By Amber Russell, LCSW, Courier & Press, March 29, 2016 –

Dealing with the death of a friend or family member is something very hard for adults to cope with, much less a child. When adults are experiencing a loss, it may be hard to know how to help a child who is also grieving.

The first thing to keep in mind is that grief is not a problem that needs to be fixed or bypassed; it is an experience we live through.

Secondly, just like an adult, a child’s grief is impacted by a variety of factors. A child’s relationship with the deceased, how the person died, the child’s age and developmental level, support system, past experiences with death and personality are all factors to be taken into consideration.

Regardless of the age of the child experiencing loss, here are a few things you should consider:

1. Validate feelings and let them know it’s normal to feel a variety of emotions while grieving. Reactions can include sadness, anger, guilt, fear, relief and many others.

2. There is no time limit on grief; everyone goes through stages in their own time. Children who have lost a loved one might re-experience the loss when they have certain milestones such as getting their driver’s license, graduating, getting married or even doing something that the deceased person enjoyed.

3. Be aware of your own need to grieve. Many adults hide their sadness because they don’t want to make a child feel worse. This might send a message that being sad or crying is not OK. Being open about your own grief will help normalize feelings for the child and help them be more open to talking with you. But also be aware that if you are struggling with extreme emotions, it could cause the child anxiety and make them feel they need to support you. Make sure you examine your own coping skills and get help if needed.

4. When talking with the child, do not lie about the cause of death or what death means. Often adults will avoid words like “dead” or “died” and instead use phrases like “passed away” or “gone to a better place,” which can cause confusion. Some adults might avoid having conversations about the deceased loved one or death in general. This may lead a child to think the subject of their departed loved one or death is taboo, causing them to keep feelings and unanswered questions inside.

5. This may be the child’s first experience with death, and aside from feeling sad, they may feel anxious about the whole process. Talk with your child about what to expect at the funeral, memorial service or burial. Encourage them to ask questions. If we don’t listen to and talk with our kids about death and all that goes along with it, they might assume things or fill in the blanks with false images or expectations.

6. Talk with your child about healthy ways to cope with their feelings and remember their loved one. As a school social worker, I have used some of the following ways to help children express grief: drawing, keeping a journal, putting together a photo album or creating a memory box with pictures and mementos of their loved one.

7. There are also support groups and age-appropriate books that explore grief. A few children’s books I have used in the past are: “When Dinosaurs Die” by Laurie Krasny, “Tear Soup” by Pat Schwiebert and “When Someone Very Special Dies” by Marge Heegaard.

Talking with a child about death is never easy, but with openness, support and love, you can guide them through this life experience.

Outside the box

By Ben Smith, LCSW, Courier & Press, March 22, 2016 –

Albert Einstein once stated, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

So often people walk through life gauging what they see and experience through a small picture frame. We create and embellish on this structure through formal education, life experiences and social and intimate interactions

We are taught what values are important, who to associate with, and even what goals we need to focus on. But what is the effect on the frame when surrounding concerns paint a picture of failure, stress and confined limits?

As parents or guardians, what type of picture frame do we help our children construct?

Einstein saw the “awe” in experiencing new opportunities every day. Maybe we should ask what we can do today to help our youth think outside the box.

Regardless of race, financial status or age, people often operate from the safety of a self-constructed box. Over time, this box has provided security and protection from hurtful outside influences. It has also provided acceptance and approval from people or groups we deem important.

These self-constructed walls are initially malleable but begin to become rigid over time as beliefs are fortified. In general, this is not a bad thing.

However, some youth are unfortunately subjected to social experiences and stressors (such as poor home conditions) that cause their box and view of the world to become small and fixated. Depending on how they are able to manage these circumstances, they will see their world with limited opportunities and minimal success. This is something I hope we do not readily accept.

What can we do to help our kids think differently and stretch the limits of their box?

Here are a few quick tips:

1) Be a role model. As caregivers, the way in which we see things and interact will transfer to our children. Display excitement in attempting new challenges and exploring new possibilities. Demonstrate characteristics of resiliency, work ethic and self-confidence. Encourage your child to expand their circle of influence toward people who can help them grow socially, emotionally and spiritually.

2) Get involved and experience things through their eyes. As parents, we often place values and mannerisms onto our kids. As they grow older the parent/child attachment gets stretched. Caregivers can strengthen those bonds by reassessing how the world is viewed through their child’s eye. Opening up a steady line of communication, being nonjudgmental, and supporting creative ideas can help lead a youth toward new horizons.

3) Be aware of what kids are listening to and watching. This is pretty self-explanatory but often overlooked. Take the opportunity to observe things they are interested in. Allow kids to discuss why they find these things meaningful, and explain your views in a noncritical way.

