By Katherine Baker, LCSW – Dec. 31, 2019

As the year closes and a new one begins, many people focus on improving their health and well-being. Being human in a world filled with drama and losses can be exhausting. 

All too often human sleep patterns are out of sync, causing many of us to be exhausted, grumpy, and on edge.  Not only are children and teenagers affected by the lack of sleep; it has become a human condition affecting everyone. 

Most people can thrive, however, by following these basic tips to help in their day-to-day functioning:

1.  Remember to focus on a sleep routine. Have a set bedtime for yourself and try to stick with it as much as possible. Your brain and body will thank you.

2.  Remember to set limits on social media. Take a social media break from all of your devices one or two times a month. Try it for two hours and work your way up to longer periods of time.  Again, your brain and body will thank you. Besides lack of sleep, the use of social media and the stress and anxiety it is causing impacts our society in numerous negative ways. Think about how your life is affected by your use of social media.

3.  Remember, you are responsible for your day.  You are responsible for how you feel and what you do; nobody else is.  You are in charge of your life!

4.  Remember, everybody doesn’t have to love you or even like you.  If someone does not approve of you, it will still be okay.

5.  Remember, it is important to try.  Even when faced with difficult tasks, it is better to try than to avoid them. You may not be able to do everything, but you can do something. Find your talents.

6.  Remember that you can be flexible. There is more than one way to do something.  Everybody has ideas that are worthwhile. Some may make more sense to you than others, but everyone’s ideas are important. Listen and consider the options.

7.  Remember, other people are capable.  You can’t solve other people’s problems as if they were your own. They are capable and can solve their own problems. You can show care and concern and be of some help, but you can’t – and shouldn’t – do everything for them. 

Start the new year by getting enough sleep, taking charge of your day, demonstrating flexibility and giving your best. Only take on what you are capable of handling. You will soon see a difference in your outlook and stress levels!

By Jennifer Kurtz, LCSW – Dec. 24, 2019

Prior to coming to Youth First as a school social worker, I worked with the homeless for 7 years.  Many of the men, women, and children I worked with were staying in a car or in an unfamiliar shelter, maybe living in a hotel, or staying with family or friends in an overcrowded home. 

While this is not healthy for an adult, it can have an even bigger impact on the mind of a young child. When I mention childhood trauma you may think of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse to a child. But there are other traumatic things children experience:  witnessing violence between adults, being separated from a loved adult due to alcohol or drug use, mental illness of a family member, incarceration of a parent, illness of a loved one that pulls family away, lack of food for the entire family, or witnessing a shooting or devastation left by a natural disaster (either in person or on television). 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative (NCSTI) reports that more than two thirds of children experience at least one traumatic event by the age of 16. 

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that children between the ages of 3 to 6 exposed to trauma may have difficulty focusing or learning in school, may be unable to trust others or make friends, may show poor skill development, may lack self-confidence, and may experience stomach aches or headaches. These difficulties in elementary school have the potential to affect children into their teen and adult years, repeating the cycle onto their own children.

How can we help our children as parents and caregivers?  The Child Mind Institute encourages the following tips to help children after a traumatic event:

  1. Remain calm
  2. Allow children to ask questions
  3. Listen well
  4. Acknowledge how the child is feeling
  5. Share information about what happened
  6. Encourage children to be children (to play and do activities)
  7. Understand children may cope in different ways
  8. Help children relax in breathing exercises
  9. Watch for signs of trauma
  10. Know when to seek help 
  11. Take care of yourself

The National Survey of Children’s Health found that children who have family help them build resilience respond well to stress.  Resilience can be built through having caregivers who believe in a child’s future, teaching children to calm themselves and regulate their emotions, being involved in the community and having social connections.

There is a video on YouTube about a heartwarming IKEA ad in Spain entitled, “IKEA The Other Letter.”  The children are asked to write a letter to The Three Kings (the equivalent of Santa in Spain) asking for things they want for Christmas. Most ask for material items. They are then asked to write a letter to their parents. From their parents they ask for experiences such as eating dinner as a family, reading a story together, playing soccer together, playing cowboys together, and just spending quality time together in general. 

