Join us to strengthen kids! A local tradition continues, as this year’s 21st Annual Passport to Adventure Benefit Auction will be held online from April 10 – April 22. New auction items are being added daily, so check back often!

Register to bid and browse auction items here.

By Jayme Waddell, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

There is not a person around who is going say being a parent is easy. It is often a balancing act. We want kids to be self-sufficient, while also providing all the help we can. We want confident children, but they should also be humble.

Sometimes we focus so much on the strong and confident attributes we are trying to instill in our children that we forget some of the other very important traits they will need as they grow: empathy and conflict resolution skills. It might feel strange to put these two things together, but being able to feel empathy towards others will directly affect how they resolve conflict.  

As we build kids into strong, confident future leaders, we need to remember that leaders are also good listeners. Good leaders are also kind, can take criticism from others with grace, and can communicate their feelings in a healthy way. So how do we teach our kids skills like empathy and conflict resolution? 

Step 1: Modeling – The best thing we can do is model these behaviors for our children. When you’re out to eat at a busy restaurant and you feel the service is less than stellar, you can model empathy by making positive comments about how hard the people around you are working or how they might be short staffed.

There are also many opportunities to model patience for your child. When your child is arguing with a sibling, try to help them navigate their feelings. Ask them listen to each other, validate how each of them is feeling during their time to speak, and encourage positive solutions. Our children are great at generating creative ways to solve their own problems when given the opportunity.

Step 2: Look for teachable moments – These could be real life situations, or you could take time to talk through how they would handle situations in a book you’re reading together. Encourage them to think about how the characters might be feeling and why (creating the opportunity for them to be empathetic). Ask about what they might do if they were in that situation and what the results of those decisions might be. 

Step 3: Use “I” Messages – Communicate your own feelings with your child to help them learn how to communicate their feelings in the same way. I-messages sound like “I feel sad when you don’t let me play with you, will you please include me next time?” Helping your child learn how to use this type of phrasing at home and with their peers teaches them how to communicate in a non-combative way and encourages others to hear them without becoming defensive.  

Teaching our children these skills help empower them to have difficult conversations while building healthy and strong relationships. It is possible to have strong kids who are also kind and empathetic. These are the types of skills that help grow future leaders.  

By Deena Bodine, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

Parenting presents many rewards and challenges. Watching our children grow into teenagers who are working to manage demands, grow more independent, and build interpersonal relationships is one of those rewarding experiences. 

During the adolescent years, our teens are likely to experience milestones, including an interest in more romantic relationships as well as developing a deeper capacity for sharing in relationships that are more intimate. We, as parents, can be caught off guard when our child experiences heartbreak.  

As adults, we may look back fondly on memories of our first love, or we may cringe while remembering what we thought was love. Our children’s experiences can often evoke responses from us rooted in our own personal experiences. At times, it can be challenging to know how to best support and encourage our children. Heartbreak is no exception. 

First, our initial response in this situation should be to listen to our child. Listening allows our child to explore and process their thoughts and feelings without interference. This can be a challenge for us because we have spent so much of their lives offering suggestions and advice. 

Second, we should validate their feelings. Heartbreak is an example of grief and loss, and with that may come feelings of sadness, anger, and guilt—not unlike those emotions experienced with the death of a loved one. Validation involves tuning into your child, acknowledging their feelings without ignoring, dismissing, or judging.  

Following a breakup, it can be common to distance yourself from others. While it can be beneficial for your teen to take time for themselves, it is also important for teens to stay connected. Discuss finding a balance between taking time for themselves and connecting with others. 

Keeping busy with activities your teen enjoys can do wonders for the healing process. While it may be a challenge for your teen to avoid their ex, especially if they attend the same school or have the same circle of friends, encourage your teen to set healthy boundaries. This includes online too. Encourage your teen to practice healthy social media habits and limit posting or commenting online regarding their relationship. They may choose to limit messaging or online interactions with their ex as well. 

