Tag Archive for: Abby Betz

By Abby Betz, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Now that our youngest children are back in school, it is time to start thinking about college-aged students returning to campus. We spend lots of time preparing our youngsters for going “back to school,” but what about our college students? Are we preparing our young adults for what lies ahead of them in the real world?

Not only is it important for these students to prepare themselves for the responsibilities of living independently, but it is also important for college-aged students to think about protecting their emotional well-being before they even set foot on campus.

Many college students have thought of the necessities needed for school – computers, mini fridges, parking passes, and other supplies. But have these students and their parents considered what tools they may need to support themselves on an emotional level?

In a 2017 survey by WebMD and the JED Foundation, 40 percent of over 700 guardians and parents said they did not discuss the potential for developing either anxiety or depression with their children getting ready to attend college. Additionally, most parents reported access to on-campus mental health services was not a factor in choosing a school for their child.

Unfortunately, many teenage and college-aged students struggle with their mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 3 high school students have experienced feelings of persistent sadness or hopelessness. 

These problems do not seem to go away once they arrive on campus. Continued studies are showing a decline in mental health across the country among college students. Experts recommend that parents and students take the necessary steps to ensure they have a plan to address mental health issues if they arise.

It is vital for a student with already existing mental health disorders to connect with a counselor prior to arriving on campus. However, it could be beneficial for any student to contact the counseling center and become educated on services provided if needed. It is also important to be aware of other supportive services being offered, such as tutoring, academic advising, student activities, and career services.

Extracurricular activities and clubs also help students connect with others and create a sense of belonging to help combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. Students should also be mindful of how they eat, sleep, and socialize. If basic needs are neglected, this can make developing a healthy lifestyle more difficult and lead to a decline in mental health.

Discussing alcohol consumption and setting healthy boundaries is another important conversation that parents need to have with their college-aged children to help them be mentally prepared for new situations.

The transition from high school to college can be life changing and challenging. Students and parents must work together to create a plan that best fits the needs of each student. This plan should include a mental health checklist to protect the emotional well-being of the student. Prioritizing mental health should be something we all strive to achieve.

By Abby Betz, LSW, Youth First Inc.

“I hear congratulations are in order!” If you are currently expecting or recently had a baby, you are most likely still experiencing the joys of welcoming a new child to your life.

Although bringing home a new baby is a joyous time, it can also be a challenge for parents. Adding another child to the family is a big transition. The dynamic of the entire family changes when a new baby arrives, which can cause stress and be traumatic for some kids. 

For some children, the integration of a new baby into the family can trigger some big feelings and emotional crises. A child’s transition to becoming an older sibling must be handled with compassion and empathy to preserve the child’s sense of security and self-worth. It is key for parents to provide reassurance and love to all of their children.

It is completely normal for children to feel jealous toward a new baby. Children are being asked to adjust to the shift in the amount of attention they receive from parents, and this may also trigger feelings of grief or loss. That child is no longer the center of mom or dad’s attention and affection, and these feelings can be difficult for some children to navigate.

It is important to address any feelings of abandonment a child may feel by letting them be part of the process. For example, it would be beneficial to explain to young children when and why Mommy will be away at the hospital so it is easier for them to accept when it is time for the baby to come home.  

It is best to start preparing children for the new arrival of a baby before the arrival. The goal is to help children feel a sense of connection with the baby and to become enthusiastic about its arrival. Some strategies that may be helpful include validating your child’s feelings, whether the feelings are happy or unhappy, about a new baby. If you acknowledge their frustration, children will not feel the need to suppress their feelings, which can cause problematic behaviors.

Offering children one-on-one time with each parent is vital for helping them feel special and valued. Enlisting help from other family members or friends your children have a special bond with can also be helpful. Focus on things that have not changed within the family and maintain traditions that have already been established to help strengthen your child’s sense of belonging.

Moreover, if your child does not automatically bond with a new baby, it is important not to pressure the child into a relationship and let this happen organically. By doing so, the relationship which is fostered between your child and the new sibling will be one of genuine love. 

