By Christine Weinzapfel-Hayden, LCSW – March 31, 2020 –

America has found itself in a medical crisis that most people didn’t see coming. There have been a lot of sudden changes in our lives that we weren’t anticipating. One of the most significant changes is the sudden break from school. Some school corporations have announced they will not resume school this year.  

It is crucial that we help provide our children with sense of comfort during this time. What are some things we can do to help provide our children with comfort and routine during a time that seems to be anything BUT routine? 

First, take care of your own mental health. If you’re feeling anxious about current events it is very important to minimize your own anxiety. Your children will be able to tell that you’re anxious, and this could create some anxiety in them as well.  

Strategies for managing your anxiety might include meditation, exercise, yoga, and reading. It is important that you have an outlet during this time. Be sure conversations you’re having about your own fears are not happening in front of your children.  

Your kids are probably spending a lot more time at home than they’re used to. It is important to provide them with some normalcy during this time. If you have assignments for them to complete, set aside time daily for them to do this work. This time should be structured and quiet, much like their school day.  

If you do not have assignments your children are working on at this time, I strongly suggest creating structured time in their day where they read quietly or work on age-appropriate math and language arts activities. There are a lot of websites providing free services at this time due to so many schools being closed. Keeping some structured time is important; when they return to school it will help lessen the shock.  

Once you have your structured time planned, it is also important to build in fun. I know it seems more difficult to have fun when you’re stuck in your house. This is a perfect time to dust off those old board games, have some killer dance parties, try a new recipe together and remember what it’s like to enjoy each other’s company without deadlines and schedules hanging over your head.  

Times are difficult and confusing right now, but we can absolutely make the best of it. Take this time to enjoy togetherness with those you love most.  

By Jordan Beach, LSW – March 24, 2020 –

Let’s take some time to talk about one of those dreaded “F” words…failure.

A lot of times we think of failure as the worst-case scenario. Failure is viewed as the thing that happens when you weren’t prepared or you didn’t try hard enough.

Take a moment and think of a time you failed. Try to remember what you were doing, where you were, and who was there. Now, focus on the feelings you had.

Personally, a knot immediately forms in my stomach when I feel I’ve failed. For most of us it brings up uncomfortable, unpleasant feelings that we try to prevent, not only for ourselves but also for those we love. We become so fixated on the unpleasant feelings immediately after our failure that we lose sight of the good things that can happen.

Preventing failure doesn’t automatically lead to success. Failure is an essential part of growth.

What happens when we prevent failure? Well, on the surface everyone is happier. We feel a sense of accomplishment, success, and we get to avoid those negative feelings that settle into the pit of our stomach.

Most importantly, though, we get to feel comfortable. As parents we feel like we’ve helped our kids get a taste of success when we help them avoid failure. As individuals we are able to avoid feelings of discomfort, shame, and embarrassment.

There is a lot more at play when we prevent failure from happening, though. To start, when we strive to make things easier for our kids to prevent them from failing, we are telling them we don’t believe they can do it on their own. When children are taught to associate failure with something negative, we are teaching them to avoid risks. They start to develop a fixed frame of mind in which they think, “If I might fail, I won’t even try.”

Looking at the opposite end of the spectrum, what happens when we embrace failure? Looking back to that moment when you failed, what could have made that moment different for you? What kind of support could you have used in that moment that would have changed your outlook?

If we stop looking at failure as a time our children did something wrong and start looking at it as a time they experienced growth, we can encourage them to take more chances and be more adventurous with their lives. It’s time to start talking about failure as something that happens to everyone.

When talking to your kids about the successes of their day, also discuss the things that didn’t go well. Help them pick out the positive things that happened or could have happened because of their struggles or moments of defeat.

Teaching our children to put forth their best effort and to be okay when things don’t work out in their favor is a huge step toward creating more resilient children. They will learn that failing at something doesn’t make them a failure. Use moments of failure as stepping stones to growth, and your kids will become more successful adults.

By Laura Keys, LCSW – March 12, 2020 –

You don’t have to tune in the news to know how worried everyone is about the Coronavirus (COVID-19).  If adults are worried, it follows that children will be scared as well. 

I have had a lot of parents reach out to me in the past two weeks to get advice on how to discuss the virus with their children.  Because many children are hearing about it at school and online, it’s important to make sure they have accurate information. 

As always, it is best to make sure they are getting their primary information from you.  Many parents are wondering how to bring up the epidemic in a way that will be reassuring and not make kids more worried than they already are. Most experts agree to some general guidelines.

  1. Model composure – When I am on a bumpy flight, I always keep my eye on the flight attendant. If they are calm, I am calm. Children watch their parents every day in a multitude of situations. Even though you may be concerned yourself, it is important to model calmness when talking about the virus.
  2. Limit news exposure on the Coronavirus – Although the news can be helpful by keeping everyone informed, some news outlets tend to sensationalize current events to keep our attention. Some news coverage can have strong language and visuals that may be scary to a young child or lead to anxiety in an older child.  For this reason, it is best to limit this coverage when the kids are around, especially if they tend to be worriers by nature.
  3. Try to catch when your child is looking for reassurance – I’m sure all parents can remember times their children seemed to ask the same question over and over. It’s not that they weren’t listening the first time. Most likely your answer made them feel better, and they may need to feel better about something over and over if it’s scary to them. Try to answer their questions in a consistent and calm manner without bringing up that they have asked this “a thousand times.”  If you notice repeated reassurance seeking or you are not able to reassure them after several attempts, it might be helpful to seek extra support to help your children manage their anxiety.

