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By Jessie Smith, MSW – September 2, 2020 –

Do you have a child who has just started kindergarten? Along with parents/guardians experiencing a range of emotions during this time, so do incoming students. Throughout my time working in an elementary school, I have had the privilege to observe this transition and guide students through this exciting time in their lives.

While a brand new classroom and making new friends can be exciting for a kindergartener, with these excitements come routines, workload, and rules. Expectations placed on students can be daunting and confusing at times. In the first few weeks of school, there are a few tips parents can utilize to help better transition their kindergartner.

  1. Routine. Try to create a routine that includes both a bedtime and a wakeup time. Many professionals stress the importance of scheduled sleep routines for kindergarten-aged children. Having a consistent wakeup time can help children adjust to beginning their day earlier than they may have in the past. Creating charts can be a useful visual and an interactive reference to aid families when trying to maintain a schedule with their child. Morning charts can include activities like getting dressed, eating breakfast, and brushing teeth. Afternoon charts can reflect tasks to complete such as eating a snack, completing certain chores, or working on homework.

  2. Expectations. A major part of being a student is learning to follow regulations and classroom rules. This aspect of schooling can be particularly difficult for incoming kindergartners. For some students, this may be the first time they must ask to use the restroom, walk in a line, or be required to remain quiet during appropriate times. Introducing standard “school rules” at home can help your child meet teacher expectations as well as reduce student stress. Practice rules like raising hands, staying in a designated seat, and keeping hands/feet to self. Obviously you can’t always implement these rules in your home life, but having conversations about these expectations and engaging in role playing can strengthen your child’s ability to adapt to similar rules in the classroom.

  3. Exploring Emotions. Along with getting used to new routines and regulations, your child may experience new emotions that they need time to process. Talk with your child. Ask what part of their day made them the happiest. Were there any times they felt upset or overwhelmed? Helping children identify their emotions can also promote conversations that can help you monitor and regulate the feelings your child is experiencing.

  4. Discipline. All of these new changes can be overwhelming for little brains. It’s important to remember that your child is learning. I speak to many parents who are concerned because they have received a note or a phone call from an educator to address a concern about their child’s progress or behavior. When this occurs, it is often because teachers are trying to be proactive and communicate with parents to eliminate more issues in the future. It is a good idea to collaborate and set expectations in the home that are the same as expectations in the classroom. Keep in mind how different their day-to-day environment has become while they try to familiarize their surroundings and find their place in the classroom.  

The start of kindergarten for your child is a bittersweet moment in a parent’s life and Youth First is here to help with any questions you might have. Please reach out to your school’s Youth First Social Worker or communicate with your teacher if you need assistance navigating the transition. It really is a team effort.

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 Jillian Moon, LCSW – August 12, 2020 –

My first day of high school was intimidating. I knew almost no one and my role in the school felt undefined. Would the teachers think I was good enough? Would the students like me? Would I be involved enough, or visible enough? Would I be too involved, too visible?

In the hallway stampedes between classes, everyone seemed to know exactly where they were going except me. And where were Molly Ringwald and Zac Ephron to start up the choreographed dances in the lunch room?

I suppose I should point out this was my first day as a high school social worker. At the ripe age of 31, I’d finished high school, college, and graduate school. Yet walking in those big school doors, I still felt overwhelmed by change and the very human need to find where I fit in a new social system.

As a parent, you can do a lot to ease these kinds of fears and help your kids enjoy the amazing opportunities high school has to offer them. Here are a few ideas from familyeducation.com:

  • Encourage your child to follow their own interests as opposed to following a clique. Focus first on finding the activity or sport that gives them genuine fulfillment—friends with whom they can have supportive and lasting relationships are then much more likely to be found.

  • Avoid sarcastic remarks about your child’s appearance. If you feel tempted to make those comments, keep a stack of your own high school pictures handy to share with your child! Not only will it take you back to a place of understanding the need to fit in, it will help you build an even stronger relationship when they see you were in their shoes once, too. (Literally, their shoes. The 90’s are back.)

  • Help your teenager understand that no one thing in their life is the “end-all-be-all” for their future. College and post-secondary program acceptance, for example, is based on many factors. Encourage personal challenges over easy grades while they capitalize on their strengths, whether they be academic, athletic, or community involvement. Praise their effort and improvement over one-time highs and lows.

