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By Mary Haas, LSW -January 20, 2021-

Have you ever been nervous going into a job interview? What about paying bills on time, meeting goals at work, or questioning whether we are doing this whole parenting thing right?

Being an adult is hard! Trying to raise kids and do this whole “life thing” can feel overwhelming at times. It can be hard to imagine that our kids might be having worries of their own.

Sometimes even the best parents can overlook a child’s anxieties and fears. However, their little worries are just as real as our adult worries! It is important that we take a closer look into these worries and how to respond to them.

Although we can’t go back in time and feel every anxious moment or overwhelming feeling that came with our childhood, we can acknowledge that throughout our life anxiety can be a steady constant for many of us.

So, what exactly does anxiety look like for a child? How do we respond?

It is important to realize that anxiety can look different for each child; however, there are many common stressors that children experience. Three common worries found in children are the pressures of school, family, and peers. Children may worry about tests, grades, or being called on in class. They might worry about a parent working themselves too hard, a separation within the family, or not getting their needs met. These worries can stem from feeling like they don’t fit in with others to bullying or not having a friend they can trust.

Whatever these fears may look like, you can help! Find out what is on your child’s mind. By being available and expressing interest in your kids’ day-to-day lives, you give them the opportunity to share how they think and feel. If your child seems to be worried about something, ask them about it! Encourage your child to put what is bothering them into words. This helps them verbalize specific details about their feelings, which can help you pinpoint the source of the anxiety they are experiencing.

Another way to help children feel supported and understood is by keeping things in perspective. Sometimes kids worry about big life stuff such as war, famine, and diseases. This is where parents can assure children that what they are feeling is very real while also expressing that adults are working to solve these big issues. Without minimizing feelings, point out that many problems are temporary and solvable. Remind your child there will be better days and opportunities ahead. By teaching children to keep problems in perspective, we can help lessen their worry. This helps strengthen our children with resilience and optimism.

Perhaps one of the best ways we can relieve our children’s anxiety is by being positive role models. The most influential lessons we teach our kids are the ones we demonstrate. Our responses to our own worries, stressors, and frustrations can provide an opportunity to teach our kids how to deal with everyday challenges.

If we practice looking on the bright side of our own situations and voice optimistic thoughts, our children can learn to follow suit. When our adult life worries come into play, we can work on remaining positive and having confidence that these problems are temporary and tomorrow is another day.

By Abby Betz, LSW – August 20, 2020 –

It’s the time of year (again) that most of us look forward to and some of us dread—back-to-school!  It can be difficult for children to make the transition from the carefree, fun days of summer to the everyday grind of school life, especially when students have not been in school buildings for many months due to a worldwide pandemic. 

Transition is a common occurrence for young people, and most do adjust well—but there are some who find themselves unable to appropriately adapt to seasonal and other life changes. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 1 in 8 children. When anxiety begins to cause physical and emotional distress, parents and guardians can respond by employing some simple yet effective coping strategies to help alleviate fears and create a framework for a successful start to the school year.

Here are some general tips:

  • Develop a routine or schedule. Even just a few repeated actions, like going to bed at a regular time, can have a calming effect.
  • Make sure your child is getting plenty of rest and maintains a well-balanced diet.
  • Encourage your child to express their fears or worries with you; continue to remind your child that it is normal to have concerns.
  • Avoid giving your child reassurance (i.e., “Don’t worry about it so much! Everything will be just fine!”); instead, encourage your child to problem-solve and make a plan to act on specific fears.
  • Role-play different scenarios with your child so he/she will know how to respond when placed in uncomfortable situations.
  • Model appropriate responses and focus on developing healthy coping skills for yourself.
  • Focus on the positive rather than dwelling on negative thoughts/feelings; try to replace negative emotions with something positive.
  • Praise your child and reward them for efforts at positive behavior.

There may be times when your child is in need of more extensive services to help them cope with anxiety. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that 80% of children with diagnosable anxiety disorders do not seek out or receive treatment. 

