By Megan LaRue, LSW – January 26, 2022 –

As children develop and learn to be more independent, their focus on family starts to fade and peers become the center of their universe. The need to fit in with a circle outside the home is a major stage of development.

However, when children start to form these groups and their various upbringings come into play, there are bound to be some bumps along the way.

From my own experience working with youth, this connection to peers really starts to take hold around 3rd-4th grade, although it can be different for each child. These years are also when conflicts start to arise and friendships can either be solidified or start to fade away.

Here are a few of my favorite strategies for helping kids work through conflict and develop positive communication skills.

The first obstacle kids may face in working through peer conflict is recognizing the bigger picture. As humans in conflict, kids are likely to assign blame outside of themselves. Although there are situations where someone wrongs us, we have to be open to recognizing our own faults as well.

Teaching children how to examine a situation from all perspectives can help them recognize when they may need to take some responsibility. Asking children questions like, “How do you think that feels?” or “How do you think your friend sees this situation?” can help kids practice this important skill.

Often when kids develop conflict with one friend, they may seek alliance with an uninvolved peer to support them or take their side. Like adults, kids just want to feel heard and understood. Although feeling supported and not alone is helpful, it doesn’t solve the original conflict. This can often be an avoidance strategy that provides temporary relief while not addressing the issue at hand.

Teaching students how to effectively confront the issue with the involved person can help to minimize the damage in the long-run. Key strategies for this include good communication and the ability to share feelings in a positive way. Modeling this behavior and the practice of identifying complicated emotions can help kids have the language to share their experiences.

Along with sharing their own feelings, kids have to learn to receive others’ feelings and be open to maintaining clear boundaries. When someone expresses they’ve been hurt or doesn’t like something that’s happened, this isn’t necessarily a personal attack or an attempt to be hurtful. It is an opportunity to improve the relationship and prevent future conflicts.

Kids don’t need to change who they are because someone doesn’t like it, but they do need to learn to be open to change as they recognize how their actions affect those around them. Being a good listener and having the ability to say, “I hear what you’re saying and I will think about this going forward” can be the best way to make sure everyone feels heard.

By Shannon Loehrlein, LCSW – January 19, 2022 –

Being a parent is hard. I can say this is 100 percent true from my own personal experience with a seven-year-old and a two-year-old. Parenting is a job that offers no pay, little appreciation, and no time off. It’s a 24/7 job. Who in their right mind would apply to that job, right? 

Parenting in 2022 comes with an extra set of challenges. The seemingly never-ending COVID pandemic has put intense pressure on parents and families. The Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on health issues in the United States, has been studying mental health related changes due to the COVID pandemic. They found that in 2019, the average number of adults reporting anxiety and depression was 11 percent. By January of 2021, that number rose to 41.1 percent. 

Parents play an important role, because children look to their parents for emotional regulation and safety during difficult times. It’s crucial for parents to be able to regulate their own emotions in order to also regulate their children.

Here are some simple tips to help parents regulate themselves.

1.     Take time for yourself. It’s important for parents to have time away from their children. Some people enjoy alone time and others enjoy spending time with other adults. Do what replenishes you and carve out time each day, even if only 10 minutes.

2.     Prioritize transition times. Have you ever noticed that your own kids act out the most during transition times (bedtime, end of playtime, coming home from school etc.)?  It’s because transitioning from one task to the next can overstimulate the brain. Adults have difficulty with this too. A good way to help with this transition is to doing something you enjoy during the transition. For example, I personally like listening to audiobooks or podcasts during my commute from home to school. I’ve noticed my kids need this time to decompress too. Make a family rule that for the first 30 minutes home from work/school, everyone has “calm time” alone.

3.     Try breathing techniques. Breathing exercises and meditation can reset the brain when you’re feeling overwhelmed. The main focus on breathing is to hold your breath between inhale and exhale and try to exhale longer than you inhale. This type of breathing helps with your parasympathetic nervous system. You can find many examples of breathing exercises on YouTube and different mindfulness apps. 

4.     Spend time having fun. Many times as parents we move from one task to the next, never really finding time to enjoy our day. Make sure you and your kids spend time having fun each day. You could read a book, play outside, have family game night, or watch a movie together. Having these types of experiences also promotes healthy bonding with your children. 

5.     Exercise. Exercise is really important in managing stress and decreasing anxiety and depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can make a statistically significant difference in improving anxiety and depressive symptoms by releasing “feel-good endorphins” in your brain. Any exercise is good exercise, just go at your own pace. 

