By Chasidy Lambert, MSW, LSW – June 26, 2024 –

Life is busy! We’re managing so much in our daily lives to stay on top of things: jobs, kids, school, sports, other extracurricular activities, community projects, relationships with family and friends, staying healthy, managing finances…the list goes on and on. Getting all of these boxes checked can feel like a second job in itself. 

Our lives are buzzing as we attempt to make everything happen at once. It’s no wonder we are seeing the rise of young families moving away from the “city life dream” their parents once had to a minimalistic world view – a quieter life with activities like growing their own garden, decluttering, canning food, and other ways to escape the “chaos” and be more self-sufficient. 

Though escapism is not always healthy, we can appreciate the lost art of living a less stressful life by resting in our current reality. One way we can experience this stillness is through practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is a skill often used in meditation.

To practice mindfulness, you focus on the present without fear of the future or dwelling in the past. There are different ways to be mindful, but the gist of it is being completely in the moment without any distracting thoughts. Mindfulness is a great skill for all ages to learn.

Studies have shown that mindfulness helps children develop skills such as self-control and stress management. It helps adults reduce stress and learn to enjoy even the small moments. When families combine their individual practices of mindfulness, they are able to make more meaningful connections together. Though being still in the hustle and buzz is often hard, utilizing mindfulness can be a simple yet effective way to reset our minds and bodies.

One activity I would suggest is gratitude mapping. You begin by taking a breath, being mindful of all the things in your life you are thankful for, and then writing a list of those things. This activity shifts the focus to a more positive mindset, which results in fostering kindness in our interactions.

Another activity you can try as a family is mindful listening. There are so many ways to do this, but the easiest one is going outside and closing your eyes. What do you hear? Pay attention to the birds, wind, and other outside noises. You can take it a step further and notice the grass under your feet or the wind or sun on your face. You can also use calming music for this activity.

Breathing, movement, and growth are basic human functions needed to live a purposeful life. To achieve the art of being still, we can utilize our mindfulness skills to reset our bodies and remind ourselves that our “to-do” lists and events are not what define us. Rather, it is the interactions we have with those around us.

By Lizzie Raben, MSW, LSW – June 20, 2024 –

Are children disconnecting from nature? According to The National Recreation and Parks Association, today’s children spend less time outdoors than any other generation.

On average, children spend less than 10 minutes per day outside in unstructured play, compared to seven hours spent indoors in front of an electronic device. That’s around 1,200 hours a year in front of a screen. Multiple studies show that too much screen time leads to several detrimental effects on a child’s physical and mental well-being. Lack of development of fine and gross motor skills, increased risk for obesity, anxiety, depression, and decreased social interaction are just a few of these negative effects.

According to the website health.harvard.edu, while electronics play a pertinent role in decreased outdoor play, there are other contributing factors, such as concerns about sun exposure, emphasis on scheduled activities and achievements, and lack of safe outdoor play areas.

So why is outdoor play important? The following are reasons children need to play outside:

Physical Health: Immunity and Exercise

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, studies show many children have Vitamin D deficiencies. We need sun exposure to make Vitamin D, an essential vitamin used in many body processes such as bone development and building our immune system. Sun exposure stimulates a part of the brain called the pineal gland, crucial to keeping our immune system strong and improving our mood.

According to Harvard Health Blog, children should be active at least one hour a day. Allowing children to play outside encourages active play, considered the best exercise for children. When children play outside, they have more space for big movements: running, jumping, kicking, and throwing. These physical movements foster physical development.

Mental Health

When children spend time outdoors, they experience reduced levels of stress. Sunlight boosts serotonin levels, which helps regulate our mood and can decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Allowing children to play outside provides them with a natural and therapeutic environment.

Executive Function and Social Skills

Unstructured outdoor play allows children to build executive function skills. These mental skills allow us to negotiate, plan, multitask, troubleshoot, and more – all essential for daily life tasks. Spending time in nature allows children to explore, fostering their creativity and imagination. Children need time alone and with other children to use their imagination to problem-solve, entertain themselves, create their own games, etc.

It’s important that children learn social skills such as how to share, take turns, work together, make friends, and treat other people well. Only interacting in structured settings (like school) does not always allow the child to build these skills. Allowing them to play outside gives them space to practice these life skills.

Need some simple outdoor play ideas for your kiddo? Check out the following articles:

https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/play-learning/outdoor-play/outdoor-play

By Kelly Leavitt – June 11, 2024 –

As a Youth First Social Worker, I interact with children in an elementary school setting daily. Most students I serve have the world readily available with electronics such as cell phones, tablets, video games, the internet and social media.

