By Taylor Dore, Youth First Social Work Intern – 04/28/2022

Building a secure attachment between you and your child begins when they are born. Your baby cries to express a need and you, as the caregiver, respond by meeting that need. By doing this consistently, your child learns that they can trust you to meet their needs and keep them safe.

This is essential to healthy mental, physical, social, and emotional development. Having a secure attachment with a caregiver increases a child’s self-awareness, self-soothing skills, empathy, and creative problem-solving skills.

The secure attachment that begins at birth continues to develop throughout childhood. Below are four ways that you can work to promote a secure attachment with your child.

  1. Use touch and eye contact. The “love hormone” is released in both a parent and child’s brain while you are holding them and looking into their eyes. This builds a strong connection in your child’s brain and generates feelings of safety. This can be done through hugging, reading a book together in a rocking chair, or by gently touching your child’s shoulder while you walk past them.
  1. Practice emotional attunement. This refers to reassuring and comforting your child during tough times. Children learn how to handle their emotions through observation. When they come to you with a problem, make sure to remain calm and reassuring while you listen. This helps them better understand their own emotions and gives them an opportunity to internalize reassuring words. Sometimes it can be hard to come up with the perfect advice for your young ones, but simply listening and showing you care about your child’s feelings can be enough.
  1. Create a secure environment. Children should not have to worry about adult matters like bills, whether they are going to eat, or relationship problems between their parents. For healthy development, they need to feel safe with their caregivers and trust that their needs are going to be met. When exposed to a chaotic and turbulent lifestyle, children become anxious and struggle with a sense of security. While these life issues can be stressful and unavoidable, be mindful of what it is age-appropriate to share with your children.
  1. Share play and fun with your child. Just like touch and eye contact, shared play and fun release opioids in both you and your child’s brain, which brings you closer together. Children who play with their parents are happier and more securely attached. As an adult, you may not want to play with Barbies or Legos for hours after a long day at work, which is understandable. Instead, strive to find a mutually enjoyable activity that you can genuinely enjoy, such as going on a nature walk, playing a sport, or watching a favorite movie. Sometimes even chores or cooking a meal can turn into a shared pleasure, so get creative!

By Rachel Haug, LCSW – April 19, 2022

Adolescence is a time of rapid brain and body development through the onset of puberty, which will begin to influence both your child’s physical and mental health. During this time, a young person can begin to develop symptoms that may support a mental health diagnosis, especially if paired with genetic, environmental or situational factors.

Some of the most common psychiatric disorders seen in adolescence include mood disorders, like depressive disorder, adjustment disorder, or borderline personality disorder; anxiety disorder, both generalized and social anxiety; disruptive behavior disorders, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. If symptoms of one of these disorders are combined with drug or alcohol use, a co-occurring disorder could develop over time.

A co-occurring disorder is known as the presence of both a mental health diagnosis and a substance abuse disorder. There is a lot speculation about which comes first, the substance abuse disorder or the mental health concern; however, there is strong evidence that shows individuals struggling with an undiagnosed mental health problem often turn to self-medicating through the use of drugs or alcohol. Studies have shown that the younger a person is when they begin using drugs or alcohol, the more likely they are to become addicted to the substance later in life.

As a parent it is important to be aware of the signs your child may show if experiencing an onset of a mental health or substance abuse disorder. First, it’s important to know your family’s medical history. For example, if you or your child’s other parent have experienced symptoms of depression or anxiety or have struggled with substance abuse or addiction, it is likely your child may experience similar symptoms or become prone to addiction if they begin using drugs or alcohol.

It is also important to make sure an open line of communication with your child is maintained to ensure symptoms are being addressed as they present themselves. If you notice a change in your child’s mood or behavior, ask them about it and allow them a space to speak freely without judgment. Some of the most common risk factors for an anxiety or mood disorder in adolescence include parental history of anxiety, mood disorder or other mental health disorder, an increase in academic or social pressures, stressful family environments, early or significant losses (parental death, divorce, termination of a relationship), chronic illness, history of being bullied (in person or cyberbullying), or history of neglect or abuse.

Treating your child’s symptoms is vital and services are readily available. Treatment could include outpatient individual or group-based therapies, psychiatric medication management, or a combination of the two. Cognitive behavioral therapy, along with other behavioral therapies, could provide some insight into your child’s mental health concerns and ease your child’s ability to navigate what could be a difficult time.

The best place to start would be consulting with your child’s Youth First Social Worker or pediatrician to discuss best treatment options for their specific needs. Early intervention is key! Your child’s mental health is just as important as their physical health and academic performance. There is a community of mental health professionals available to rally around you and your child, so don’t hesitate to reach out for support! You and your child are never alone.

