Posts

Ashley Hale, LCSW – Dec. 10, 2019

Encouraging regular school attendance is one of the most powerful ways you can prepare your child for success in school and in life.   An estimated 5 to 7.5 million students miss 18 or more days of a school year, which averages two days per month. 

Some challenges are unavoidable, such as illness or family emergencies.  However, it’s important to be aware of the impact absences from school can have, especially if they are frequent.  

Having good attendance sets your child up for a strong future by assisting them with better grades, healthier life habits, the ability to avoid dangerous behaviors, feeling more connected to the community, developing important social skills and friendships, and giving them a better chance for graduation.

You can help your child prepare for a lifetime of success by teaching them to make school attendance a priority.  If your child is struggling to attend school, the first step is to understand the depth of the problem, whether physical or emotional. 

There are many common reasons children do not want to go to school, such as academic struggles, trouble with bullies, family separation anxiety, and family challenges at home. It can be difficult to understand why some children avoid school or do not want to leave home.

The following are some ways you can help eliminate chronic absenteeism:

  • Make getting to school on time every day a high priority. Make it an expectation. Talk with your child about the importance of showing up to school every day as well as the negative effects of too many absences.
  • Create a safe space for your child to share what is keeping them from participating in school on a regular basis. Find out if your child feels engaged in their classes and feels safe while at school. Be aware of their social contacts. Peer pressure can often lead to skipping school, while students without many friends may feel isolated. 
  • Have a back-up plan for getting your child to school when there are difficulties with transportation, family illness, or other challenges.
  • Schedule doctor and other appointments for after-school hours whenever possible.   Don’t let your child stay home unless truly sick. Common occurrences of headache or stomach ache may be a sign of anxiety.
  • Monitor your child’s school attendance to make sure they are in class every day. 
  • Contact your child’s school to discuss support services that can help them maintain regular school attendance. Know the school’s attendance policy. Talk to their teachers if you notice sudden changes in behavior and ask them to contact you if they notice changes. 
  • Encourage your child to participate in afterschool activities, including sports and clubs. Being involved in extra-curricular activities is a great way to feel more involved in the school and to make new friends.

As a parent, you are on the front line of an attendance problem. The good news is that it is possible to change things for the better and increase the chances for success. 

By Jaclyn Durnil, MSW – Dec. 3, 2019

“If you can learn to love yourself and all the flaws, you can love other people so much better. And that makes you so happy.” – Kristen Chenowith

Why is it so difficult to love ourselves? Basically, the short answer to this question is that we were raised in a society that didn’t teach us about self-love. This may not seem very important to some, but self-love is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

Loving yourself provides you with self-confidence, self-worth, and in general, you feel more positive. If you can learn to love yourself, you will feel happier and will learn to take better care of yourself.

Looking in the mirror, most of us see a lot of different flaws and remember too many past experiences and failings to love ourselves. The less you love yourself, listen to yourself, and understand yourself, the more confused, upset, and frustrated you will be in life. When you begin to love yourself and continue to love yourself more and more each day, things slowly will be a little bit better in every way possible.

Unfortunately, self-love isn’t always easy. 

Accepting the pain and allowing yourself to be honest with who you are is a big step to loving yourself. Forgive yourself for past actions and things you are ashamed of doing.

Carrying a lot of negative emotions like jealousy, disgust, and rage can have a negative impact. We need to learn how to accept not only the emotions that create love, joy, and happiness but also the ones that cause fear, insecurity, and anger in our lives.

While we need to learn how to acknowledge and accept the pain with the love, another step is reconciling with a cold and unopened heart. Asking yourself if you fully love yourself can be very difficult because you must accept your flaws and faults.

Love is something we choose, the same way we choose anger, hate, or sadness. We have the power to forgive someone who has hurt us in the past. We can learn to finally heal from something when we can forgive. We can always choose love.

Learning to love yourself leads to better self-care. Examples of this could be taking a break from time to time and accepting that no one is perfect and things happen.

