By Sarah Elrod, LMHC – February 28, 2024

If you are a working parent, whether it’s full or part time, this article is for you. Have you ever just felt so overwhelmed that you couldn’t breathe? Is it difficult to find a minute for yourself each day after taking care of others? Are there days you get off work and just don’t want to talk to anyone or even take care of your kids? Or maybe you’ve had a day where you just want to sit on the couch and binge your favorite Netflix show without being bothered.

If you answered yes to any of these, you are not alone, and I am here to validate you. You are doing an amazing job. For most parents, there are days where we push ourselves to the limit and feel like we have nothing left to give.

In addition to working and taking care of a family, many parents choose to take time for hobbies, workouts or coaching their child’s sports team. Then, when you finally convince yourself to do something you enjoy, you might feel guilty for not spending the spare time you have with your family.

I want you to know is that it is okay to take a break. It is okay to not get everything done in one day. That’s what tomorrow is for. Personally, I am not immune to feeling guilty when I believe I haven’t done enough. It’s a completely normal feeling.

Working as a mental health professional for the past 6 years has taught me that we are all fighting our own battles, no matter how big or small we may think they are. We all have our own ways of adjusting or getting through the hard times. I have come up with some steps to follow during those times to help focus on you.

  1. Acknowledge how you feel. Take at least 30 seconds each day to check in with yourself. Assess how your body is feeling. Pay attention to the thoughts you’re having. Once you have taken the time to focus on yourself for just a moment, move on to the next step. 
  2. Validate yourself. Validate feelings of guilt, anger, sadness, satisfaction or happiness. Per Dictionary.com, the definition of validation is, “recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile.”  Give yourself some credit for all that you’re able to accomplish and give yourself grace. 
  3. Identify what soothes you or how you can cope effectively with the stress you are experiencing. A coping skill is a behavior or activity that one might use to decrease stress or manage difficult emotions. So when you’re trying to cook dinner after a long and stressful day, the kids are fighting for your attention and you feel stressed out, a coping skill is your best friend. Some examples of coping skills include listening to music, exercising, smelling a candle, interacting with your pet, hanging out with friends, or deep breathing and meditation. A great resource is Positivepsychology.com, where there’s a long list of coping skills. See what works best for you. The goal is to get to a level of functioning where you don’t feel like you’re going to self-implode. 
  4. Remember that you are capable and strong. If you feel as though taking steps on your own is not working, I highly recommend seeking out a mental health professional so you can talk in a comfortable and supportive environment. Additionally, most employers offer an Employee Assistance Program, where they collaborate with a local mental health facility and offer a designated number of therapy sessions free of charge.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, know that you are not alone. Your feelings are valid and you have the right to take care of yourself along with everyone else. Give yourself permission to focus on you and be the best version of yourself you can be!

By Jordan Nonte, MSW, LSW – February 21, 2024

There are many factors impacting sports and athletes today, including social media, cost to participate, time commitment, and hyper competitiveness. I think anyone could make the argument that sports help kids develop many skills that can benefit them in adulthood. However, since sports culture has been evolving, are the benefits outweighing the costs?

According to the Aspen Project, in 2018, 38 percent of children participated in an organized sport, down from 45 percent in 2008. According to the MedPage Today, research has found that early or overspecialization in sports, or playing the same sport for 8 months or more per year, has increased injuries and burnout.

Meanwhile, parents are paying big money for their child to participate in some programs, on top of gear and travel. These high costs may cause parents to put more pressure on teams to succeed. Some parents may be expecting their children to obtain athletic scholarships for college, also increasing an athlete’s pressure to compete.

Demanding schedules can cause overuse injuries, resulting in medical bills and worried parents, causing further stress and anxiety on young athletes. These stressors may pressure kids to play through the pain or return to a sport before their injury has fully healed.