By Abby Betz, LSW – June 1, 2022 –

School is out. The kids are home. Summer is here. Now what?

If your budget doesn’t allow for a family vacation or a fancy kids’ camp, there are still many ways you can keep your children entertained and content at home.

While there needs to be a happy medium between totally unstructured mayhem and an overpacked schedule of “must-do’s,” the key to a happy summer break is putting the time into planning a roster of things to do.

It is vital for everyone’s sanity to stick to a schedule. A lazy summer afternoon sounds great in theory until it turns into a day of sibling squabbles and parents watching the clock waiting for nap or bedtime. Just like in school, kids need structure and a schedule in order to be happy and successful.

The same goes for summer break. If planning an entire summer seems daunting, break it down into days and give each day a theme. Here are some ideas:

·       “Make Something Monday” could be a day to focus on crafts or being creative.

·       “Take a Trip Tuesday” could center around taking a day trip to a local park or zoo.

·       “Water Wednesday” could involve a water activity or visiting the city pool.

·       “Thoughtful Thursday” could consist of volunteering at the Humane Society or participating in a community service project.

·       “Fun Friday” could be the day to do something from a “summer bucket list” the family has put together.

Making a summer bucket list can be a fun way for the family to sit down together and discuss what each person would like to do over the summer. You can also explore any goals each child may want to achieve. 

With summer also comes the unknowns of weather and possible rainy days. Keep a “rainy day jar” where each kid writes an idea on a slip of paper and then pulls one out when they get bored.

Get creative! Make an escape room or a blanket fort in the living room. Look up STEM activities to keep the kids busy or put on a show using parts from favorite books. Allow the kids to make props and costumes.

Perhaps the biggest struggle of any extended break from school can be limiting screen time. The best strategy seems to be incorporating some screen time into the daily schedule without totally taking it away. The goal is to keep kids busy and entertained with other activities so they aren’t asking for more screen time.

Providing an action-packed, educational, and stimulating summer may seem like an intimidating task; however, including the kids when making these decisions can help them feel their opinions are valued. Enjoy this time with your children while they are young and savor each new memory made!

By Abby Betz, LSW – May 18, 2022 –

For most teens, the adolescent years are a time of rapid growth and development, both physically and emotionally. Life skills are learned and put into practice. Newfound independence is established and boundaries are tested. Additionally, teens begin to find themselves facing different stressors and pressures, exploring new identities, discovering who they are, and uncovering their future possibilities.

With this time of continuous change and excitement also comes uncertainty and fear of the unknown. Teenagers may start to imagine what life will be like once they are away from their parents. The thought of living on their own can seem like an exhilarating thrill to some, but for others, it can be a scary time full of lots of questions and “what ifs.”

Although these types of feelings are completely normal, including mood changes and some incidences of acting out, a teenager suffering from depression is different. It is important as parents and caregivers to be able to recognize these signs and ready to provide assistance.

When thinking of the clinical presentation of depression, symptoms such as overwhelming sadness, exhaustion, loss of interest, poor sleep, and decreased appetite probably come to mind. However, for adolescents, it is vital to understand that depression can also present itself as rage, anger, and irritability more than pervasive sadness.

If you suspect your teen is showing signs of depression, open the line of communication by listening. It is important not to judge, criticize, lecture, or punish them for the way they feel, but rather provide a safe space for them to express their feelings. Negative reactions quickly shut down communication and push your teen further away.

If your teen is not opening up, try discussing something light-hearted to get the conversation going and build the rapport needed for talking about topics that are more serious. Be present and let your teenager know that you are there and ready to listen.

Additionally, it is important for your teenager to know you do not find their feelings to be irrational or unrealistic. Taking all feelings and emotions seriously is essential to building a strong relationship with your teen. Acknowledge their emotions, and then reassuringly point out facts and realities that validate your teen’s feelings.

Depression is a real illness and may require the help of a professional. It is important to involve your teenager in the process of seeking professional help. Your teen will get the most out of treatment if they feel involved, motivated, and engaged. 

