Tag Archive for: Heather Miller

By Heather Miller, LCSW – May 3, 2024 –

Food. Fuel. Utilities. Clothing. Medical bills. Vehicle maintenance. The cost of everything has increased substantially, leaving many Hoosiers wondering how to stay afloat.

The struggle to meet basic needs is overwhelming for many. According to the Department of Agriculture, almost 7 million families noted missing meals during 2022 due to need. Pew Research Center found that 52 percent of lower-income families reported not having the funds for food or rent/mortgage payments.  According to US News, nearly 40 percent of Americans struggle to provide necessities, with 23 percent experiencing food insecurity in the last year.

The impact goes beyond the need for additional funds. Struggling to meet basic needs is likely to increase familial stress. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy notes that financial distress can lead to academic, behavioral, and mental health concerns. Anxiety and depression may surface or increase when a person is experiencing financial distress.

There are resources to help. By utilizing such resources, families and children are more likely to be productive at work and school and experience decreased stress and greater happiness.

Being aware of options for help is important with so many persons in need; yet many individuals may not know how to find help. Researching individual resources can be time consuming. Indiana offers databases to help families looking for assistance.

One of these databases is located at the website https://www.in.gov/dwd/job-seekers/other-assistance-programs/.  Information about childcare assistance; the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program; and energy assistance are just a few of the links available from this database.

Other resources are available by dialing 2-1-1. Data shows that 2-1-1 provided over 18 million resources in 2022. Dialing 2-1-1 offers access to a navigator that will help connect individuals with resources. Resources may also be explored at https://in211.communityos.org/advanced-search.  After selecting the resource desired and entering a zip code, agencies and programs dedicated to that need appear. Most have information about how to access the resource as well as when it is available.

Many assistance programs depend on volunteers and donations to continue to provide for those in need. If meeting basic needs is not a concern for your family, consider helping others in need by organizing a clothing drive, raising funds, or donating time as a family.

According to Feeding America, adolescents who volunteer report better grades, better self-esteem, and even reduced substance use. Setting an example of volunteering as a family will help instill the importance of helping others in younger generations. This is beneficial to society as a whole.

Youth First Mental Health Professionals can also assist families with accessing resources. Please reach out to your school’s Youth First Mental Health Professional for more information.  If you are unsure if your school is served by Youth First or need contact information, please visit this website: https://youthfirstinc.org/findsocialworker/

By Heather Miller, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

Sometimes anxiety happens without much warning. One minute everything is fine. The next minute, “what- ifs” can become all consuming. 

Typically, teens and adults have a smartphone readily accessible. It may be feasible to grab your phone and try the following tips to help manage anxiety.

  1. Set reminders. For an individual who has anxious thoughts, being proactive is nearly as important as being reactive. Set reminders on your phone with positive self-affirmations. The frequency can be determined by how often they are needed. Psych-Central.com has suggested affirmations to help get started, such as “I inhale peace and exhale worry.” Using your phone’s calendar app, set up positive self-affirmations to pop up as notifications throughout the day.
  1. Use a timer. Studies show that anxiety typically peaks 10 minutes into an episode. Within 20 minutes, the most intense anxiety symptoms have passed. Amid the emotion, time can feel like it is standing still. Set a timer for 15-20 minutes. During this time, give yourself permission to feel anxious while practicing deep breathing, positive self-talk, or other healthy coping skills. Remind yourself that this feeling is not permanent and it will pass. Once the timer goes off, take a few more deep breaths and move forward with the day.
  1. Write down your worries. Anxiety has the power to distort rational thinking. Often, anxiety leads to fearing dismal outcomes for everyday situations. When a worry pops up, take a minute to document it on a Notes page. Write down the worry and feared outcome. At the end of the day, review the list. How many turned out to be true? Typically, not very many at all. Use this as proof that most anxiety distortions are not cemented in truth.
  1. Distract yourself. Often worries are rooted in fear of what cannot be controlled. There may not be a single thing that can change our inability to control an outcome. Rather than sitting in fear, play a game on your phone to serve as a distraction. Our brains are not wired to truly multi-task. If we focus on a game or another distraction that makes us think, our brains will turn off the task of worrying, at least temporarily.

Anxiety is a natural part of life and serves a purpose. However, if anxiety becomes too frequent or intense, working with a mental health professional may be helpful. If you feel as though you or your child are experiencing frequent and intense anxiety, please reach out to your school’s Youth First Social Worker. They can help link you with resources for learning to manage anxiety as well as assist in supporting your child.

By Heather Miller – June 22, 2022 –

Author Jill Churchill once wrote, “There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.”

