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By Christine Weinzapfel-Hayden, LCSW -September 3, 2020-

As students start school after being out for a long layoff, they may need a “brush-up” on their organizational skills. Organizational skills are important in every phase of life, whether we are professionals in the work force, parents, teenagers or children. 

It is never too late to evaluate how your child is doing in mastering this skill and to help them develop the necessary strategies to be successful.  I firmly believe we all have good intentions. I haven’t met a student yet who wants to fail or forget to turn in their homework. Just like with adults, good intentions may not always yield good results.    

Parents can start with children as young as 2 or 3 years old.  Developing organizational skills is much like learning to ride a bike. We don’t just sit our children on the seat of a bike and let them go.  We hold the seat of their bike until they seem sturdy.  Even then, we don’t leave them to fall.  We often run beside them to catch them if they aren’t steady. 

The same strategy should be used in teaching our children organization.  In the beginning of the process a parent should be very involved.  As they are ready for more independence, children can be given more responsibility and the parent can be more of a monitor. 

The academic setting is the perfect place to begin teaching these life skills that can be carried over throughout our lifetime. A key component is allowing your child to develop an organizational system that makes sense to them.  What makes the most sense to you may not be what makes sense to your child.  Therefore, allow your child to have the ownership as you guide them by gently pointing out suggestions and potential pitfalls of their plan. 

Here are some tips to help begin teaching organizational skills:

  1. Begin with consistency at home. Having a set study time after school will provide a consistent routine that promotes good time management.
  2. Aid your child in organizing their backpack and binder to provide a system that prevents papers from being shoved into books, etc. 
  3. Strongly support your child using their agenda. Developing the habit of writing down assignments/tests in the agenda as soon as assigned in class will set them up for success.  This habit of using the agenda appropriately will set your child up for independent success in the academic years to follow.  This task is often overlooked by students as they get busy or distracted and forget to write things down. This step is extremely important, so you may consider a reward system that supports creating the habit in the initial phase of developing this strategy.
  4. Create a to-do list and break down big projects into smaller tasks. In a different color ink, fill in extra-curricular plans to help your child plan in advance for evenings that may not allow enough time to accomplish all necessary tasks. 

As Donna Goldberg from the NYU Child Study Center emphasizes the importance of these skills, she clarifies the need for students with special needs in particular. Children with attention difficulties often miss details and find organization difficult. Those with executive functioning issues often have trouble with prioritizing and sequencing.  Children with auditory processing difficulties often don’t take in everything that is being taught. 

Recognizing your child’s individual needs and teaching them how to compensate with organizational skills will be a lesson leading to success for a lifetime.

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 Youth First, Inc. – Aug. 3, 2020 –

Back-to-school shopping is underway, with face masks and hand sanitizer added to the list of supplies this year. Youth First wants to ensure that kids are also socially and emotionally ready to begin the school year. Here are our top 10 tips for mental health success.

  1. Model calmness. Children will take on stress and anxiety from adults around, them so make sure to work on your own feelings and fears about a return to school. Parents are the original co-regulators, the first teachers of how to manage emotions. Whether we are in school buildings or not, there are fears about returning. If the parent sets a positive tone the child will follow.
  2. Talk to your child about safety in a way they can understand. Keep it simple and appropriate for each child’s age. Let them know this isn’t going to last forever but for now there are rules we have to follow. As is often said, “This too shall pass.”
  3. Set a structured daily schedule, especially in the weeks leading up to school. Have a wake-up time and bedtime that are age appropriate for your child. (Most experts recommend 8-10 hours of sleep each night.) Part of the reason teens need more sleep is because of rapid development of body and brain.
  4. Limit screen time and social media exposure, especially in the weeks leading up to school. If screen time has been high, this may initially cause behavioral issues and withdrawal. Hang in there with the limits and your child will make the adjustment. Always have your child’s phone charging in your bedroom overnight to prevent late night access.
  5. Plan family meal time without any electronics, whether it’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch or a more formal meal for dinner.
  6. Stay up-to-date with your child’s school on changes and precautions they will be taking. Discuss those procedures with your child and help them practice if new rules are introduced. Let your child know that these changes are the school’s way of being proactive to keep everyone healthy.
  7. Discuss clear expectations you have for your child when they return to school (behavior, safety compliance, and academics).
  8. Model and discuss positive ways for your child to express his or her feelings. If they are younger, videos and books are a great way to explain complex feelings. Give your child life examples of when you have been scared, frustrated, or excited and how you dealt with those feelings.
  9. Practice calming techniques with your child in the weeks leading up to school (breathing techniques, mindfulness, taking a time out). Make sure they are helpful and age appropriate.  Check out bubble breathing, finger breathing and other techniques on Youth First’s website at youthfirstinc.org/selmaterial.  Repeated practice is helpful for younger kids.
  10. And last but not least, show enthusiasm for the first day of school! Remind students of the joy of learning and seeing friends and beloved teachers. Whether they are walking into a school building or walking to the kitchen table, they should be prepared and excited to start school.