Some adolescents may resist seeking treatment, but as a parent or caregiver it is vital to provide support and encouragement. Reinforce that seeking help is a sign of courage and strength and that strong people are capable and deserving of feeling better.

Lastly, if your teen talks about, threatens, or even jokes about suicide, you must take it seriously. Never assume someone talking about suicide is just merely “attention-seeking.” If your teen is trying to get your attention, give it. Adolescents dealing with depression can be at higher risk for suicide. Seek professional help immediately if your teen or anyone you know shows signs of concern. 

If urgent help is needed, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

By Abby Betz, LSW – May 5, 2022 –

As a parent or caregiver, it goes without saying that the task of taking care of our children is an important one, as well as a great responsibility. Parents may be able to easily identify and address a child’s basic needs by providing them with nutritious foods, a comfortable and inviting home, and instilling a reasonable bedtime routine. However, a child’s mental health needs may not be quite as obvious. A child’s physical and mental health are equally as important.

Ensuring that your child has good mental health will help them develop new social skills, boost their self-confidence, and instill a positive outlook on life. Basic needs for meeting a child’s physical health include maintaining a well-balanced diet, staying up-to-date on immunizations, and having an adequate sleep environment as well as opportunities for exercise.

Meeting a child’s basic needs for emotional and mental health include providing unconditional love, giving appropriate guidance and discipline, instilling self-confidence and high self-esteem, and surrounding the child with positive peers, teachers, and other caregivers to help foster positive conditions of self-worth.

Providing your child with unconditional love should be central to family life. It is important for your child to know that your love does not depend on their achievements. Nurturing your child’s self-confidence and self-esteem is instrumental in developing their ability to learn new skills and feel safe exploring their environment. Teaching and encouraging your children to try their best, but also to embrace failure, fosters a sense of self-reliance and builds their esteem. Setting realistic goals that match their ambitions with abilities is also important when building confidence.

Encouraging play is another important aspect of a child’s mental health. Play fosters creativity, problem-solving skills, and self-control. Learning how to get along with other children and developing a sense of belonging are key components of play that are helpful in learning about their own strengths and weaknesses. TV and use of devices can be helpful for educational purposes, but should always be monitored and limited.

Appropriate guidance and discipline are essential in helping a child learn that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that the child is responsible for their actions.  Offer discipline that is fair and consistent and be firm but realistic with expectations.  If you must, criticize the behavior, not the child. Avoid threats and bribery. Instead, talk about the reasons for disciplining your child and the potential consequences for breaking established rules. It is also important to talk to your child about your feelings. Apologizing for losing your temper models the appropriate response to difficult situations. 

As parents, we must also heed signs that there may be a problem which requires help from a professional. Some warning signs may include regular worry or anxiety, persistent nightmares, disobedience or aggression, frequent temper tantrums, depression, irritability, hyperactivity, and decline in school performance. If you suspect a problem, talk with your child’s teacher, caregiver, or Youth First Social Worker in their school. You may also want to consult with your pediatrician or contact a mental health professional.      

By Abby Betz, LSW – October 1, 2021 –

The 2020-2021 school year was marked by adapting to quarantine procedures, social distancing, virtual learning, and masking. While not all fond memories, hopefully some of the aforementioned things will find themselves in our soon-to-be distant past as we move forward in the 2021-2022 school year. 

As virtual learning was widely used throughout 2020 for most students in our community, increased screen time has become mandatory, and in some cases, a necessary “evil” in order for students to learn and connect with other students, teachers, and staff. What we must focus on now is how we use technology to better our lives and promote its sustainability into the future.

“Screen time” has been known to carry a negative connotation among parents, educators, and mental health professionals who have spent years urging students to decrease and limit their screen time. However, following a year of e-learning and working from home, screen time has become a new way of life. 

In addition, more virtual support was provided to parents and caregivers to help alleviate the stress of the pandemic over the past year. Although some situations require an in-person consultation, the use of telehealth has emerged as an effective and beneficial way to provide services.