Moreover, research has shown that untreated children are at higher risk of performing poorly in school, engaging in substance abuse, and isolating themselves from peers and other social situations.  As a parent or guardian, it is important to heed the warning signs of anxiety that may cause abnormal physical and emotional distress and seek out the proper treatment for your child.

By Valorie Dassel, LCSW – January 7, 2020

Parenting in this era can be overwhelming. There are many opinions and parenting styles that can be argued. 

However, when we are facing drug and alcohol use among our teenagers, there must be an “all hands on deck” approach. It is a community issue that requires parents and adult mentors to communicate clearly with our teens while understanding both sides of the coin.

There are clearly reasons why our teens engage in risky behaviors, and it is important to acknowledge this while at the same time educating them on the severity of the risks. Visit websites such as drugfree.org and youthfirstinc.org to educate yourself on how to talk to your teen about drug and alcohol use. 

The following are some tips to guide substance use conversations with your teen:

  1. Ask your teen open-ended questions about the dangers of vaping, drinking and drug use. Use this conversation to guide discussion around the consequences about the things they care about in the “here and now.” Points to bring up include how substance use may affect their relationships and reputation. These are things they do not feel invincible about. They may do something that is embarrassing and have to deal with the social consequences at school on Monday morning. They may do something that they regret and consequently hurt a relationship or friendship. It is also helpful to aid in connecting their athletics and academics to substance abuse. If they are tired and hungover on the weekends, they will not feel like studying or practicing. 
  2. Be open with them about substance abuse issues in their family. According to the Genetics Science Learning Center of Utah, scientists estimate that a person’s genetics account for 40-60% of their risk of developing an addiction. Sharing family history and stories aids in the development of decision-making based on risks specific to them.
  3. In addition to genetics, individuals who suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, etc. are at a higher risk to abuse substances. The website dualdiagnosis.com is a good resource to help teens connect their emotional struggles to how they may self medicate with substance use.
  4. Clearly share your expectations and the consequences they will receive at home if they are found to be drinking, vaping, smoking or using drugs. It is important to create a relationship that allows the teen to share their struggles or experiences while also being aware of the consequences if caught using. 

Get to know the parents of your teen’s friends. Share with them your values and that you do not approve of them drinking, smoking/vaping or using drugs. There are parents who mistakenly feel they are protecting teens by allowing them to drink or use substances under their supervision, as they feel it is a safer alternative.

Developmentally, teens are beginning to individuate from their parents, which gives them the sense that they can make their own decisions and act independently. Educate yourself and others that this concept inadvertently gives them permission to drink/vape/drug on their own.

Remember that we as parents can educate and guide, but our teens will be the ones who make the decisions. It is our responsibility to keep them as safe and as educated as possible.  Most importantly, be there when they fall and help them back up.

By Krisi Mattingly, LCSW – August 6, 2019

Sleep deprivation is an epidemic in America today. Poor sleep habits have been linked to problems like depression, anxiety, ADHD, increased risk for heart disease and cancer, memory issues, compromised immune system, and weight gain. 

Students are busier than ever with more expectations and demands of their time, so sleep may not seem too high on their priority list. There is also the added lure of the internet, social media, and electronics like video games or TV.

Getting the recommended amount of sleep, however, is one of the most important things you can do for your mental and physical health.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9 to 11 hours of sleep for grade schoolers, 8 to 10 hours for teens, and 7 to 9 hours for adults.  If your family has been struggling to get the proper quantity or quality of sleep lately, here are some tips to make sleep a priority in your household.