Another example could be saying no to others when you really don’t have the time or energy to say yes. We often do too much for other people because we want to please everyone. We can forget to look after ourselves and then we become overwhelmed.

Today is the day you can love yourself completely with no expectations. Making the choice right now to choose your own love is the most powerful healing force you have.

Amy Steele, LCSW, RPT – Nov. 29, 2019

In any sport, there are a number of skills that one must learn to be successful. The skill of being a good loser will take kids far in life, whether they play sports for one season or make it as a professional athlete. It is a skill that is used throughout all of life when disappointing things happen.

 A good loser accepts the loss in a way that shows respect for one’s self, both teams, the coaches and all of the other people involved. The seven tips below will help you improve your child’s ability to be a good loser and a good winner.

  • Start young.  Play board games with kids when they are little. Teach them that everyone wins and loses sometimes. End games by having everyone shake hands or do “Good Game” high fives to practice positive outcomes. 
  • When your child is upset about losing (at any age,) acknowledge that you understand it is disappointing to lose. You may have a child that is such a sore loser that you avoid games or anything competitive with them at all. While this may make it easier at the moment and avoid a tantrum, avoiding it would take away a great learning opportunity. Teaching your child to persevere through what they may see as a failure shows them they can get through hard things and that you will be with them as they do. You are building character, and each time you do this it will become easier for the child to handle it the next time.
  • Observe your own behavior to see if you and other adults in your child’s life are modeling good sportsmanship. The adults closest to a child (in particular the same-sex parent) are the people they look to the most as a model for their behavior. Do you make excuses for your own difficulties or when things don’t go your way?  Blame your boss when something goes wrong?  Yell at the coach or referees? Criticize your kid’s teacher in front of them?  How do you react when your team loses or your child doesn’t make a team? Decide what you can do to be a better example of a good loser for your child.
  • Expect your child to be responsible for their own actions and remind them that everyone has bad days and everyone makes mistakes – even coaches, referees, and teammates. Make your child accountable every time they have a bad attitude such as making excuses, blaming others, booing, or criticizing someone.
  • Encourage your child to watch how others act when they lose and use it as a teachable moment.
  • Teach your child to encourage their teammates and look for the positives.  Good sports and good teammates support and encourage each other.
  • Help your child bounce back from disappointments in games and sports, as this is good preparation for real life. 

As your child grows they will have the skills in place to help them handle many different kinds of loss, such as the loss of a job or a relationship.   It is likely they will turn to those who helped them handle a loss previously when they need help again. Be that person for them when they are young.

By Callie Sanders, LSW – Nov. 12, 2019

What do famous authors J.K. Rowling and Ernest Hemingway and geniuses Nikola Tesla and Bill Gates all have in common?

They walk. Walking allows them to think clearly, form ideas, brainstorm with colleagues during meetings, and cure writer’s block, just to name a few.

Science has confirmed that walking ignites creative ability. Stanford University conducted research that found that walking boosts creative output by 60 percent. The same complex brain structures needed to stand upright, coordinate body movements and stay balanced are the same structures that allow us to access our enlightened cognitive abilities.

The left hemisphere of the brain is associated with logical thinking, while the right is associated with creativity. The act of walking and shifting from one foot to the next, which coordinates movements, increases communication between both hemispheres of the brain. As mentioned earlier, writers who experience writer’s block may be particularly fond of walking since creative writing requires both left and right brain functions.

Another creative process that walking helps encourage is called cognitive pause. This process is necessary for creative thinking because it allows us to break free from our preconceptions and empty our minds of old worn-out ideas.

When we “pause and unload,” we give our minds permission to relax and be present. This may help explain why creative genius usually happens at odd times like in the shower or upon waking from a nap.

Walking is naturally meditative. Through light exercise, our muscles release tension which helps distract the mind. The act of walking is rhythmic with each step and swing of the arm. Rhythm lowers brainwave frequency, as this effect is closely related to meditation. This could help explain why people gravitate to and find such pleasure in walking.

