By Dena Embrey, Courier & Press, June 28, 2016 –

Whether they are making a quick trip to the grocery store or working during summer or after-school hours, all parents will eventually face the question, “Is my child ready to stay home alone?”

Whether they’re alone for 30 minutes or 3 hours, unsupervised children can face real risks. Many factors need to be considered before making this important decision. The Child Welfare Information Gateway offers the following advice on what to consider before leaving your child home alone:

Age and maturity. There is no set age when children are able to stay home alone safely. Determine your child’s maturity level by considering the following questions: Is my child able to physically/mentally care for himself? Does my child obey rules and make good decisions? How does my child respond to stressful situations? Does my child feel comfortable or fearful about staying home alone?

Circumstances. When and how you leave your child home alone can make a big difference in her safety and success. You should consider the following: For how long/often will my child be expected to care for herself? Is my neighborhood safe? Are there trusted adults nearby who could offer assistance in case of an emergency? Will my child be caring for younger siblings?

Safety Skills. Children left home alone need to be able to perform certain skills to ensure safety. Does your child know his full name, address and phone number? Can he use a key to get inside and securely lock doors once they have entered? Can he perform basic first aid? Does he know how to safely prepare a meal? Does your child know what to say or do if someone calls or comes to the door? Can he reach you or another trusted adult at any time?

Once you have taken all of this into consideration and determined your child is ready to stay home alone, here are some steps in preparing them and easing any anxieties they may feel:

Have a practice run where you leave home for a short time while staying nearby. This can help identify any issues that you might not have considered before.

Role play possible scenarios your child may face such as an unexpected visitor or phone call. Act out how to safely respond without revealing they are home alone.

Establish rules about what is allowed while you are away. Set clear guidelines for watching TV, going outside or using electronic devices. Make sure they have activities to keep them busy to avoid boredom or loneliness. Make sure to remove or secure alcohol, medications, firearms or any other possible risk to your child’s health and safety.

Discuss emergency procedures and where important phone numbers are kept.

Identify trusted adults they can contact if needed. Set a time to check in with your child and have a code word they can use in the event of an emergency.

Listen to your child’s feelings about staying home alone, especially if this is a new experience. Even the most mature and responsible children shouldn’t be left home alone too much. Consider other options such as programs offered by schools, community centers, youth organizations or faith-based organizations to help keep your child connected and involved.

It is also important to consider child protective policies to avoid behavior that is considered neglectful. Prevent Child Abuse Indiana provides the following brochure to help guide parents in making this difficult decision:

If you have concerns about a child being neglected or left home without adequate supervision, please call the Indiana Child Abuse & Neglect Hotline at 1-800-800-5556 to make a report.

Girl texting

By Heather Miller, MSW, Courier & Press, June 21, 2016 –

“I didn’t think about it.” As a Youth First Social Worker in a middle school, this is a statement I hear multiple times per week.

Impulse control and the ability to predict future consequences for present decisions are difficult concepts for the adolescent brain to process. Couple this with a fast-paced society that expects immediate feedback and gratification, and the challenge to think before acting becomes understandably difficult.

Students today are navigating life and relationships in a world primarily composed of red and green — stop and go — with no time for yellow, the pause.

Fifteen years ago, before the advent of social media, the pause allowed students to rethink their actions and tear up a hate-filled note they wrote to a peer the night before.

The pause often prevented the negative consequences that accompany intense emotions. Now, without the pause, students type a hate-filled text and press send. A text cannot be torn up, and the ramifications are often immediate.

The pause has been hijacked by social media, texting and email. Thus, when students tell me, “I didn’t think about it,” I know they did not think through the situation and possible consequences. Furthermore, many kids have not been taught how to do this.

The following tips will help teach kids how to pause before acting.

