By Jenna Kruse, LSW – September 23, 2020 –

Being a parent of a teenager is difficult enough without adding the stress of navigating a pandemic. After being stuck at home for several months, most teens are ready to stay in school, see their friends, and return to any sense of normalcy.

As guidelines continue to change, here are ways you can safely support your teen during these trying times.

It’s safe to say that teen and adult worries are very different. “I’d look stupid in a mask” and “I need to see my friends” might not be thoughts that cross your mind as an adult, but understand these concerns are vital pieces of a teen’s social development.

It is important to remind yourself that your teen is living in a socially distant society as they are attempting to establish their own identity and independence. Have a clear list of your expectations instead of reciting government-issued mandates that they may not understand and are likely to ignore.

Empathize and validate your teen’s worry and anger. Teenagers are likely to feel the weight heavily; it feels unfair that the pandemic has happened, that it is still happening, and that life cannot yet return to normal.

By validating your teenager’s feelings, you grant them the opportunity to be open and expressive with their feelings. Try phrases such as, “You are right, this is unfair” or “I feel that too, but it’s important that we do what we can to keep others safe.” Validating a teenager’s feelings will make them more accepting of whatever you say next.

Your teen may feel frustrated that they have new restrictions placed on them when they have not been directly affected by this virus. Help teens make the connection by outlining the increased danger for older family and friends. This helps students understand that your fears aren’t far-fetched, and that what we do now makes a big difference down the road. You may also use the mask mandate and current restrictions as a way to teach compassion and the importance of keeping ourselves safe so we can keep others safe.

If your student is going out with friends, incentivize them to comply with safety measures. Let them know if they are willing to take safety precautions seriously, they will have more freedom to spend time with friends.

Make safety fun by practicing what talking to a friend from 6 feet apart looks like. Allow them to pick out a cool mask in which they can express themselves, and sit down with your teen to create a list of outdoor places where they could safely spend time with friends. Remind your student that your family rules may be different than their friends’ rules, but they are still the rules they must follow.

During these trying times, it is important to remind your teen (and yourself) that even though we are in the middle of a difficult time, this pandemic, like other difficult times, will pass. Work as a team and keep communication open, factual, and honest with your student. Remember, what we do now will determine what will happen next.

By Ashley Underwood, LCSW – September 16, 2020 –

Hi. Hello. Hola. Bonjour. Ciao. Oi.

Each one of these greetings, along with many others, is the gateway for social interaction. Social interaction with others helps create a culture of inclusion and acceptance.

According to Ferris State University, inclusion is involvement and empowerment, where the inherent worth and dignity of all people is recognized. 

Why is inclusion important in our schools and communities?

Heartland Community College has created the HEIP (Heartland Equity and Inclusion Project), which identified the following reasons that inclusion is important:

  1. Inclusion molds the values of the next generation of children.
    • Students see a person first and the person’s disability second.
    • Students learn to practice empathy and appreciate the value of diversity.
  2. Inclusion provides opportunities for friendships.
    • The development of friendships requires close proximity and a common experience. Keeping children together encourages both objectives.
    • Students develop a comfortable way to interact with students with disabilities.
    • Children with disabilities attend the same school as their neighborhood friends.
  3. Inclusion prepares individuals for adult life in the community.
    • Today’s classmates are tomorrow’s employers and co-workers.
    • Community life includes people of all abilities.
  4. Inclusion helps create family-like social structures outside of the home.
    • Siblings can be educated together at the same school.
    • Parents are not stretched between two or more school settings.
  5. Inclusion cultivates an enriched learning environment.
    • Additional resources (therapists, special educators, etc.) in the classroom benefit all children.
    • Diversified teaching strategies and the common use of modifications and adaptations ensure everyone can be part of the learning process.
    • Children with disabilities learn from typically developing peers who can act as role models, making them more likely to develop appropriate social and communication skills.

What is the opposite of inclusion and why is it important? Social isolation is a feeling or sense of not belonging. It is overwhelming and in many cases debilitating to a person’s functioning. When feeling isolated from others, loneliness and invisibility can consume a person’s thoughts and behaviors, causing a significant increase in self-harm or harm of others.

To decrease the negative impacts of social isolation, the Sandy Hook Promise has created a campaign to increase social interaction and inclusion among students. This campaign began after the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in December of 2012. Each fall, schools around the world are asked to participate in the campaign called “Start With Hello” Week. The scheduled date for this year’s “Start With Hello Week is September 21-25, 2020.