I have seen positive outcomes when I take students that I work with at school for walks. The mixture of fresh air and light exercise creates a space for the kids to “pause and unload.”

No matter the need of the student, walking always seems to give them permission to relax and be in the moment. I notice the same in myself, as I am more aware and better able to serve them.

I encourage each of you to give yourselves permission to take a break and go for a walk. You will come back to your tasks with fresh eyes and a better frame of mind. Happy walking!

By Lisa Cossey, LCSW – Nov. 12, 2019

With Fall officially here and Halloween already past, Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner. It is nice to look forward to time with family and friends and to participate in ongoing family traditions.

A family tradition is something that is recreated, year after year, enhancing family involvement and strengthening family bonds. My family has planned fall camping trips two years in a row now; perhaps this will turn into a yearly tradition for us.

Another tradition in my family that I look forward to every year is gathering in my mother’s kitchen to bake pies and other desserts for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. A good time with much laughter is always had. Now that my children are older, they are officially part of the family baking team as well.

Families that share in their own traditions provide a sense of comfort and security to their families, especially the children involved. Children love routine and consistency; a family tradition provides this year after year. It also helps the children manage the changes in the year and gives them something to look forward to.

In addition, family traditions enhance family and personal well-being and can also add to the family identity. Strong family bonds are created and reinforced with traditions that are upheld and maintained.

As children grow and mature, traditions can also be altered or changed to accommodate each family’s needs. For example, perhaps a family with young children has a tradition of singing Christmas carols around their Christmas tree. As the children age, their tradition could evolve into caroling around their neighborhood.

In recent years my family has added time to make video calls with our relatives after Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. We call our family members who may not have been able to travel in for the holidays or are stationed out of state or overseas due to military commitments. It gives us all a chance to stay connected as a family, even if we physically can’t be together for the holiday.

Family traditions don’t have to be formal, fancy, or cost money. They don’t even have to revolve around the holidays – you can share in a family tradition any day or time of the year.

My family enjoys baking together to prepare for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays; perhaps your family opts to take a walk every Christmas morning or enjoys exchanging white elephant gifts during your celebrations. Traditions are what you want to make them.

Other ideas to create family traditions include:

  • Reading a book, such as “The Night Before Christmas,” aloud prior to opening Christmas gifts
  • Weekly or monthly family movie nights
  • Yearly family talent shows
  • Creating crafts together
  • Making candy or preparing meals together
  • Annual family camping trips
  • Family sporting tournaments with a traveling trophy to be awarded to the winning family each year

No matter what your family tradition is or what your family chooses to create, just having something for all family members to look forward to each year is important. Traditions help create warm, positive memories that can be recalled fondly and draw family members back to one another year after year.

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 Shannon Loehrlein, LCSW – October 29, 2019

Over the summer I participated in a free online class offered by Yale University called, “The Science of Well-Being.” It is taught by Dr. Laurie Santos. 

I have recently learned that Dr. Santos will be starting a podcast called “The Happiness Lab,” which I am looking forward to listening to this fall and recommend you check out as well. 

Happiness has always seemed like an unattainable achievement in our society. We are often plagued with the messages that society sends us about happiness. 

It turns out that many of the things we think we want in life do not actually bring us happiness. In her class, Dr. Santos talks about the myths we believe about happiness and what science tells us actually does bring happiness. 

What does society tell us is supposed to make us happy?  According to Dr. Santos’ research the most common myths include: true love, having the perfect body, owning expensive possessions, getting good grades, having money, and having a good job. 

Dr. Santos uses the psychological term of “hedonic adaptation” to explain why these things do not make us happy. In simple terms, this means that we become used to whatever it is we have.

For example, if someone won the lottery, at first it would bring increased levels of happiness.  But eventually they would become used to being rich and yearn for more, more, and more.  Hedonic adaption means that any level of happiness does not last for long. 

People have the general tendency to return to a stable level of happiness. The good part of this is that even if we have a negative life event we will eventually return to this stable level of happiness. 