4) Help develop positive and proactive self-talk. Many people walk around using negative language that fosters helplessness. They hold the perspective that outside influences control their behavior. Teach your child to make statements that display confidence such as “I can,” I will,” etc.

Encourage your child to dream, imagine the possibilities and think outside the box. With this change in perspective, your child will be able to witness many of life’s miracles.


By Diane Braun, Courier & Press, March 8, 2016 –

Have you ever wondered why some people in a community have better overall outcomes than others, why some youth do well in school while others do not, and how people in the same community can have unequal health status? And have you ever wondered what you can do to change this?

Organizations that focus on making changes in community issues use risk and protective factors to determine their local needs. In our state, the Indiana Youth Survey is given to students in grades 6-12 annually and focuses on risk and protective factors. Students answer survey questions anonymously, and this data is used to identify local factors.

A risk factor is an aspect of a person’s life, environment or experiences that makes them more likely to develop a given problem. A protective factor is that person’s same life, environment and experiences that make them less likely to develop a problem.

For example, a youth who lives within a family with a history of alcoholism has the risk factor for becoming an alcoholic. Parents who talk to their child about alcohol and don’t abuse it themselves create a protective factor for their child.

Through environmental strategies which focus on an entire community rather than individuals and small groups, positive changes can be accomplished. For example, when dealing with prescription drug abuse among youth, strategies might include providing a cabinet-locking mechanism for all prescriptions, preventing youth from accessing pills in the home.

Drug disposal and take-back programs can also be effective to counter unused drugs being kept in homes. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, family management programs such as Strengthening Families, offered by Youth First, can help families learn the risk factors for adolescent drug use (such as parental tolerance for drugs) to achieve reductions in risky behavior.

Using these risk and protective factors as a guide, Youth First has been a part of a national and statewide initiative, the Communities That Care process, which is a way for communities to prevent substance abuse, juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy, violence, school dropout and behavioral health issues. The CTC process uses evidence-based strategies which have been researched and proven to make positive changes in individuals and communities.

A community coalition is comprised of community stakeholders – service providers, residents, community and business leaders, educators, government officials, law enforcement officers, and others – who combine human and financial resources to address a particular issue or set of issues within the community.

Coalitions, by mobilizing the community, have helped change public policy and have empowered residents by giving them a sense of ownership and investment. These coalitions meet on a regular basis to assess the needs of the community and share resources.

For more information about local Communities That Care coalitions and to find out what is being done to address risk factors in your community, go to the Youth First website: youthfirstinc.org.


By Jacob Jewell, Courier & Press, March 1, 2016 –

After two semesters away from home while attending my first year of college, I decided to move back to Evansville to take a shot at being a commuter student. Now that I am attending one of Evansville’s local universities, I am thoroughly convinced this is the way to go.

This is partially because college is pretty competitive and a home court advantage adds real value to any competitive endeavor. According to statisticians from the University of Pennsylvania, any given NBA team is roughly one and a halftimes more likely to win a home game relative to the away team.

With all of college’s tests, assignments, and job interviews, I’d much rather play with this well-documented force on my side and succeed with the help of a lifetime’s worth of rapport, connections, and the comfortable familiarity that comes with staying close to home. These advantages are worth leveraging.

Another big benefit of attending college in Evansville is the Tri-State’s relative abundance of internship opportunities for fledging professionals. The typical college town cannot compete with our numerous and noteworthy hospitals, factories and other sizable businesses. There’s an opportunity here for just about every major.

Upon transferring to school in Evansville, I immediately started scheduling numerous interviews with local firms, which came as a complete surprise to me based on my observations while away from Evansville last year.

Local companies constantly demand interns for fall, spring and summer positions. By my estimate, this gives the Tri-State’s local students about three times the number of internship opportunities that I was exposed to while away last year. This is because the small college town I used to live in had to export its students to more industrious cities for summer positions.

Internships during the academic year are extremely rare in most college towns despite their prevalence in the Tri-State. Should a student at my old school pursue an internship during the academic year, this student’s position was largely peripheral and involved monotonously-long weekend commutes.

Moreover, rebasing my education offered me more national opportunities than I had at a well-known, nationally-recognized school, much to my surprise. By moving to a smaller academic institution, my internship applications had a higher probability of floating to the top when the giants of the accounting world asked for applicants, leading me to interview with two of the big four public accounting firms. Based on my graduation date and the comparative flood of applicants at my former institution, this most definitely would not have happened to me at my old school.

For many parents, a strong motivation to send their children off to college is a sense that numerous and quintessential experiences must be given up if the student studies from home. I personally disagree with this.

According to the College Board, the average cost of room and board at a public university was $9,804 last academic year. Being a commuter student alleviates these expenses. This opens up a floodgate of opportunities for around $9,804 worth of college experiences, which sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

To top it all off, you should drive through one of our local campuses sometime. To my untrained eye, it doesn’t look like the students are missing a thing.