By Deena Bodine, LCSW – July 28, 2021 –

Parenting is no easy task. The teen years are notorious for challenging parents. While these years are a time of growth and a move towards independence for teens, parents may struggle to find a balance between encouraging independence and hovering too much. 

Distinguishing normal teenage behavior from serious problems can be difficult. While it is important for teens to grow their problem-solving capabilities, parents also need to be available to help when their child is feeling overwhelmed. Consider how your teen is fairing in school and their relationships for helpful clues.

Also, is your teen openly communicating with you about their daily life? If you are concerned about any of these areas, follow up with their school’s Youth First Social Worker or counselor about how to best help them. 

While it can be difficult to admit that your teen needs more help than you can offer, there are some issues that require professional counseling and intervention. Teens may need to meet with a professional for a variety of behavioral or emotional concerns, mental health issues, stress, relationship difficulties, substance use, or traumatic experiences.

It is important to recognize some warning signs so that you can seek help for your teen in a timely manner. Signs of depression, running away, participation in illegal activities, acting out sexually, self-harm, or abusing substances are all clues that immediate intervention is needed.

Other warning signs that there may be cause for concern include failing classes, changes in friends or activities, changes in eating habits, inappropriate anger or other significant changes in mood. These behaviors require consideration that your teen may be struggling with more than they can handle. 

After determining that your child needs professional help, seek more information from the school’s Youth First Social Worker, counselor, or your child’s pediatrician. They can assist in a variety of ways that may include completing an assessment, providing additional support, and offering information about referrals and other resources.

While it is not easy to ask for help, it is important to help your child get the assistance they need to be healthy. You may feel a wide range of emotions from guilt to worry to regret. These feelings are all normal, but don’t allow them to prevent you from helping your teen get professional counseling. Not only are you securing help for your teen during a difficult time, you are teaching them an important life lesson about asking for help when needed. 

Abby Betz, LSW – July 21, 2021 –

As a school social worker, I have worked with students of all ages in both public and private schools. I have found, unfortunately, that the majority of students are unable to verbalize what they like about themselves. Most students lack the ability to talk about positive conditions of self-worth.

I recently did an activity with second grade students and asked them to think about things they liked about themselves or what character traits they possessed which were most desirable. Although this may be a tough concept for some students to grasp, most students were unable to name something about themselves that they liked, with the exception of superficial or materialistic things, such as, “I am good at sports,” “I like my shirt,” or “I like my hair.”

It became evident that most children may not receive constructive feedback in the form of positive conditions of self-worth from their parents, caregivers, family, or friends. This saddened me, and I wondered, “What can we do to teach our children to love themselves for reasons other than being athletic or beautiful/handsome?”

As imperative as this is for parents and caregivers to understand and practice, it is equally as important for school staff to instill these skills in our children, as we spend a great deal of time with them every day. The following suggestions can help adults empower children and teach them to value their strengths.

  1. Introduce positive conditions of self-worth at a young age. Simply telling your child, “you are important” can be the catalyst to promoting positive self-worth as they grow older. By incorporating positive affirmations into everyday life, children will begin to understand how much they matter and recognize that their caregivers and teachers see them as worthy of their time, love, and attention.
  1. Focus on the positive. Providing praise and encouragement for achievements and good behavior instead of focusing on the negative or end-result can improve your child’s sense of self. Including your child in the decision-making process in your family (depending on the situation) can also help a child feel empowered and important. This is equally as important to practice at school as it is at home.
  1. Allow your child to grow from their mistakes. Fostering a positive growth mindset in children by providing reassurance that their abilities can improve over time helps reduce the pressure to be perfect. Teaching children that making mistakes is okay and turning these mistakes into “teachable moments” is a valuable learning opportunity. Kids will understand they have the power to problem solve and come up with solutions on their own.
  1. Encourage extracurricular interests or hobbies. Supporting your child’s passions can help them discover their own strengths and weaknesses. Deciding what activity your child is going to participate in without their input will stifle their creativity and erode the feeling they have some control over their own lives.

Creating positive conditions of self-worth is extremely vital to the development of children with learning and thinking differences as well. Giving children with all abilities the skills to recognize their strengths helps boost self-worth and makes for a successful childhood and future. In the words of American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Ashley Underwood, LCSW – July 13, 2021 –

As the mother of a child who will start kindergarten this fall, there’s been a nagging question in the back of my mind: “Is he ready?”

Beginning kindergarten is typically the start of formal education for most children, which can be an extreme transition from life at home or even pre-school/daycare environments.

The academic, social, and emotional demands are much more intensive for children in kindergarten than what was previously expected. Despite these new demands, kindergarten is a wonderful opportunity for children to learn new things, meet new friends, and experience growth.

