By Niki Walls, LSW -December 29, 2020-

Parents and guardians are always searching for answers to questions about raising children in today’s world. While developments in technology and popular culture have changed many aspects of childhood over time, one thing that has not changed is that our children need love from a caring adult more than anything.

Showing love and affection to kids can sometimes seem “easier said than done.” However, love is essential because it enables children to flourish and discover who they are. Love is a word that encompasses many different things as well. Love does not come without consistency, respect, and support.

Children thrive on consistency. They may seem like they hate rules and are resistant to many of the boundaries adults set for them, but in actuality, structure is something they are in dire need of. Consistency can come in many forms; developing routines, having the same discipline techniques as your spouse, and having consistent schedules.

Children generally do not embrace sudden change, so by creating consistency in their lives, you are likely to prevent power struggles and behavioral outbursts. Your children will come to know your expectations and follow them more thoroughly because they will know what the outcome will be if they do not.

In turn, this sets the stage for respect. By giving your kids love and consistency, you are being respectful of your children and meeting them at their level. Children are more likely to respect the adults they feel respected by.

Start with trying to understand and validate their feelings when an issue arises. Take yourself back to when you were their age and remember how this particular issue would have made you feel. The more give and take there is in the conversation, the more your child will respect you and feel open with you.

Support is another aspect that is encompassed under love as well. Children often look to someone who will recognize and praise them for their accomplishments. Do not blow off or joke around about something that they are proud of. Encourage your children’s natural

passions and interests; do not push yours on them. Be an ear if they need someone to talk to and guide them as they actively seek advice. Children generally let you know if you have overstepped your bounds; pay attention to them.

If you start with love, you are likely to naturally encompass all of the rest of the suggestions on your own. Take the time to really get to know your kid to the core, not just the surface level version of them. Learn from your past parenting mistakes and the mistakes your parents made raising you. We all have room to grow and build better parenting versions of ourselves.

By Laura Keys, LCSW- December 22, 2020 –

Let’s face it, 2020 has been a year like no other. The pandemic, racial tensions, a divisive election, raging wildfires and so much more have filled our lives with loss, chaos, and immeasurable stress.  Even the most positive and stable people have been pushed to the limit this year.

Have you noticed, however, that no matter what happens in some people’s lives, they are able to maintain a relatively positive attitude and see the silver lining in each situation? They see the opportunity in a challenging dilemma and appreciate what they have, even in the face of loss.

This ability has allowed some to keep their head above water when the waves of this year continue to crash into us.  How can all of us learn from this and see the importance of focusing on what we can appreciate rather than what is wrong?

Fortunately, a positive attitude can be developed with a little practice. The brain is a muscle, and you can strengthen your mind’s natural tendency toward optimism if you work at it.

This is not just good practice for our mental health but for our spiritual health as well. Many different faiths emphasize the importance of thankfulness, especially as a form of prayer. Eckhart Toelle said, “If the only prayer you ever say is “Thank You,” that will be enough.”

Thankfulness doesn’t always come easily, but it is at those times that we need to seek out gratitude the most. 

One of the ways we can train our brain in thankfulness is keeping a gratitude journal. In one study, psychologist Jeffrey Froh at Hofstra University asked students to write in gratitude journals each day for two weeks.

Students were asked to write down things they felt thankful for on a daily basis. Three weeks later the students who counted their blessings reported feeling more optimistic, more satisfied with their lives, and had more school satisfaction.

Froh explained the results this way: “It’s beyond feeling good, and beyond happiness… we found that grateful kids tend to report less physical complaints; but also in the adult literature they found that grateful people who counted blessings were more likely to exercise, more likely to report better sleep, less likely to report these physical complaints.”

Researchers Robert Emmons and Michael McCollough also found many positive effects of keeping gratitude journals. Among the benefits were:

  • Being more likely to make progress on personal goals
  • Higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm and energy
  • Reporting having helped someone else or offered emotional support
  • Children reporting more positive attitudes toward school and their families
  • Adults with neuromuscular disease felt more optimistic about life and slept better

Twenty-one days is the time it takes to form a new habit. Now is an ideal time, as we prepare for the coming year and celebrate the holidays. It is a time to take stock of how we want our new year to unfold and it’s a time to make promises to ourselves about improvement and renewal. 