Before having children, I had many ideas of what I would and would not do as a mom. I would limit screen time, offer healthy snacks, have a consistent daily schedule, and always remain calm when correcting behavior. Then I had a baby. Two years later, another baby with special needs joined our family.

I had a decision to make. I could try in vain to be a “perfect parent” knowing I would fail, or instead choose to give myself grace. As a parent, you will make mistakes. You will have tough days. Some days it may seem as if nothing went right, but the sun will rise again the next morning.

An article by HuffPost focuses on what can be learned from making mistakes. This information also gives insight into lessons children may learn when parents recognize perfection is not the goal. These lessons are summarized as the following:

  1. When someone has a bad day, move forward and make an effort to make tomorrow better. Children will learn that it is normal to have “off” days. Focusing on the present and being mindful of current circumstances is an important lesson for all ages.
  1. Perfection is not required to be loved and accepted. Family and home are intended to be safe zones. People can be their genuine selves, knowing that they’re loved unconditionally. Behavior can be corrected and positive coping skills can be retaught. However, there needs to be a separation between disliking behavior and disliking the person. It will help children feel safe to have open communication with parents. Additionally, children will learn that it is not necessary to expect perfectionism from themselves. While we want kids to try their best, attempting to be perfect often causes increased anxiety and lower self-esteem.
  1. It is okay to ask for help. Accepting support is equally as important as providing support to others. Learning to accept help from trustworthy adults teaches children how to communicate their needs. Children learn that if they are having a rough day, there is no shame in saying so. Empathy is often a focus, as learning to consider how others feel is important. It is equally as important to teach children to recognize when they need extra support.

If parents model this behavior, children will learn to give themselves and others the same type of grace. Youth First offers several programs geared at supporting parents and families. For more information, please visit our website at youthfirstinc.org.

By Laura Keys, LCSW, and Heather Miller, LCSW – May 21 2021-

More than half a million Americans have died of COVID-19 and, in Indiana, families are grieving the loss of nearly 15,000 loved ones. The pandemic will define a generation of children who lost a parent, grandparent or caregiver. A recent study estimates 43,000 US children lost a parent to COVID-19, not to mention the countless grandparents that have died as well.

In response to this need, Youth First will provide two free, daylong grief recovery retreats for kids this summer. Called Camp Memories, this retreat began five years ago as a way to address the need to help children in our community cope with grief. 

The Youth First program takes place on a designated Saturday from 9 am-5 pm.  Master’s level social workers facilitate the program. At Camp Memories, losing a loved one is the common denominator among participants. Children spend an entire day surrounded by people who have a true understanding of what they’ve experienced.

Camp Memories incorporates a variety of activities that help remove barriers to healthy grieving through games, art therapy activities, and free play. Geared to meet the needs of kids from 1st through 12th grade, the camp creates a safe environment for bereaved kids to process what they’re going through and get the care they need.  Additionally, parents are given an opening and closing meeting to keep them informed and equip them to be helpful as their kids leave the camp.

At the beginning of the day, children are typically hesitant about participating and nervous about what will be discussed. As the day progresses, they begin sharing their experiences as well as their emotional responses to these experiences. Sadness, anger, guilt, worry, and fear are some of the common emotions children express throughout the day.

Allowing them an opportunity to talk about their grief through activities geared for children helps them make sense of their emotions. Invariably, by the end of the day the group is smiling, chatting, and having fun playing with new friends.

This year’s Camp Memories dates are June 12 at Washington Middle School in Evansville and May 29th at Camp Illiana in Washington (Daviess County). Both camps start at 9 am and end at 5 pm. If your child has experienced the loss of a loved one and is interested in participating, please contact your school’s Youth First School Social Worker or Laura Keys at 812-421-8336 x 107. Space is limited. This is a free program that depends on donations to continue providing grief support for children.

By Heather Miller, LCSW – Nov. 5, 2019

Parents of a child with special needs have many to-do lists that involve various types of therapies and appointments throughout the week. With life already busy, the extra time commitment chips away at any free time that could be available. This not only impacts the parents but can equally impact the siblings of children with special needs. 

Typically children are quick to note anything they feel is unfair. A sibling who notices that a parent is often with the child with special needs may feel jealousy and resentment. For a parent already trying to balance so much, this additional reaction from a child can be difficult to process. 

