Tag Archive for: Amber Russell

By Amber Russell, LCSW – April 15, 2021 –

As a parent, I have recently been thinking about at what age it is appropriate and acceptable to leave your child home alone. I’ve often considered it when I need to run errands for a couple hours.

My son is 9 years old. I have asked other parents and family members when they first let their children stay home alone. I found the answer varied a lot based on who I asked.

Some people had very strong opinions on the subject and were certain that kids needed to be much older to be left alone. Others made me feel like I was crazy to even be worried about leaving my 9-year-old home alone for 10 minutes while I ran to the store to buy the one item I had forgotten on my list.

So who is right? I did some research and found that the answer varies. Only a few states have laws that specify a legal age to leave a child home alone, and they range from age 8-14.

Indiana, from what I can tell, falls into the “no specific law” category. There is no law or magic number specifying the right time or right age, but according to Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, there are some questions you should consider while making this decision.

  1. Is there a responsible adult available? Does an adult friend or family member live nearby? Or is there possibly a nice neighbor that your child is comfortable with in case they need help? Who can your child go to or call in case of emergency? Do they know how to call a family member for help?
  2. Does your child know emergency procedures? Does your child know what to do and where to go if there is a fire in the home? Do they know where the first aid kit is and how to use it? What about what to do in the event of bad weather such as a tornado?
  3. Does your child regularly problem-solve without assistance? For instance, what are the rules if someone rings the doorbell or a friend calls and wants to come over?  What do they do if they come home after school and the door is open or they notice a window is busted out? If they are outside playing and a stranger tries to talk to them, what would they do?
  4. Can your child perform everyday tasks such as making a snack or making a phone call? These are necessary skills. Do they know their address and phone number? Is there a phone available for them to make an emergency call?
  5. Is your child comfortable staying at home alone? Ask them, and if the answer is “no,” then now is not the right time. A child should feel confident and self-sufficient before being left home alone.The appropriate age for being left home alone depends somewhat on the child, their maturity level, and the length of time they will be alone. I know some 9-year-olds that could handle being home alone for an hour or two, but I also know some 12 and 13-year-olds that I would not trust.

Make sure both you and your child are comfortable with your absence. Ensure they know the rules, what to do in case of an emergency, and who they can contact for help. Start with a small length of time as a trial (like while you run to the grocery store). If they will be home for more than an hour alone, make sure to call and check in.

By, Amber Russell, LCSW – Sept. 24, 2019

Our brains are powerful things! They are wired to alert us to danger, to think, to learn new things, to retain memories, and to find solutions to problems we face every day. 

Occasionally there may be times where you want to question what message your brain is telling you. Over time you may have developed some faulty connections called cognitive distortions.

Cognitive distortions are biased perspectives we take on ourselves and the world around us.  They are irrational thoughts and beliefs that we unknowingly reinforce over time.  There are many types of cognitive distortions. The following are some of the common ones your brain might use to trick you:

  • Mind Reading – Assuming you know what people are thinking without having evidence or proof of their thoughts:  “He thinks I am unqualified.”
  • Catastrophizing – Believing what might happen will be so awful and unbearable that you won’t be able to stand it: “If I make a bad grade I will never get into college.”
  • Negative Filter and/or Discounting Positives – Focusing almost exclusively on the negatives and seldom noticing the positives.  When you do notice a positive about yourself or others you discount it as if it does not matter.
  • Overgeneralizing – Perceiving the likelihood of a negative outcome based on a past single incident: “He is never on time.”
  • Polarized Thinking – Viewing events or people in all or nothing terms: “We have to be perfect or we are failures.”  
  • Personalizing – Attributing most of the blame on you when negative events happen and failing to see that some situations can’t be avoided or that others could be equally responsible:  “It was my fault my group got a bad grade.”
  • Blaming – Focusing on others as the source of your negative feelings or problems and failing to take responsibility. “My teacher hates me which is why I am failing her class.” 

Now that you know what some of these cognitive distortions look like, here are some things you can do to control them:

  • Identify your possible cognitive distortions – Create a list of troublesome or thoughts to examine and match up with a list of cognitive distortions to see which thought processes you tend to lean toward.
  • Examine the evidence – Examine your experiences that could be the basis of your distorted thinking.  Try to identify other situations where you had success or that proves the thought is not true.  For example, if I am being critical and thinking “Billy is always late” I would examine the thought and likely think of at least one time Billy was on time.  
  • Evaluate in a different way – Instead of thinking in an all or nothing way try to gauge the situation on a scale of 1-10.  When something does not go right evaluate it as a partial success.  Focus on what I did go right and perhaps rate it as a 6/10.
  • Define terms – Define terms to examine what they mean.  Examining global labels will help you see a specific behavior associated with the label and not a person as a whole. If you think you always fail, then define the term failure. Think about what actions made you think you were a failure and if the definition truly fits you as a person.
  • Survey a trusted friend – When in doubt, ask a friend.  If you think you might be blowing something out of proportion, check with a trusted friend. Ask them if they think your feelings are justified.

The more you get used to controlling the cognitive distortions, the less faulty connections you’ll have to worry about. Take control of your powerful brain and use it for good!

By Amber Russell, Courier & Press, Oct. 3, 2017 –

Thump, Thump, Thump.  Everything feels like it’s going in slow motion.  All I can hear is my heart beating, which feels like it is going to beat right out of my chest.

