easy to make and contain helpful amino acids, but chocolate milk also offers similar benefits.

No matter what, your recovery drink should contain protein; and if you’ve worked out for a long time or in excessive heat, consider adding electrolytes as well.

 

3. Meal Timing is Important—

It is recommended that all foods be eaten at least 1-2 hours before exercise to avoid cramping, indigestion and other gastrointestinal issues that working out after meals may cause.

Because the stomach is busy digesting food, the body has less energy to dedicate to the workout, making exercise after a meal more difficult.

If your schedule doesn’t allow time for proper digestion, try to eat the smallest snack possible for your energy needs.

 

4. Food Type is Important—

Because carbohydrates give the body the most readily available energy source, they are the top pre-workout choice of food for many.

Especially recommended for shorter workouts involving intense training, carbohydrates keep the body’s engine running strong with less chance for stomach issues, such as those caused by fatty or excessively fibrous foods.

Protein is a good pre-exercise food for those exercising multiple hours in a row, as the carbohydrates will be burned first, with protein providing energy later when carb reserves are depleted.

 

5. Get on a Schedule—

Use a journal and take notes if it helps you figure out which foods give you the most effective workout, and try to stick to an eating/hydrating/exercising schedule if you can.

Everybody’s different, so what works for others may or may not work for you, but by staying conscious of your choices and schedule, you will find it easier to give your body exactly what it needs, allowing for better results.

Keeping a food and exercise journal can also help those who are dieting remain aware of the calories consumed and burned for weight loss progress.

 

6. Make Wise Food Choices—

In addition to knowing when to eat carbs or protein, it’s also important to choose healthy versions of these foods. For example: fried chicken is mostly protein, but it comes with excessive fat and simple carbs in the breading that might upset an exercising stomach.

Some popular pre-workout meals include whole grain cereals, breads or pastas because whole grains are high in fiber, causing them to be digested and absorbed slowly.

Examples of complex carbohydrates with a bit of protein for great pre-workout energy might be: peanut butter on whole grain toast, yogurt mixed with whole grain cereal, oatmeal with nuts, apple slices with a handful of almonds, or eggs scrambled with vegetables.

 

Smart hydration, fueling and recovery selections can greatly increase the benefits and effectiveness of any workout regimen. Use the tips above to remember when and what to eat before and after a workout to give your body the most efficient exercising experience possible.

Teach Your Children Well: Raising Kids Who Happily Eat Healthily

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Whether you are a new parent hoping to prevent your child from becoming a fussy eater, or already dealing with a picky kid, there are ways to open up the sometimes particular palettes of the little people in our lives.

It isn’t always easy, but it can be done with diligence, patience and creativity—and with type 2 diabetes and obesity in children continuing to rise, it’s especially important to teach kids the value of good nutrition so they can grow up into healthy adults.

Below are some top tips to help children learn to enjoy a variety of healthful foods.

 

1. The Vegetables Stay in the Picture—

When babies begin their foray into the world of solid foods, we start them off with the healthiest, natural foods, such as pureed vegetables and fruits.

When they work up into being able to handle small pieces, we add whole grain cereal and chunks of fruit like bananas, strawberries and avocadoes. But often, as they become toddlers, processed foods such as frozen chicken nuggets and junky snack foods enter the picture.

One way to raise an older kid who loves vegetables and fruits is to never stop feeding them the healthy fruits and vegetables we use during their solid food introduction. Avoid the temptation of convenient processed foods, or use them in moderation.

 

2. Include Kids in the Gathering and Preparing Process—

You’d be amazed by how excited kids will get about healthy foods if they’re included in the acquisition and cooking of them.

If you have a local Farmer’s Market, this can be a great way to teach kids about where healthy, real foods come from, or better yet, plant a backyard garden and let them watch and harvest the circle of life themselves.

Including kids in the cooking of meals can be a fun family bonding activity that encourages little ones to want to eat their creations.

 

3. Add Vegetables to Favorite Foods—

If your child loves pizza, lasagna or macaroni and cheese, consider adding vegetables to these types of favorite foods to include them in a positive way.