  • Establish a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Try not to deviate from this too much, even on weekends or days off.
  • Establish a routine. Try to follow the same routine each night before bed. A good one for younger children is the 3 B’s – take a bath, brush teeth and read a book. 
  • Limit screen time before bed. TV and other electronics are stimulating to the brain. The “blue light” can suppress melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Turn off all devices 1 hour before bedtime. A good solution: Set up a family overnight charging area for smartphones and tablets in an area far from the bedroom.  
  • Don’t force yourself to sleep. If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something calming, then return to your bed when you feel tired. Some ideas are reading a book, writing in a journal, drawing, listening to music, or taking a warm bath.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine at least 4 hours before bed. Consuming these substances can hinder your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Avoid napping. If your child likes to come home from school and crash, try to keep them from doing this if possible. If not, limit naps to 30 minutes or less.
  • Only use your bed for sleeping. Using your bed for watching TV, using a smartphone or working will lead your body to associate your bed with these activities. If you reserve your bed solely for sleeping, your body will recognize this and hopefully fall asleep easier.
  • Exercise and eat well. Being active during the day and eating healthy are both vital to better quality sleep. However, you should avoid eating big meals and strenuous exercise 2 hours before bed.
  • Sleep in a comfortable environment. Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable temperature, quiet and dark. Darkness promotes sleep and healthy levels of melatonin.

If you can use as many of these suggestions as possible, you should notice big improvements in your sleep habits. If the whole family follows these guidelines, everyone will be more healthy, productive and agreeable!

By Sarah Laury, LCSW – May 7

Growing up, one of my favorite parts of summer was going away to summer camp. I counted down the days until school was out and I could start packing for camp. I loved meeting new friends, singing camp songs, learning about nature, and all of the camp games and activities.

I enjoyed returning summer after summer to see the friends that I had met the previous year and the camp counselors that I had gotten to know over the years. As a kid, I loved camp because of the friendships and experiences it offered. I had no idea that I was gaining important life skills that would benefit me throughout my adolescence and into adulthood. 

Most kids today spend around 180 days a year in a structured school environment. Many schools offer 20 minutes or less of recess per day, and most middle schools don’t offer recess at all. Kids are going home to a heavy workload of homework and then sitting in front of the television or playing video games.

According to a study by Common Sense Media, kids between the ages of 8 and 12 spend nearly 6 hours a day on some type of technology. In contrast, the average kid spends only 4-7 minutes playing outside. These numbers show a dramatic shift from the way time was spent by kids a couple of decades ago. 

The number of kids diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and ADHD has skyrocketed over the past couple of decades. Some experts believe that there is a correlation between the amount of screen time that kids are exposed to as well as lack of time spent playing outside and the rising rates of mental health issues among kids today.

Kids are stimulated by nature in ways that can never be replicated with screen time or video games. In nature, kids are generally more active and are using their imagination to engage in creative play and exploration.   

Another benefit of summer camp is the opportunity to be part of a community and develop social skills and relationships. In our society, much “socializing” among adolescents and teens is done over social media. At camp, kids are forming relationships and practicing social skills with their peers face-to-face in a community setting.

Most camps focus heavily on relationship building through ice breakers and team building activities. These activities allow kids to develop social skills, work cooperatively with their peers, feel a sense of belonging, and increase self-esteem.

As parents, we have to decide how much freedom we are going to give our kids to make their own decisions and solve their own problems. Decision making and problem-solving skills are both invaluable life skills.

At camp, children are presented with many decisions every day. Most importantly, kids are also exposed to the consequences of the decisions they make. For instance, if they choose to wear their wet socks from yesterday instead of the clean socks in their duffle bag, their feet will probably hurt. Do they try the high ropes course that they have repeatedly fallen off of one more time or do they give up? 

Trying new things (and trying again when they don’t succeed) is what builds resiliency and self-confidence in kids.  Summer camp is the perfect venue for developing these important life skills.   

By Laura Arrick, LCSW – April 30, 2019

It is a very busy time of year in local schools. ISTEP and ILEARN have taken over the past couple of months. Finals and end-of-year exams will closely follow. These tests can bring about a lot of pressure and stress for our students.

Learning how to manage that stress is important as students face these testing demands from year to year. These tests often heighten anxiety, which we know is something that affects children on a regular basis.

