By Megan Shake, LSW- November 25, 2020-

They can happen anywhere – the grocery store, the doctor’s office, restaurants, school, or home. If your child is prone to meltdowns, you know they can strike at any time and any place!

The first step in helping children manage meltdowns is to understand why the meltdowns are happening. This can be difficult since these meltdowns can be triggered by a variety of reasons: fear, frustration, anger, anxiety, or sensory overload. Fortunately, children typically have meltdowns in very predictable situations, so you can learn to be more prepared to manage an outburst when it occurs.

Meltdowns are often symptoms of distress that your child is struggling to manage. As a result, children attempt to do whatever it takes to get what they want, even if it means crying, yelling, kicking, name calling, or throwing things. This can result in outbursts becoming learned behaviors if the child achieves the outcome they desire from the meltdown.

Understanding meltdowns means knowing what triggers them. According to Dr. Vasco Lopes, a clinical psychologist, a common trigger for many kids is when they are asked to do something they don’t want to do or when they cannot continue doing something they enjoy. This can be especially true for kids with ADHD as some tasks can be less stimulating and require them to control physical activity.

Once triggers can be pinpointed, try to modify the trigger. This could mean giving more warning that a task is about to start or end, especially for those kids who struggle with transitions, or this could mean restructuring problematic activities. For example, if homework time leads to tantrums, you can modify it by offering frequent breaks, support the child in areas that are particularly difficult, organize the work, and break down particularly large or intimating tasks into smaller ones.

Setting clear expectations can also help prevent tantrums from happening. Instead of telling the child that he needs to be good today, be specific and concise in your communication. Tell him that he needs to stay seated during mealtime, keep his hands to himself, and say only nice things as these are very concrete expectations. Also make sure expectations are developmentally appropriate and match the child’s ability.

Furthermore, parents’ or caregivers’ response to tantrums plays a role in preventing future ones. It is helpful to respond to meltdowns consistently. For outbursts that are not dangerous, the goal is to ignore the behavior and withhold attention from negative behaviors we want to discourage. Give attention and praise when your child exhibits positive behaviors. Try to reason with your child during an outburst because his or her ability to reason is diminished.

We all know meltdowns are not easy to get through, and may even cause embarrassment to parents when in public. Know you’re not alone in trying to help your child manage their emotions and remember your child’s meltdowns are not a reflection of your parenting skills. Remind yourself that you are doing great, even on the days when it does not feel like it!

By Jana Pritchett, Communications Manager -November 17, 2020-

Even though this year may be a little bit different, as Thanksgiving nears many of us are focused on holiday traditions – eating turkey and pumpkin pie, celebrating with family, and shopping on Black Friday.  However, as we gather around the table, it’s also a great time to give thanks and model an “attitude of gratitude” for the children in our midst.

Children are not born grateful.  According to author Mary Jane Ryan, Recognizing that someone has gone out of their way for you is not a natural behavior for children – it’s learned.”  If you have spent much time around toddlers, you know that they are self-centered by nature.  Studies have shown, however, that children as young as 15-18 months can begin to understand concepts that lead to gratitude.

Teaching young children to be grateful is not easy but can help them later in life.  A 2003 study at the University of California at Davis showed that grateful people report higher levels of optimism and happiness – along with lower levels of depression and stress.  Grateful kids have learned to look beyond themselves and understand that other people do things for them – wash their clothes, give them hugs, and prepare their food. 

On the other hand, according to Barbara Lewis, author of What Do You Stand For? For Kids, “Kids who aren’t taught to be grateful end up feeling entitled and perpetually disappointed.”  According to Robert Emmons, research also shows that youth who are ungrateful are more likely to abuse substances, have poor eating habits and display low academic performance.

So how can we teach our children the power of gratitude in their own lives?

  1.  Model it.  Children model their parents in every way, so remember to use “please” and “thank you” when you talk to them (“Thank you for the hug.”).  Good manners and gratitude go hand-in-hand. 
  2. Work gratitude into your daily life.  Spend some time at the dinner table listing things you are grateful for.  Keep a “gratitude journal” handy for older kids, or help younger ones write a grateful sticky note to put on the refrigerator.  Keep a thank-you note basket handy and help children write notes for gifts or acts of service. 
  3. Say no sometimes.  It seems like some days kids are asking hourly for candy, toys, or video game time. It is impossible for them to feel grateful when their every wish is granted.  Saying no sometimes makes saying yes that much sweeter.
  4. Encourage generosity.  Teach them that there are others less fortunate.  Donate a new toy, give used clothes to charity or adopt a family in need.  Emphasize that although they may have outgrown something, it may meet another child’s needs. 
  5. Find a mission project.  Once the pandemic is over, older children can volunteer or participate in mission trips.  Actively helping someone in need inspires thankfulness for your own blessings.  After seeing a hungry family while serving at a soup kitchen, a child may be more appreciative of the food at their own table.   
  6. Downplay gifts during the holidays.  Put more emphasis on celebrating and establishing traditions – making cookies, attending worship, visiting family. If you adopt a family for the holidays, shop for online gifts with your kids or have them create something handmade.  Consider putting half of your child’s gifts away after the holidays to bring out as rainy day surprises throughout the year. 