Lastly, assist your teen in maintaining their routine as much as possible. Check on their health habits, including sleep and staying active. Encourage your teen to talk with family and friends who can support them. Help your teen recognize the positives of a breakup, which include learning more about themselves as well as what they want (or don’t want) in future relationships. 

If your teen is struggling to move on following a breakup, or if feeling unsafe in any way, it is important to advocate for help on their behalf. Encourage your teen to talk to someone they trust. If these feelings are affecting daily life, stopping them from doing things they enjoy, or have lasted longer than a couple of weeks, it may be beneficial for your teen to talk with their physician or a counselor. 

By Brittney Cameron, MSW, Youth First, Inc.

One of the most difficult parts of parenting is managing your child’s behavior. Behavior management is crucial because we want to raise kids who know how to act and behave appropriately, both at home and in social settings.

So how do you manage your child’s behavior? Do you find yourself constantly yelling at your child to call out their misbehavior? Are you often losing your temper and feel like you are already overwhelmed? If you want to see a change in your child’s behavior, you may want to reconsider your approach. This is where positive reinforcement comes in. 

Positive reinforcement is a parenting technique that is used to encourage obedience and teach desired behavior without the use of punishment, threat, abuse, shame, or humiliation. The long-term benefits of positive reinforcement establish a positive impact on the child’s long-term behavior.

Negative reinforcement can instill anxiety and fear that may result in long-term negative impacts on a child’s self worth. Some of the important benefits of positive reinforcement make your child feel loved, develop your child’s self-esteem, and boost your confidence as a parent!

Here are some examples of positive reinforcement that you can practice with your child.

  1. Encourage your child to clean up by offering praise right when it happens. As you see them start to pick up their toys, offer verbal praise for them starting the effort by saying something like, “I like how hard you are working to put your toys away.”
  2. If mealtimes are a battle, reinforce your child taking a bite of food even if they do not eat the entire thing. Try to stray away from bribing your child with dessert.
  3. Instead of nagging your child 20 times to brush their teeth, reinforce the steps leading up to the teeth brushing. If you explain that it is time for your child to brush their teeth and they start moving toward the bathroom, you can verbally praise them for starting the process.
  4. When you see your child independently starting their homework, you can use verbal positive reinforcement to encourage them to continue. Focus on the process of doing the homework itself rather than on how your child does on the homework.
  5. Similarly to how you approach homework, when your child does well on a test you want to praise the effort. This reinforces the idea that hard work is to be celebrated.
  6. Sometimes kids can be timid about trying something new. To encourage them, praise your child’s effort. Rather than saying, “You played so well!” you can say, “I know how scary it can be to do something new. I like how you tried this even though you were scared.”

Positive reinforcement may take some practice, but once you start using the technique of praising the process rather than the outcome, it can be hugely beneficial to your children and will strengthen your relationship.

The Kendrick Foundation continues to invest in the well-being of Morgan County youth. A grant award of $75,000 will be presented to Youth First, Inc. on Wednesday, March 1, at 10:00 am ET. The check presentation will be held at Mooresville High School, 550 N Indiana St, Mooresville, IN. The media is invited to attend.

The Kendrick Foundation’s vision of serving as the premier catalyst for identifying and promoting the healthcare needs of Morgan County is leading health initiatives to address three focus areas: mental health, substance use, and physical activity and nutrition. 

The grant to Youth First will allow for continued mental health support for students in selected Martinsville and Mooresville schools. Youth First partners with 117 schools across 13 Indiana counties to embed prevention programs and 83 skilled mental health professionals 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.

The Kendrick Foundation has supported Youth First in Morgan County since 2018.

By Jacee Baker, MSW, Youth First, Inc.

Every year in March, we are thankful for the opportunity to celebrate our Youth First Social Workers and the remarkable work they do. This year we are celebrating 83 incredible school social workers who provide programs and services to students across 13 Indiana counties. These amazing individuals change the lives of thousands of kids each year.