Start With Hello Week raises awareness about social isolation and educates students and the community on how to prevent it through various trainings, awareness, activities, public proclamations, media events, student contests and school awards – all provided by the Sandy Hook Promise campaign. You can find the “Start With Hello Week planning guide along with the registration submission for your school or agency to participate in this event at https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/startwithhelloweek.

Let’s all join together in this movement to show our children that everyone should be valued, to bring awareness to social isolation, and to increase empathy and inclusion all around! Just remember, it can be as simple as starting with “hello.”

By Holly Parod, LSCW – September 9, 2020 –

In the wake of an unprecedented worldwide pandemic, many of us have felt the weight of additional stress and uncertainty in our daily lives. These are feelings that we can unknowingly pass on to our children as they sense our fear and feelings of worry.

Rather than watching the national news or discussing headlines in the local paper, what if we all took time to be grateful for the new world we have discovered as a part of quarantine or working from home?  What if we paused to appreciate the opportunities we’ve been granted to re-establish old traditions and spend more time together?

Over the past few months, jigsaw puzzles, bikes, free weights, and board games have sold out of stores as people have taken time to work on personal fitness, create together, and explore together.  Rather than rushing off to baseball games and work meetings, we cooked dinner together, tried new dessert recipes, and enjoyed movie nights with our families.

In this time of quiet, we took walks down our streets, reconnected with our neighbors, and sat outside reading books or looking at stars. We taught grandparents and older family members how to Zoom or FaceTime so that we could maintain our close relationships while staying safely apart.

We were no longer too busy to color, paint, and mail birthday cards or handwritten notes to friends and family. Some of us explored new hobbies and talents, while others called long-distance friends on the phone instead of texting.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, gratitude is thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside them.

As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.

Instead of focusing on the negativity of this pandemic, perhaps we all need to take time to be grateful for what we have gained after being forced to slow down and spend time with those who are most important to us. 

We are hearing over and over again from students and educators about how happy kids are to be back in school for in-person learning.  We are seeing an increased appreciation for the work teachers do every day, most importantly from the children sitting in desks spaced six-feet apart.

Just as we have embraced the importance of family cookouts, birthday parties, graduation events, and weddings, we have a newfound appreciation for everything schools and teachers provide every day.

Tonight at dinner as you discuss the events of the day, challenge each person at the table to share one aspect of the day he or she is grateful for.  Then ask what COVID-19 has taught them to appreciate.  You will be surprised how much there is to be grateful for, even in the midst of a pandemic.   

Hoosier Uplands has awarded $15,000 to Youth First, Inc. to strengthen the social and emotional well-being of students in Orange 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.

“Hoosier Uplands recognizes the immense importance and need for mental health services for at-risk children in our schools,” said David Miller, CEO.  “In today’s world our schools, parents, and grandparents must work together to make sure children have the best resources available to them to handle the challenges they face on a daily basis. We are very pleased to be able to support Youth First in its work with Paoli, Orleans and Springs Valley Schools.”

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. Hoosier Uplands’ investment 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 Orange County.”

To learn more about Youth First services and programs or to make a donation to Youth First, visit youthfirstinc.org.

Support Youth First by purchasing half pot raffle tickets now! Winner will be drawn on September 30, 2020. Raffle tickets can be purchased from Youth First staff and board members, at the Youth First office Monday through Friday 8am to 12pm, or by filling out the contact form here.

By Christine Weinzapfel-Hayden, LCSW -September 3, 2020-

As students start school after being out for a long layoff, they may need a “brush-up” on their organizational skills. Organizational skills are important in every phase of life, whether we are professionals in the work force, parents, teenagers or children. 

It is never too late to evaluate how your child is doing in mastering this skill and to help them develop the necessary strategies to be successful.  I firmly believe we all have good intentions. I haven’t met a student yet who wants to fail or forget to turn in their homework. Just like with adults, good intentions may not always yield good results.    

Parents can start with children as young as 2 or 3 years old.  Developing organizational skills is much like learning to ride a bike. We don’t just sit our children on the seat of a bike and let them go.  We hold the seat of their bike until they seem sturdy.  Even then, we don’t leave them to fall.  We often run beside them to catch them if they aren’t steady. 