Our task for 2021 and moving forward will be to learn to integrate purposeful technology into our lives and to adjust our previous notions and attitudes that all screen time is unproductive and just for leisure. Perhaps engaging your family in an educational game or exploring a new place through virtual reality – accompanied by meaningful conversation, family fun, and human interaction – is a way to incorporate positive screen time into your everyday life.   

However, it is important to be mindful of how often screens are being used. To start a conversation about this, parents and/or educators can invite kids to track their activity for one 24-hour period. After this time has been tracked, have an open discussion about what screens or content are present in their lives, how each is being used and for what purpose, and how they feel during and after screen time.

In order to create an environment for purposeful technology, we have to let go of the idea that screen time is just for recreation or for “couch potatoes” who sit and stare at a screen for hours at a time. Of course children do need to be supervised and limits should be set. 

According to the Child Mind Institute, endless hours on social media platforms such as TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram, can lead to increased depression and anxiety in youth. In a technology-driven world, it is important to keep in mind that screen time is not going to go away. It is vital to have conversations with our children about setting appropriate boundaries and monitoring their own mental health.

Abby Betz, LSW – July 21, 2021 –

As a school social worker, I have worked with students of all ages in both public and private schools. I have found, unfortunately, that the majority of students are unable to verbalize what they like about themselves. Most students lack the ability to talk about positive conditions of self-worth.

I recently did an activity with second grade students and asked them to think about things they liked about themselves or what character traits they possessed which were most desirable. Although this may be a tough concept for some students to grasp, most students were unable to name something about themselves that they liked, with the exception of superficial or materialistic things, such as, “I am good at sports,” “I like my shirt,” or “I like my hair.”

It became evident that most children may not receive constructive feedback in the form of positive conditions of self-worth from their parents, caregivers, family, or friends. This saddened me, and I wondered, “What can we do to teach our children to love themselves for reasons other than being athletic or beautiful/handsome?”

As imperative as this is for parents and caregivers to understand and practice, it is equally as important for school staff to instill these skills in our children, as we spend a great deal of time with them every day. The following suggestions can help adults empower children and teach them to value their strengths.

  1. Introduce positive conditions of self-worth at a young age. Simply telling your child, “you are important” can be the catalyst to promoting positive self-worth as they grow older. By incorporating positive affirmations into everyday life, children will begin to understand how much they matter and recognize that their caregivers and teachers see them as worthy of their time, love, and attention.
  1. Focus on the positive. Providing praise and encouragement for achievements and good behavior instead of focusing on the negative or end-result can improve your child’s sense of self. Including your child in the decision-making process in your family (depending on the situation) can also help a child feel empowered and important. This is equally as important to practice at school as it is at home.
  1. Allow your child to grow from their mistakes. Fostering a positive growth mindset in children by providing reassurance that their abilities can improve over time helps reduce the pressure to be perfect. Teaching children that making mistakes is okay and turning these mistakes into “teachable moments” is a valuable learning opportunity. Kids will understand they have the power to problem solve and come up with solutions on their own.
  1. Encourage extracurricular interests or hobbies. Supporting your child’s passions can help them discover their own strengths and weaknesses. Deciding what activity your child is going to participate in without their input will stifle their creativity and erode the feeling they have some control over their own lives.

Creating positive conditions of self-worth is extremely vital to the development of children with learning and thinking differences as well. Giving children with all abilities the skills to recognize their strengths helps boost self-worth and makes for a successful childhood and future. In the words of American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

By Abby Betz, LSW- October 7, 2020-

During difficult times in our lives, specifically a global pandemic, we can easily become overwhelmed with simply trying to take care of ourselves. With multitudes of websites and books on self-care and countless “how-to” guides, it can be tough to decide what works best.

The purpose of practicing self-care is to find the best method to manage our mental well-being in a constructive way without adding more stress to our already busy lives. In a time when we are asked to limit contact with others as much as possible, we need to step back and revisit the basics so we can best care for ourselves and our loved ones.  

As a school social worker, my job is to help students learn positive coping skills to manage their feelings. Simply put, coping skills are what we think and do to help get us through difficult situations.