A different new year challenge than working on our outsides (gym memberships, new diets) would be to start with our insides (our hearts and minds).  A gratitude journal could be just the thing to increase our compassion, optimism, and humility.

Make this a part of your new year’s renewal. Select a special logbook that can be written in each day. At the beginning or end of the day write down five things that make you feel grateful and thankful. You may feel like drawing a picture or attaching photos that mean something special to you. In any case, write down five items each day for three weeks.

If you have trouble getting started, think about simple or even obvious things like running water, your favorite song, coffee, that it snowed (or didn’t) today, or experiencing another sunrise.

Once the list gets started it’s easy to add items. At the end of three weeks, spend some time reflecting on the material you gathered. Meet a friend for lunch or coffee, and share your gratitude.

For more information on the benefits of gratitude see http://happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/.

By Danielle Tessier, Communications & Development Assistant

2020 has required all of us to dig deep within ourselves to cultivate more patience and kindness. Our trips to the grocery store have become more stressful and hectic. Our work spaces have changed completely. Our interactions with others have been cut to a fraction of what they were this time last year. Conflicts have been exacerbated by months of turmoil and troubling news headlines.

Overcoming these additional challenges is hard. With the push from everyone around us to stay isolated and make difficult changes to our day-to-day lives in order to stay safe, it has become easy to fall into a negative or selfish headspace. For many of us, remembering to be kind to everyone is not at the forefront of our minds.

Because we cannot freely hug the ones we love or show an un-masked smile to someone in need of one, it is important to find new gestures that allow us to practice kindness. These gestures of kindness not only benefit the recipient- they also benefit you.

This time of year is the perfect opportunity to start practicing kindness. During the holidays, many families center their focus on giving to others. Many of these kid-friendly methods of showing kindness can continue safely despite the pandemic. Whether these traditions are deep-rooted or brand new, they will help create positive memories and bring hope and comfort to those who need it most.

  1. Write a handwritten note to someone. This act of kindness is a wonderful way to remind someone how much they matter- whether that person is an old friend or a complete stranger. Illustrations (especially from younger artists) always make notes like these just a little bit more special.
  2. Bake/decorate cookies with someone you love. What sweeter way is there to show someone you care than with cookies? If you normally make cookies with a family member you can’t see this year, leave some at their doorstep with a photo or special note. It’s a great way to keep traditions alive.
  3. Leave a kind message for passers-by. Many of us will be relaxing in our respective homes and neighborhoods during the holidays. A sign in a window or message written in chalk on a driveway or sidewalk is a colorful way to spread kindness and holiday cheer. 
  4. Determine what you really need. Looking through clothes, toys, and books to choose items to give to others in need is a wonderful way to show kindness to a family you’ve never met, no matter the season.
  5. Do what you love. Being kind to yourself is arguably just as important as being kind to others. Think of an activity you used to enjoy and purposefully make time to do it regularly. Or find a new hobby to do with someone you love.

These acts of kindness are wonderful; however, as the hustle and bustle of the holiday season fades, it is important to not allow our generosity to fade with it. Although the world continues to change before our eyes, the extraordinary value of even the smallest act of kindness remains the same.

By Leah Lottes, LSW – December 9, 2020-

When you think about the holidays, it’s likely that you picture your whole family gathering together to celebrate. You look forward to it every year, but in 2020, many families are choosing to stay apart in an attempt to keep everyone safe and healthy. This year is different.

Many of us are upset by the challenges and changes brought on by COVID-19. This is something we’ve never experienced, so it makes sense that so many of us are struggling to adapt. If adults feel as though they don’t know how to cope, we surely can’t expect our children to build coping strategies by themselves.