  • For younger children, use the visuals of a stoplight to guide the child in thinking through a real situation or made-up scenario. This will help instill the concept of thinking through possible consequences before acting. Begin at red, or stopping, to describe the situation; move to yellow, thinking through what may have been the reason for the situation as well as possible outcomes for different consequences; finally, move to green, choosing the action that will yield the best results.
  • To capture an adolescent’s attention, use famous athletes or movie stars to demonstrate how quickly lives can change by one action. Similar to the stoplight illustration, discuss the situation, the action taken, the consequences of the action, and how a different action may have created a different consequence.
  • If children are using texting, email and/or social media, discuss waiting a set amount of time before sending a message about a volatile issue. This is an important part of demonstrating the maturity needed to have a social media account or phone. Make it a nonnegotiable expectation.
  • For children of all ages, explain how the brain works and processes emotions as well as the areas of the brain responsible for impulse control. This gives kids an understanding of how their brains are equipped to deal with intense emotions. For more information please review the article, “Teaching Students: A Brain Owner’s Manual,” by Dr. Judy Willis.

If you have a child that would benefit from additional skills training in impulse control, please contact your school’s Youth First School Social Worker or a licensed mental health professional.


By Lisa Cossey, MSW, Courier & Press, June 14, 2016 –

With the Fourth of July around the corner, it is nice to look forward to time with family and friends and participate in ongoing family traditions.

A family tradition is something that is recreated, year after year. Every July Fourth, my family hosts a party filled with food, games and fireworks.

Each year at Halloween, my husband’s family gathers and spends an evening going to haunted houses. Perhaps it is not a typical family tradition, but it is one their family looks forward to and has enjoyed for years. One of my good friends and her family observe the less frightful tradition of camping on Halloween weekend each year.

Another tradition in my own family that I look forward to is gathering in my mother’s kitchen to bake pies and other desserts for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. A good time is always had by all, and now that my own children are getting older, they are involved in the baking as well.

Families which share in their own traditions provide a sense of comfort and security, especially for the children involved. Children love routine and consistency, something a family tradition provides year after year. It also helps children manage any losses or changes in the year and gives them something to look forward to.

In addition, family traditions enhance family and personal well-being and can also add to the family identity. Strong family bonds are created and reinforced with traditions that are upheld and maintained.

As children grow and mature, traditions can also be altered to accommodate the family’s needs. For example, perhaps a family with young children has a tradition of singing Christmas carols around their Christmas tree. As the children age, the tradition could evolve into caroling around their neighborhood.

Family traditions don’t have to be formal, fancy or costly. They don’t even have to revolve around the holidays. You can share in a family tradition any day or time of the year.

If baking together for the holidays is not your favorite activity, perhaps your family would enjoy taking a walk every Christmas morning or exchanging “white elephant” gifts during your celebrations. Traditions are what you choose to make them.

Other ideas to create family traditions include:

  • Reading a book aloud, such as “The Night Before Christmas,” before opening Christmas gifts
  • Having a weekly or monthly family movie night
  • Holding a yearly family talent show
  • Creating crafts together
  • Making candy, baking or preparing meals together
  • Taking an annual vacation or family camping trip
  • Having your own family sporting tournament, with a traveling trophy to be awarded to the winning family each year

No matter what your family’s traditions are or what your family chooses to create, just having something for all family members to look forward to each year is important. Traditions help create warm, positive memories that can be recalled fondly and draw family members back to one another year after year.

Summer fun

By Dena Embrey, LCSW, Courier & Press, June 7, 2016 –

Summer break is here, and families often look forward to sleeping in and not rushing through the morning routine. Maybe you have a vacation planned, or your child is looking forward to summer camp.

For families with school-aged children, making the transition from the highly structured routine of the school year to the relaxed feel of summer can be difficult. Before too long you start to hear those dreaded words, “I’m bored,” or “There’s nothing to do.” Soon siblings start fighting and everyone’s stress levels go up.

Planning ahead and keeping a schedule can help you avoid this being your summer reality. A schedule brings order to your days, giving your child needed structure and reducing anxiety.

It’s good to have set times for waking up, meals, chores and preferred activities. Display your daily schedule for the whole family to see and review together. Include your children in the process, letting them have some say in what activities are included.

As a parent, you have to be prepared for unexpected changes and those days when things just don’t go as planned. Rainy days, illnesses or canceled play dates will inevitably get in the way. Having a list of fun ways to engage your children as a backup plan could be a life saver.