When we look at test anxiety in particular it’s not all bad. We want our children to have some anxiety and nervousness that will push them to perform and take testing seriously. But for some kids, their fears kick in and overwhelm them, which can lead to irrational thinking and powerful physical symptoms of anxiety.

“Anxiety has the potential to shut you down,” explains neuropsychologist Ken Schuster. “When kids are having test anxiety they can’t think clearly, they can’t judge things the way they could if they weren’t anxious.  All of your other abilities get clouded up by anxiety.”

Your overall ability to perform and think clearly when the test is in front of you is diminished. Add on the time restraint of a test, and you have a recipe for feeling out of control and helpless.

When thinking about how to best help your child it’s important to listen. You don’t want to dismiss their fears and worries by saying things like, “It’s not that big of a deal” or “Quit worrying.” Instead, spend time with them and help them rationalize a plan to feel more in control.

Tips for students:

  • Control what you can control. Spend your time learning how to manage your physical symptoms, practicing positive self-talk, and preparing to the best of your ability.
  • Manage your physical symptoms. Anxiety often manifests through physical symptoms, and we know the body and mind are connected. Identify what physical symptoms you experience and work to calm your body through deep breathing and visualization techniques. Practice this at home before you start studying. Close your eyes, focus on concentrating on your breath, and feel your body relax and your physical symptoms slow down.
  • Practice positive self-talk. Your attitude will reflect your performance. If the words you are preparing with are, “I’m a failure,” “I might as well not even try,” or “I can’t do anything right,” your performance will match that. Work on developing new habits around how you talk to yourself. Replace those thoughts with things like, “I am prepared for this,” “I will do my best,” and “I am in control.”
  • Prepare and study. When you know you have a test coming up, spend time each day studying a little bit at a time. It is not effective to cram the night before and expect the information to stay in your memory. Spending time mastering sections in small doses will definitely aid in the comprehension of the material and not just memorizing. Also, think about the test format the teacher uses and study with that in mind. Make practice tests or flashcards that match that style. 

Talk to your kids about how they can be at their best when taking a test. Test anxiety is real, but it can be managed and controlled by using the above tips.

By Leah Lottes, LSW – Sept. 12, 2018 – When you think of anxiety, what comes to mind? Many people view anxiety as a feeling of worry and nervousness, but this isn’t always the case, especially when referring to elementary-aged students. There are many different types of anxiety, which is one reason why it may […]

By Laura Arrick, LCSW, Courier & Press, January 16, 2018 –

Child:  “I can’t shut my brain off.”

Parent:  “But you have to get to sleep.  Quit stalling.  You have school tomorrow, so shut your eyes.”

In households with an anxious child this can be a common bedtime conversation.

There are many forms of anxiety, but one shared characteristic is overwhelming thoughts. These thoughts often start out as rational worries and fears but over time can become irrational and all-consuming.  An anxious brain has difficulty letting go and moving on from these thoughts, and nighttime can be one of the most challenging times.

To promote optimal health, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children ages 6 – 12 get 9 – 12 hours of sleep and teenagers ages 13 – 18 get 8 – 10 hours of sleep each night.  Following these guidelines on a regular basis leads to improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and improved mental and physical health.

The typical reasons children are not getting enough sleep include phone or computer usage, video games, homework, jobs, extra-curricular activities, etc.  These things can usually be managed with some parental guidelines.  Anxiety is less obvious and harder for a parent to help with, often leaving both the parent and the child at a loss.

Here are some strategies to think about to help your child manage their anxiety and still get the right amount of sleep each night.