So how do we adjust? First, it’s important to accept the reality of this pandemic, as recommended by therapist Kim Eisenburg, LCSW, in an article released by Sharp Health News. Allow yourself and your children to be upset, disappointed, and angry at everything that has been taken away from your family. Everyone is experiencing some type of loss, whether it’s big or small.

Sometimes it’s the little things we miss the most, such as going to school, going out to eat, going to church, and gathering with friends – all without fear of the virus. We must allow ourselves to mourn what we’ve lost before we can focus on creating new traditions.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to help your kids adjust to changes made this year, here are some ways to reframe the situation and still add a little bit of Christmas magic to your family’s holiday season.

Zoom with your extended family. If your family is tech-savvy, you can have a big family Zoom meeting. No, it’s not the same as meeting in person, but it’s a great way for everyone to feel like they are all in the same place. It’s also a great opportunity for families to share many laughs and memories together.


Check in on family and friends. Check in on those who have lost family members or friends this year. Call family members who are alone during the holidays. Send a “thinking of you” card. Bake some cookies for friends and deliver them to their front porch. Including your children in these little kind gestures will not only help those who are feeling down this holiday season, but it will also bring your children joy.


Volunteer. Whether it is donating your time, money, or resources, volunteering can be a way to help you feel good and remind you of the real reason behind giving during the holidays.

Create new traditions or modify old traditions. This could include having a family game night, starting a new TV series, or having a baking day. These are all activities that allow you to do something fun in the comfort of your home.


Make future plans. No, we don’t know what the future looks like, but we can still try to make plans for future events, gatherings, milestones, and vacations. Having something to look forward to allows us stay motivated and helps us feel hopeful.

This holiday season looks different than past holidays, but it is up to us to help those around us make the most of it. Remember, kids are resilient. We can choose to have a positive attitude and appreciate the little moments together as a family. Modeling this behavior can help build resiliency in kids and can give meaning to a wonderful holiday season, even during a pandemic.

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 Nolan Miller, LSW- December 2, 2020-

Just like a lot of things these days, the upcoming holidays will be different this year. Extended family get-togethers are not safe, and our traditions might not look the same as they did in previous years. 

Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. As we get closer to the holiday season, we need to prepare for the deviations ahead and develop strategies to cope with departures from tradition.

One of the ways we can do this is to accept that there are things out of our control. When it comes to losing control, it is easy for us to start feeling stress. Accepting that this year will be different does not mean that our traditions are lost; perhaps they are just on hold.

The next way we can handle not meeting expectations this year is to practice more self-care. This is something most of us should do more often, but during the holidays self-care becomes even more essential. Giving yourself a break and doing something you enjoy or haven’t had the time to do before can be helpful. Set a time each day to walk away from your cell phone or other stressors and spend time with the loved ones around you. 

Here are some ideas for self-care during this holiday season:

  1. Read a holiday book. Whether it is a book you already have at home or a book that you have been wanting to read, use this time to slow down and escape in the pages.
  2. Take a walk or drive around the neighborhood. We can still socially distance from our neighbors while enjoying the Christmas lights around us.
  3. Watch Christmas movies with the family. Self-care does not necessarily mean “alone time.” Sometimes self-care means spending special quality time with people we love. 
  4. Do something fun or creative. Making cookies or building a gingerbread house can be something you add to your yearly holiday traditions.
  5. Reach out to other family members. Just because we can’t visit our families in person does not mean we can’t meet with them virtually. Video chat may not be the normal we are looking for, but taking time to check in on each other can help everyone feel more connected.

Another way to handle disappointment is to lower our own expectations. Positive or negative, our expectations can have a big impact on our mental health. Holidays are especially hard when our expectations are based on fond memories from years without pandemic restrictions. However, if we are able to drop our expectations and live in the moment, we may find ourselves enjoying the holidays more than we have in previous years.

The most important thing to remember this year is that we are not alone. We are all in the same boat.

We might find that the holidays during a pandemic are not like they were before, but neither are we. This year has made us more resilient and has shown us strengths we did not know we had before.