Last but not least: make time to listen. Teenagers face the difficult task of finding their place with peers outside of family and setting the stage for their lives as adults. Non-critical listening tells them you can be trusted and you are an ally on their team. Always remember that while your child may not remember the advice you give, they will always remember how you made them feel in moments of need.

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 Christine Weinzapfel-Hayden – July 22, 2020 –

We have heard so much about the “new normal” over the last few months, but what is that? How are we supposed to make plans for the future when we really don’t know what that looks like yet? And how are we supposed to prepare our kids for a school year filled with so many unknowns?

There are no perfect answers to any of these questions, because we’re still being met with more questions than answers. Instead of focusing on the unknown, the best way to move forward is preparing ourselves for the things we do know.

We know that as of right now schools are planning to open in the fall. This is great news for our kids who have been missing their friends and teachers. However, we also know that it won’t look exactly the same as they’re used to. The CDC guidelines are going to be intense—but they’re a great guide for good conversation with your kids.

You can initiate these conversations right now as you start your normal back to school preparations. Let kids pick out their backpacks and lunchboxes, pencils and glue sticks. If your family is choosing not to go into stores together, your kids will find it just as fun to help fill your digital cart with their school supply choices. This simple activity creates a great opportunity to sit with your kids individually and ask what things they are excited about and nervous about for the coming school year.

In addition to doing the “normal things” like buying school supplies, it’s also important to have frequent conversations about the things that will look dramatically different. One of these is the use of facemasks. It is important that you help your child practice wearing a facemask prior to the start of the school year. Give them time throughout the day where they can practice putting one on or completing a small task while wearing it to get comfortable with this as a new habit.

Talk to your children as well about the things they can do to help ensure they stay healthy during the coming school year. Talk to them about hand washing and objects they shouldn’t be sharing with their friends this year, like their supplies or snacks. If you have a child who likes to bite their nails or chew on their fingers or shirts when they’re anxious, this is a great time to help them start finding healthier coping skills. Explain how their hands have germs and the replacement coping skill is a healthier choice.

The last step to ensuring a positive start to a very different school year is making sure that you are talking about school opening in a positive way. Adults have a hard time with the unknown. We tend to question decisions made by others and express ourselves openly when we disagree. This can be detrimental to your child’s mental health in the start of a new year. If you think schools are doing too much or not enough, have these conversations away from your children.

Your children need to buy in to the changes happening at their school in order to have a successful and fun year. So when you discuss this year’s “new normal” in going back to school, be excited for them, talk positively about the changes, and support the decisions of the administration.

By Youth First, Inc. – July 14, 2020 –

Technology can be a great thing. It helps us communicate with loved ones who live far away. It helps parents have peace of mind when their child is going somewhere without them. It is a great resource to help educate our children.

There are many advantages to having technology, but there are also many concerns when it comes to safety.

Right now, during the pandemic, many children and teens have more time and more access to technology than ever. They have unlimited access to apps, web pages, and social media. The older the child is, the less likely it is they have restrictions on what they can do on their phones and computers. But it is important for parents to monitor their child’s usage, no matter the age of the child.

According to parentology.com there are 10 reasons parents should be monitoring their child’s phone or computers:

  1. Online harassment or bullying
  2. Distracted driving
  3. Addictions
  4. How they spend money
  5. Online predators
  6. Oversharing
  7. Sexting
  8. Inappropriate content
  9. Dangerous apps
  10. Your child’s safety

There are an increased number of children saying they are being bullied online. While it is important to make sure that your child is not the victim, it is equally important to make sure your child is not the one bullying or harassing others. Teens, especially, seem to have no fear of what they say online and can lack an understanding of the consequences their words can have. 

Driving while using electronics is not a good idea for anyone. It’s especially important to counsel your teen on the dangers associated with distracted driving. There are apps that can monitor a teen driver’s speed to give parents a little peace of mind.

Addictions can come in many forms – drugs, alcohol, cell phone or game usage to name a few. It is important to set healthy limits when it comes to the amount of time children spend playing video games. Monitor how much money they are spending online and make sure they are not spending money on games without permission.

