By Jessie Laughlin, LSW – February 23, 2022 –

Body image and self-awareness begin at a young age, even before kindergarten. As children transition into teenagers, they become more aware of themselves and who they are becoming, which includes their body that is drastically changing due to normal development.

Body image can be influenced by family and peer relationships, cultural norms, societal pressures, and media. Youth with a positive body image are more successful, happier, and more comfortable with themselves. Those with negative body image are at risk for developing low self-esteem and mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, substance use, and eating disorders.

As caregivers, we have the opportunity and responsibility to help young people shape a healthy self-image. Here are some ways to do just that.

  1. Be a safe space. Create an environment that feels comfortable and allows freedom to express concerns and feelings. Listen, be honest, use empathy, and refrain from judgement.
  1. Lift them up. Compliment your child’s achievements, hard work, and resiliency. Praise their unique qualities and positive personality traits. Focus on attributes not related to their size, shape or weight, such as their eyes, their smile, or their hair.
  1. Limit media exposure. Comparison is an easy trap to fall into and can cause feelings of insufficiency and envy. Seeking “likes” becomes a reward system that can turn into an obsession and a measurement of someone’s value. Limit screen time, monitor social media, and talk about the unrealistic features of filters, photoshop, and aesthetic curation. Encourage them to follow people and causes that make them feel good about themselves. Keep in mind that even media that encourages health and athleticism can have negative messages.
  1. Focus on health. Health has different shapes and sizes. Prioritize a healthy sleep schedule, nutrition, and hydration. Explore and offer a variety of foods and cook together, encourage a balanced diet, and talk about nutrition in terms of how food fuels our body, not with labels of “good” and “bad” foods. Encourage healthy movement that makes them feel good and improves strength, rather than achieving a figure.
  1. Embrace diversity. Have conversations about diversity in bodies. Educate your child about normal changes that occur throughout life, especially during puberty. Have routine conversations about prejudice and stereotypes towards bodies and beauty norms. Never shame or compare other body types, including your own.
  1. Be a role model. Young people watch and mirror adults, including behaviors and choices surrounding health. Model and support a healthy lifestyle and be positive towards yourself and others so those around you adopt a similar focus. Check in on your own self-image. Avoid using nicknames and insults that are shameful. Use caution with diet culture and workout obsessions that are often masked as a “lifestyle.” This verbiage can be very harmful and influence a youth’s future relationship with food and movement. 

If you feel your child is struggling with an unhealthy body image, consult with your family doctor, nutritionist, and mental health provider for professional guidance and a plan best suited for their personal needs. 

By Kelly McClarnon, LCSW – February 17, 2022 –

When I started as a first year school social worker with years of experience in a clinical setting, I was surprised by how many kids were coming to my office with symptoms of anxiety.

Manifestations of anxiety can take on many forms. In addition to some children having physical symptoms that can’t be attributed to a virus or illness, anxiety may also involve kids thinking upsetting thoughts and conjuring up wild “what ifs.”  

To make matters worse, I’ve met with several children who have lost a loved one due to COVID-19. Grief adds to the complexity of understanding the world around them.

Here are a few things both parents and school staff can utilize when faced with a student who is struggling with anxious thoughts.

  1. Try belly breathing. Ask the student to place a hand on their chest and a hand on their belly. Tell them to expand their belly instead of their chest with each inhale. This teaches them how to take deep breaths which can physiologically calm the mind and body.
  1. Use mindfulness techniques. This can look like praying with the child or asking them to name things they are thankful for (it’s hard to be worried when they can articulate their blessings). Ask them to clear their mind and just picture a blank space for as long as they are able.
  1. Help them put their worries into perspective. Sometimes just stating what their worries are out loud and having a supportive person help them put things into perspective can provide reassurance.
  1. Have open conversations. Let them know their concerns are valid and that you understand why they may be worried. Reassure them that it’s ok to talk about their worries. We do not want children to feel anxious about feeling anxious.
  1. Name their worries. One term that I’ve often heard used is “the worry monster.” Explain that this is a bully in our mind who is responsible for making them (and everyone else) think worrisome thoughts. When those thoughts come up, tell them to tell the worry monster to go away!
  1. Make a list of coping activities. Listening to music, journaling, reading, physical activity, and getting outside are all great outlets that can help students minimize anxious thoughts.
  1. Model and teach healthy behaviors. Children need to see their caregivers modeling healthy ways of managing worries and stress. They will learn from your example. 