Start slowly if you already have a finicky eater on your hands, and don’t be discouraged if they pick the veggies out the first few times you add them. They are still getting a small taste of the flavor every time, which has been shown to eventually help kids get used to new foods.

 

4. Follow Your Own Healthful Eating Rules—

If kids see their parents eating unhealthy junk food, they will assume this is the way they’re supposed to eat as well, making it very important to model healthy behavior in the kitchen.

To reduce temptation and set a good example, keep healthy snacks like broccoli florets, carrot and celery sticks and apples readily available.

Eliminating sugary or nutritionally empty snack foods from your pantry and refrigerator can also make healthful eating more convenient, and be sure to make fast food a rare treat rather than a lifestyle.

 

5. Don’t Have a Food Fight—

Sometimes when kids are pushed too much in a direction, they will dig in their heels and stubbornly refuse because they’re feeling pressure, rather than because of the actual issue at hand.

Many parents simply ask that their children try a new food once, and allow them to decide if they like it without pressure. It can take over 10 tries for anyone to decide if they enjoy a new food, so don’t give up if the first, second or even third time’s not the charm.

Be patient, introduce new foods slowly, and remain nonchalant to avoid pointlessly combatant refusal to try new things from kids.

 

6. Make Dinner a Family Affair—

Sitting together at the table to socialize and enjoy each other’s company while you eat will create positive associations with the healthy foods you’re serving, as well as keeping parents in touch with kids.

When kids watch the adults in their lives eating healthy foods while chatting and enjoying each other’s company, it demystifies vegetables and other nutritionally smart choices by taking the focus off the food and onto the fun.

 

Remember that baby steps and moderation are best when trying to improve the eating habits of a family, and that it’s okay to occasionally have foods from the naughty list. Depriving everyone completely can backfire, making kids and adults feel resentful about what they can no longer have, setting back your progress.

Use the tips above to gently guide your kids in the direction of better nutrition to set them up for a lifetime of good health.

The Personal Touch: 7 Steps to Stellar Customer Service

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Ask anyone with a thriving company to share their secret to success, and the most common response will be: “Good customer service.”

This short statement may seem simplistic in theory, but without consistently positive experiences, the customers you’re hoping will keep your financial boat afloat may walk away with their money, leaving you to sink into the ocean of failed businesses.

The best product in the world won’t earn repeat purchases without excellent customer service, and nothing helps a company grow like positive word-of-mouth. With social media outlets like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, positive and negative stories about products and services can now spread rapidly, quickly making or breaking businesses.

According to the 2013 Customer-Rage Study conducted by the ASU W.P Carey School of Business, the amount of people reporting service problems has risen from 32% in the 1976 study, to 45% in 2011, to 50% in this year’s survey.

Customers also admit to yelling at company representatives more than ever before. This is because people are still 11 times more likely to complain via the phone, making well-trained, professional phone representatives a must-have for any company wanting to appease and retain dissatisfied customers.

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If you can train all employees in the art of delivering great customer service, this is the most important step on the road to success you can take. Fortunately, being good at customer service and handling complaints are both easily achieved with respect, empathy and patience.

Below are 7 steps any company can take to provide amazing customer service that will increase sales and create loyal, happy clients.

 

1. Build a Relationship—

The most important thing any business can do to keep customers happy and returning is to interpersonally bond with them. Any effective salesperson will tell you that you’re not just selling a

product: you’re selling consistency, accountability—and your friendship. If you can develop strong relationships with your clients, you will win their consumer loyalty.

Learn the names and personal details of customers to help you cater to their shopping needs, and to develop a bond with them. People will return to a business that treats them like a person, rather than just another dollar to be made.

 

2. Stand Behind Your Product—

If you don’t believe in the quality of your product, why should anyone else? This means that if a customer brings back a broken or faulty item, don’t fight them about replacing it: if you happily remedy the issue, you will eventually make your money back with their repeat business.

People remember positive service experiences like this and share them on social media, so your kindness may also pay you back in new business from friends and family. Older, established companies like Bunn and Radio Flyer have been around for a long time and are well-known for their excellent customer service—and this is no coincidence. If you call complaining of a broken or missing part, both of these companies will replace it, no questions asked.

