By Christine Weinzapfel-Hayden, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “the days are long, but the years are short.” Nothing makes that feel more true than when preparing your youngest to fly the coop. Looking back on my years of parenting there is a lot I have learned, trial by fire and all.

My role as a mental health professional gives me a unique view of parenthood, but no amount of education prepared me for all the curveballs life would throw along the way. My primary goal as a parent has always been to raise strong, independent children. I want them to feel confident when they enter the world. So how do we do this? How do we prepare our children for adulthood while still letting them be kids?

The first step is always being their biggest cheerleader. Make sure from the earliest stages of life they know you support them in their successes and their failures. Encourage them to take risks and support them when they’re scared. Being there to provide the emotional support they need will help them feel more confident in their ability to take life on as they mature.

Allow your kids to find their voice. Let them question decisions and walk them through why you make the choices you make. One thing we often get wrong in life is that confrontation means fighting. Healthy confrontation allows for growth and open, honest communication. Your child questioning your decisions doesn’t have to mean disrespect; rather, it can be a learning moment for everyone involved. It also allows you to help walk your child through their emotions, communicate clearly, and find healthy coping skills when things don’t go as expected.

I attended a training course a few years ago by renowned pediatrician Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, and one analogy stuck with me. It explained that as parents, our roles are to be the edges of life’s puzzle. Our kids have the job of filling in the rest of the pieces. They’re going to make mistakes and might try to put pieces in the wrong spots from time to time. We’re just providing the boundaries in which they work.

This analogy is beautiful to me and really speaks to the importance of providing guidance to our children. Life will hand them plenty of natural consequences when they put the pieces in the wrong place, and we will support them through those struggles. We’re giving them the opportunities to take on new roles and responsibilities within their lives.

It’s also important to remember that as kids grow, we need to give them more responsibilities and space to make their own decisions. Let them make their own appointments and phone calls when needed. Age-appropriate responsibilities as our babies turn into young adults will help them feel confident when advocating for themselves as adults. As much as we want them to be, they won’t be babies forever, so let’s teach them the skills they need to be self-sufficient, happy adults.

Youth First, Camp Memories

By Callie Sanders, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Did you know that children experience grief differently than adults? Most children are aware of death even if they do not understand it fully. Experiencing grief firsthand can be very confusing to children at any age. They may go from upset and crying one minute, to play and positivity the next. Encouraging the child to express their feelings nurtures positive coping skills that facilitate healthy grieving.

One way to help is to be aware of the age of the child when discussing death and loss.  According to psychiatrist Gail Saltz, MD, “Children understand that death is bad, but the concept of ‘forever’ is just not present.” Younger children may regress to behaviors such as bed wetting or having accidents after potty training. They may also become anxious and clingy after the loss of a loved one.

Be selective about how much information you share with the child. Be direct and do not use euphemisms such as a loved one “went to sleep.” This not only makes a child scared of bedtime, but it can also interfere with healthy coping strategies.

Teenagers experience grief differently than adults as well. They may feel waves of grief and begin to withdraw from family and activities they enjoy. Providing children of all ages with patience and stability will help develop healthy coping strategies.

It is important to remember that children are not always able to express their emotions verbally. Other useful outlets include appropriate play, drawing pictures, creating a scrapbook, looking at photo albums, and storytelling. Draw a picture of memories of the individual who was lost. Create a scrapbook of the deceased loved one so the child will have a special creation to look back on when they are sad. Allow the child to journal so they can express their thoughts and feelings about the loss.

Giving a child several outlets encourages them to work through their grieving process. It is also important to stick to a routine. Even if it is difficult, make sure some of their usual routines happen. For instance, allow the child time to play with friends or attend an extracurricular activity. This will give the child a sense of stability and comfort.

Lastly, let children work through their grief in their own way while keeping in mind they may not be ready to open up about it. Grieving is not linear. Be supportive and leave the door open for children to share their thoughts and feelings about loss whenever it feels right.

Most importantly, remember you are not alone. If you feel your child needs additional guidance while grieving a loss, reach out to your school’s Youth First Mental Health Professional or contact your pediatrician. Also, Youth First offers a bereavement program called Camp Memories for children ages 6-18 who have experienced the death of a family member or loved one. Visit to learn more about Camp Memories.

By Valorie Dassel, MSW, LCSW, LCAC, Youth First, Inc.

