Tag Archive for: Niki Walls

By Niki Walls, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

With so much uncertainty the past few years, many young people have not been in the habit of sticking to a normal daily routine. Research proves that routines support early childhood emotional development. Familiar patterns and activities can provide comfort to children during uncertain times.

Children with regular home routines usually have better self-regulation skills, which means they are better at identifying their feelings and are less likely to become overwhelmed. Children can be more confident and secure when their day-to-day activities are predictable.

Routines are important for children of any age, as they are crucial to a healthy functioning family unit. When children can engage consistently with the same adults and children, they are able to develop relationships with others. This promotes strong social skills, allows them to gain a sense of belonging, and raises their confidence in interacting with others.

Routines do not have to be complex; it is important to keep it simple, especially with younger children. A good way to start is by breaking down the scheduled tasks that naturally occur to create a routine. For example, everyone wakes up in the morning. To create a morning wake-up routine, parents can set a specific time and choose an appropriate method for their children to wake up.

Parents should make sure they review the schedule every morning (and throughout the day) so their child can prepare for what is next on the agenda. The entire day does not have to fall apart if the routine gets off track, but it is important to stick to the same schedule as much as possible.

Parents can start implementing routines into the family’s daily life in various ways. Ensuring the routine is repeated continuously is a way to ensure it sticks. Parents can also use visuals by writing out the schedule for older kids or using pictures for younger children. If possible, it is important for adults to make the children aware in advance if there will be any changes to the schedule.

Routines give children a sense of stability and safety. If children know what to expect, they do not have to be on edge and can be more true to their authentic self. It is important for parents to remember that routines can’t be established overnight. A routine needs to be repeated often for it to become a natural habit.

Children who develop self-regulation through routine will build healthier mental health habits and typically handle unexpected stressors more effectively than their peers. Establishing a few new routines for your family is a great way to provide support and stability amidst the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life.

By Niki Walls, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Resiliency is something many of our children utilize unknowingly every day. So, what exactly is resiliency? Resiliency is building immunity to stressors and adversity; or in other words, the many ways we can adapt and learn from stressful experiences. Resiliency is more of an adaptive skill that is trainable and less of a fixed personality trait.

Developing resiliency can help students stand up to bullies, lose a competitive event with grace, say no to negative influences, and even cope with traumatic experiences like abuse or neglect. The adverse childhood experiences that some children face do not discriminate by age, gender, or location, although certain populations are more vulnerable. Although we all face stressors of various kinds, the way we are taught to cope with those stressors determines our ability to overcome adversity.

Resiliency can be tricky to measure because not all stressful events are the same. The way children respond to stressors can influence the severity of the stressor itself. Some situations may seem mild to some and very serious to others. Sometimes stressors are short lived while others last quite a long time.

The way children learn from stressful experiences is a key part of building resiliency. They must be able to grow and adapt from the stressful events they face instead of accepting defeat. Focusing on the growth perspective and positive circumstances will help them improve their ability to bounce back from stressful situations. Working on developing appropriate coping skills and mindfulness strategies is also important when considering resiliency development.

In the past few years, our children have faced multiple stressful events. They have lived through a pandemic and the challenges it brought with it, such as virtual learning, heightened anxiety, financial hardships, loss, and more. Children have proved their resiliency in ways adults had not prepared them for. While it has been challenging, children have been able to grow and strengthen their resiliency despite negative circumstances.

The world can only hope children are able to look back on some of the difficult events that unfolded in the last few years and recognize the ways they became stronger. As adult role models, we can model resiliency for our children by managing our responses to these types of stressful events. The more we respond capably to adversity in front of children, the more we increase their resiliency and the likelihood they grow to become healthy, well-adjusted young adults.

By Niki Walls, LSW – March 24, 2022 –

Boundaries are something many of us struggle with. We all need to set boundaries to function and have successful relationships. As parents and caregivers, it is just as important to give our children boundaries. It is a parent’s job to know what their child is doing, where they are, who they talk to, and to ensure they are safe.

As much as kids need boundaries, they also hate them. Kids will test and push grown-ups to get as much freedom as they possibly can. While it may seem annoying and burdensome that children are pushing back, this behavior is actually essential to their development. Parents also want their children to grow to be independent and mature, but they cannot do that without learning through trial and error.

Parents need to be mindful of the line between healthy boundaries and smothering or controlling their children. Allowing room for failure and accepting it with grace is a huge piece of building trust and respect in the boundary-setting process. Parents should not be so strict in their rules or so harsh in their punishments that kids are afraid to be truthful with them.

When children do break the rules or push the boundaries, it is important that adults are able to keep their own emotions in check. If parents or caregivers are reacting to the extreme, children will get better at hiding things from them in order to avoid the harsh reaction. One of the most crucial steps parents can take is to build trust with their children and emphasize that they are human beings who will mess up.

With a warm and loving relationship established, parents can begin setting rules concerning their child’s safety. Children will begin to see that the rules are there for the ultimate purpose of keeping them safe. Along with safety rules comes society’s rules. Children will have more respect for the rules they see others following.