So often we want to give our children material items, thinking “things” will make them happy.  Although kids do want toys and materials items, quality time is even more valued and needed by them, especially when there has been a traumatic event. Spend time together this holiday season, and help your kids build resiliency that will see them through many of life’s disappointments and sorrows.

By Ashley Underwood, LCSW – Dec. 17, 2019

Imagine this scenario: you have a busy and stressful day at work and at the end of the day you get in your car and drive home. The next thing you know, you are parked in your driveway. You made it home, but you don’t remember the process of getting there; the stops, the turns, the motions. You get so used to the usual route home that little thought or focus has to go into the process of driving.

This is an example of being on autopilot. Many of us often live in this state, where actions and words are said and done without thought or focus. When we function on autopilot, we are more likely to say or do things that can be harmful to others.

Why does this impact how we parent our children?

Children need their parents to be the best versions of themselves, thinking through their responses rather than reacting to them. When parents act on autopilot they are not present in the moment and are more likely to react to children impulsively than responding to them with thought.

Some examples of parent reactions might be yelling, cursing, screaming, slamming things, etc. These types of reactions can create an atmosphere of stress between children and parents, as children often feel attacked for things they do. Responding to children requires us to be aware of what is happening, what we are thinking and what we are feeling. That is difficult to do when we are on autopilot.

How can we decrease reacting and increase responding to our children?

One tool that can reduce living on autopilot and increase being more present in the moment is mindful awareness. When being mindfully aware of what is happening in the moment and what we are thinking and feeling in the moment, we are more likely to provide our children with responses rather than reactions.

This also helps model the type of behavior we want from our children. We want them to think through their choices and pick the best one before acting impulsively. The stress of everyday life can make it difficult to live in the moment though, which is why practicing mindful awareness daily is key for mastering this tool.

What are ways to practice mindful awareness?

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn (the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction practice), “mindfulness or mindful awareness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”  This awareness can be practiced in a variety of daily activities including eating, showering, walking, brushing your teeth, etc.

The key to it though is rather than just going through the motions of these activities – we are paying attention to our senses (what we see, taste, feel, hear, and smell) and we are describing those things without judgments, only the facts. Mindful awareness can also be practiced through meditation, yoga, tai-chi, dance, music, and so much more.

For a more extensive list of mindfulness activities please visit https://www.rachaelkable.com/blog/50-easy-and-fun-ways-to-practice-mindfulness.

Ashley Hale, LCSW – Dec. 10, 2019

Encouraging regular school attendance is one of the most powerful ways you can prepare your child for success in school and in life.   An estimated 5 to 7.5 million students miss 18 or more days of a school year, which averages two days per month. 

Some challenges are unavoidable, such as illness or family emergencies.  However, it’s important to be aware of the impact absences from school can have, especially if they are frequent.  

Having good attendance sets your child up for a strong future by assisting them with better grades, healthier life habits, the ability to avoid dangerous behaviors, feeling more connected to the community, developing important social skills and friendships, and giving them a better chance for graduation.

You can help your child prepare for a lifetime of success by teaching them to make school attendance a priority.  If your child is struggling to attend school, the first step is to understand the depth of the problem, whether physical or emotional. 

There are many common reasons children do not want to go to school, such as academic struggles, trouble with bullies, family separation anxiety, and family challenges at home. It can be difficult to understand why some children avoid school or do not want to leave home.