For the children I see, there are so many unknowns. Will school close again? Will I be cut off from family/friends?  Will another important event be cancelled?  Will I get sick? Will my loved ones get sick? Children are still often isolated with events being cancelled, quarantines, and some in-person activities taking place virtually. All these factors contribute to the increase in anxiety that mental health professionals are seeing. 

This is not an argument for or against the restrictions put in place due to Covid-19, but an effort to raise awareness that the changes in our everyday lives are impacting our children’s mental health. Teaching children how to manage anxiety so it doesn’t spiral out of control is an important part of nurturing a child. Hopefully the strategies above can help the next time you have a child struggling with anxiety.

Valero Corporation has awarded $20,000 to Youth First, Inc. to strengthen the mental health and well-being of students in Posey County.

The grant will allow continued support for students at West Elementary School, St. Matthew Catholic School, and St. Philip Catholic School in Mt. Vernon; South Terrace Elementary School in Blairsville; and North Elementary School, North Posey Jr. High School, and North Posey High School in Poseyville.

Youth First partners with 107 schools across 13 Indiana counties to embed skilled 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 effective prevention of negative outcomes for young people. The organization’s positive work and strategies are driving growth, with more schools seeking Youth First’s help to address the growing need for mental health supports for students.

“We’re driven to make a difference for our community,” said Chris Rhea, Plant Manager of the Valero Mt. Vernon Ethanol Plant. “We’re proud to continue supporting Youth First and all they do to improve children’s lives in Posey County.”

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, and the stress of the pandemic will affect the mental health of our youth for years to come. The continued investment of Valero Corporation is critical to achieving Youth First’s mission of cared-for kids. Working together, we can provide Posey County youth with the support and coping tools needed to become thriving adults.”

Kendrick Foundation has awarded $61,476 to Youth First, Inc. to strengthen the mental health and well-being of students in Morgan County.

The grant will allow continued support for students at Bell Intermediate Academy in Martinsville and Paul Hadley Middle School in Mooresville. Youth First partners with 107 schools across 13 Indiana counties to embed skilled 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 effective prevention of negative outcomes for young people. The organization’s positive work and strategies are driving growth, with more schools seeking Youth First’s help to address the growing need for mental health supports for students.

“Since 2018, the Kendrick Foundation has invested in Youth First programs,” stated Keylee Wright, Kendrick Foundation Executive Director, “and we are seeing results. Last year, Youth First Social Workers managing caseloads in two Morgan County middle schools achieved 100% follow through on student referrals for outside mental health support, and the spring Strengthening Families program facilitated by Youth First saw seven families (26 participants) achieve 100% completion of the 10-week program.”

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, and the stress of the pandemic will affect the mental health of our youth for years to come. The continued investment of the Kendrick Foundation is critical to achieving Youth First’s mission of cared-for kids. Working together, we can provide Morgan County youth with the support and coping tools needed to become thriving adults.”

By Nolan Miller, LSW – February 9, 2022 –

Many parents have been there. Your student athlete attended every practice and worked hard to improve their skills. Then when game time rolled around, they struggled to find success on the court or field. As a parent, this can be difficult to watch.

For students, defeat can cause strong emotions. Feelings of sadness or embarrassment can occur if they did not play well. Sometimes students feel angry and place blame on their teammates or the officials. From my experience in coaching, here are four ways to help your child cope with the challenge of managing emotions in sports.