While it is important to set clear rules, it is also important to talk to your teens about them. As adults, it is important to teach kids how to be self-advocates and voice their needs. If children feel their opinion matters, they will be more likely to buy into the rest of the rules.

For example, let’s say that your child has a curfew of 9pm every night. Your child might come to you occasionally and ask for an hour extension on their curfew to watch a movie premiere or the end of a game. If you can be flexible and negotiate with them, they will have more respect for you and will be less likely to sneak out later or blatantly miss curfew. Especially as your children grow older and earn your trust, it is important to ensure your rules and expectations are reflecting your trust and respect in them.

By establishing a loving relationship and age-appropriate expectations, parents can feel confident that their children will grow up to be respectable members of society. Starting children off with a firm and supportive foundation will allow them the opportunity to grow into the best versions of themselves.

By Niki Walls, LSW -December 29, 2020-

Parents and guardians are always searching for answers to questions about raising children in today’s world. While developments in technology and popular culture have changed many aspects of childhood over time, one thing that has not changed is that our children need love from a caring adult more than anything.

Showing love and affection to kids can sometimes seem “easier said than done.” However, love is essential because it enables children to flourish and discover who they are. Love is a word that encompasses many different things as well. Love does not come without consistency, respect, and support.

Children thrive on consistency. They may seem like they hate rules and are resistant to many of the boundaries adults set for them, but in actuality, structure is something they are in dire need of. Consistency can come in many forms; developing routines, having the same discipline techniques as your spouse, and having consistent schedules.

Children generally do not embrace sudden change, so by creating consistency in their lives, you are likely to prevent power struggles and behavioral outbursts. Your children will come to know your expectations and follow them more thoroughly because they will know what the outcome will be if they do not.

In turn, this sets the stage for respect. By giving your kids love and consistency, you are being respectful of your children and meeting them at their level. Children are more likely to respect the adults they feel respected by.

Start with trying to understand and validate their feelings when an issue arises. Take yourself back to when you were their age and remember how this particular issue would have made you feel. The more give and take there is in the conversation, the more your child will respect you and feel open with you.

Support is another aspect that is encompassed under love as well. Children often look to someone who will recognize and praise them for their accomplishments. Do not blow off or joke around about something that they are proud of. Encourage your children’s natural

passions and interests; do not push yours on them. Be an ear if they need someone to talk to and guide them as they actively seek advice. Children generally let you know if you have overstepped your bounds; pay attention to them.

If you start with love, you are likely to naturally encompass all of the rest of the suggestions on your own. Take the time to really get to know your kid to the core, not just the surface level version of them. Learn from your past parenting mistakes and the mistakes your parents made raising you. We all have room to grow and build better parenting versions of ourselves.

By Niki Walls, LSW – June 25, 2019

Death is a part of life, and grief comes along with it. Helping a child grieve and understand death can be very difficult.

Psychiatrist Gail Saltz explains, “Children understand that death is bad, and they don’t like separation, but the concept of “forever” is just not present.” Children often have a hard time wrapping their brains around the concept of death and do not always have the coping skills they need to handle it.

 If you are helping a child through the grieving process, here are some important tips to remember:

When breaking the news about death, be clear.  Do not use terms that a child may take literally, as a child may then become fearful of “going to sleep” if that is what they think happened to their loved one who passed. Do not volunteer too much information or go into details that could cause confusion or fear in the child. However, do be honest and answer their questions the best you can.

Each child grieves differently, just like adults.  The child’s moods may fluctuate and be inconsistent. This does not mean the child is grieving inappropriately; it just means they are processing in different ways. Sometimes the child’s action could reflect a defense mechanism they are tapping into as a way of coping. The child may feel many different emotions (such as anger or guilt) toward the person that has died, depending on their understanding of the situation.

Allow your child to express a variety of emotions.  It is good practice for everyone to be able to express the emotions they are feeling, especially grieving kids. Help your child understand their emotions and utilize a safe way of expressing these emotions. It may not be easy for your child to express them in an appropriate manner. If that is the case, encourage them to do things like writing, drawing, or role playing a memory of the person they have lost.

Understand your own grief.  Aside from helping your child grieve, you will likely be grieving yourself. Your child’s grief will likely reflect your own. It is important to allow your child to see safe emotion expression. Please do not project your grief onto the child. Do not make the child feel as though they need to be the caretaker in the situation or escalate it so it is emotionally harder for them.

Be consistent.  Kids crave consistency. They want a routine and a sense of normalcy. This is true in the calm of their lives and also in the chaos.

Practice coping skills.  Children can often struggle with self-regulation and managing their emotions. By practicing coping skills with the child, they will likely have an easier time containing extreme emotional outbursts. Coping skills can include a variety of things like listening to music, making a memory collage, journaling, etc.

Preparation.  It is important to prepare your child for what to expect from a funeral, burial, or any other death ritual that might take place so it does not come as a shock when they are in the moment. Your child may have questions about life after death, so it is important that your beliefs and others’ beliefs are discussed with them. While all of these practices are helpful to a child during the time of a loss, it important to monitor that the child is able to cope with grief and recover from loss in a healthy manner. If your child does not seem to be doing so, it is important to talk to a doctor or seek out a therapist.