So what are some practices that we can do to increase our levels of happiness and mood?  Luckily for us, these practices are free and easy to use. According to Dr. Santos, the secrets of happiness are:

  • Meditation – a practice to help someone become present in the moment and tune out distractions.
  • Savoring – the simple act of appreciating and being present in the moment.
  • Gratitude – taking time to appreciate the blessings in your life.
  • Kindness – acts of kindness toward other people.
  • Social Connection – having friends and being part of a community can make you more likely to survive fatal illness and less likely to die prematurely.
  • Exercise – 30 minutes a day can boost moods and happiness levels.
  • Sleep – at least seven hours a night for adults and nine hours a night for teens.

So now that you know the secrets of happiness, start using these practices daily. It may just help you live a better life!

By Diane Braun, Project Manager – Oct. 22, 2019

Red Ribbon Week is the oldest and largest drug prevention program in the nation, reaching millions of young people each year.  This year’s event will take place October 23-31.

According to the Red Ribbon Week website, this event is an ideal way for people and communities to unite and take a visible stand against drugs. 

Red Ribbon Week was started when drug traffickers in Mexico City murdered DEA agent Kiki Camarena in 1985.  This began the continuing tradition of displaying red ribbons as a symbol of intolerance toward the use of drugs.  The mission of the Red Ribbon Campaign is to present a unified and visible commitment towards the creation of a Drug-Free America.

National Family Partnership is the sponsor of this annual celebration. They are helping citizens across the country come together to keep children, families and communities safe, healthy and drug-free, through parent training, networking and sponsoring events.

With over thirty annual events having taken place, you might ask, “Is Red Ribbon Week effective?”  According to Peggy Sapp, President of National Family Partnership, consider the following:

  • Red Ribbon Week is an environmental strategy, which means it doesn’t just affect a small group but usually goes beyond schools, churches and other groups into the broader community.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to be an awareness campaign that gets information to the general public about the dangers of drug use.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to get people talking to other people and working on activities that will help rebuild a sense of community and common purpose.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to help parents and schools deliver an effective drug prevention curriculum.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to create critical mass, which is necessary to reduce destructive social norms/behaviors and promote positive social norms/behaviors.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to be positive and fun, two things necessary to maintain good mental health.

Schools can benefit from curriculum available on the official Red Ribbon Week website, www.redribbon.org.  Incorporating substance use prevention education into daily classes such as health is an ideal way to bring awareness to students and promote prevention.

Parents should also access the website for great ideas about talking to children of any age about the dangers of substance use.  Children of parents who talk to their teens regularly about drugs are 42 percent less likely to use drugs than those who don’t; however, only 25 percent of teens report having these conversations.

Alcohol and other forms of drug abuse in this country have reached epidemic stages, and it is imperative that visible, unified prevention education efforts by community members be launched to eliminate the demand for drugs.

Please join Youth First this week as we promote the importance of prevention and educating our children, families and communities about the dangers of substance use.

By Grace Wilson, Program Coordinator – Oct. 15, 2019

The conversation around marijuana is a hot topic in our society these days.  Most folks seem to choose one side or the other and not many fall in the middle.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), marijuana is the most used illegal drug in the United States with 36.7 million users (youth and adult) in the past year. This number is alarming because not everyone is aware of the physical and mental health risks, especially for our youth.

In a 2014 study, it was reported by Lancet Psychiatry that teens who smoke marijuana daily are 60 percent less likely to graduate from high school or college than those who never use. They were also seven times more likely to attempt suicide.

A human brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. When marijuana use is started at an early age, there will be damaging effects to the long term cognitive abilities of that individual.

Marijuana has many damaging effects on the brain. It can affect the parts of your brain responsible for memory, learning, decision making, emotions, reaction times, and attention. These effects could look different in each person. Different factors can come into play, including the potency of the marijuana, how often it is used, if other substances were used along with it, and at what age the individual began using marijuana.

Many people believe marijuana use can calm anxiety and relax an individual, but frequent and heavy use can actually bring on more feelings of anxiety or paranoia.