Unfortunately, there is the risk of exposure to material parents are not aware of and wouldn’t approve of. Being able to recognize and understand how electronics can play a factor in your child’s development is key to their growth.

Limiting exposure to electronics has proven beneficial to children in a number of ways. Some of these benefits include increased creativity, socializing, and better sleep. Limiting exposure can also benefit one’s overall physical health, such as decreasing the risk of obesity and other health conditions related to obesity (diabetes, cardiovascular issues, etc.).

There are several ways to limit the use of electronics. Setting aside a specific time (with a time limit) to use electronics, monitoring your child’s activity, using parental controls and encouraging other activities are just a few. Some alternative activities may include playing a board game, reading a book, playing outside or arts and crafts.

Many of us are guilty of spending too much time with electronics and the internet. Unfortunately, many parents today are so busy, and electronics are a quick form of entertainment for the child. Between working, running the household, and all the daily tasks, parents are spread thin and sometimes need that “20-minute break.”

The negative effects associated with long-term electronic use are prevalent in school-aged children. Some of these effects include sleep deprivation, internet addiction, sensory overload and cyberbullying. As a social worker in an elementary school setting, I often observe these issues.

Parenting in our current electronic-based world is no easy task, but it is imperative to set guidelines for electronic use at an early age. Explain to your child the reason behind the guidelines and find a replacement activity instead. Zone in on your child’s interests and hobbies, giving them choices of how they would like to spend their free time.

According to www.pewresearch.org, parents reported the most common device their young children engage with is a television, with 88 percent of parents saying their young child only uses or interacts with a television.

The following statistics relate to the children and families I serve at the elementary school level:

  • 54 percent of children ages 5-8 use a desktop or laptop, while 73 percent of children ages 9-11 use a desktop or laptop
  • 80 percent of children ages 5-11 use or interact with a tablet
  • 59 percent of children ages 5-8 engage with a smartphone, whereas 67 percent of children ages 9-11 engage with a smartphone

It is no secret that technology is greatly influencing our world, and it is our responsibility to prepare our children. Having the tools, feeling informed and being prepared to help your child navigate our ever-changing technological world can make all the difference in their success.

By Rebecca Williams, MSW – June 6, 2024 –

Burnout is defined as chronic stress related to helping others. As a school social worker, I can certainly relate to this, and I believe teachers and other school personnel can as well. According to Michelle Ratcliff in the article, “Social Workers, Burnout, and Self Care” in the Delaware Journal of Public Health, social workers and mental health professionals are very susceptible to burnout.

Ratcliff also notes that a form of burnout we may feel the most is emotional burnout. This type of burnout comes from being emotionally drained and can result in feeling a low sense of personal accomplishment, depersonalization, and pessimism. According to social worker burnout statistics on the website crowncounseling.com, emotional exhaustion is observed at a rate of 70.3 percent of social workers. Current burnout rates among social workers are at 39 percent with a lifetime rate of 75 percent.

Maybe you have experienced burnout before or maybe you haven’t. Either way, we should try to prevent it or reverse it. As school-based service providers, I believe we are given a unique opportunity to combat the onset of burnout. This opportunity comes with holiday breaks and our longest break, summer.

Although some of us may take on an extra job or have young kids home in the summer, we should try our best to plan time for ourselves. We have many options during the summer to implement self-care for our families and ourselves. When I think of summer, I think of a time to take a vacation, go for walks, go on picnics, learn a new skill, go to the beach, or read a book entirely for pleasure instead of something educational. These new skills and forms of self-care we build on in the summer will better prepare us for a new school year in the fall and have us feeling refreshed to provide the best service.

It is also very important for our students to be refreshed. Summer is a perfect time for parents to engage with their children during a much-needed break. Teachers and school personnel should encourage families to implement their own forms of self-care.

According to the article, “Schools Out! Tips For Taking Advantage of Summer Break to De-Stress from the Hustle and Bustle” on the website psychiatry.org, many summer options can fit into any family and lifestyle. The first idea is to spend and enjoy time outside. This can be as simple as going for walks, going to a park, or going to the pool.

A second idea is to reduce the use of technology and electronics during summer break. Technology can have a negative effect on a young person’s mood and self-esteem, so it is important to encourage families to unplug their devices and find creative ways to interact with each other. Additionally, we should encourage our students to spend time with friends and keep their healthy/positive relationships strong.

Lastly, consider practicing mindfulness, which can be defined as paying attention in the present moment. Mindfulness can include practices such as meditation, walking while observing nature, mindful eating, or taking stock of how each body part is feeling while sitting or lying down. This is a way for the family to relax and build closer connections. Mindfulness is something I encourage with my students, and extending that to their family would be an added benefit. This way the family can reinforce progress the student has made and build good habits together.