There are several coping skills that anyone can learn in order to overcome stress, anxiety, and depression. The key is to not overthink it, which just adds more unwarranted stress!

Counting to 10 is a great coping skill for anxiety and anger. It gives you time to calm down before responding to a stressful situation. During this time when you are slowing your thought process, you can decide to make better choices.

Taking three deep breaths is similar to counting to 10, as it is also a great skill to use when battling anxiety. The key is to take slow, deep, breaths and focus on breathing IN through your nose and OUT through your mouth. You can repeat this exercise until you have returned to a resting, calm state.

Finding a positive distraction is also a good way to help alleviate stress. Squeezing a stress ball can help relieve tension as well as improve concentration and focus.

Coloring and drawing are other constructive distractions that enable you to use creativity to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Any type of artistic activity is a wonderful way to cope with stress because it lets you be creative and anyone can do it – no matter your skill level.

Taking care of your body is also extremely important and can be as simple as drinking plenty of water. Eating healthy and being active are also vital components to our emotional and physical well-being and can help decrease stress. An example I like to use with my students to show the importance of eating a healthy meal is to imagine they are a car and breakfast is the fuel for the car. If students don’t have enough fuel for their morning classes, they could run out before lunch and will lose focus and motivation.

Another great way of promoting positive thinking is to imagine a happy place or think about your favorite memory. It may be at the beach, at your grandma’s house baking cookies, or at school playing with friends. Thinking positive thoughts can replace negative thoughts, which makes this coping skill a great tool to have. 

At the end of the day, if things just seem too overwhelming – ask for help.  Reaching out to loved ones or someone we trust is an important coping skill that all of us should use. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; in fact, asking for help is a powerful sign of strength and self-awareness.

If you or someone you know is in need of help – please do not be afraid to reach out.  Youth First is here for you! We will get through this difficult time together.

By Abby Betz, LSW – January 28, 2020

With high profile acts of violence on the rise, particularly in schools, it is important that parents and caregivers talk with children about these types of incidents and teach them ways to protect themselves. 

Schools have been working to prevent violence and make schools safer places for our children.  Not only do staff and faculty play a vital role in promoting school safety, it is imperative that parents also help reassure children that schools are generally safe places. 

Creating a safe atmosphere for students helps establish a sense of normalcy and security. It is essential students feel comfortable talking about their fears, as mental health concerns also continue to be on the rise.

Schools can promote a safe school environment by providing support from social workers and counselors and fostering positive interventions and school-wide behavioral expectations. It is also important that children take part in maintaining a safe school climate by participating in safety planning and drills. 

Frequently reminding children of the importance of school rules and requesting that they report potentially hazardous situations to school personnel can help reduce the instances of violence. The presence of school resource officers, security guards, and/or local police partnerships also plays a large role in keeping schools safe. It is important for staff and faculty to remain a visible, welcoming presence at school by greeting students and visitors to the building.

At home, parents and caregivers can reassure their children they are in a safe place. It is important to validate feelings children have and explain it is normal to feel scared or worried when tragedies such as school violence occur. Letting children talk about their feelings helps in processing these fears, puts them into perspective, and assists them in expressing these feelings in an appropriate way.

Making the time to talk with children is extremely important. Look for clues they may want or need to talk. Also keep in mind that some children may be able to express themselves more freely while coloring, drawing, or engaging in other artistic activities.

It is important to keep conversations appropriate for the child’s developmental stage. Early elementary school-aged children need simple, concise explanations coupled with reassurance that their school is a safe place. Upper elementary and middle school-aged children can be more verbal in asking questions about school safety.

For high school students, it is important to emphasize their role in fostering a safe school environment by reporting threats and communicating safety concerns to school personnel. For children of all ages, it is essential for parents and caregivers to look for changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep. Providing assistance to help children separate real-life from fantasy is also very important.

Monitoring and limiting what children are viewing on the internet and television can help lessen their fears. Maintaining a normal routine is also crucial to the healthy development of all children and gives them a sense of safety and security.

If a parent or caregiver has any concerns for their child, they should reach out to their child’s school and also seek the assistance of mental health professionals.