When kids try out for a sport, their main goal is usually to “have fun.” They are expecting to make new friends, develop skills in a sport, and get some mentorship from a coach. As time goes on and the stakes get higher, this may evolve into burnout from a packed schedule, guilt from parents’ financial contributions and time commitment, stress from an injury, anxiety to earn a scholarship, and ultimately, pressure to win. Many times, older athletes are completely basing their value as a person on their ability to compete in a sport.

So what do we do to prevent this? An athlete’s enjoyment in a sport largely contributes to whether or not they will stick with it. So how can we make sports fun again for athletes?

What about if we check in with our athletes as parents and coaches? We might ask questions like, “What are you hoping to get out of this season?”  “What would you like to see happen?” “How can I support you?”

It might mean, as a parent, leaving the coaching to the coaches and not coaching from the stands or coaching on the way to and from games, or cutting out the travel season and just competing during the school season. As a coach it might mean cutting back on the two-a-day practices, having a team bonding day or outing, incorporating fun games into practice, or giving a day off.

And for both parties, it might mean prioritizing fun and skill building over winning. Overall, having positive and encouraging conversations with athletes and checking in is a must.

Unfortunately, there is no black and white answer. What works for one athlete may not work for all. Every athlete is an individual, trying to thrive with different dynamics of parents, coaches, and teammates. How they are doing and feeling about a sport depends on many factors.

Therefore, I’ll leave you with this. Check in with your athletes whether you are a parent or coach. Take time to talk with them one-on-one and really listen to their hopes as well as their burdens. From there, assist them in coming up with some options to find relief, address an issue, or maybe sign up for another sport. We won’t know the answer until we have these conversations and show our athletes that we are there to listen, support, and help them make the best decisions for their mind, body, and spirit. Maybe then, we will see more kids joining sports again, and more importantly, having fun!

By Hailey Hagan, MSW – February 14, 2024

Anxious teens are vulnerable to experiencing panic attacks, which can be a frightening experience for both the child and the parent/caregiver. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, panic attacks are characterized by a sudden wave of fear or discomfort or a sense of losing control when there is no clear threat of danger.

Panic attacks are often accompanied by physical symptoms such as racing heart, dizziness, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Oftentimes these symptoms develop without warning, so what can you do to help your anxious teen cope with a panic attack at home?

  1. Stay Calm and Reassuring. Even though teens won’t show it, they look to their parents and other adults for stability and reassurance that everything is okay. If a parent reacts with great concern, it can unintentionally send a message that the panic attack is serious and potentially dangerous. So, when your teen is in the midst of a panic attack, stay calm, speak in a soothing tone and remind them you are there for them. Your relaxed demeanor can act as a guiding light in their storm of anxiety.
  1. Validate Their Feelings. Let your teen know that what they’re feeling is valid and okay. Avoid judgment or dismissive remarks. Reassure them that it’s a temporary situation and that you are there to support them unconditionally.
  1. Create a Safe Space. Find a quiet, comfortable place where your teen can sit or lie down. Eliminate any triggers, if possible, and offer them a comforting item, such as a soft blanket or a favorite stuffed animal.
  1. Help Distract Them. There are many tools and techniques to help distract an individual during a panic attack. Exercising, playing a game, eating a snack, using ice packs to cool down the body, breathing techniques, a shower or a bath, or watching a favorite show are all techniques that can be used to distract your teen during a panic attack.
  1. Help Them Avoid the Panic Attack Trap. Once a teenager has a panic attack, they may become fearful of having another one and may avoid activities and situations they feel could trigger another attack. As a result, your teen may try to avoid school, social activities, family events, or sports. While understandable, this avoidance only worsens anxiety and increases the chance for more panic attacks. It is important to encourage your teen to face these situations, while at the same time empathizing with how challenging it is to face a scary situation.

In these moments, your understanding, patience, and support can make a significant difference. By being a source of strength, you can help your teenager manage panic attacks and, in the process, strengthen your parent-child relationship.

