By Christine Weinzapfel-Hayden, LCSW – July 29, 2022 –

I know you feel it. The new school year is looming. A new school year always comes with a variety of emotions, excitement, nervousness, and dread (Looking at you, common-core math…). One of the hardest things about starting a new school year is settling kids into their school year routine. It seems like it takes 30 seconds to adjust to a lack of routine, but weeks to get back into a structured schedule. 

Don’t start the night before school starts and expect to have a successful transition back into routine. The best strategy is to start early. Give yourself three weeks of slowly moving back into routine. Make bedtime a little earlier each night and wake up a little earlier each morning. One week before school starts, consistently have them go to bed at their school year bedtime and wake them up like you would for school in the morning. This will help deter some arguments about earlier bedtimes and help them be prepared for those early mornings when school starts. 

It is good to remember that every kid is different, but they all need a healthy amount of sleep. According to Cleveland Clinic, kids ages 5-12 need 9-12 hours of sleep a night, and teens 13-18 should sleep close to 10 hours per night. Making sure you have a consistent bedtime routine can help your child’s body recognize that it is time to settle down and prepare for sleep. This is even true for your older children. 

If you feel like your family is always running around in circles in the morning, preparing for your day the night before can be a huge help. Laying out outfits for the next day takes decision making out of your morning routine. Make sure you check their school calendar, so those pesky spirit days do not sneak up on you. 

I love the use of a calendar in our kitchen for many reasons. Our district doesn’t send home paper copies, so I write all necessary school events on that and check it each evening before bed. This includes whether my child will need a packed lunch. If you have a picky eater like me, chances are you’re packing a lunch. Depending on the age of your child, this is a fantastic opportunity to help them develop independence by asking them to assist with packing their lunch each night.  

The school year can be stressful. The number of events and expectations can be exhausting. Creating a realistic evening and morning routine can be a huge help. Make sure you’re working smarter, not harder, when it comes to routines at home. 

By Kacie Shipman, LSW – July 20, 2022 –

Children and adults may react to stress in different ways. Trauma and stress can cause the brain to feel challenged or threatened, and the part of the brain that reacts is often on high alert. Our instinct is to protect ourselves, often by fleeing, fighting, or freezing from our perceived danger.

When individuals have experienced trauma or are in high stress situations, their behavior can sometimes become confusing to others. The term “trigger” is often used to communicate what caused someone to enter a state of dysregulation. Our brain works in a way that allows us to react before we think. It is a means of protection, although when trauma has been experienced our brain can set off false alarms.

What causes dysregulation? Our body has five great senses: taste, smell, sight, touch, and hearing. For example, a certain smell may trigger someone to experience dysregulation before thinking. If abuse was experienced in a home that often smelled like coffee, the smell of coffee alone could trigger the brain to go into a protective defense mode. This correlation is easier for adults to recognize than children.

Children in a high alert state are not able to reason. It is crucial to help the child regulate their body and mind so they can process stressful situations later. There are many ways to help children and adults regulate, or “calm down.”

It is impossible to know what difficulties others have experienced. That is why it is crucial to treat everyone as if they are functioning in a high alert state or have experienced trauma. Regulating children through their environment can be very impactful in managing behaviors that are difficult to understand.

For instance, if a child is often misbehaving, it’s important to track those incidents. There is a possibility that behaviors may be occurring in a predictable pattern. Making small changes in the environment can help eliminate stressors. Creating a safe relationship with a child can also create an environment where their brain is able to stay at a level of calmness with the ability to reason more than react.

The most critical part of supporting an individual with trauma is maintaining your own self-regulation. Being supportive in a non-confrontational way will encourage the brain to recognize the situation as safe and non-threatening. Understanding our own triggers and challenge areas will help us stay regulated in moments that may provoke unwanted emotions.

Practicing self-regulation skills can be done in many ways including yoga, meditation, or journaling. Finding a positive and encouraging support team who understands the impact of trauma on children can be a tool to maintain ongoing work with those who have experienced it.