With apps such as Snapchat, Tik Tok, Whisper, After School, Discord, Ask.fm or other social media apps, it is easy for teens and children to come into contact with strangers. This could lead them into a dangerous situation if they befriend a child predator. It is important for our child’s safety for them to know that they should never friend someone they do not know personally. They should never give out personal information or send inappropriate content of themselves or others.

There are helpful ways to monitor your child’s phone:

  • Have a conversation with your child and explain what your expectations are regarding the phone – what is okay and what is not.
  • Explain the dangers of talking to strangers.
  • Check devices daily to ensure kids are acting safely.
  • Download parental control apps on your phone to help monitor usage and notify you when your child is on unsafe websites.

As parents it is our job to ensure that our children are being safe when they are using their phones or computers. While it is important to grant your child more freedom as they age, it is still important to track or check your child’s phone and electronics uses to ensure they are being safe in their online interactions with others. Remember, until children are 18, parents are responsible for anything they do on their phones or computers.

For more information, go to https://parentology.com/should-i-track-my-childs-phone/ or www.youthfirstinc.org.

Image by Mircea Iancu from Pixabay

As students and staff return to school, child abuse disclosures and reports will likely increase. Click here to read about student concerns and information for teachers and staff.

By Ashley Underwood – July 1, 2020 –

As the mother of a child who will start kindergarten this fall, I can say the question “Is he ready?” has come to mind often over the past few months. The academic, social, and emotional demands are much more intensive in kindergarten than what has likely been previously experienced. Because of this, however, kindergarten is an amazing opportunity for learning and growth for your child.

What are some indicators that your child is ready for kindergarten? The Mayo Clinic identifies some common developmental milestones that can be observed when a child is ready for this leap:

  • Demonstrating curiosity in learning new things
  • Exploring new things through their senses
  • Taking turns and cooperating with peers
  • Speaking with and listening to peers and adults
  • Following instructions
  • Communicating how they’re feeling
  • Empathizing with other children
  • Controlling impulses
  • Paying attention
  • Limiting disruptive behaviors

While many of these skills emerge naturally between ages 4 and 5, there is not a set age limit. Some parents even choose to wait until age 6 to send their child to kindergarten.

What you can do to help prepare your child for kindergarten?

The National Association for the Education of Young Children provides these tips:

  • Teach responsibility. Start transferring small responsibilities over to your child, if you haven’t already. They can set out silverware at meals, put new liners in trash cans, or fold pillowcases. Any task that is meaningful to the household and achievable for the child will teach responsibility.
  • Develop and follow routines. Set up morning routines that will transfer into a school setting. Getting up around the same time every day, getting dressed, and having an early breakfast together is a great way to transition to school.
  • Read aloud to your child. Read a variety of books, read the captions under pictures in the newspaper, even share the comics. Just read together!
  • Engage them in meaningful literacy activities. Encourage your child to help you with thank you cards, shopping lists, or notes. At the store, you can point to each item on the list and have your child check it off when it’s put in the cart. At home, you can ask your child to sign their name on cards and give them their own special notebook and pen.
  • Help them develop independence at home. Encourage your child to dress themselves, take their coat on and off and hang it up, use the bathroom without assistance, wash their hands without constant reminders, and put on their own shoes. 
  • Acknowledge their feelings. Your child may express being nervous, not wanting to go or, alternately, feel very excited to start school. Take time to appreciate these feelings. You can find specific strategies to do this at youthfirstinc.org/selmaterials.

Chances are you’re already practicing many of these skills your child will need for kindergarten. Remember to keep it fun and don’t make it stressful for you or your child!

If your child’s school will require them to wear a mask, practice this at home and when you go out in public. You can find helpful advice at https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/coronavirus-masks.html

Additional information about kindergarten readiness from the Indiana Department of Education can be found at: https://www.doe.in.gov/sites/default/files/earlylearning/k-readiness.pdf

By Diane Braun – June 23, 2020 –

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which has sold over 30 million copies in over 40 languages, is one of the most significant business books of all time.  Dr. Stephen Covey’s lifelong mission was to “unleash the human potential.”  The 7 Habits are the accumulated wisdom he blended into a comprehensive framework that allows one to be effective in their work and personal life.

The 7 Habits have the ability to introduce skills like goal setting, organization, time management, team work, conflict management, collaboration and communication. Those already familiar with the habits can also strengthen these skills.