What are some of the other risks of using marijuana?  First, marijuana is addictive.  According to the CDC, about 1 in 10 marijuana users will become addicted. That number rises to 1 in 6 if they began using before the age of 18.

Some signs of addiction can include unsuccessful efforts to quit using, giving up activities with friends or family because of marijuana, and continuing to use even though it has caused problems with work, school, and home.

Marijuana also elevates the heart rate, causing it to work even harder. This is especially the case if other substances are used along with marijuana. It can also cause respiratory problems, including chronic cough. While marijuana use has not been found as a direct link to cancer, many marijuana smokers also use cigarettes, which do cause cancer.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 71 percent of high school seniors do not view regular marijuana use as being harmful, but 64.7 percent say they disapprove of regular marijuana use. Now is the time to start the conversation with your child around marijuana.

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  1. Do your research on the topic and know how marijuana will affect your child’s health.
  2. Find a comfortable setting to have the conversation.
  3. Keep an open mind. Your child will be less receptive if they feel judged.
  4. Stay positive and don’t use scare tactics, as they are counter-productive.
  5. Don’t lecture; keep the conversation flowing freely between the two of you.

Stay involved in your children’s lives by keeping the conversation open, and let them know they can come to you without fear or judgment. This can make a world of difference when having a discussion with them about marijuana.

By Salita Brown, Project Manager – Oct. 8, 2019

Addiction…overdose…death…all of these serious consequences have become synonymous with opioid use.

Opioids are very powerful drugs that have received a lot of news coverage lately. However, through all of the coverage the reason opioids have become so addictive has gotten lost.

So, what exactly is an opioid?  Why are people addicted to them?  According to the Mayo Clinic website, mayoclinic.org, an opioid is a broad group of pain-relieving drugs that work by interacting with the opioid receptors in your brain cells, meaning an opioid can temporarily control your brain.

Opioids trigger the brain to release a signal that lessons your perception of pain and increases your feeling of pleasure. This feeling of pleasure, though temporary, has led to repeated overdoses. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) currently reports 130 people die every day from opioid-related overdoses.

This crisis is one that everyone can help combat, even if you think it does not affect you directly. One of the easiest methods to combat this problem is proper disposal of unused medications.  All unused/expired medications become quite dangerous when found by the wrong person. This is especially dangerous when medications find their way into the hands of a child.

In order to help prevent this issue it’s best to get those medications out of your home. You might think you need to go to your medicine cabinet and flush those unused pills down the toilet or maybe throw them directly into the trash. You are not entirely wrong, but both of those disposal methods require a couple more steps in order to be effective.

So, what exactly is the proper means for disposing of your expired or unused prescriptions? One option is to bring the unwanted medications to an authorized collector.  An authorized collector will simply take the medications, with no questions asked, and properly dispose of them for you. To find an authorized collector near you, please call the DEA Office of Diversion Control at 1-800-882-9539.

Another option is to flush your unused medications down the toilet. However, before you rush to flush all of your medications, please be advised that not all medicines are recommended for flushing. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a list of medicines approved for flushing that can be found by checking their website at www.fda.gov.  If your medication is not on the approved list, you can always take it to an authorized collector or utilize the next option.

The Rx Abuse Leadership Initiative (RALI) is now providing Indiana fire departments with safe drug disposal pouches to distribute across the state. Drugs can be emptied into the pouch, and when water is added, chemicals in the pouch dissolve the medications safely. Contact your local fire department to request a safe drug disposal pouch to dispose of medications properly.

The final disposal option is to throw the medications in the trash. Proper trash disposal requires that the medication be mixed, not crushed, with an inedible substance and closed firmly in a container or plastic bag. If you choose to dispose of the medication in its original pill bottle, it is recommended to scratch off or remove any identifying labels.

Now that you know the proper method for disposing those unused prescriptions, take time to rid your home of them in a safe manner.  Proper prescription medication disposal may not solve the opioid crisis, but it certainly will not worsen it. If anything, safe-proofing your home for your loved ones is an excellent reason to properly dispose of unused/expired medications.