By Melinda Johnson, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

“I’m really anxious.” 

“My anxiety is so high.” 

“I can’t do that; my anxiety is getting worse.”

As a Youth First Social Worker working with junior high and high school students throughout the school year, I often hear these statements. Students visit me struggling with an emotional response they identify as anxiety.

Are they wrong? Not necessarily. Anxiety is a common emotion that we all experience because life is stressful. Stress and anxiety are terms used interchangeably, but there are differences between the two. 

So, what is the difference? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, stress is defined as the physical or mental response to an external cause. Stress could include an upcoming school or work project, having an unexpected illness, or experiencing conflict with a family member or friend. It’s a more focused response to a clearly identified event.

Anxiety is our body’s response to stress. The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as the persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away even in the absence of a stressor. Individuals with anxiety disorders usually have unwanted thoughts or concerns of future events and experience long-term symptoms. Anxiety can cause people to seek avoidance, while stress can often motivate people to reach goals or solve the problem.

Stress and anxiety can manifest in similar ways. Both can cause disruption of sleep, increased worry, or feelings of unease or tension. Like anxiety, stress can make an individual feel more irritable, cause a change in appetite and difficulty concentrating. Though, whether it’s acute stress or chronic anxiety, it’s important you’re aware of the symptoms and address them appropriately. 

There are many ways to manage stress and anxiety-related symptoms. Practicing sleep hygiene is one of the best ways to combat unwanted worries. Talk to your friends, family, or trusted supporters. Engage in healthy coping skills, whether it is spending time outside, journaling, exercising, or including meditation in your routine. Prioritize time getting organized and addressing the things you can control.

If you’re a parent with a worried child, help your child identify the difference between what they can problem solve and what they may need help with. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by stressors, which can cause an increase in anxiety-related symptoms or a decrease in daily functioning. 

Remember, not all distress symptoms equal a mental health disorder. However, if symptoms persist, you have a change in your level of functioning or a major life disruption due to symptoms, it is important to follow up with your primary care provider to discuss what treatment options may be best for you.

By Lisa Cossey, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

In a perfect world, all marriages would have the “happily ever after” promised in fairy tales. Unfortunately, in the real world, some marriages end in divorce. For families in this situation, the divorce may end the marriage, but it does not end the need for interaction to continue raising children together.

Some couples have no issues co-parenting beyond divorce. Others have great challenges. For couples who are struggling, there are several things to consider when determining the best ways to communicate with each other.

First, and most importantly, it is helpful to remember to love your child more than you may dislike your former spouse. As young children grow, there are birthday parties, holidays, graduations, weddings, and the birth of children of their own someday. On all of these occasions, you will most likely have to interact with your former spouse, so why not set a good foundation for communication.

In addition to making your life smoother, parents who communicate and interact well with one another set a good example of teamwork and collaboration. It is also helpful to remember you are modeling appropriate communication and behavior for your children; therefore, respectful interactions are key.

Keep your communication focused on the children and set a matter-of-fact tone utilizing appropriate language. Make requests of your former spouse rather than demands. In addition to being respectful to one another in front of the children, make sure you are being respectful when the other parent is not around.

Negativity or complaining does no good, as it only hurts children. The two parents may no longer love each other, but the children love both parents. Placing them in the middle, listening to negatives about either parent, will only cause more harm and hurt for the child. Avoid making your child the messenger. This only puts unnecessary stress and pressure on the child.

If communicating in person is something that cannot be managed, e-mail or texting are other options to consider. Remember to keep the tone professional here as well and stick to the topic that needs to be addressed. If you receive an emotional or heated e-mail or text, give yourself a calming period prior to responding. Wait at least an hour, if not more, before responding. This time allows you to compose your thoughts and rationally respond.

For those parents who absolutely cannot communicate without a breakdown occurring, there are resources available to make necessary communication with each other easier and tolerable. There are specific websites, such as and, which cater to divorced families and their interactions. At, families can create their own family calendars to manage visitation, scheduling of events, and communication between the parents.