There are steps to create habits that help you personally, and there are other steps that help you deal with and understand others. Ultimately the hope is that the participant will experience renewal – knowing that to be your best you need to feel your best mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The 7 Habits were developed to help people deal with issues that can hamper their productivity, creativity and personal health.  But can they also apply to dealing with the coronavirus? Let’s examine the third habit – PUT FIRST THINGS FIRST.  

Put First Things First builds on Habit 2’s goal setting by teaching us to keep going, watch for obstacles and distractions and ignore them or find a way around them. We also find out how identifying priorities will help us reach our goals. 

Most people fall into one of four quadrants when it comes to getting things done:

  • The “Procrastinator” is addicted to urgency. They thrive under pressure and like to put things off until it becomes a crisis. Stress helps them think. They rarely plan ahead because they like the rush of doing everything at the last possible moment. The only problem is they create stress and anxiety for themselves and others as well as the very real possibility of burnout. Most of the time what they accomplish is mediocre at best.
  • The “Yes-Man” has a hard time saying NO to anything or anyone. He tries so hard to please others that he usually pleases no one.  A victim of FOMO—fear of missing out—he can’t handle everyone having fun without him.  The “Yes-Man” usually ends up always being a follower, never a leader. The lack of discipline leads to always feeling like a doormat.
  • The “Slacker” just wants to hang out and would rather do anything than concentrate on a task. Mindless pastimes are the best use of their time. They can forget appointments easily, distracted by what they’re doing at the moment or not wanting to stop. They can’t be counted on and are viewed as lacking responsibility. They could miss opportunities by simply being disconnected from what’s important.
  • The “Prioritizer” is where highly effective people spend their time. He looks at everything going on and decides what’s most important—the big rocks – what needs to be done first and done well. Once completed, he looks at the small rocks, the little things that are not so important but take up time. By planning use of time a sense of control is achieved, as well as balance between the big rocks and little rocks, and tasks are done well.

During this pandemic we should be thinking, “What’s the most important thing for me to do today? Am I prioritizing my time to benefit me, my family, and our health?” By learning to manage our priorities and recognize distractions, Habit 3 will become the best way to meet our goals.

By Diane Braun, June 16, 2020 –

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which has sold over 30 million copies in over 40 languages, is one of the most significant business books of all time.  Dr. Stephen Covey’s lifelong mission was to “unleash the human potential.”  The 7 Habits are the accumulated wisdom he blended into a comprehensive framework that allows one to be effective in their work and personal life.

The 7 Habits have the ability to introduce skills like goal setting, organization, time management, team work, conflict management, collaboration and communication. Those already familiar with the habits can also strengthen these skills.

There are steps to create habits that help you personally, and there are other steps that help you deal with and understand others. Ultimately the hope is that the participant will experience renewal – knowing that to be your best you need to feel your best mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The 7 Habits were developed to help people deal with issues that can hamper their productivity, creativity and personal health.  But can they also apply to dealing with the coronavirus? Let’s examine the second habit – BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND.  

Beginning with the end in mind reminds us that we should always have goals, whether they are personal or professional, short-term or long-term.  Goals are what guide us to the outcome we want.

Asking ourselves specific questions about what we want, expect, and hope for will help set our goals. A personal goal of making new friends, losing weight, eating healthier, or adding a spiritual aspect to our days can be achieved by looking ahead and thinking of the steps it will take to get there. 

The same goes for professional goals. Where do I want to be in six months or one year?  Does the job I’m looking for require me to get more education?  Should I enroll in classes or training?  Will I need to work on certain skills?

Covey recommends developing a personal mission statement. This can be a quote, song lyrics or a simple statement describing who you are right now. It can help define what’s important to you and get started on the steps toward a goal you envision.

Right now we find ourselves adjusting to schedules and situations unlike anything we’ve ever dealt with. This can be stressful and can cause us to forget this situation will eventually end and normalcy will return.

Beginning with the end in mind helps us think about life down the road. What happens when the pandemic is over? Was I kind to my neighbors? Did I have patience with the people I live with? Will our behavior now affect our relationships later? What is the goal for when this situation ends? Personally and professionally, where do I want to be? During this uncertain time, it’s helpful to have goals to guide us.