Following are some suggestions for helping a sibling of a child with special needs understand the reasons behind what they may feel is unfair:

  • Educate the siblings about their brother or sister’s special needs using a strengths-based perspective. Focus on what the child can do and explain the idea that everyone is unique.  The age of the sibling needs to be taken into account when deciding how much information to share. Keep it age-appropriate and explain in a manner the child can understand.
  • Include the sibling in helping the child with special needs as they want to. Children are often the best teachers for each other. Giving the sibling a task to help their brother or sister complete will give them a sense of accomplishment and positive interaction with their sibling.
  • Look for common ground.  Search for activities that both children can enjoy. Even a short activity can be a great bonding experience for everyone.
  • Ensure the sibling has opportunities to do what they want to do.  Making a special effort to have time for the sibling to participate in an activity (solo or with friends) is important.  This allows them time to be their own person and develop their own interests. 
  • Validate the feelings of the sibling. According to Michigan Medicine, some common emotions a sibling may feel include embarrassment, guilt, jealousy, anger, and fear. Check in regularly with your child. Encourage your child to talk honestly about their feelings with you. Validating and normalizing these emotions will allow the conversation to then focus on coping skills for these emotions.

Siblings of children with special needs learn a lot from their sibling and vice versa. This relationship builds compassion, service, and problem-solving. No parent has the ability to split time perfectly even between children. Ensuring siblings feel appreciated, included, and equally special will continue to build this relationship.

If you have additional questions or concerns about a sibling of a child with special needs, reach out to your school’s Youth First School Social Worker or school counselor for additional resources and support.

By Heather Miller, LCSW – June 11, 2019

“Why do we have to read every day?  It’s summer!” protests my son.  Amidst moans and groans, the steadfast rule remains – 20 minutes of reading out loud daily.  I grow tired of giving my list of explanations and often want to just give in, but the importance of helping my children learn to read and do well is too important to negotiate. 

I like to equate reading time to brushing teeth, a preventative measure to help ensure issues later on in life (like cavities) are less likely to occur.  My oldest struggles to be at grade level in reading, making it much more important for me to continue encouraging – and at times insisting – that reading practice happens.

According to the National Institute for Direct Instruction, poor reading performance in children may lead to anxiety, depression, inattentiveness, frustration, anti-social behaviors, and even aggression.  Furthermore, by secondary grades, most children are aware of their difficulties in reading, thus adding low self-esteem and low motivation to the list of issues that may result from poor reading performance.

The following five ideas may assist parents or caregivers with helping their child improve reading skills:

  1. Make reading a scheduled part of your family’s day.  Placing the same level of importance on reading (to your child as well as having your child read to you) as eating dinner will help ensure reading time is completed daily.  After a few weeks, reading time will be simply part of your family’s day without thinking about it.
  • Many books are now movies.  Before watching the movie, have your child read the book if possible.  If your child wants to watch the Star Wars movies, check out the large selection of Star Wars books available at local libraries first.  Paddington is a great selection for younger children.  There are many books about Paddington that can be followed by the movie.
  • Check out Pinterest for ideas.  There are many activities and resources to assist with encouraging literacy during childhood.  Simple games such as Candyland can be adapted to teach sight words to school-aged children.
  • Make receiving a new book a treat.  For Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Easter, birthdays or as rewards, pick up a book to give as a gift.  There are many books at dollar stores that provide an economical way to promote reading.  Helping children associate books and reading with excitement will help engage them in the process of becoming a reader.
  • Be a good model.  In this case, it is important to “practice what you preach.”  Allow your children to visibly see you spending time reading.  Demonstrate the importance of reading over checking Facebook or watching TV.  This will provide legitimacy when you encourage your children to make similar choices.

If you believe your child is struggling to read, contact your child’s teacher to voice any concerns and get ideas on how to help.  If you are concerned that your child is having behavioral issues or low self-esteem due to reading concerns, your school’s Youth First Social Worker will be equipped to help you address these issues. 

by Heather Miller, LCSW, June 12, 2018 –

“It’s probably normal. Every child goes through phases likes this. More than likely he’ll outgrow it.”

I was trying to reassure myself there was no reason for concern, but the growing pit in my stomach suggested otherwise.

By now I should know that, for me, having a child with special needs often means being at peace with the unexpected. Challenges arise, behaviors manifest, and at times progress is made without a clear understanding of why or how. For many parents this lack of control is difficult to accept.

When my child reached a plateau in progress I tried to determine how I could hit the play button and “un-pause” where we were.  It was time for me to do what I have suggested as a school social worker to many parents, to seek help and support.