In the era of social media, we’ve probably all watched a viral video of an adult throwing a temper tantrum in public. Imagine if the people in those videos had the skills to calm themselves down before expressing a reaction.

If they were able express their emotions in a healthy way, imagine how different and more in-control of themselves they’d feel. Imagine how much stronger their relationships could be if they possessed emotional regulation skills.

The benefits of having quality emotional regulation skills are boundless. Being able to regulate emotions allows a person to identify their feelings and choose an appropriate reaction that will not result in negative consequences.

As an adult and a parent, being able to regulate my emotions helps me be the calm in my child’s storm. It’s hard to help someone else regulate when you’re not regulated yourself. For children, having self-regulation skills will allow them to feel more confident, respond better to conflict, and build healthier friendships.

Now we know why these skills are important, how can we learn to consistently model self-regulation skills? First, let’s note that not all emotional dysregulation looks like fit throwing. According to Psych Central, it can also look like crying spells, binge eating, self-harm, and poor frustration tolerance. When we notice these symptoms in ourselves or our children it is important to move in the direction of regaining control of the emotions and responding appropriately.

Becoming dysregulated is a limbic system reaction. Calming yourself with sensory input can be a great first step when feeling dysregulated. Ideas for sensory input include a tight hug, petting a pet, holding ice cubes, or listening to calming music.

Grounding techniques can also be very helpful in bringing a dysregulated person back to the present. Grounding techniques look like identifying things outside of you in the moment (five things you see, four things you hear, three things you feel or touch, two things you smell, and one thing you taste.) Using all five senses can have a quick calming effect.

Once the work has been done to calm the initial reaction, take time to acknowledge what the feeling really is. Maybe it is anger, or maybe it is frustration, jealousy, disappointment, or fear.

The next step is to identify that actions can be taken to move through this moment. If you’re helping your child manage these emotions, you might also have to help them identify the natural consequences that could come with decisions they make.

If you have a child who is struggling with emotional regulation the best place to start is by ensuring you’re modeling healthy regulation skills yourself. It is always okay to seek professional assistance if you feel it is needed for you or your child.

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

If you have a perfectionist child, you most likely already know it. You’ve witnessed the crying episodes, self-doubt, and meltdowns. Perfectionist children set unrealistic goals and then place enormous pressure on themselves to reach those goals.

While it’s good for kids to hold high expectations of themselves, those seeking perfection will never be satisfied with their performance. To a perfectionist child, a 99% on a test is often a failure.

Additional warning signs of a child with perfectionist tendencies can include high anxiety surrounding failure, trouble making decisions or procrastinating to avoid tasks, or difficulty completing tasks because the work is “never good enough.” You may also notice that your child is overly self-critical, self-conscious, and easily embarrassed.

Perfectionist children seek our reassurance constantly, but this is only a band-aid. It does not necessarily change their all-or-nothing thinking. When we meet our child’s feelings of anxiety, frustration, and failure by saying “You’re okay,” or “It will be fine,” it creates a disconnect between their emotions and our response.

Perfectionist children genuinely do not feel they are okay or that it will be fine. A more helpful response is to meet our child where they are and connect with the emotion they are presenting. You can do this by helping them label the emotion they are feeling. Say something like, “I can see you are feeling anxious about making a mistake.”

Other steps we can use to help change our child’s perfectionist thinking include the following:

Make a point to monitor our own expectations for our child. Are we fueling their perfectionist tendencies by setting unrealistic goals?

  1. Praise the effort instead of the outcome. When we focus on the process rather than the result, we help our children build grit and perseverance. This can look as simple as saying, “I love seeing you practicing your math problems,” instead of, “Great job getting an A on your math test!”
  2. Universalize making mistakes and model healthy ways to handle them. Is your own inner voice too critical? Acknowledging our own mistakes to our children goes a long way in helping them feel less pressure to be perfect.
  3. Teach healthy coping skills. Although failure is uncomfortable, it’s not intolerable. Teach your child how to deal with disappointment, rejection, and mistakes in a healthy way. Talking to a friend, writing in a journal, or drawing a picture are just a few coping skills that could help them deal with their feelings.
  4. Whether your child is melting down on the athletic field after a missed play or spending hours critiquing their image, the all-or-nothing thinking of perfectionism can be damaging to their quality of life.

Perfectionists may be at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Paying attention to your child’s behavior and supporting them through their perfectionist thinking is a helpful way to ensure a strong and healthy future.