Here are some activities you may want to include on your list:

1. Go outside to play and explore. You can keep it as simple as taking a bike ride, blowing bubbles, visiting a playground, watering the garden or taking a walk around the neighborhood.

2. Go on a hike at a nearby park.

3. Plan an outdoor scavenger hunt and create a scrapbook of everything you find.

4. Visit a nature preserve and get a guided tour.

5. Set up a tent in your backyard and camp out with a bonfire, s’mores and stargazing.

6. Go old school and teach your kids some of your favorite childhood games. Hide and seek, monkey in the middle and tag are always good go-to games.

7. Look through old photos and compare your child’s baby pictures and your own or create a family tree together.

8. Spend some time in the kitchen making old family recipes.

9. Work a puzzle or build a fort out of blankets and cushions.

10. Get creative with your kids by busting out the play dough (or make your own).

11. Use sidewalk chalk to make an outdoor mural.

12. Create art using only materials found in your recycling.

13. Write and illustrate a story together, or turn your favorite book into a play, acting it out with costumes and all.

14. Have a family talent show or karaoke party.

15. Do something nice for someone else — visit a nursing home or elderly person and read to them. Plan and prepare a meal for a family who is going through a difficult              time, pick up trash at a local park or volunteer at an animal shelter.

16. Go through old clothes and toys and donate items no longer needed. Take lemonade and cookies to your local fire station.

Following a schedule during the summer teaches children time management, responsibility and organization, all healthy life skills. How loose or rigid your schedule needs to be will depend on your family’s needs. Finding the right balance of structure and relaxation will help create the peaceful and fun summer your family deserves.

stubborn child

By Mark Luzader, LCSW, Courier & Press, May 31, 2016 –

We hear a lot these days about children who are getting the better of their parents.

Working with noncompliant children is where I started my career in behavioral health almost 17 years ago.

There are many reasons a child can be oppositional. Sometimes it’s trauma and sometimes it’s a developmental disorder such as autism. Anxiety and depression can also make a child more irritable, less flexible and less likely to adapt to the demands placed on them. Other times it’s the parenting that is the problem.

Here are a few rules I have found that are “tried and true” when it comes to dealing with difficult kids:

Rule #1: Be proactive. None of us are at our best in a crisis. If you think ahead, you can set things up before the inevitable begins. For example, before going into the store, let the child know whether or not they’re getting that candy in the checkout lane (that’s your call), but prepare yourself for what you’re going to do if they start a meltdown when they are told, “no.”

Rule #2: Don’t reward negative behavior. Once a behavior has started, your job is to calm your child. Sometimes that can be accomplished by words, removal from the situation, or you may just have to ride it out. Don’t extinguish the behavior by giving in.

Rule #3: Once the word, “no,” has passed your lips, it is law. Make sure you really mean it. If you need time to think about it, say so.

Rule #4: Understand what motivates your child and use it. For little ones it is usually a material thing. For older ones it is their means of independence (car, phone, etc.). Bottom line: kids are entitled to food, water, shelter, clothing and love. Everything else is a privilege.

Rule #5: Older children are often experts at dragging you into power struggles. Giving choices instead of orders gets you out of them. That doesn’t mean, “You can choose to do your homework or you can choose not to.” What I mean is, “You can choose to do homework quickly and have time for fun,” or, “you can choose to wait and not do anything fun.”

Rule #6: Whenever possible, use natural consequences. When used correctly, it is powerful reinforcement. If your 9th grader is too cool to wear a coat to school in 30-degree weather, she’ll be cold. It’s not worth fighting over; let her experience the natural consequence.

Rule #7: Most parents yell, but others use yelling in lieu of actual consequences. Children learn to block it out, so use it sparingly.

Rule #8: If you give a time-limited consequence, make it realistic. I can’t count the number of times a child has told me, “Mom says I’m grounded for a month,” and when I ask what that means they tell me, “Usually that means it’s a couple of days.” If your child has truly done something rotten, take the time to make a realistic decision you can enforce.

The most important thing you can do is have a good relationship with your child. Take time to do things together. Have a sit-down dinner, check in and listen to what they have to say. The more time you spend being proactive, the less time you’ll spend pulling your hair out over being challenged.