I can’t breathe.  I can’t think. I’m starting to sweat.  Thoughts begin swirling in my head.  “It is so crowded.”  “Everyone is looking at me.”  “I am in the way.”  “I am taking too long.”  Tears start to well up in my eyes as I think, “Please don’t let me see anyone I know.”

Sound familiar?  This is how I feel sometimes in a crowd or even at the grocery store.  Forty million adults (18 percent of the population) in the U.S. suffer from some form of anxiety disorder.

I am very familiar with anxiety and what helps me cope.  What works for me, however, might not work for someone else experiencing similar symptoms.

There isn’t one single coping mechanism that will magically make your symptoms go away, but there are lots of things aside from medication and therapy you can try.  To get started you may want to try talking with someone you trust, focusing on things you can control, finding a place you feel comfortable and safe, and doing something physical such as going for a walk.

Here are a few other suggestions to try when symptoms surface:

1. Know what triggers your anxiety.  Is it work, school, crowded places, a specific person? Do you feel overwhelmed or something else more specific?  What are your symptoms?  They may include racing heart, sweating, trembling, nervousness, rapid breathing, constant worrying, restless sleep, inability to focus, intense fear or embarrassment.

Keep a journal to track when you have panic attacks or strong symptoms.  Note the date, time, what was going on at the time of the attack, what you were thinking about beforehand, how long the symptoms lasted, and what made them go away.  Once you have more information about symptoms and causes, the anxiety is easier to control.  I get very anxious in crowds, especially while shopping.  From tracking triggers and symptoms I know that while I obviously can’t avoid shopping altogether, I should not shop on super busy Sunday afternoons.

2. Try deep breathing.  When we are stressed, our breathing becomes shallow.  We feel like we can’t breathe, so we try to breathe fast by taking in quick short breaths through the mouth.  This can actually cause hyperventilation.  Try the 4-7-8 method instead:

  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4.
  • Hold breath for a mental count of 7.
  • Exhale completely and slowly through your mouth, making a swoosh sound to a mental count of

Repeat these three steps at least 2 times.  It may seem awkward at first, but it really helps to focus on breathing.  Slow it down, breathe in through the nose, hold the breath, and slowly exhale through your mouth.

3. Try grounding techniques, which help put your mind in the “here and now” instead of focusing on how stressed and anxious you are.  The more you focus on how stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed you are, the more stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed you become.  Try the 5-4-3-2-1 game.  Look around the room and mentally describe 5 things (poster, clock, lamp, etc).  Name 4 things you can feel (hair touching your shoulders, the breeze of a fan).  Name 3 things you can hear (the air conditioning unit, the click of a pen).  Name 2 things you can smell or smells that you like.  Name 1 good quality about yourself. Repeat with different items if needed.

If you or your child suffers from an anxiety disorder, take steps to manage it.  Start with the coping techniques mentioned above, and seek professional help if anxiety is interfering with daily life.


By Amber Russell, LCSW, Courier & Press, Oct. 22, 2016 –

Does having a conversation with your child ever feel like pulling teeth?  After picking up my 5-year old from kindergarten, I like to ask him about his day. It usually goes something like this:

Mom: “How was school today?”

Son: “Good.”

Mom: “What all did you do at school today?”

Son: “I will tell you later. I just don’t want to talk right now.”

Sometimes he’ll say, “Why do you always ask me about my day?” I reply, “Because I am interested in it, and I love you.”

Some days he is just not up for talking, but other times I have found it’s all in how you word the question.

Instead of asking, “How was school today?” here are a few conversation starters I have used:

  • Who did you play with at recess today, and what did you play?
  • What’s the best (or worst) thing that happened to you at school today?
  • What was the hardest thing you had to do in school today?
  • Who did you sit by at lunch today, and what did you talk about?
  • If you got one wish at school, what would it be?

I talk with my son after school because that time works best for our schedule; however, every family is different, and maybe another time is better for you.

Here are some specific questions I like to ask before school:

  • What three things do you want to accomplish today?
  • What class do you think will be the most fun and why?
  • What is one thing you can do better today than you did yesterday?

To get an older child or teen to open up, make sure the conversation is a two-way street where you are actually talking and sharing and not just firing off questions. No one, child or adult, likes to feel interrogated.

Try writing out some questions on cards ahead of time and let your child pick some to ask that you have to answer. Sometimes if you open up about a past experience it will make the child feel more comfortable to share.

Here are some examples:

  • What was your most embarrassing moment in school?
  • What was the worst or funniest date you ever went on?
  • Who was your best friend in school, and what did you like about them?

Playing games such as “High and Low” around the dinner table can also stimulate conversation.  Every family member shares their high and low points for the day. You could also have each family member share one thing they are grateful for and a goal for the next day.

As a Youth First school social worker, I talk with students every day. In my experience, even though kids seem annoyed with adults asking questions, deep down they want you to ask. It demonstrates that you care. Most kids have a friend whose parents don’t ask about their day, and believe me, they wish their parents would.

Even if a conversation with your child doesn’t go as planned, making the effort shows support and demonstrates that we want to be involved in kids’ lives. Talking with your children will not only influence their decisions now, it will have an effect on their future parenting styles as well.