By Hannah Gill, MSW, LSW – February 7, 2024

These days it seems like a surprising number of children and teens are under significant stress, and this is likely true for many others in our communities. Research shows that the COVID-19 pandemic heightened anxiety and depression for many kids, and we are now seeing the effects. It can feel overwhelming to consider the impact these events, although out of our control, have had or will have on our children. It can be even more overwhelming to think about healing and moving on from these stressors.

When we think about recovery from intense stress, our brains will go right to traditional one-on-one outpatient therapy. While this is undoubtedly an essential part of healing for some children and teens, it is also important to consider how small therapeutic moments in a child’s day can immensely impact their life.

Clinician and researcher Bruce Perry has studied trauma in young children and developed an understanding of how it affects them and how communities can help them overcome trauma and adversity. While many situations that Bruce Perry researches and discusses are extreme, one important takeaway is the power of therapeutic moments and interactions.

These interactions may be with parents, teachers, administrators, counselors, and social workers in our schools and communities. In his book The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Perry explains that a therapeutic moment can significantly influence a child’s life. He writes, “It merely requires being present in social settings and being, well, basically, kind… The more we can provide each other these moments of simple, human connection – even a brief nod or a moment of eye contact – the more we’ll be able to heal those who have suffered traumatic experience.” 

This gives me hope when I think about our communities and the children in our schools. It illustrates that any moment can be therapeutic if we are attentive and engaged with a child and their actions. This might mean interacting with a child getting ready for school in the morning, after they get home, or in the hallway as students go from class to class.

It may seem like a challenge to help a child recover from stressors or move on from a situation that felt hard for them. Yet this view of recovery and therapeutic moments gives adults the space and permission to engage authentically with the children and teens in their lives. It shows the power that nurturing adults can genuinely have.

This lens gives us, as the adults in a child’s life, permission to show up authentically and gives us evidence that if we do so consistently, that alone may be enough to help a child overcome stress and heal from traumatic events they might have experienced. The Youth First Social Worker or Youth First Mental Health Professional in your child’s school building can help parents and teachers consider ways in which they can bolster and provide therapeutic moments and create moments for co-regulation in a day.

By Natasha Goodge, MSW, LSW – February 1, 2024

“I’m bored,” 5-year old Julian often says.  

As a mother, social worker, and let’s face it, a people pleaser, my initial reaction to this and other complaints is to try to fix them. I offer suggestions, provide distractions, or simply hand over my smart phone.  

For some children and adults, boredom can feel uncomfortable and result in feeling anxious. Boredom is disengagement, and disengagement from your environment feels vulnerable and dysregulating. Chronic boredom can even lead to depression and anxiety.  

Chronic boredom, however, is very different from the initial, superficial level of boredom experienced when standing in line or waiting for the next episode of our new favorite show. These days, this initial dip into monotony is easily avoided by checking our email or with a quick scroll through our favorite social media pages. This avoidance of boredom, however, may mean a loss of opportunity for connection, innovation, and creativity. 

Boredom can make children feel restless and frustrated, but it can also lead to the discovery of new interests and meaningful activities. When children engage in play that is undirected and unmanufactured, the creative part of their brain is stimulated. They can develop creative skills that stay with them for life.

For example, a child may start playing keys on the piano and then picking out a tune, which may spark an interest in taking piano lessons. They may observe grandma working on a knitted hat and ask to learn to knit. Younger children may search the house for sheets and blankets to build a fort to play in.  

Being bored can be especially good for children by helping them develop planning strategies, problem-solving skills, flexibility, and creativity. It also helps kids build tolerance for the inevitable, not-so-fun experiences, such as long car rides and adult dinner conversations. Being bored together offers opportunities for your child to observe their surroundings more closely, practice mindfulness, self-reflect, or to develop and practice interpersonal communication skills and share about themselves. Once, in an especially long line for pizza, my son explained in detail his complicated feelings about his classmates.  

“You can’t teach creativity,” writes psychologist Peter Gray, “All you can do is let it blossom.”  Now when my son tells me he is bored, I say, “That’s great honey!”