The following are some ways you can help eliminate chronic absenteeism:

  • Make getting to school on time every day a high priority. Make it an expectation. Talk with your child about the importance of showing up to school every day as well as the negative effects of too many absences.
  • Create a safe space for your child to share what is keeping them from participating in school on a regular basis. Find out if your child feels engaged in their classes and feels safe while at school. Be aware of their social contacts. Peer pressure can often lead to skipping school, while students without many friends may feel isolated. 
  • Have a back-up plan for getting your child to school when there are difficulties with transportation, family illness, or other challenges.
  • Schedule doctor and other appointments for after-school hours whenever possible.   Don’t let your child stay home unless truly sick. Common occurrences of headache or stomach ache may be a sign of anxiety.
  • Monitor your child’s school attendance to make sure they are in class every day. 
  • Contact your child’s school to discuss support services that can help them maintain regular school attendance. Know the school’s attendance policy. Talk to their teachers if you notice sudden changes in behavior and ask them to contact you if they notice changes. 
  • Encourage your child to participate in afterschool activities, including sports and clubs. Being involved in extra-curricular activities is a great way to feel more involved in the school and to make new friends.

As a parent, you are on the front line of an attendance problem. The good news is that it is possible to change things for the better and increase the chances for success. 

Gift Supports the Social and Emotional Needs of Students in Morgan County

Kendrick Foundation has awarded $56,196 to Youth First, Inc. to strengthen the social and emotional well-being of students in Morgan County.

Youth First partners with school districts to embed social workers in school buildings, where they become specialized mentors for students and prevention coaches for parents and teachers. Youth First Social Workers build caring relationships, foster readiness for positive change, and boost resiliency along with other valuable life skills.

Research shows these protective factors are the keys to preventing addiction, suicide, violence, and similar outcomes for young people. The organization’s positive outcomes are driving growth, with more schools seeking Youth First’s help to address the growing social and emotional needs of students.

“Youth First Social Workers are the lighthouses for many students in Morgan County,” stated Keylee Wright, Kendrick Foundation Executive Director. “They choose to see the opportunities instead of the circumstances with these students and their families. We’re proud to be a partner in this effort to improve the health and well-being of Morgan County residents.”

Youth First President & CEO Parri O. Black stated, “Our children are growing up in a complex and challenging world that puts them at greater risk for substance use, suicide, violence and harmful behaviors. The investment of the Kendrick Foundation is critical to achieving Youth First’s mission. Working together, we can protect and heal the hearts of more young people and their families in Morgan County.”

By Jaclyn Durnil, MSW – Dec. 3, 2019

“If you can learn to love yourself and all the flaws, you can love other people so much better. And that makes you so happy.” – Kristen Chenowith

Why is it so difficult to love ourselves? Basically, the short answer to this question is that we were raised in a society that didn’t teach us about self-love. This may not seem very important to some, but self-love is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

Loving yourself provides you with self-confidence, self-worth, and in general, you feel more positive. If you can learn to love yourself, you will feel happier and will learn to take better care of yourself.

Looking in the mirror, most of us see a lot of different flaws and remember too many past experiences and failings to love ourselves. The less you love yourself, listen to yourself, and understand yourself, the more confused, upset, and frustrated you will be in life. When you begin to love yourself and continue to love yourself more and more each day, things slowly will be a little bit better in every way possible.

Unfortunately, self-love isn’t always easy. 

Accepting the pain and allowing yourself to be honest with who you are is a big step to loving yourself. Forgive yourself for past actions and things you are ashamed of doing.

Carrying a lot of negative emotions like jealousy, disgust, and rage can have a negative impact. We need to learn how to accept not only the emotions that create love, joy, and happiness but also the ones that cause fear, insecurity, and anger in our lives.

While we need to learn how to acknowledge and accept the pain with the love, another step is reconciling with a cold and unopened heart. Asking yourself if you fully love yourself can be very difficult because you must accept your flaws and faults.

Love is something we choose, the same way we choose anger, hate, or sadness. We have the power to forgive someone who has hurt us in the past. We can learn to finally heal from something when we can forgive. We can always choose love.

Learning to love yourself leads to better self-care. Examples of this could be taking a break from time to time and accepting that no one is perfect and things happen.

Another example could be saying no to others when you really don’t have the time or energy to say yes. We often do too much for other people because we want to please everyone. We can forget to look after ourselves and then we become overwhelmed.

Today is the day you can love yourself completely with no expectations. Making the choice right now to choose your own love is the most powerful healing force you have.