By Lizzie Raben, MSW – July 17, 2022 –

The last few years have brought new sources of uncertainty and unforeseen challenges to everyone’s lives.  As we’ve moved forward from a global pandemic, we’ve all adjusted to embrace new ways of living to accommodate the needs of our society.  

It takes time to adapt to change; however, there are simple habits each of us can employ to make it easier to stay grounded and reconnect with the people and activities that enrich our day-to-day lives. 

1.     Staying connected is crucial to preserving important relationships. It is more important than ever to purposefully find ways to both reconnect and stay connected with one another. Though many of us may associate virtual meeting spaces with the isolation we experienced early in the pandemic, don’t discount the benefits of maintaining virtual connections with our friends and families when we cannot gather in person.   

2.     Re-establish routines that work for you. Throughout the pandemic, many of us sacrificed parts of our routines that enriched our mental and physical health. If daily trips to the gym went by the wayside during the pandemic, consider re-establishing this healthy aspect of your routine if you feel comfortable doing so. Alternatively, if you adopted new routines throughout the pandemic such as going on daily walks or reading a chapter of a book each night, make an effort to keep those healthy habits in your routine.  

3.    Commit to finding a healthy balance. Although the pandemic brought additional stressors, it also allowed people the ability to slow down and reflect upon the good and bad aspects of their lifestyle. Now that the world has largely opened back up, don’t feel obligated to accept every social invitation you receive if you’d rather take some time for self-care.  

4.     Forgive yourself and others. Within the new times we face, we’ve all had to accommodate new societal expectations. It is important for us to continue granting others some grace, as everyone adapts to change at their own pace. While we cannot control the ever-changing world around us, we can control our reactions. By letting things go and forgiving, we can treat ourselves and others with the compassion each of us deserve.  

By Deena Bodine, LCSW – Updated July 7, 2022 –

As a Youth First Social Worker, I have been fortunate to facilitate several Reconnecting Youth programs with small groups of high school students. One semester, the group I was working with selected some inspirational “pay it forward” activities to complete.

One of the activities involved writing encouraging messages on Post-It notes that we placed anonymously on student lockers. One of the students penned, “Think smarter, not harder” as her words of encouragement. Her message inspired me to think about how easy it could be to prioritize self-care by simply taking a pause.

Our kids are faced with high expectations at school with fewer opportunities to unwind through recess and the arts. On top of this, so many of them are navigating busy extracurricular and social calendars. The same can be said about our adult calendars.

This non-stop agenda doesn’t allow for much downtime. Downtime gives our brains the opportunity to refresh, recharge, and make sense of what we have recently learned or experienced. Downtime can be characterized in three forms, all of which are important for the health of our brains. 

  1. Getting good quality sleep. There is a great deal of information about the importance of sleep. I have witnessed the effects of inadequate or interrupted sleep firsthand in myself and my children. I’m guilty of sacrificing sleep for the sake of more urgent tasks, but it’s important to remember the role of sleep and its impact on our health and brain function.
  1. Idleness or time spent awake doing nothing. Examples of this include lying awake at night before falling asleep or meditation. Meditation allows us to refresh our ability to concentrate and attend to tasks more efficiently.
  1. Time spent on mundane tasks. Mundane tasks are also essential for learning. These tasks, such as feeding a pet, putting toys away, or cleaning a room give learners a much needed break from sustained brain activity.

Even closing your eyes, taking one deep breath, and exhaling can help refresh the brain and takes practically no time. Carving out some time at the end of the day or the end of the week to engage in meditation or mindfulness is good practice.

Other great opportunities for downtime include vacations and holiday breaks. Placing an abrupt pause on busy extracurricular and academic schedules during these times may feel jarring at first, but it can be incredibly beneficial for our brains and overall mental health. 

In the wise words of a high schooler, we need to “think smarter, not harder” and allow our brains more downtime. Fitting downtime into busy schedules is easier said than done, but it is well worth the effort.