  • Establish a “before bed” routine. Give your child at least 30 minutes before bedtime to wind down. This means turning off all electronics and phones and spending some time getting ready for sleep.  It could include reading a book in a quiet room, taking a bath or shower, listening to music in a dim space, or journaling.  Work with your child on what this might look like for them.  This is a proactive way to set them up for success before they hit the pillow.
  • Have white noise in the room. There are plenty of options that are quiet but effective at drowning out the thoughts in your brain, including a fan, music, sound machine, or an app on your phone.
  • As a general rule try and help children avoid caffeine and snacks before bed. Often the snacks chosen are high in sugar, which does not help the body and mind wind down. Snacks that promote sleep may include bananas, oatmeal, yogurt, cheese with whole grain crackers or bread, or a glass of milk. These all have natural components that promote sleepiness.
  • Have your child keep a journal. Encourage them to spend time reflecting on their day and writing down all the worries and fears they have bottled up. Getting it out of their head and on paper can relieve some of the tension they are carrying to bed.
  • Don’t be afraid to allow them to get up and do something different for a short period of time. If you find they are still struggling after tossing and turning for 30 minutes, let them get up and do something relaxing and calming. They may be swirling those overwhelming thoughts in their head and can’t break the cycle just lying there.

Anxious children can get a good night’s sleep; you just have to find what works for your child. Hopefully some of the suggestions above will help them leave their worries behind before their head hits the pillow.

By Alice Munson, MSW, Courier & Press, Nov. 28, 2017 –

It seems that before the new school supplies have been broken in and the Halloween costumes are put away for the next season, Thanksgiving and Christmas are upon us.  The demands of the holidays can sometimes override the inherent joy of the season, allowing stress to take over.

Here are some tips to help reduce stress and make the upcoming holidays more enjoyable:

  • Put first things first. says of Dr. Redford Williams, director of Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University, “The holidays are supposed to be about kindness and generosity, and people most often neglect extending these courtesies to those who need them most – themselves.”
  • Remember the airlines’ admonition, “In the event of loss of cabin pressure, adults should put on their oxygen masks first, then put one on a child.”  As parents, this may sound counter-intuitive, but let’s face it, if you’re not breathing you can’t help anyone else.  Healthy self-care allows us to handle those bumps in the road that are inevitable for us all.
  • Set a realistic budget.  The cost of food and gifts seems to have grown faster than Jack’s proverbial beanstalk. Decide how much you can spend and stick to it.
  • Refrain from trying to buy the happiness of others, especially children.  Those same children may try to convince you otherwise, but is that the message you want to instill in them?
  • You may also want to consider a donation to the charity of your choice, your church, or a school.  Large families may opt for a gift exchange.  Just decide what works best for your family. Overspending during the holidays could result in a post-holiday financial crisis – not a stress-free way to start the New Year.
  • Accept help.  This is not a time to “out-Martha” Martha Stewart. Remember, Martha has lots of help!  The pursuit of perfection can put a damper on anyone’s holiday.  If Aunt Jane wants to contribute her famous horseradish-chocolate chip Jell-O mold to Thanksgiving dinner, accept graciously.  It may not be what you had planned, but it will make her feel appreciated and valued. Isn’t that what we would all like?  All family members can help with shopping and cleaning according to their age and abilities.
  • Just say no.  Avoid over-committing your time when you know you are over-scheduled.  Not speaking up can cause you to feel resentful, overwhelmed, and out of sorts.  You may think, “They should know how busy I am!”  No one can discern our wishes or read our minds.  And no one can participate in every project, no matter how worthy.  Just choose what you can reasonably accomplish.
  • Give yourself a time-out.  According to the Mayo Clinic, “Finding something that reduces stress by clearing your mind and slowing your breathing helps restore your inner calm.”  Fifteen minutes without the distractions of family, friends, and electronic devices may be enough to refresh and allow you to handle the next task at hand.
  • Remain open to the joy of the season.  The first snowfall, the innocence of a kindergarten Christmas pageant, the gathering of family and friends around the Thanksgiving table, or the sweet sounds of a church choir….all of these and more are available to enjoy if we allow it.  In the words of those accidental philosophers, the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you find you get what you need.”  Peace and joy are gifts of the season, freely given.