By Megan Shake, LSW – April 19, 2022

Childhood trauma is defined as adverse childhood experiences that are emotionally painful or distressful. Trauma can be caused by a multitude of things, including but not limited to, physical abuse or neglect, emotional abuse or neglect, sexual abuse, death of a loved one, separation from a family member, poverty, serious medical conditions, accidents, disasters, domestic violence, a parent with a mental illness, substance abuse within a family, and incarceration of a family member. Ultimately, there are an unlimited number of things that can be classified as traumatic.

What the definition of trauma does not tell you is that trauma actually changes the brain. It overwhelms your thoughts, emotions, and body. When you experience something that overwhelms you, it can rewire your brain and body.

According to a report from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, not only does trauma cause neurological changes, but it can also cause immune system and hormone level changes. Additionally, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that children between the ages of 3 to 6 who are exposed to trauma may have difficulty learning in school, be unable to trust others or make friends, show poor skill development, lack self-confidence, and may be more likely to experience stomach aches or headaches.

When looking at parts of the brain, studies have shown trauma effects the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that controls emotions. Trauma can cause the amygdala to be hyperactive. That means even when danger is not present, the amygdala still might activate a “fight or flight” response in a person. The result may be a panic attack, a flood of emotion, feelings of aggression, or constant stress.

Another part of the brain affected is the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain responsible for regulating emotions. Trauma can weaken the prefrontal cortex, causing difficulty concentrating or zoning out. Lastly, trauma affects the hippocampus as well. The hippocampus helps store memories. For some people, the hippocampus can have difficulty preserving other memories while retaining the traumatic event as clear as day. For others, the hippocampus blocks out part of the traumatic memory, or all of it.

So what can we do to help children who have experienced trauma? One of the most helpful things is for the child to have a caring, supportive, stable caregiver who can help regulate these changes and help the child better cope with adversity as they grow up. Just one caring and supportive adult can greatly benefit and positively impact a child throughout their life.

It is also important to seek help from a trained professional when needed, whether that be through outpatient therapy or even your school’s Youth First Social Worker. Remember, despite what these kids have been through, one caring adult to provide support can make a world of difference.  

By Jayme Waddell, LSW – April 12, 2022

As a parent, my goal is always to help my children succeed. However, I have realized that kids actually need help learning how to fail. When we fail, we have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and eventually succeed. This isn’t necessarily a new idea but one that I now understand better as a parent.

Failure is inevitable. If kids don’t learn how to tolerate failure, it can leave them vulnerable to anxiety and stress, which often results in meltdowns, regardless of age. It may also lead kids to give up altogether. Acquiring the skills necessary to cope with failure is a crucial part of success.

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”  – Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan, one of the greatest athletes in the world, has spent decades speaking about failure. He has discussed the importance of perseverance and resilience, both on and off the court. His legendary accomplishments and hard work have turned him into one of the most impactful basketball players of all time. Was he born a champion? No. Did he have a raw talent for the game? No. He was relentless and never gave up. He accepted failure as part of his success.

As the pressure to win increases, we see more kids getting distraught over the smallest error. Therefore, it is increasingly more important for kids to learn how to tolerate imperfection. I would argue that learning how to cope with these mistakes may be even more important than whatever lesson or skill they were working on at the time the mistake was made. Learning how to fail is a necessary part of accomplishing any goal. It is an important life skill for kids to master to become more independent and thrive in the future.

Teaching kids how to fail is a process that starts with empathy. Saying, “it’s okay,” “nice try,” or “you’ll do better next time” can invalidate the child’s feelings, which could lead to more frustration and disappointment. Try changing the approach to be more empathetic: “I can see that you are upset. I know you wanted to do better.”

Modeling how to handle your own disappointment can also be impactful. Sharing your failures and explaining that failure is part of life can help normalize setbacks. Children are not always exposed to the reality that we, as adults, make mistakes and experience failures. It’s important to teach our children that it is okay when things don’t always go according to plan.

Make failure a teachable moment. When a child fails, there is a great opportunity for parents to teach critical thinking skills like problem-solving, self-regulation, and open mindedness. Try helping your child figure out what could be done next time for potential success. This is all about balance – we want to build distress tolerance skills by accepting that the situation “is what it is” while also recognizing what we learned or what we can do differently next time.

Watching your child fail can be difficult, but learning how to handle mistakes can only be done through exposure. When we hover or try to protect our children from every misstep, we rob them of the very experiences that require problem-solving. We take away the opportunity for them to experience resiliency and build the confidence necessary to take on new challenges.

Learning how to fail can be a painful experience, but success can only be achieved after we have learned the skills necessary to cope with any obstacles life throws in our path.

Join us for a Youth First Give Back at Azzip Pizza on Tuesday, April 12. Use this coupon, and 20% of your purchases, including gift cards, comes back to Youth First to provide vital support to Indiana students and families.

If ordering online, use code GIVEBACK04. Azzip locations participating include Evansville East, North and West.