By Jordyn Bryant, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Having stress or anxiety as a child can be hard. Children often hear, “You are too young to have stress” or other statements that dismiss their feelings.

Recognizing that children can have negative emotions regarding what seems “small” or “trivial” to adults can help validate the child’s feelings so they can begin to cope. By using coping mechanisms, kids are able to regulate their emotions and feelings more quickly.

One healthy coping mechanism is mindfulness. According to the website, practicing mindfulness can ease feelings of stress and anxiety. Mindfulness is the practice of staying in the moment, which helps children and adults identify how they are feeling right then and how they can adjust to a more neutral thought or feeling. Often when we are thinking of something, we tend to think of how it played out in the past or how it can play out in the future. When we stay in the moment, we can focus on what can help now instead of what hurt us in the past or what might go wrong in the future.

A big part of mindfulness is focusing on your breathing. When your thoughts begin to go elsewhere, you can focus on how your breathing feels to bring you back into the present. When children learn this, they are better able to practice self-control and strengthen their resiliency. According to the website, studies show that the benefits of mindfulness for children are:

  1. Increased focus
  2. Improved academic performance
  3. Decreased levels of stress

Improving on these things can improve a child’s confidence, emotional regulation, and overall mental health and well-being.

As adults, the more we practice mindfulness ourselves, the more we can help our children learn. It is important to recognize the feelings in our children and ourselves. Recognizing that having feelings is okay – even the ones that do not feel so good – is a way to have a healthy emotional balance. Being mentally and emotionally healthy can create positive changes in life, including our physical health, creating stronger families, and having positive social skills. You can practice being mindful in everyday life even when you do not have time for 20-30 minutes of breathing and yoga. Some examples are:

  • Practicing gratitude
  • Checking in with your body
  • Utilizing your five senses
  • Focusing on your breathing
  • Practicing active listening.

Practicing mindfulness and helping children practice mindfulness sets us up for success in different aspects of life. You will be amazed to recognize the changes that come with being in the “here and now” versus thinking about the unknowns and the “should haves.”

By Ashley Underwood, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

Many of us are all too familiar with stress and anxiety, along with all the baggage it brings. Have you ever sat down and thought about how much of what you are worrying about is within your control? Are you stressing over things that you cannot change? Think of it like this – can we control the weather? No. But can we control how we react to the weather? Yes.

This concept is known as the circle of control. It was introduced by Stephen R. Covey in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The purpose of this concept is to help people focus on the things in life they have control over, rather than being stuck trying to change things they can’t control. It is a visual representation that is useful for both adults and children as a guide to cope with difficult situations. I have used this with the students I meet with as well as with school staff.

There are three rings that make up this concept and visual representation. The outermost ring is called the circle of concern, the middle ring is called the circle of influence, and the innermost ring is called the circle of control.

Circle of Concern – This circle contains the things that you cannot control like the weather, other people, violence, etc. When focusing on the circle of concern, people can feel overwhelmed and stressed because they are worrying about what they have no power over.

Circle of Influence – Within this circle are things that you have some influence over like relationships, friendships, or how other people feel about you. Focusing on our power to influence can be beneficial for certain relationships, but keep in mind that there is still no way to control others in the situation.

Circle of Control – This circle is where your thoughts, reactions, and boundaries fall. You can control these things. Focus on the items within your circle of control to reap the biggest benefit for your mental health.

Get out of the habit of focusing on the circle of concern by practicing mindfulness. Be aware of your worries and work to identify which circle they fall into. Practicing mindfulness skills through meditation or guided breathing exercises can help with help bring your awareness back to the area that you can control.

As time goes on, you will notice that your circle of concern will get less attention from you while your circle of control gets more of your focus and energy. Using this technique is a great way to prioritize what’s important without getting caught up in details beyond our control.

By Jenna Kruse-Pauli, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

As parents and caregivers, our first instinct is always to protect our children. Unfortunately, one thing that we can never protect them from is loss. We can, however, support them and have positive discussions with them to help them cope with grief.

November is Children’s Grief Awareness Month, which highlights the importance of supporting bereaved children through difficult times. Grief looks different for every person at every age, but there is no right or wrong way to grieve. 

After experiencing a loss, a child can experience very difficult emotions that can change drastically and quickly. No matter what those feelings are, they are all part of the grieving process. It is normal for children to experience anger, sadness, guilt, or anxiety. Very young children may even experience a regression and begin baby talk or bed wetting once again.

While you cannot take the hurt away, providing a safe place for children to express their feelings is a healthy way of encouraging positive coping. Reading books about loss, allowing students to draw pictures, or sharing pictures and memories is another way to work through the difficult emotions they are experiencing. You may also incorporate discussion around lost family members in prayer if that is a part of your family values.

In addition, sticking to routines will naturally help regulate your child’s emotions, allowing them to take comfort in familiar tasks or traditions. This will help children recognize that while some things have changed, many things will still be the same.