This incredible customer service and “How can we make this right?” attitude, handled by live humans on the phone and not frustrating automated menus, is exactly how to create and keep brand-loyal customers.

 

3. Validation and Acknowledgement—

When a customer calls to complain, one of the best responses a phone service employee can give them is verbal empathy. Sometimes an angry and dissatisfied buyer can be assuaged very quickly if they feel the employee understands and agrees with their issue.

Validating the customer’s emotions can be as easy as saying, “I understand why you’re feeling frustrated—that would make me feel frustrated, too,” or any type of comment that will let them know you’re on their side and want to find a solution.

Once a customer realizes you’re actively trying to help them, they will usually calm down and realize they no longer need to fight. Acknowledge the issue, validate their concerns, and then fix the problem to the best of your ability, and the customer will walk away feeling pleased with your positive attitude and assistance.

 

4. Human Handling Helps—

Nothing annoys customers more than calling to speak to a person, and being forced to suffer through an automated menu. Many people who might have only been mildly frustrated will move into the “officially angry” phase when forced to push buttons and enunciate yes or no-type answers for a computer.

This has become a problem, according to Scott Broetzmann of Customer Care Measurement and Consulting, because companies are focusing on the wrong things, such as “bad use of technology” like web chats and email complaints, when most people want to speak to a living person via phone.  The website GetHuman.com was designed to help consumers bypass annoying phone trees to speak to a person as quickly as possible, further proving that customers are highly annoyed by time-wasting automated menus.

If your company doesn’t have the staff to handle customer phone calls without leaving clients languishing on hold, consider hiring a professional answering service. Having trained customer service representatives handling questions and complaints will help your business retain clients who may have hung up on an automated menu—and your company—forever.

 

5. Pay Attention to Social Media—

As people spend more time on the Internet, they learn to use different outlets to communicate with companies, making your website, Facebook and Twitter pages important opportunities to establish great customer relationships. Consider using blogs, videos or even podcasts to connect with your desired demographic.

Customer concerns discussed on social media should be addressed immediately, because feeling ignored can make a client think a company doesn’t care about their issue.

Answer all questions and address problems in a helpful and friendly manner, making it clear that customer service is your top priority, and that you want to right any wrongs as quickly as possible.

 

6. Apologizing is Awesome—

Never underestimate the power of saying, “I’m sorry this happened. How can we make it better for you?” You are not admitting guilt, you’re simply apologizing for the inconvenience and frustration your customer is feeling—and you’d be amazed by how quickly an angry person will calm down once they realize you want to help.

Because there are many poorly-trained customer service representatives, customers often call expecting a battle to get the problem resolution they’re seeking. You can completely disarm them and turn their feelings from negative to positive by apologizing, empathizing, and cheerfully fixing the problem.

According to the 2013 Customer-Rage Study, when companies added free remedies like apologies to monetary compensation, this increased customer satisfaction from 37% to 74%, proving that people are surprisingly forgiving when treated with respect and kindness.

 

7. Training is Terrific—

You’ve hired great employees, but that doesn’t guarantee that when faced with an irate customer they’ll know how to handle them with the professionalism to salvage the client-company relationship.

Make certain all representatives of your business can handle conflict in a manner that promotes customer loyalty and satisfaction. And don’t forget to lead by example: If you treat your employees in an unkind or rude manner, they aren’t going to believe you place worth on being respectful to others.

Employees given raises based on good customer service skills will also be motivated to work hard to keep clients happy. A successful company known for this smart business model would be Trader Joe’s, with employee reviews and potential raises every 3 months, and an emphasis on great customer service.

 

As you read the tips above for giving great customer service, one thing becomes clear: people want to be listened to and treated with dignity, kindness, and the respect they deserve. The customer is the reason anyone employed has their job, and should be treated like the valuable commodity they are; but most of all, they want to be treated like valuable human beings.

If you can train your employees to build positive relationships with customers and solve problems in a compassionate, helpful way, you will have a successful, thriving company with a great reputation—and the excellent profits to match.

