By Ellen Dippel, MSW, LSW – March 27, 2024

Body positivity is having its moment, and I think we should all be excited about that. Through the decades we’ve seen fashion change, and along with that so do beauty standards. It seems as though the bar is always moving and always out of reach.

In the world kids live in today, they are surrounded by images of what “beauty” is and constantly being told what they can do to achieve that standard. But as more people come forward and embrace their bodies with all of their beautiful imperfections, how can we capitalize on this to help grow body-positive children?

To start, we need to understand the harm caused by commenting on a person’s body, even our own body in front of our kids. Even when we think they are not listening, they are, and those little sponge-like brains internalize whatever message we’re putting out into the world. When we are constantly putting ourselves down in front of our kids, they hear that. In addition, making comments on a child’s weight has lasting effects such as decreased self-esteem, depression, body dysmorphia and disordered eating.

We should always encourage our children to live a healthy lifestyle. It is important to teach kids from a young age that weight does not equate to health. When kids see or hear their parents or other trusted adults talk about people with bigger bodies in a negative way and deem them “unhealthy,” they internalize it.

When teaching kids the power of body positivity, the most important thing to do is start by being a good role model. Be careful about the words you use to describe yourself and how you talk about your body. Be sure to speak of your own body using positive terms. Also, talk to your kids about how all bodies are different and their body isn’t expected to look just like anyone else’s. Make sure you set yourself up as someone they trust and can talk to when they are feeling self-conscious.

Trying to work on your own relationship with food and exercise can also be a great way to role model for children. So often we look at foods as “good” or “bad,” but really all of it is just fuel for our bodies. Some foods give us more fuel, while others might make us feel like they have drained the fuel. This is a great way to talk about food with kids. There is a time and place for all types of snacks and treats. Talk about fueling our bodies, what foods give us more energy, and what foods are going to make us feel stronger. It’s also important to stress that you never have to “earn” food through exercise. Be sure you’re showing your kids that exercise is there to make you feel good, get stronger, and have more energy, and not just to be thin or fit a specific body type.

Eating disorders for young people are on the rise every year, but with more people coming forward and actively loving their bodies at all different shapes and sizes, we are moving in a direction to allow kids to feel comfortable and confident. 

By Angel Wagner, MSW, LSW – March 20, 2024

Being a teenager can be rough. We think we have it hard as adults, juggling work, home, family finances, and more. Imagine having some of those responsibilities, plus you’re not quite sure who you are, where you want to go in life, and what you want to be. It’s no wonder our teens are experiencing anxiety.

Teens report feeling significant pressure when it comes to making immediate decisions about exactly what they want to do after high school. Four years go by in the blink of an eye, and some teens report they don’t even know what hobbies they enjoy, let alone what they’re going to study in college or what career they’re going to choose.

These suggestions on how to show support may help ease your teen’s anxiety about themselves and their future. First, a supportive environment with a lot of options is key. As a school social worker, I hear teens say every day how they just want to make their mother, father, or other parental figure proud. However, they worry that because they are interested in something like art and their parent is a lawyer that they are a complete letdown. Allowing your teen to explore their options and find what they are passionate about with a supportive “I’m so proud of you” attitude can help ease their mind. Kind words go a long way.

Encourage your teen to take a break sometimes. High school is challenging! Teens have multiple courses in their high school curriculum, and some even juggle college credits to get a head start on their post-secondary education. When you add sports, clubs, maybe a part-time job, and social activities, there’s a lot on their plate!

As a parent, you have a lot on your plate as well, but it’s important to spend quality time with your teenager. Use vacation time, put your phones away, and take your teen somewhere you would all enjoy. If you can’t get away, create a “staycation” by enjoying activities close to home, visiting local parks or attractions, or even pitch a tent in the backyard! We all need a break, and your child will enjoy the memories for a lifetime.

Last, but definitely not least, talk it out. Life is so busy. Adults have hectic schedules and work obligations, and teens are trying to figure it all out before May of senior year. Sometimes a vent session is needed. Even if your teen is not receptive right away, just knowing they can talk to you goes a long way. You may even consider having them talk to a professional. Therapy can help your teen learn the coping and communication skills needed to navigate the decisions they are facing in the years ahead.

Life gives us so many paths to take and decisions to make, which can leave our heads spinning. Giving your teen praise and support, making memories, taking breaks, and providing a free space to vent about their struggles are just a few simple ways you can help ease their minds about the big decisions they are facing during this season of life.