From my experience, this is what I have found to be helpful:

  1. Friends – Raising a child with special needs can feel isolating at times. There’s uncertainty about what others think of your parenting, your child’s behavior, and why you may have to cancel at the last minute due to a meltdown.  Being honest about the challenges we face as well as what support I need has been helpful.  The website abilities.com suggests the following: “Try to remember that these people lack the context that we are constantly embedded in. Explain, teach, be patient, raise awareness…”  Friends want to help and be supportive but may need suggestions about how they can assist.
  2. Accountability Partners – As the parent of a special needs child, I know what I need to do but sometimes need a little push to follow through. Sharing next steps with one or two friends can help. I needed to look into services for my child, but making the call seemed overwhelming and made me feel vulnerable. Sharing these feelings with a couple of friends and asking that they follow up with me in a week made it feel more manageable. When asked, being able to say I had completed the first step made me feel accomplished and ready to move to the next step.
  3. Services – Once I decided I needed to get an outside perspective, the next step was determining where to seek help. I often refer parents to various organizations and agencies for services. If I hadn’t experienced this as part of my job, I would have been lost figuring out where to start.  If ever in a similar situation, please do not hesitate to call a Youth First School Social Worker at your child’s school. Recommendations for your specific need can be made; there is no need to guess.
  4. Perspective – Parents want what is best for their children, but every parent makes mistakes. Abilities.com suggests focusing on what you have done well and moving past the mistakes. Asking for help is not a sign of failure or poor parenting. It’s recognizing that some rough patches are rougher than others and require some help to smooth the path. After making the initial phone call for assistance for my child, I felt relief and a sense of pride.  I was giving my child the opportunity to be his best at this stage in his life.

I’ve now been on both sides of this experience as a service provider and a parent. My goal is the same in each role – to reduce stress and increase positive parent/child interaction.  Youth First School Social Workers in area schools are equipped to help you with this goal as well.

By Heather Miller, LCSW, Courier & Press, April 10, 2018 –

“On Saturday, I’m going to help with Camp Memories.  I’m excited!” 

“What’s Camp Memories?”

“It’s a day-long program for kids that have lost a loved one.  It’s a great day.”

“That doesn’t sound fun.  That sounds sad.  What do you do all day, talk about people dying?”

This is typical of the response I receive when mentioning Camp Memories.  Grief is a subject that often makes individuals uncomfortable.  The idea of spending an entire day centered on loss is unimaginable to many; however, it’s one of my favorite programs.

When children lose a loved one, they experience a mixture of emotions.  Obviously, there is sadness and at times anger, but loneliness is also a key emotion related to grief.  After the death, the child must return to school where not many, if any, of their friends and classmates have experienced grief as they have.

According to an article in Social Work Today by Kate Jackson, this feeling of loneliness and standing out may lead to isolation.  Often, children cope with isolation by experiencing an increase in anxiety, substance abuse, and physical complaints.

At Camp Memories, losing a loved one is the common denominator among participants.  Children spend an entire day surrounded by other people their age that have a true understanding of what they’ve experienced.

Camp Memories began three years ago as a way to address the need to help children in our community cope with grief.  The Youth First program takes place on a designated Saturday from 8:30 am – 3:30 pm.  Master’s level social workers facilitate the program.

Camp Memories incorporates a variety of activities including sand tray therapy, normalizing grief through games, art therapy activities and free play.  Participants spend the day processing their experiences in a safe environment.  Additionally, parents participate in an opening and closing meeting to keep them informed about their child’s day.

At the beginning of the day, children are typically hesitant about participating and nervous about what will be discussed.  As the day progresses they begin sharing their experiences as well their emotional responses to these experiences.  Sadness, anger, guilt, worry, and fear are some of the common emotions children express throughout the day.

As the day grows to a close participants are smiling, chatting, and having fun playing with their new friends.  Allowing them an opportunity to talk about their grief through activities geared for children helps them make sense of their emotions.

In my experience as a facilitator for Camp Memories, I have seen children enter with grief weighing heavily on them.  I’ve seen these same children leave with a much lighter sense about them.  This is why this program is so important and beneficial.

Youth First’s next Camp Memories is scheduled for May 12 at Washington Middle School.  If your child has experienced the loss of a loved one and is interested in participating, please contact your school’s Youth First School Social Worker or Laura Keys at 812-421-8336 x 107.  Space is limited.  This is a free program that depends on donations to continue providing grief support for children.

By Katie Omohundro, LCSW, Tuesday, April 3, 2018 –

Communication can be a tricky thing. When you add an adolescent with a growing brain and fluctuating emotions to the mix, communication with the goal of balancing freedom for teens and control from caregivers can be a challenge.

