By Brooke Skipper, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

No school, sweet treats, presents, and parties…You might think this is every kid’s dream! If you have a child with anxiety, however, you know this combination can be a huge trigger.

While a long school vacation might feel like a relief for many kids, the break in routine can be difficult for those with anxitety. The parties, loud noises, and bright lights can create sensory overload for anxious kids.

For children who struggle with anxiety or who are simply more introverted, the constant activity and socializing can be very overwhelming. To minimize meltdowns, tantrums, and stress for the whole family, work on coping ahead of time by employing some simple strategies.

1.    Identify the warning signs. Talk with your child about how their body feels when they are anxious. Are they experiencing sweating, racing heart, or butterflies in their bellies? Pay attention to your child’s behavior during anxious times. Some warning signs may be:

·       Excessive tears or clinging to parents

·       Isolating

·       Psychosomatic complaints (headaches, stomach aches, random pains that cannot be explained)

2.    Create coping strategies. Once you and your child understand the warning signs, know what to do to decrease anxiety before it spirals. The more a child can practice these coping skills, the better at them they will become. Make sure your child’s favorite coping tools go with you to events and outings. Some easy skills to try are:

·       Journaling

·       Music

·       Art expression

·       Exercise

·       Deep breathing

·       Fidgets or stress balls

3.    Set expectations. Let your child know what the schedule for the day is. Describe the events you will be attending, who will be there, and what your child may enjoy while there. This helps your child feel more in control and less anxious.

4.    Make time to reconnect. With the holidays full of busy schedules and lots of family and friends, it can be hard to have meaningful one-on-one time with your child. An anxious kid craves that slow-paced rest and relaxation time spent with you as their safety net. Find time to recharge with your child each day, talk through how they are feeling, and identify any needs they have.

Children thrive on routine. Finding ways to maintain some form of normalcy during this chaotic time can be extremely beneficial for an anxious child. Try to ensure your child gets plenty of restful sleep and eats nutritious meals, even if bedtimes and mealtimes shift to accommodate events.

Remember, you are your child’s best advocate. If there is an event that just does not work for your family, it is ok to maintain boundaries and not attend.

By Jana Pritchett, Communications Manager at Youth First, Inc. – Updated 12/15/2022

Christmas is almost here, and kids everywhere are hoping to be on Santa’s good list. Popular toys like Squishmellows and LOL Dolls are on many kids’ lists, as are classics such as Star Wars figurines, LEGO sets, and Barbie.

We all hope to give our children the presents they want, but what do our kids really need from adults this holiday season? What gifts can mom, dad or grandparents provide to help them become happy, healthy, successful adults?

Here is my list of the essentials:

1.     Security and stability. Kids need the basics — food, shelter, clothing, medical care and protection. In addition, a stable home and family environment make them feel safe, and being part of a family gives them a sense of belonging.

2.     Full attention. Be present. Turn off your phone, the TV and all gadgets and listen to them, especially at mealtimes and bedtime. Removing distractions lets them know they’re special and there’s no need to compete for your attention.

3.     Time. Spend quality family time together. Take the whole family to pick out a Christmas tree or to see a ballgame or holiday concert. Take each child on mom and dad “dates” to create special memories and boost their self-esteem, especially if they’re used to sharing parent time with siblings. Spending quality time together encourages deeper conversations and strengthens the bonds between parent and child.

4.     Love. Saying and showing your kids you love them can help overcome just about any parenting “mistake” you might make. Even when your kids have disappointed, frustrated, angered or disobeyed you, they must know you will always love them.

5.     Affection. Don’t wait for your children to come to you for hugs. Regular physical affection helps strengthen and maintain your emotional connection with kids of any age. When that bond is strong, kids act out less often and know they can come to you for support.

6.     Emotional support. Through good and bad times, kids must know you are there for them. According to Dr. Harley Rotbart of Children’s Hospital Colorado, “Parents’ words and actions should facilitate kids’ trust, respect, self-esteem and ultimately, independence.”

7.     Consistency. Parents need to work together to enforce rules. Important values should not be compromised for the sake of convenience or because the kids have worn you down. If parents are no longer married, mom and dad should still try to communicate and work together whenever possible to maintain consistency.

8.     Positive role models. Parents are their kids’ first and most important role models. Kids see plenty of bad behavior in the media. Be the kind of person you want them to become and don’t just give “lip service” to good behavior.

9.     Education. Give your kids the best possible shot for their future by stressing the importance of education. Providing guidance and teaching them life lessons during the time you spend together is also important.

Spending quality time with your kids is the best solution for just about any parenting dilemma. This holiday season and in the New Year, don’t stop with what’s on your child’s wish list. Give them what they really need — the gift of being the best parent you can be.

By Brandi McCord, Youth First, Inc.