By Jessica Golba, MSW, LSW – March 13, 2024

Car rides with your kiddos can be the perfect opportunity to have meaningful conversations. You will have their undivided attention and can discuss a variety of topics. Since you are not looking directly at them, they will be more apt to share.

I suggest keeping the radio at a low volume or letting them choose the music. You will most likely be vying for attention from devices, music, or other kids. When possible, get them one-on-one, even if you are only running an errand to the bank or grocery store. If your teen is getting their license, ask them to drive you.  Most jump at the chance to get driving time, and this will ensure they are device free.

Here are some tips and ideas for topics to bring up during car rides:

1. Ask them about their day and how school is going. Ask open-ended questions. Limit the amount of yes/no questions, or all you will get are yes/no answers.

2. Talk about their hobbies and interests. They may balk at talking about themselves at first, but keep at it!

3. Ask if they have thought about what kind of job they want in the distant future. What about during high school? Tell them about your first job. I am always pointing out the orchard where I first worked, so often that my kids can tell the story on their own now.

3. Share stories about your teenage years. If you see the make and model of your first car, you must point it out…that’s the rule.  

4. Discuss current events or social issues. Refrain from judging and respect their viewpoint on the issues. Offer your view as an opinion, not fact.

5. Ask fun/silly questions, such as: “If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?” “What kind of animal would you want when you are on your own and what would you name it?”

6. Use the time to teach them important life skills like budgeting or changing a tire. With non-licensed kiddos, explain how a 4-way stop works, how to parallel park, and point out common road courtesy. These things can help in the future when they are learning to drive.

7. Listen, listen, and listen. The ironic thing about not asking too many questions is that you will get more answers by remaining silent and letting your child talk. If they are willing to open up about issues they are having, let them talk. Asking too many questions can sometimes make a teen feel as if they are being judged or didn’t do the “right thing” because you are questioning them.

8. In general, keep the topics light so that when you have to discuss something more serious they are already used to listening to you (and hearing what you have to say).

9. When in doubt, bad “Dad jokes” will at least get an eye roll, such as, “You know what bugs me? Insect puns.”

Remember, the key to having great conversations with your kids in the car is to be a good listener and show genuine interest in what they say. With some effort, car rides with your kids can become some of the best conversations you will ever have.

By Audrey Bowlds, MSW, LSW – March 6, 2024

As parents and caregivers, we definitely want our children to feel safe, happy, protected and cared for. However, we can’t always be with our children as much as we’d like.

Children are faced with making choices on their own every day at school, friends’ houses, summer camps, on social media, and even at home when parents are away. Every choice a child makes has consequences, either positive or negative.

Unfortunately, between peer pressures, social media influence, and immaturity, children sometimes make a choice that leads to a traumatic experience. Even if we are with our children, a traumatic event such as a car crash, witnessing a robbery, or sheltering together at home during a weather disaster could occur.

After a traumatic experience, children can show signs of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, intense emotional upset, academic and attention difficulties, nightmares, and changes in their sleeping and eating habits. No matter what traumatic experience took place, a child might react differently than others involved in the same experience.

Everyone experiences trauma and deals with the aftermath in their own way, whether they experienced it together or not. Children are often more resilient than adults when dealing with a traumatic experience. Because the neural pathways of their young brains are still developing, it is very important to seek out mental health counseling for a child after this type of event. The more we engage and reinforce healthy pathways, the better we can support the mental and emotional well-being of the child.

Although we never want to think about our children being in a traumatic situation, there are resources to utilize if needed. Along with seeking out a therapist or mental health counselor for your child, you can also help them through their healing journey. It is important to talk about the traumatic event with your child, even if it is uncomfortable. If you do not openly talk about the event with your child, it will be harder for them to accept what happened and move on from the experience.

You should take their feelings seriously. You may have to reassure your child repeatedly and listen to the same concerns. They might want to talk repeatedly about their traumatic experience, or maybe not at all. Either way, it is important that you check in with them and make sure they feel safe.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than two thirds of children reported at least one traumatic experience by age sixteen. The reality is that traumatic experiences happen every day, and while it is frightening to think about, it is important to know how to help a child if needed. The child might not fully recover or completely forget about their traumatic experience, but with the resources mentioned in this article, they will most definitely be able to live a happier, more fulfilling life.