SEO Success: 6 Top Tips for Small Business Owners

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Whether a small business is running its own SEO operation, or has decided to hire a marketing firm to help advertise their product or service, there are many strategies that can be used to guarantee success.

Too many keywords or poorly-implemented search terms can actually lower the search engine ranking for a business, making it important to launch an SEO campaign that will help rather than hinder your company’s Internet presence and brand.

Below are 6 top tips to help small business owners achieve SEO success:

 

1. Consider Quality Content—

Your customers want content that will grab their interest, give them new information, and keep them reading and exploring your site. Show your demographic the respect they deserve with intelligent and educational data, and they will respect your company in return.

Above-average and enlightening content will also allow your site to stand out from the crowd, possibly sending more Internet traffic and potential customers your way.

 

2. Killer Keywords and Key Phrases—

It’s important to find keywords and key phases relevant to your product or services, but try to steer clear of the more obvious ones to avoid getting lumped in with your competition.

Some SEO experts recommend researching high-ranking search engine hits in your company’s category to figure out what sets them apart, and which keywords and key phrases might be getting them all of the attention. So study the sites of your high-ranking competition to seek out their secrets.

 

3. Frustration-Free Fact Finding—

When a consumer is researching a product or service, hoping to purchase, they want the information-gathering process to be as simple as possible. This makes it vitally important to have a user-friendly website that loads quickly and boasts easy-to-navigate menus on every page.

If a potential customer becomes frustrated because they’re unable to find the facts they seek about your company, they will leave your page in search of easier pickings.

In short: People are busy, so skip the fancy, slow-loading graphics and present simple and clear information to keep the customer engaged.

 

4. Super Social Media Marketing—

Obviously you will want to seize social media marketing opportunities such as creating a Facebook page for your brand, opening a Twitter account, and utilizing other networking sites like Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. But creating social media presence means more than merely representing your company; you’ll need to maintain interest as well.

Updating your assorted social media pages daily is highly recommended, as this can drive traffic to your company’s sites and get your name out there when people share your interesting content with friends.

Also: Remember to register with all major search engines. Don’t wait for the world to find you—let them know exactly where you are from the get-go.

 

5. Stagnating is Silly—

Because SEO is a constantly evolving beast, be careful not to get stuck in a rut with your keywords, key phrases, marketing choices, or by following the latest trends. Trends are what everybody else is doing: that’s what makes them trends. You want to stand out and be an SEO leader, not a member of the herd.

Try different things and conduct “experiments” with different SEO strategies, taking notes on what does or doesn’t work for your company, and never be afraid to try something completely different. Everything changes, so what didn’t work a year ago might win your business major web traffic today.

 

6. Terrific Titles and Tags—

Use every opportunity to attract clientele to your website, including titles that stand out and pop, separating your brand from the generic, overused and bland headings currently boring people on the Internet. And make sure the tags at the bottom of every article are optimal for your product and attract your desired demographic.

All images should be given names that double as search engine tags, and describe what is being pictured for those with slow or non-loading computers. This helps people with less powerful technology be able to feel like they’re still in the loop and able to glean the information they need.

 

Getting customers to your site is the first step towards a sale, making it an extremely important piece of the marketing puzzle. Use the steps above to help your company achieve search engine optimization that will turn your small business into a huge success.

Strategies for Success: Helping Kids with ADHD Develop Math Skills

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Every person learns differently – some kids are visual learners, some auditory, some tactile – but children with ADHD have difficulty focusing, sitting still, and are easily distracted, sometimes making it feel impossible to teach them anything.

This impulsive, fidgeting behavior can make it seem as if ADHD-brained kids aren’t listening, frustrating the teachers, parents and other adults in their lives trying to help them master the math concepts crucial to their continuing education.  But people with ADHD have drastic and consistent differences in brain scans from those without ADHD, making it important to remember that ADHD is a physiological condition that involves the frontal cortex part of the brain, which controls executive functions like impulse control, memory, and distractibility. (Source: PubMed.gov.)