It’s certainly normal that all parents and students have some apprehension about returning to school this year. However, being prepared and informed helps reduce stress and anxiety. Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open with your kids.

By Emily Sommers, MSW, August 15, 2018 –

Just like the teachers, school social workers come into the building several days before the first day of school to prepare for the new school year.  

One thing I have noticed upon returning is that “summer brain” is a real thing!  Summer brain is not a good or bad thing; it just means it is time to change patterns and create a new rhythm.     

As school social workers we briefly talk about problems with students, parents, and teachers and tend to spend more time discussing solutions to maximize the success we hope for in our work.  So, if the problem is summer brain…the solution is mindfulness!   

Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment and noticing inner experiences like thoughts and feelings.  Research shows that mindfulness can help reduce stress and anxiety.  

Parents, children and teens may benefit from discussing their perception of mindfulness with each other and, hopefully, this article will encourage just that.  

What examples can you come up with where you are already using mindfulness?  You might surprise yourself and build confidence by starting there!  It is certainly very rewarding to do this with a classroom of students, no matter the age, who share their wisdom so freely.  

Here is a brief list to encourage mindfulness as we begin the 2018-19 school year. See if you and your family can add to the list.   

  • Create a “daily” gratitude jar where all family members can write down and contribute one good thing (or more) about their day or something they think they did well.
  • Establish a particular space at home for everything that will be needed for the following day to ensure backpacks are loaded up and ready to go. Making lunches together the night before can also be a family mindfulness activity.
  • Frustrated with an activity? Take a time-out and come back to it later.
  • Check your self-talk…is it kind and encouraging?
  • Write some positive inspirations and post them around you.
  • Deep breathing exercises and stretch breaks can be very helpful.
  • Challenge irrational thoughts by asking yourself, “Is this something that I can do anything about today?” If so, take the necessary steps to do just that.
  • Eat mindfully.  Notice how your food looks and smells. Rather than rushing, eat slowly, mindfully and take in all of the senses.  
  • Make a daily inventory of the things you felt you did well and those you felt you might have done better.
  • Remind yourself it happens a little at a time…not all at once!
  • Journal!  Journaling can benefit by providing an emotional and physical release as well as providing insight and inspiration.
  • Take a walk or enjoy any exercise you prefer.
  • Get outside in nature…enjoy the sunset and take in all of the sights, sounds and smells! 
  • Experience a loving-kindness meditation…YouTube has some great examples.
  • Listen to music.
  • Take time to laugh.

Easy does it.  Remember, mindfulness is all about the daily practice, and the more we practice something the more permanent it becomes.  Good self-care has a positive ripple effect to all of those around you, too.

By Christine Weinzapfel-Hayden, LCSW, August 7, 2018 –

Most schools have been on summer hiatus. You’ve had close to three months with your children living a relatively carefree summer life.  Hopefully you’ve had the opportunity to create some new memories with your family.  

It is probably a little hard to believe these summer days together are coming to an end.  If you are like me, you and the kids may have relaxed your routine through the summer months.  Now the question is, how do you get back on track?

For starters, try not to stress.  Start talking to your kids about school to get them excited about the upcoming year.  Speak with enthusiasm and talk about the new year in positive terms.  Also, go back-to-school shopping together and let your kids have input on their supplies.

Give yourself time to gradually get settled back into a bedtime routine.  If your child’s school-year bedtime is 7:30 pm but you’ve been letting them stay up until 9:00 pm during the summer, you’re going to need some time to adjust their bedtime.  Try pushing their bedtime up 15 to 30 minutes at a time.  

You’re also going to want to start getting them up earlier in the morning, working towards the time they will need to be awake during the school year.  If you have younger children who have gotten into a habit of taking naps during the day, this would also be a good time to start eliminating nap times. 

You might have also noticed your grocery bill has gone up significantly during the summer. Part of this is our tendency to graze and allow our children to graze throughout the day.  Once school starts, their opportunity to snack on a whim will be gone.  To help make that transition easier, it would be a good idea to cut back on the snacks.  

Start getting back into the routine of eating meals at specific times. It seems that morning routines are the hardest at the start of the school year (and sometimes all year).  Start practicing your morning routine now.  If you’re going to need your child to eat immediately after waking during the school year start practicing now.  

It’s also a good idea to start planning for afterschool activities now. Once school starts schedules seem to explode.  Start figuring out which kids are going to participate in particular activities and whose responsibility it will be to get them to and from practices and games.  

If you make an effort to organize your calendar now, you will feel better about your schedule later.  Hopefully this will help alleviate some stress for everyone as the days start getting busier. 

The start of the school year sneaks up on us every year. Don’t let this be a dreaded time for you or your children.  Make going back to school fun and start preparing early. This will help your new school year start more smoothly and be a more enjoyable experience for all.