So, what are some indicators that your child is showing readiness for kindergarten? According to the Mayo Clinic website, these areas are some common readiness milestones that children can show:

  • Demonstrating a curiosity or interest in learning new things
  • Being able to explore new things through their senses
  • Taking turns and cooperating with peers
  • Speaking with and listening to peers and adults
  • Following instructions
  • Communicating how they’re feeling
  • Empathizing with other children
  • Controlling impulses
  • Paying attention
  • Limiting disruptive behaviors

While many of these skills develop between ages 4 and 5, there is not a set age limit at which children obtain these skills. Some parents choose to wait until age 6 to send their child to kindergarten to allow more time for further maturity.

What are some things we can do to help prepare our children for kindergarten before they begin? The National Association for the Education of Young Children provides a list of tips for preparing your child for kindergarten.

1)      Help them develop independence at home. Encourage your child to dress himself, take his coat on and off and hang it up, use the bathroom without assistance, wash his hands without constant reminders, and put on his own shoes.

2)      Teach responsibility. Start transferring small responsibilities over to your child, if you haven’t already.

3)      Develop and follow routines. Set up morning routines that will transfer into a school setting. Getting up around the same time every day, getting dressed, and having an early breakfast together is a great way to transition to a school schedule.

4)      Read aloud to your child. Read a variety of books, read the captions under pictures in the newspaper, even share the comics. Just read together!

5)      Engage them in meaningful literacy activities. Encourage your child to help you with thank you cards, shopping lists, or notes.

6)      Acknowledge their feelings. Your child may express being nervous, not wanting to go or, alternately, feeling very excited to start school. Whatever they feel, take time to acknowledge and appreciate where they are.

It is a big deal to send your child off to school for the first time, and parents want to make sure they are doing everything to ensure their child’s success and happiness. Chances are you’re already practicing many of these skills your child will need for kindergarten. Remember to keep it fun and don’t make it stressful for you or your child!

Additional information about kindergarten readiness from the Indiana Department of Education can be found at:

By Lisa Cossey, LCSW – July 7, 2021 –

Parenting can be like spending time on a seesaw. There are ups and downs. Parenting with your partner when you don’t see eye-to-eye on discipline methods, however, adds another challenging element to the mix.

In cases like this, both parties need to sit down and discuss discipline philosophy. Discipline means “to teach” and should not be looked upon as being punitive. Children are smart, and if they see that one partner does not discipline the same way the other does they may try to manipulate the situation, leading to conflicts between partners.

It is important that children understand they cannot get their way by winning one parent over. Children should see their parents as a unified team. Working together as a team and communicating daily will help guard against confusion and head off potential family arguments and conflicts.

Here are a few suggestions to help couples work together in parenting. These strategies can help cultivate healthier relationships between all parties within a household.

1)     Consistency is key. Both partners should agree on which behaviors are desirable and which are unacceptable. Both partners also need to agree on the parental response to their child’s behaviors. What will the logical consequences be? If possible, include children in creating a behavior plan or family plan to follow. Make sure that your behavior plan is age appropriate and has realistic expectations. We want both the children and the plan to succeed!

2)     Demonstrate and practice with children what exactly is expected. For example, if you ask them to pick up their toys, show them how to do that. (i.e. – It does not mean they hide them under the bed, but instead should put them in their toy box or in their closet). If they do not pick up, they might lose their favorite toy for a day (or more) depending on their age. This is an example of a logical consequence.

3)     Use logical consequences whenever possible. For example, on Wednesday, they are asked to have their room clean by Friday night in order to spend time with a friend. If they choose not to do that, then they will not be able to get together with their friend. Be sure to offer positive reinforcement with your children at every opportunity for making good choices. When they make mistakes, ensure that the consequences are logical and age appropriate.

4)     Make your expectations clear. Another strategy is to have children repeat back the request/command you have made. To ensure better understanding of the directions say something like, “What is it that I just asked you to do?” Using a chore chart or calendar assists with putting chores in better order and creates better rhythm and routine in the home.

5)     Engage in learning opportunities as a family. Reading a story to a preschooler or nursery rhymes with repetition all create the moments of simple directions and serve and volley interactions that improve brain development and learning as they grow. Encourage better focus by playing games like “I Spy” or “Red Light Green Light.”

Helping children become responsible adults is our goal. Kids build self-worth by doing and learning that they are capable of accomplishing things on their own. Behavior plans will also teach them to pay attention, focus on the task at hand, remember the rules and consequences, communicate and learn self-control.

Creating these positive interactions will help children grow into confident people poised for success.