As parents, we always strive to provide for our kids and guide them to become successful adults. During adolescence, the brain grows at a rapid rate and continues to mature until the age of 25. In that time, there are factors that can help brain growth and others that can hinder development.

Let’s dive into some steps we can take as parents to support our teens’ healthy brain development.

  1. Build a balanced home life. Just like outside environmental factors, the home environment can highly affect a teen’s well-being. As parents, we should be loving and supportive to our kids. This includes providing rules and instilling moral behaviors.
  1. Provide healthy experiences. Getting teens involved with a range of activities, hobbies, and experiences can also positively impact brain development. This could include suggesting your teen try out a new sport, having them create some artwork, or even encouraging them to join a club at school.
  1. Establish good sleep habits. Did you know that teens need more sleep than children and adults? Yes, you heard that right. Melatonin levels increase later in the night and drop early in the morning for teens. This explains why teens want to stay up late and then struggle to get up out of bed the next morning. Teens need an average of 9-10 hours of sleep a night. Try and stick with a routine to help unwind from the day. Taking electronics, such as the cell phone, out of their room can also help your teen get more sleep. They may not be happy about it, but just remember it is to help them grow!
  1. Encourage an active lifestyle.  Most of us know that exercise provides many benefits and additional energy! You can use physical activity to bond with your teen by taking a family walk or helping them find physical hobbies they enjoy.
  1. Offer healthy options. Brains need nourishment from a healthy, balanced diet. Try to help your teen avoid junk food and increase their intake of healthy foods like fruits and veggies. These nutrients help the brain thrive and develop.
  1. Develop a plan to manage stress. When your brain gets stressed, it does not develop appropriately. Work with your teen on developing a stress plan to keep the stress levels at a minimum. It’s helpful to find a plan that works for you too! Relaxation techniques such as yoga and mindfulness, along with healthy outlets like reading and writing can help reduce stress levels.
  1. Protect the brain from injury. Safety and protection are key for a brain to grow and mature. Encourage helmet safety and the use of seatbelt, along with discouraging use of harmful substances (drugs, alcohol, etc.). Teens are always looking for guidance and will look to you to help them. This is a great opportunity to model healthy behaviors.

By Julie Hoon, Youth First, Inc. – Updated 12/7/2022

The busy holiday season brings many priorities, and our mental health does not always earn a spot at the top of the list. However, gratitude and giving can have a direct link to improved health, increased happiness, and infinite joy…especially this time of year.

As a fundraiser for Youth First, I hear story after story about the joy that comes from giving. Our donors experience feelings of connectedness, wellness, and life satisfaction when they donate to Youth First, because they are giving to a cause they care about. They are helping kids thrive and are positively impacting the future of their community.

In fact, gratitude and giving are contagious, as I was recently reminded by Youth First donors James and Diane VanCleave. James and Diane have a heartfelt Christmas gift for one another that impacts kids and avoids the hectic hustle and bustle of the holiday rush: they each make a donation to Youth First in honor of their spouse.

“There was nothing material we could give each other that we didn’t have,” says Diane about their Christmas ritual, “so one year, James said he was making a donation to Youth First for Christmas on my behalf. I immediately said that I would like to do the same.” Years later, their gifts to Youth First have become a holiday tradition. James makes the first donation in honor of Diane, and then Diane makes her donation in honor of James.

James, an Evansville Police Department officer who worked as a school liaison officer for the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation after retirement, says he saw firsthand the value of Youth First Social Workers as an intervention for students to talk to rather than a police officer getting involved. Diane, a Youth First Social Worker who worked with Youth First founder Dr. Bill Wooten at the Mulberry Center early in her career, says social workers and teachers are making a change for kids and influencing lives. She says, “It just makes sense to support this work.”

Gratitude and giving can cause delightful spillover effects. When donating to a cause you love, you might see the ripple effect in your life from family, to friends, to work, and to yourself. Giving brings about a sense of gratitude for what we’ve been blessed with, along with happiness and joy in knowing you are helping others. Studies highlight an association with well-being and gratitude, resulting in fewer doctor’s visits, taking better care of self, and improved relationships. With giving, many people experience greater satisfaction in life, reduced stress, and a healthier outlook in general, both physically and mentally. 

Perhaps this season your holiday list may include giving to a charity you love? If so, I can assure you that joy and happiness will follow. Our community thrives and so does your mental health. James and Diane certainly agree that their Christmas gifts of giving to Youth First are a natural extension from their hearts to give back to their community. “Plus, it’s the perfect gift,” adds James. “It always fits and you will never have to return it!” 

Julie Hoon is the Vice President of Philanthropy for Youth First. If you would like to find out more about how to make a donation to Youth First, please contact Julie at Youth First, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families, provides 83 Master’s level social workers to 110 schools in 12 Indiana counties. Over 60,000 youth and families per year are served by Youth First’s school social work and after school programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors and maximize student success. To learn more about Youth First, visit or call 812-421-8336.