Healthy marriages and family life are what we all strive for. However, for those whom “happily ever after” did not work out, consider these options when communicating and building your family life post-divorce.

By Diana Diaz, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

There are many advantages to learning a second language. According to the U.S. Department of Education, babies raised in bilingual households demonstrate better impulse control, show increased abilities to block out irrelevant information, and have a better understanding of math concepts, critical thinking skills, and decision-making skills.

Here are 11 quick tips on how to support your child learning a second language at home:

  1. Prior to learning another language, ensure their home language is the foundation during their first year of life. A strong foundation in children’s home languages enables other language learning later in childhood.
  1. Speak only in the language you are attempting to teach while at home. Immersing your child will help them more easily recognize the language and give them confidence to try new words and phrases.
  1. Watch movies or TV shows in both languages. Many people around the world use second-language media content to help put the language they are learning into a visual and cultural context.
  1. Schedule play dates with families or relatives who speak both languages. Forming positive relationships with others is one of the best ways to learn a language.
  1. Mango Language Learning, Duolingo, and other apps are great resources for kids old enough to read. Many of these services also include movies and audio content in other languages.
  1. Have culturally and linguistically appropriate reading material available in the home and read together at least once each day. 
  1. Listen to music and sing songs in both languages. Songs are easy to remember and can help children with pronunciation and syntax.
  1. Attend cultural festivals and concerts and meet other families who speak the language of interest. Making connections between language, events, and popular culture can help both you and your child form new traditions.
  1. What you value, your children will learn to value. Help them learn the value and importance of learning another language. If the language you are attempting to teach aligns with your heritage, encourage your child to retell family stories and share your heritage with their teacher, friends, and others.
  1. Continue using the language of interest even if your children respond in English so you keep your lines of communication open.
  1. Find innovative ways to help your child maintain interest in the language by using virtual reality games such as Mondly to practice the language in life-like settings and receive real-time feedback on pronunciation.

By Ellen Dippel, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

It’s summertime! The days are longer and the air is warmer. This time of year, it’s much easier to toss routines out the window. Who needs a bedtime when there are fireflies to catch and s’mores to roast?

It’s okay to loosen your schedule when summer comes, but we shouldn’t completely throw away all the time spent during the school year establishing a healthy routine for your family.

Your daily schedule may look more relaxed in the summer. You might not need to wake up quite as early and be rushed out the door to the bus stop. However, keeping an earlier wakeup time and not allowing your kids to get in a habit of sleeping until noon will make your back-to-school season smoother when the time comes.

Start your day discussing your plans and goals. This is a great time to get your family’s input on what they might want to accomplish for the day. It is also a good time to front- load them with any information they might not want to hear. If there is an unpopular activity (like a dentist or doctor appointment) that day, you will want them to have a heads up about this activity.

Eating meals and snacks at regular times is important for maintaining routines as well. Sometimes kids get busy playing and forget to eat. Creating set times and space for snacks and meals helps ensure they’re getting the nutrition they need during the summer months. Get creative during this time. This is the perfect opportunity to invite your kids to help you plan their meals and make their snacks.

Be sure to keep bedtime routines the same. This includes keeping a consistent time, which is not only good for their health but will also help tremendously with creating a healthy back-to-school routine. It can also prevent your child from becoming overly tired with the more strenuous activities they may be involved in during the summer months. 

Plan for fun! Kids need a good combination of structured time and creative free play. Mixing planned time with down time, when your kids pick their own activity and play independently, are both very important. Parents sometimes feel a need to create never-ending magic, which turns into overscheduling and exhausting your kids. Letting their imaginations thrive is a great use of their time as well. 

Having structure doesn’t have to mean no fun. Kids need structure and consistency to feel secure. By providing routine, you’re giving them a sense of security that will help ease their anxiety and give them a sense of safety. With the consistency and structure of a well-established routine, there will be plenty of time for catching fireflies and roasting marshmallows, but you will also be able to enjoy the comfort of predictability.