  1. Focus on what they did well. Many times children and even adolescents struggle to understand that victory isn’t everything. In basketball, for example, helping their teammates do well, playing good defense, and being a positive team player is just as important as scoring points. Everyone on the team has their role, and if scoring is not their role it can be difficult for many students to enjoy the sport. Helping students focus on how they positively impacted the game can motivate them to keep doing their part to be a good teammate.
  1. Zap negative thought patterns. When it comes to sports, or even schoolwork, we might hear a student talk about how well they did when they succeeded. The same can also be said when they do poorly. When a student doesn’t do well on a test or doesn’t make a play correctly, they might say something like, “I’m not good at this,” or “Why am I so bad?” These thought patterns are going to set them up to fail the next time they try. Our children need our help to know that just because they fail once does not mean they will fail all the time.
  1. Support them even when they lose. When we’re headed home after a bad day, the last thing we want to hear is how we could have done something better. After a tough game or practice, children will look to their caregivers for love, not for their coaching advice. There is a time and place for that. Supporting them should always come first.
  1. Teach them that life is a marathon, not a sprint. We have all heard it before. We learn more when we lose than when we win. This is true in more than just sports. When we struggle we should look at it as a way to grow and not as a failure.

Not every child is going to become the next LeBron James or Tom Brady, but they can be the best version of themselves. Growth will come with a positive mindset. Teaching children to take it a day at a time can help them see gradual improvement in their skills and performance. Day one might not look much different than day five, but day one can look much different than day thirty. 

Car dealership’s on-going “$10 per Test Drive” television advertising campaign continues to support local charities and causes 

D-Patrick Ford/Lincoln presented a check for $2,500 to Youth First, Inc. on Wednesday, February 2nd 10:00 am.  The presentation occured at the D-Patrick Ford/Lincoln dealership, located at 1100 Walnut Street, which is just south of the Highway 41/Lloyd Expressway Interchange. Each month, D-Patrick Ford/Lincoln selects a local charity to support. It then awards $10 per test drive (up to $2,500) to the charitable organization. Representatives from D-Patrick Ford/Lincoln will be presented the check to representatives from Youth First, Inc to support Youth First’s mission of strengthening Indiana youth and families.

By Ashley Manship, LSW – February 2, 2022-

Maintaining good mental health during the Valentine’s Day season can be a struggle for some teens and adults, especially for those who may not have a significant other to celebrate the holiday with. It is important for older youth to keep in mind that February 14th can be a day dedicated to loving on your friends, family, and most importantly, yourself.

This is the perfect opportunity to give yourself the proper pampering, love and attention you’d otherwise be giving someone else. So if you’re one of the people out there who is single this year, here are a few things you can do to make the best of Valentine’s Day!

1.     Write yourself a love letter. The most important relationship you can have is the one with yourself. Celebrate you and the progress you have made in your life. Take time to think about the future you imagine for yourself. This is the perfect time to fall in love with yourself and all of your accomplishments and future aspirations!

2.     Take a break from social media. Sometimes seeing other people’s #couplegoals posts on Valentine’s Day might make you feel envious or insecure about your relationship status. Take at least a 24-hour break from scrolling social media, or at least be mindful of your scrolling.

3.    Spread the love! Valentine’s Day isn’t exclusive to romantic love. If you’re not getting flowers this year, give them! This may be somewhat more challenging with lingering COVID restrictions, but get creative with safe ways to accomplish gift-giving. Buy some inexpensive flowers at Walmart or another local store and deliver them to a nursing home, friends, church members, etc. I truly find that nothing feeds the soul like making others smile.

4.     Use this time to connect with your single friends. Plan something special for yourself and your single friends. It can be something as simple as hosting a socially-distant or virtual dinner with others so you can enjoy some laughter among friends. This can help mitigate any negative feelings you might have about the occasion.

5.    Finally, do everything you would do if you were in a relationship! Let’s be real, most dates always end in binge watching Netflix anyway (or at least that’s how it is for me and mine). Make dinner for one, carve out time for your favorite hobby, or prioritize pampering yourself. You don’t need a partner to do that!

Valentine’s Day can be a wonderful day to reflect on the love we feel for the ones most important to us. Act on that love, and remember that the most important people in our lives don’t always have to be our romantic partners.