When talking to your student about death, be developmentally appropriate. Listen and provide answers to their questions instead of offering up too much information. Be clear and honest in your answers. If you cannot answer everything, just being available to listen and provide support will be the best thing you can offer your child. Be direct with your child when discussing death. Using verbiage like “they went to sleep” can make your child fearful of bedtime. 

Deciding whether your child should attend the funeral is a big decision. Funerals can provide closure but can also be very difficult for children. If your child is old enough, allow them to decide if they want to attend the funeral. Never force your child to attend a funeral if they do not feel comfortable. If your child does want to attend, prepare them for what they will see. 

Often parents are so worried about supporting their child, that they do not process the grief they are experiencing. Modeling healthy coping skills and communication is a great way for children to understand that it is acceptable to have these difficult feelings and learn appropriate ways to handle them. If you ignore your own grief, your child will do the same.

Remember that the best support you can give your child at this time is a listening ear. If your child is having difficulty coping in a healthy way, reach out to your school’s Youth First Social Worker, who can provide more resources to help you at home as well as support your student at school.

By Brooklyn Wells, MSW, Youth First, Inc.

The importance of regular school attendance cannot be overstated. Each school day is an opportunity for growth, and consistent attendance ensures your child does not fall behind. When students skip school, they miss valuable opportunities to acquire knowledge, develop essential skills, and build a strong foundation for their future.

One of the primary reasons regular school attendance is crucial is that it allows students to keep up with their lessons. When students miss school, they risk falling behind in their studies, making it more challenging to catch up later. Consistent attendance also helps students establish good learning habits and discipline. By coming to school every day, students develop routines that promote responsibility and time management. These skills are not only essential for academic success, but also for success in life beyond school.

Attending school allows students to engage in social interactions and build relationships with their peers. These relationships provide opportunities to develop empathy and learn cooperation. Students gain social skills such as teamwork, conflict resolution, and effective communication by interacting with their classmates. Missing school means missing out on these valuable experiences, which can hinder social and emotional development.

Let’s face it, getting your kiddo to school can be challenging at times. Establishing a routine, setting a bedtime, and organizing backpacks and homework the night before can help better prepare your child for school the following day. Make mornings pleasant and stress-free by maintaining a calm and positive atmosphere and avoiding morning arguments and tension.

Show enthusiasm for your child’s education by demonstrating interest in their schoolwork and extracurricular activities. Discuss what they learned at school and engage in their learning process. Encourage your child to take responsibility for their attendance by setting alarms, checking schedules, and communicating with teachers or school staff when they have concerns. Lastly, show your child the importance of commitment and responsibility by modeling good attendance habits in your own life.

In the long term, regular school attendance is closely linked to future opportunities and success. Completing a high school education is often a prerequisite for pursuing higher education or securing well-paying jobs.

Remember that consistent school attendance is a collaborative effort between parents, guardians, schools, and the community. By working together and implementing these tips, you can help ensure that your child gets the most out of their education and sets a strong foundation for their future success.

By Niki Walls, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

With so much uncertainty the past few years, many young people have not been in the habit of sticking to a normal daily routine. Research proves that routines support early childhood emotional development. Familiar patterns and activities can provide comfort to children during uncertain times.

Children with regular home routines usually have better self-regulation skills, which means they are better at identifying their feelings and are less likely to become overwhelmed. Children can be more confident and secure when their day-to-day activities are predictable.

Routines are important for children of any age, as they are crucial to a healthy functioning family unit. When children can engage consistently with the same adults and children, they are able to develop relationships with others. This promotes strong social skills, allows them to gain a sense of belonging, and raises their confidence in interacting with others.

Routines do not have to be complex; it is important to keep it simple, especially with younger children. A good way to start is by breaking down the scheduled tasks that naturally occur to create a routine. For example, everyone wakes up in the morning. To create a morning wake-up routine, parents can set a specific time and choose an appropriate method for their children to wake up.

Parents should make sure they review the schedule every morning (and throughout the day) so their child can prepare for what is next on the agenda. The entire day does not have to fall apart if the routine gets off track, but it is important to stick to the same schedule as much as possible.

Parents can start implementing routines into the family’s daily life in various ways. Ensuring the routine is repeated continuously is a way to ensure it sticks. Parents can also use visuals by writing out the schedule for older kids or using pictures for younger children. If possible, it is important for adults to make the children aware in advance if there will be any changes to the schedule.

Routines give children a sense of stability and safety. If children know what to expect, they do not have to be on edge and can be more true to their authentic self. It is important for parents to remember that routines can’t be established overnight. A routine needs to be repeated often for it to become a natural habit.

Children who develop self-regulation through routine will build healthier mental health habits and typically handle unexpected stressors more effectively than their peers. Establishing a few new routines for your family is a great way to provide support and stability amidst the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life.