Remember, this pandemic has been difficult for everyone around the world. It’s okay to have times when you feel overwhelmed. If you don’t feel that self-care is enough for you, it’s okay to seek help from a professional. Now many mental health providers offer virtual sessions, removing barriers to access care. Remember, we are all in this together!

By Camryn Cater, MSW – January 14, 2022 –

When traveling by plane, we have all heard flight attendants tell us that in an emergency you should put an oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on your child. This is to ensure the adult’s safety so they can take care of the child accompanying them.

Parents tend to instinctively place their child’s well-being before their own. But what happens when a parent does not take care of themselves first?

Stress is an emotional response to the demands of life such as bills, school, work, taking care of children, and all the additional curve balls that life throws our way. Stress affects everyone differently, and it’s important to remember that not all stress is bad. However, long term stress can negatively affect your health as well as the health of your children.

The number one stress-related mental health diagnosis is anxiety. Parental stress causes increased behavioral issues in children and can lead to poor performance in school. It can also result in children using less expressive language, having poor social skills, experiencing more mental health struggles, and having a harder time coping with change.

During my time as a Youth First Social Worker, I have noticed that the behaviors of parents and guardians struggling with large amounts of stress are often mirrored by their children. For example, when parents are experiencing depression or undergoing tough times, their children may experience lack of motivation in school, poor grades, and often appear more tired. Some parents experiencing anxiety have children with anxious behaviors such as lack of control over emotions, lack of sleep, and frequent stomach aches.

Understanding your stressors and prioritizing self-care can help create a better environment and healthy lifestyle for you and your child. Practicing and teaching your child effective self-care is very important as they grow and mature throughout their life. Children absorb and learn from your habits.

Parents and guardians can help their child overcome stress by modeling positive habits. Examples of self-care include exercising, taking a longer shower, finding a new hobby, prioritizing sleep, replacing negative self-talk with positive self-talk, and reaching out for support if necessary.

Help your child identify their emotions and let them know it’s okay to feel the way they do. This allows them to learn healthy ways to react to those emotions when they arise. Topics children find stressful may seem trivial when compared to our adult stressors, but acknowledging a child’s stress is important for the child to feel heard and understood.

In the happiest of our childhood memories, our parents were happy too! Putting yourself first as a parent is not as selfish as it sounds. Committing to habits of self-care can create a better well-being for yourself and a positive future for your child.

By Katherine Baker, LCSW, LCAC – January 6, 2022 –

During my time as a Youth First Social Worker, I have worked with many students impacted by cancer. This school year has been no exception, as I was diagnosed with breast cancer myself in July 2021. Here are a few ideas you may find helpful when coping with a cancer diagnosis.

When first learning about a cancer diagnosis, you may be scared and confused. After the initial shock has worn off, start reading and asking questions. There are many educational books and articles available to help you understand the type of cancer you or a loved one is facing. There are support groups in the community that can help as well. Check them out!

When going to doctor appointments, take another person with you who can assist with taking notes and asking questions. The person with cancer can be overwhelmed at times, so having someone else there for support is important. Bring a notebook and pen with questions you have thought of.

I began keeping a daily/monthly calendar of all doctor appointments and tests. It has been a good way for me to look back to check dates for billing purposes. I also use the calendar as a journal where I record how I feel on chemo days, as some days are better than others.

Keep in mind that some people may not be sure how to react to someone else’s cancer diagnosis. I told my Youth First supervisors, as well as school administrators and my co-workers, about my diagnosis at the start of the school year. I wanted them to be aware of what I would be going through, especially as I knew I would be losing my hair.

I met with students individually to determine if they would be okay working with me. Some of them had parents or family members with cancer, and I did not want to cause additional trauma or stress. Most were receptive, and some check on me as much as I check on them.

Develop a support system that includes family, friends, church community members, neighbors, peers, and co-workers. You will have your oncologist and other medical support staff guiding you through treatment, but having the support of loved ones is just as important.

I can’t do it all on my own, so I find it comforting to have others support me physically, mentally, and spiritually. While going through chemotherapy, my co-workers made goody bags on a regular basis filled with items such as Chapstick, hand and body lotion, puzzle books, snacks, etc. Cards of encouragement are always welcome; everyone loves getting mail!  

Finally, if you know someone with cancer, ask them how you can help. It could be just listening to them, sharing a meal, helping with transportation to appointments, going on walks together, or even helping with housework. Most importantly, be flexible and patient with someone going through their cancer journey.

Drive a brand new Ford and give back to Youth First! During the month of January, D-Patrick’s Evansville Ford Dealership will donate $10 to Youth First for every test drive. Visit their Evansville Ford Dealership online! Please set a date this month and invite the family to test drive for Youth First!