The Social Work Field has come a long way since it was founded by Jane Addams in the late 19th century. What started as a grass roots, humanitarian effort has transformed into a network of thousands of widespread organizations that help provide individuals and communities with tools and resources to build healthier lives.

Jane Addams and her colleagues created a network that provided vital services to thousands of people each week. They established a system of kindergarten and day care for working mothers, as well as provided job training, English language tutoring, cooking lessons, and acculturation classes for immigrants. They also established a job-placement bureau, community center, gymnasium, and art gallery. Hull House, the social settlement establishment formed by Addams in Chicago, also provided services to individuals with immediate needs such as food, shelter, information, and referrals for other services.

At its core, social work is very much rooted in helping and protecting vulnerable populations. You can find social workers working as outpatient therapists, in homeless shelters, in hospitals, nursing homes, and of course, in schools.

At Youth First, our mission is to strengthen youth and families by providing evidence-based programs that promote mental health, prevent substance misuse, and maximize student success. We do this by placing licensed social workers in schools to provide no-cost mental health services to students. These services include individual counseling sessions, group sessions, classroom presentations, as well as family programs such as Family Connections and Family First.

Because of the ever-changing demands being placed on young people, Youth First Social Workers see students for a variety of reasons. They are well-equipped to help students develop coping skills to manage the stressors of life and find academic success and happiness at school.

Social workers all over the world provide life-changing services to people every single day. I personally feel so lucky to be part of an organization where I work closely with so many wonderful people who choose to spread their knowledge and light with us and our community daily.

Thank you to all of the social workers providing services that help people live happy, fulfilling lives. I’d like to say a special thank you to the Youth First Social Workers who go out every day and change the lives of children and families in Indiana communities.

By Kacie Shipman, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Parenting is no easy task. It’s safe to say that most parents have felt concern over the well-being of their child. Talking to your children about important topics can be uncomfortable for a lot of parents. Often times, the feelings of being uncomfortable come from a lack of knowledge about the “right” thing to say.

As a Youth First Social Worker, I am often asked by parents what the right thing to tell their child about various topics would be. All children have different personalities, even in the same family. It is important to be sensitive to their personality differences, but always tell them facts and be truthful about safety in an age-appropriate way.

Children often ask questions at unexpected times about things they have heard or seen. It can be surprising if your child hasn’t asked about similar topics in the past or the question seems to be inappropriate for their developmental age. It is vital to answer as honestly as possible. If feeling caught off guard, it is okay to let them know you appreciate their question and would like some time to think about the best way to answer.

Talking to your children about their safety can start at a very young age in the early toddler years. Ensuring they know their parents’ first and last names is a great place to start. Toddlers can also practice the importance of staying by your side until it is safe to let go.

Using fear as a tactic to make children follow safety rules can often lead to feelings of anxiety or cause high emotions that lead to additional emotional challenges. This can create a sense of fear in children that the world is an unsafe place for them.

Children are not only hearing the words of their caregivers but sensing their emotions as well. Talking to children when the environment is calm and regulated is much more effective than in the heat of the moment when parents may be experiencing anxiety themselves related to an unwanted situation.

As children begin elementary school, they should be able to start working on memorizing their phone number. Another good practice is teaching children to identify safe adults should they be separated. If they become lost in a store, they should look for someone behind a cash register or someone wearing a uniform. If they are unable to find a store employee, they could look for another parent that has other children with them as well.

As children begin to mature and gain more independence, be sure to continue conversations about using good judgment and safety precautions. Allowing children independence with supervision supports their need for growth while still ensuring safety while their impulse control and time management skills are still developing.

Ensuring your children know there are emergency plans for all situations to help keep everyone safe can reduce anxiety. The unknown is difficult but knowing that your family understands how to be safe can alleviate fear.