Remember, everyone is working hard to manage the virus. There are many ways to prevent further spread. Practicing and modeling these simple behaviors can be a proactive measure for you and your child. Kids and grownups can try their best to stay healthy by continuing their usual activities while practicing these healthy behaviors:

  1. Sneeze or cough into tissues (and throw them away) or sneeze or cough into your elbow. This helps keep germs from traveling and making other people sick.
  2. Wash your hands with soap and water at the same times you usually do, like after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose. When you wash your hands, remember to count slowly to 20. (Parents can help by singing the ABCs or “Happy Birthday” with their children the number of times it takes for 20 seconds to pass. This helps children remember to wash for a sufficient amount of time.)
  3. Try to keep your hands out of your mouth, eyes, and nose.

For more information on kids and the coronavirus, visit the CDC’s website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/talking-with-children.html.

By Deena Bodine, LCSW – March 10, 2020 –

We live in a society that glamorizes busyness. Our calendars are full, but we may be left feeling less than fulfilled at the end of the day. 

We spend our days busy with work and parenting responsibilities, squeezing in time for maintaining a household requiring chores and upkeep. Often we forget to slow down and enjoy the little moments. We seem to have an expectation that if we work hard now it will allow us to relax and enjoy life later. 

We are fooling ourselves. Life really is about the little things. And in our busy world, those small moments of joy and connection matter. While we may not be able to slow our world or eliminate tasks from our calendar, we can take steps to increase the moments that matter and remind ourselves of what is truly important. 

One way to do this is through family rituals. Developing family rituals can help ensure that we have impactful, shared experiences amid the everyday busyness of our lives. Family rituals and traditions are the basis for creating family culture. Through family culture we encourage nurturing bonds between siblings and parents and develop a sense of belonging, with the bonus of creating a memorable childhood. 

Family rituals can be simple daily, weekly, or seasonal traditions that your family looks forward to. The rituals do not need to be expensive or extravagant.  A bedtime routine of dinner, a bath, and reading a book while snuggling can be a simple and encouraging ritual. Selecting a phrase or gesture (the “I love you” sign is an example) to use in greetings or goodbyes is another no-cost, low time-commitment idea. 

Another ritual idea includes implementing a weekly (or more frequent) family dinner where all family members are encouraged to disconnect from TV, cell phones, and computers and reconnect with one another. This is a great opportunity to incorporate a conversation jar with prompts for all members to help start the discussion. 

Another idea is to start a family gratitude journal where each member adds one thing they appreciate on a daily or weekly basis. Reviewing those entries at the end of the month can be entertaining as well. 

As children grow older, implementing a regular family meeting can provide an outlet to discuss activities and events that need to be included on the family calendar (tests, practices, dance classes, sleepovers, etc.) and can also provide an avenue for conversations about chores, allowances or other tough topics. You can also add seasonal rituals such as apple picking, hiking, decorating cookies, building a snowman, or planting a garden. 

There are so many possibilities for family rituals, and this could be a great opportunity for all members to provide suggestions (i.e. each member chooses an activity for “Sunday Funday”). The important part of the ritual is less about what you are doing and more about doing it together as a family. 

For more family ritual ideas, please visit the Youth First Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/YouthFirstInc/  to find suggestions and add your family’s favorite.

By Keisha Jackson, MSW – March 3, 2020 –

Chores. They can be defined as simple everyday tasks that few of us enjoy but all of us need to complete to keep a household running smoothly.  

It’s a given that adults in the household should do their part and lead by example.  However, when it comes to children and teens being assigned household chores, that’s when much debate comes into play.

Assigning your children chores can definitely take some stress off as a parent; however, it also can help build life skills and teach responsibility. Completing chores also helps kids feel as if they are part of the family team. Assigning younger children chores demonstrates that you trust them to complete a task.

Here are some age-based suggestions for chore assignments:

Preschoolers – Preschoolers can be given simple everyday chores, including picking up after themselves, placing their plate by the kitchen sink when finished with meals, and picking up their room when it becomes messy. Younger children respond well to rewards, so if your child struggles with picking up after themselves, encourage them with a reward system. Sticker charts, special dates to get ice cream or a trip to the park are just a few examples of rewards for kids this age. 

Elementary-age children – Once children begin to attend school their responsibilities increase, and they should take on more at home as well. Chores should also include picking up after themselves at this age. As your child grows older, gradually add more responsibility to their chore list.  As chores become more challenging or complex, give them your expectations. Teach them how to put away their clothes and where the dishes go after they are clean. Give them step-by-step instructions and encourage them along the way. Never expect perfection, especially for a new chore.

Teens – Your teen’s chores should help prepare them for the real world. Have them help you prepare dinner, do their laundry, and mow the grass. These life skills are important for your child to develop early in their teenage years so they can live independently when the time comes. Encourage your teen by giving them age-appropriate rewards. This could include giving them time to spend with their friends or giving them money for chores completed.

Assigning your children chores is important for teaching life skills and responsibility, and it can definitely help prepare them for the real world. If everyone pitches in the household runs more smoothly and kids feel they are part of the family team. Start laying out expectations when they are very young and gradually increase responsibility and rewards as they grow older. Chores are an essential part of daily living.