Teaching gratitude requires patience.  It doesn’t develop overnight but takes many months and years of reinforcement. You will be rewarded, however. Teaching your child to be grateful will help them enjoy making others happy and can lead to a fulfilling, optimistic life.

By Jana Pritchett, Communications Manager -November 11, 2020-

We’re entering the peak season for family traditions. Some that I recall from my childhood include enjoying the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while cooking the turkey and trimmings, sharing reasons to be thankful around the dinner table, playing board games with family after a large holiday meal, and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” after attending Christmas Eve services.

Many of our fondest memories are centered on family traditions, activities or patterns of behavior that help us bond with our families. Often these traditions are a link to past and future generations. 

As a young child, I remember my grandparents taking my family to dinner at Helen’s Restaurant on Evansville’s west side every Sunday. They often shared stories from my father’s childhood. This was precious time spent with them, creating special memories I can call up now that they’ve passed on.   

Even though today’s family looks a lot different than families of a generation or two ago, traditions are still an important part of family life and the foundation of strong family ties. This year’s traditions may look a little different due to the risk of gathering with members outside of your household, but it’s still important to fit in simple traditions that help children and teens establish a sense of belonging.   

Denise Witmer offers five reasons to observe family traditions on About.com – Parenting Teens:

  1. Family traditions create good feelings and special moments. They create positive emotions and memories that will last a lifetime. It’s always a sweet moment when an older child remembers a wonderful time shared when they were younger.
  2. Family traditions give every member of the family a stronger sense of belonging. Time spent together strengthens the bonds between family members.
  3. Family traditions help your child or teen with his/her identity. When teens are trying to figure out who they are, it helps to know that they belong. Teens need encouragement to be a part of something bigger when they’re searching and defining their sense of self.
  4. Family traditions help parents impart life skills and family values to their children. Spending more time together helps parents and grandparents model these family values and provides more opportunities to talk about serious issues. Having fun together helps keep the conversation light and encourages kids to open up.
  5. Family traditions offer your child or teen a sense of security. Teens, especially, face some difficult issues in today’s world. Knowing they are secure and have a family to turn to is a powerful tool to use when confronting negative peer pressure, drug and alcohol use, college and career choices, etc. 

Even as your child grows older, family traditions are still important.  Find a way to carry out the rituals that help define your family. Often teens will insist on sticking with tradition even when you find it difficult to fit these moments into your routine.

My grown children, ages 29 and 25, still insist on finding the hidden pickle in the tree to see who will open the first gift on Christmas Eve. As they leave the family nest and everything in their world seems to be changing, busy young adults stay connected through family traditions.

If your existing traditions don’t seem to have the same appeal, create new ones. Do what works for your family. Cooking dinner together, taking a hike at a local park, driving through the countryside to see Christmas lights, or even eating a special food one night a week will create memories that your children will pass on to their own families and remember for a lifetime. 

By Laura Keys, Vice President of Social Work & Programs -November 3, 2020-

Well, here we are – still in the midst of a pandemic, mostly back in school, mostly back at work, but not quite back to normal.

Most Hoosier children returned to school by Labor Day. Some schools have had to close intermittently because of staff and students testing positive for COVID-19, but all of them are trying very hard to stay open.

It’s no question that students benefit from in-person learning. Schools also recognize that some students do not have the support and consistency in food, nurturing, and shelter at home. Youth First partners with over 90 schools across the state of Indiana, and I am here to tell you, educators are focusing on two things right now: 1) making the most of the days school buildings are open, and 2) engaging with and checking on the students who aren’t showing up.

Educators are teaching at a rapid pace, and the worry over potential school building closures is taking its toll on teachers, students, and parents. It’s also affecting student achievement. School personnel know only too well about the “summer slide,” that time when students are out for a couple months and not being challenged with the rigor of steady schoolwork.

Well, the pandemic has essentially doubled the “summer slide.” From March to August 2020, there was not a structured rigor of academics that kept our students fresh and ready to learn. I’ve heard from countless parents and teachers that students who were making A’s and B’s are now making C’s and sometimes D’s. Most students did not return to school ready to learn.

One may assume I’m mentioning this decline to recommend applying extra pressure on students in order to meet the academic standards that were lost over the past few months. Shouldn’t we push them to do just a little more so that they don’t continue to lose language arts and math skills?

No, quite the opposite! At the beginning of the school closures in March, we stressed that parents should give themselves some grace while trying to juggle at-home learning along with many other stressors. We need to extend the same grace to students right now.

The toll that this pandemic has taken on children’s mental health has been well-documented. Separation from friends and family, disruption in routine, and the fact that there is no clear end in sight all impact the mental wellness of students.

Those pressures, combined with the doubled “summer slide,” should give us a pretty clear indication of why students may be behind. Take it from a mother and a mental health professional, your kids will catch up. Students will gain ground once the ground beneath them is steadier.

Although schoolwork is important, it is not the most important thing. Caring, nurturing environments for kids are the most important thing right now. In my opinion, children need to be allowed to skip some beats on schoolwork and teachers need to be allowed to let them. We really need to take care of everyone right now, not put more pressure on them.

Kids are resilient and capable, and as long as they feel loved at the end of the day, especially with some extra grace sprinkled in there, they will turn out just fine.