Children with ADHD are often extremely intelligent, but because they lack the ability to focus or memorize at neurologically typical levels and don’t behave in an age-appropriate manner, they are sometimes dismissed intellectually. This is why untreated ADHD can lead to trouble in school and low self-esteem, even when children are very bright and trying their hardest, despite neurological limitations beyond their control.

One of the toughest aspects of continued mathematical learning is that it is cumulative, becoming more difficult as those with ADHD progress in school. When the core concepts become longer, with more steps to remember, it’s hard for an ADHD-brained person to complete complex tasks.

Fortunately, there are many ways to work with the very different ADHD learning style to help these kids succeed. Below are 5 professional educator-recommended tips and methods that have been shown to help kids with ADHD learn and retain mathematical knowledge.

 

1. Make Use of Movement—

Kids with ADHD often describe their need to wiggle as an uncontrollable urge akin to an inner itch in need of scratching via movement, and are given “fidgets” such as plastic, textured items to quietly play with in an attempt to channel this nervous energy in a less distracting manner.

But what smart teachers know is that all kids – even those without ADHD – can benefit from the chance to work out excess energy at every available opportunity. Rather than giving kids something to play with in their laps to hinder big movement: embrace it. Work movement into the math lessons. Use the classroom space as a big board game, for example, and have kids move from desk to desk after solving equations. Let the kids get up and have a dance break or do jumping jacks between assignments.

Most importantly, never, ever use the removal of recess as a punishment, as this only leaves kids with ADHD full of energy and less likely to behave the rest of the day, which is completely counterproductive.

 

2. Taking the Time—

Kids with learning disabilities that involve memorization problems can become stressed out by timed tests, further hindering recall, and creating negative results like low scores and anxiety.

A simple and fair solution to this is to give kids with ADHD the same amount of time for tests and assignments as other kids, while allowing them to get up and take breaks to work out excess energy and refocus.

Using a timer or watch that can be stopped and started will ensure that kids who require breaks aren’t given an unfair advantage over kids who’d rather work straight through to the finish.

 

3. Perfect Placement—

For those who are easily distracted, location is everything. A seat near a window can greatly hinder the focus of kids with ADHD, as can a chatty classmate or a seat near the pencil sharpener.

To allow for the best possible focus during math assignments, and especially during testing, place kids with ADHD in the quietest area of the classroom, and consider placement up front near the teacher to help them listen and learn.  Some schools will even provide a portable cardboard “office” with a back and sides called a study carrel to sit on a desk for kids with ADHD (this can be written into an official 504 Plan, an IEP designed especially for kids with ADD/ADHD), blocking out all distractions for better student concentration.

 

4. Handwriting Helps—

One of the most common issues faced by kids with ADHD is trouble with handwriting. This task requires attention to detail, patience, and concentration, which impulsive and energetic kids can find difficult.

But 25% of all math errors can be traced to poor or unreadable handwriting, making it very important for kids with ADHD to practice writing neatly, as hard as this can be for them. (Source: FamilyEducation.com.)

Kids can practice handwriting by tracing over numbers you’ve written lightly in pencil. Also consider using paper made specifically for handwriting practice, because this will give them dotted lines to use for extra guidance.

 

5. Same Sheet for All Steps—

Following multiple steps, and moving back and forth between tasks is extremely difficult for those with atypical neurology. Because their memories don’t retain information as long as typical brains do, having a separate answer sheet or place to show their work can seriously sabotage kids with ADHD.

By keeping questions and answers within the same space on the paper, you will make it easier for kids solving intricate math problems to stay focused and less likely to become distracted.

Also: If there are formulas involved, expecting ADHD-brained kids to memorize them is unrealistic, and pointless when you consider that in the “real world” application of math or statistics, there is no reason a person in a career field that requires formulas can’t look them up.

 

Recent EEG brainwave tests published in the journal Biological Psychiatry showed that the brain scans of teens with ADHD were consistently different enough that someday the analysis of brainwaves may help doctors diagnose and properly treat those with this condition. (Source: Medical News Today.)

Brain scan differences prove that kids with ADD/ADHD perceive information and learn differently than other kids. When teaching mathematics, or any other subject to kids with ADHD, keep in mind that ADHD is a very real and physiological issue. Kids with ADHD are not being defiant or not listening; they have a biological difference that can be treated with behavioral therapy and medication, making it understandably difficult, yet extremely important to remain patient with them.