Here are five points to consider that may help improve communication and your relationship with your teen:

  1. Change your mindset.  Being flexible helps. This does not mean we should go against what we believe is best for our children. You should be flexible, however, and try to understand your teen’s perspective. Doing this instead of digging in your heels to show “who’s boss” will encourage better flow of communication.
  1. Allow your child to grow up. During adolescence kids go from having their parents as the center of the universe to avoiding them and thinking they’re clueless. These reactions are perfectly normal. It can be difficult to avoid fighting the quirkiness of adolescence, but allowing time for your teen to navigate through these changes and grow up to make healthy decisions is part of growing up. Coaching rather than micromanaging encourages kids to maneuver through life while feeling confident they have someone to help them along the way.
  1. Make each moment a teachable one. Asking ourselves what really matters during these years can help keep things in perspective. Be present and find those teachable moments. Avoid constant lectures on touchy subjects like schoolwork and chores and the urge to give unsolicited advice. This helps focus the conversation on listening and hearing what is important to your child.
  1. Be real. Being honest with your teen about how you feel allows them to see your struggles and vulnerable side. If you’re afraid your child is going to get involved with a crowd that’s into risky behaviors, it’s okay to let your child know you worry about him and don’t want him spending time with people known to make unhealthy decisions.  Don’t let fear drive you. If you’re too strict and intrusive it can lead to teen rebellion, which isn’t good for anyone. Being authentic and vulnerable will make it easier for your teen to show you that side of them, too.
  1. Validate your teen’s feelings and emotions. Validate your teen by letting them know you understand their feelings. Validation does not mean you agree with or condone the behavior but rather means you’re not judging. Validating feelings allows teens a safe space to open up and allows parents to meet teens where they are.

The foundation of a healthy parent-teen relationship begins with trust, mutual respect, and the ability to pick and choose battles. Figuring out what our “non-negotiables” are (such as no drinking or no texting while driving) is a must. Share these with you teen so they know where you stand. Every child needs guidance, especially during adolescence.

Although the adolescent years may seem to drag on, they’ll be gone in no time. Finding a balance that works for you and your family can make those years enjoyable when it comes to communication and a healthy relationship with your teen.

By Heather Miller, LCSW, Courier & Press, Oct. 17, 2017 –

“Why did Jack score two goals and I didn’t score any?”  “I’m terrible at soccer.  I should just quit.”  “Everyone else in my class knows how to do this math problem but me.  I’m awful at it.”  “You just don’t understand.”

And so it begins… I have a tween.  With this new label comes a noticeable change in my once easy-going, happy, confident child.  New emotions have set in as well as constant comparisons between my tween and classmates, teammates, and friends.

Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines a tween as a boy or girl who is 11 or 12 years old.  The tween years serve as the transitional years between being a child and becoming a teenager.

With this transition comes uncertainty as to what defines the tween.  This uncertainty manifests in various ways such as tears, angry outbursts, and more seriously, depression and anxiety.

Parents and caregivers are often caught off-guard as to how to help their tween navigate this stage of life.  Following are some tips for helping parents and tweens not only survive these years, but to use them to strengthen relationships.

 First, remember to validate and acknowledge the tween’s feelings.  Give permission for your tween to be sad or angry.

This will assist the tween in feeling comfortable with sharing various emotions with adults.  Additionally, this simple acknowledgement will help the tween trust the adult by knowing their feelings will not be laughed at or dismissed.

During this stage, tweens are attempting to define themselves.  Often this is done by ranking their abilities compared to others.  No matter what the tween is comparing, he or she will always find someone who is better than them.

Adults can help by directing praise and compliments toward character traits rather than abilities or accomplishments.  Praising a tween for getting a B in math will likely be followed by the response, “but so and so got an A.”

Focusing on the traits that resulted in the tween earning the B will assist the tween with recognizing the positive traits he or she possesses.  In this situation, stating, “You showed a lot of patience when learning the new material in math.  It would have been easy to give up, but you continually gave it your all,” will bring the focus to the traits of patience and perseverance rather than a letter grade, which serves as a ranking system.

The most important factor in helping your tween is to be available.  According to World of Psychology, it is imperative to give your tween options to communicate their feelings to you.  Allowing your child to choose whether to talk face-to-face, by text, or by calling you about emotions and situations will increase the likelihood of your tween coming to you with concerns and for support.

If you find that your tween is experiencing more serious emotional outbursts or is becoming increasingly withdrawn and isolated, additional assistance may be needed.

Contacting your school’s Youth First Social Worker with these concerns can result in early intervention.   Early intervention by a professional is beneficial to help tweens learn coping skills before the emotions become too intense and overwhelming.