The same strategy should be used in teaching our children organization.  In the beginning of the process a parent should be very involved.  As they are ready for more independence, children can be given more responsibility and the parent can be more of a monitor. 

The academic setting is the perfect place to begin teaching these life skills that can be carried over throughout our lifetime. A key component is allowing your child to develop an organizational system that makes sense to them.  What makes the most sense to you may not be what makes sense to your child.  Therefore, allow your child to have the ownership as you guide them by gently pointing out suggestions and potential pitfalls of their plan. 

Here are some tips to help begin teaching organizational skills:

  1. Begin with consistency at home. Having a set study time after school will provide a consistent routine that promotes good time management.
  2. Aid your child in organizing their backpack and binder to provide a system that prevents papers from being shoved into books, etc. 
  3. Strongly support your child using their agenda. Developing the habit of writing down assignments/tests in the agenda as soon as assigned in class will set them up for success.  This habit of using the agenda appropriately will set your child up for independent success in the academic years to follow.  This task is often overlooked by students as they get busy or distracted and forget to write things down. This step is extremely important, so you may consider a reward system that supports creating the habit in the initial phase of developing this strategy.
  4. Create a to-do list and break down big projects into smaller tasks. In a different color ink, fill in extra-curricular plans to help your child plan in advance for evenings that may not allow enough time to accomplish all necessary tasks. 

As Donna Goldberg from the NYU Child Study Center emphasizes the importance of these skills, she clarifies the need for students with special needs in particular. Children with attention difficulties often miss details and find organization difficult. Those with executive functioning issues often have trouble with prioritizing and sequencing.  Children with auditory processing difficulties often don’t take in everything that is being taught. 

Recognizing your child’s individual needs and teaching them how to compensate with organizational skills will be a lesson leading to success for a lifetime.

By Jessie Smith, MSW – September 2, 2020 –

Do you have a child who has just started kindergarten? Along with parents/guardians experiencing a range of emotions during this time, so do incoming students. Throughout my time working in an elementary school, I have had the privilege to observe this transition and guide students through this exciting time in their lives.

While a brand new classroom and making new friends can be exciting for a kindergartener, with these excitements come routines, workload, and rules. Expectations placed on students can be daunting and confusing at times. In the first few weeks of school, there are a few tips parents can utilize to help better transition their kindergartner.

  1. Routine. Try to create a routine that includes both a bedtime and a wakeup time. Many professionals stress the importance of scheduled sleep routines for kindergarten-aged children. Having a consistent wakeup time can help children adjust to beginning their day earlier than they may have in the past. Creating charts can be a useful visual and an interactive reference to aid families when trying to maintain a schedule with their child. Morning charts can include activities like getting dressed, eating breakfast, and brushing teeth. Afternoon charts can reflect tasks to complete such as eating a snack, completing certain chores, or working on homework.

  2. Expectations. A major part of being a student is learning to follow regulations and classroom rules. This aspect of schooling can be particularly difficult for incoming kindergartners. For some students, this may be the first time they must ask to use the restroom, walk in a line, or be required to remain quiet during appropriate times. Introducing standard “school rules” at home can help your child meet teacher expectations as well as reduce student stress. Practice rules like raising hands, staying in a designated seat, and keeping hands/feet to self. Obviously you can’t always implement these rules in your home life, but having conversations about these expectations and engaging in role playing can strengthen your child’s ability to adapt to similar rules in the classroom.

  3. Exploring Emotions. Along with getting used to new routines and regulations, your child may experience new emotions that they need time to process. Talk with your child. Ask what part of their day made them the happiest. Were there any times they felt upset or overwhelmed? Helping children identify their emotions can also promote conversations that can help you monitor and regulate the feelings your child is experiencing.

  4. Discipline. All of these new changes can be overwhelming for little brains. It’s important to remember that your child is learning. I speak to many parents who are concerned because they have received a note or a phone call from an educator to address a concern about their child’s progress or behavior. When this occurs, it is often because teachers are trying to be proactive and communicate with parents to eliminate more issues in the future. It is a good idea to collaborate and set expectations in the home that are the same as expectations in the classroom. Keep in mind how different their day-to-day environment has become while they try to familiarize their surroundings and find their place in the classroom.  

The start of kindergarten for your child is a bittersweet moment in a parent’s life and Youth First is here to help with any questions you might have. Please reach out to your school’s Youth First Social Worker or communicate with your teacher if you need assistance navigating the transition. It really is a team effort.