If you find yourself becoming exasperated, take some deep breaths, and consider trying some of the helpful math skill-building tips for kids with ADHD listed above. Kids with ADHD may have to try a little harder, or take a different path on the journey to mastering math concepts, but they can do it.

Mind, Body and Soul: 8 Great Ways Martial Arts Benefit Kids

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Martial arts training is a wonderful way to give kids who aren’t into team sports an opportunity to get some exercise and feel like a part of a social group.  No matter which practice you select, the general philosophy is one of non-violence, despite the fierceness often displayed by karate movies.

The true goal of self-defense training is to teach students to automatically respond to the threat of physical harm in a calm, controlled manner to keep violence from escalating. Teaching children martial arts can help them learn how to protect themselves from bullies, as well as giving them self-confidence.

Below are 8 great ways martial arts benefit kids:

 

1. Martial Arts Promote Physical Fitness—

Some kids simply aren’t team sports-minded, but all kids need to keep moving to stay healthy, making martial arts training an excellent form of exercise.

If you’ve tried soccer, baseball, football, or any other team sport, and your child didn’t seem to click with the concept of playing with a team, an activity like martial arts can give them the opportunity to work towards a goal without the pressure of a group setting.

 

2. Martial Arts Train Kids to Focus—

Kids with trouble concentrating will find that martial arts is extremely conducive to focus, as there are choreographed forms such as kicks, punches and intricate movements they will need to practice and perfect.

For this reason, kids with ADHD often greatly benefit from the structured concentration training necessary for this type of exercise, because it motivates them to pay attention, stand still awaiting the next instruction, and eliminates the distractibility factor of sports that move quickly.

 

3. Martial Arts Provides Catharsis—

Being a kid can be tough, and there’s something extremely cleansing about the emotional release to be found in kicking and punching.

While the main motivation of this practice is the avoidance of violence, there’s nothing wrong with using the kicking and punching parts to work out feelings of anger.

If your child had a tough day at school, they might be able to get the frustration out of their system at martial arts practice and sleep better that night, the same way adults use the gym to purge stress.

 

4. Martial Arts Boosts Self-Esteem—

Generally using a system of testing and differently-colored belts to reward kids for progression in the practice, martial arts can give kids the self-confidence that comes from working towards and achieving goals.

It is also empowering for kids to be able to physically defend themselves, and the knowledge that if a bully comes calling, they will be able to hold their own can give a child a sense of personal safety.

 

5. Martial Arts Makes Kids More Respectful—

Showing reverence to your instructor is king in every dojo, with kids expected to address him or her with a bow of honor.

Many parents will notice a change in the demeanor of their kids after a few weeks of practice, as kids learn to respect themselves and others, and to treat people as they would like to be treated.

 

6. Martial Arts Increases Flexibility—

This form of exercise involves kicks, punches, blocks and turns, all of which promote flexibility and range of motion, as well as balance and coordination.

Being limber can also prevent kids from getting hurt as often in the other activities or sports in which they engage every day.

 

7. Martial Arts Provides Socialization—

Many kids who don’t gravitate towards team sports find it hard to make friends without the group setting and multiple opportunities of such activities.

Martial arts allows for bonding and friendship with a smaller group, so children who are shy or easily overwhelmed by noise and crowds will find this quieter setting much more favorable to forming relationships.

 

8. Martial Arts is a Safe Exercise—

With more data constantly emerging about how head injuries sustained in school sports such as football and soccer can negatively affect kids, martial arts offers a safer way for children to get some exercise.

As they progress in certain martial arts practices, there may be sparring involved, which can increase the chance of injury, but there is no pressure to engage in physical contact if it isn’t wanted.

 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 6 as a good age to start kids in karate or martial arts classes, because at this age they have the muscle control to turn and punch safely. But it’s never too late for anyone to give this self-esteem, discipline and strength-building practice a try. Consider giving your kids—or even yourself—the many mind, body and soul benefits of martial arts training today.