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By Jana Pritchett – November 23, 2021-

We’re entering the peak season for family traditions. Some that I recall from my childhood include enjoying the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while cooking the turkey and trimmings, sharing reasons to be thankful around the dinner table, playing board games with family after a large holiday meal, and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” after attending Christmas Eve services.

Many of our fondest memories are centered on family traditions, activities or patterns of behavior that help us bond with our families. Often these traditions are a link to past and future generations. 

As a young child, I remember my grandparents taking my family to dinner at Helen’s Restaurant every Sunday. They often shared stories from my father’s childhood. This was precious time spent with them, creating special memories I can call up now that they’ve passed on.  

Even though today’s family looks a lot different than families of a generation or two ago, traditions are still an important part of family life and the foundation of strong family ties. This year’s traditions may look a little different due to the continued risk of travel and gathering in large groups, but it’s still important to fit in simple traditions that help children and teens establish a sense of belonging.  

Family writer Denise Witmer, contributor to numerous national outlets including Parenting.com, offers five reasons to observe family traditions:

  1. Family traditions create good feelings and special moments. They create positive emotions and memories that will last a lifetime. It’s always a sweet moment when an older child remembers a wonderful time shared when they were younger.
  2. Family traditions give every member of the family a stronger sense of belonging. Time spent together strengthens the bonds between family members.
  1. Family traditions help your child or teen with his/her identity. When teens are trying to figure out who they are, it helps to know that they belong. Teens need encouragement to be a part of something bigger when they’re searching and defining their sense of self.
  1. Family traditions help parents impart life skills and family values to their children. Spending more time together helps parents and grandparents model these family values and provides more opportunities to talk about serious issues. Having fun together helps keep the conversation light and encourages kids to open up.
  1. Family traditions offer your child or teen a sense of security. Teens, especially, face some difficult issues in today’s world. Knowing they are secure and have a family to turn to is a powerful tool to use when confronting negative peer pressure, drug and alcohol use, college and career choices, etc.

Even as your child grows older, family traditions are still important.  Find a way to carry out the rituals that help define your family. Often teens will insist on sticking with tradition even when you find it difficult to fit these moments into your routine.

My grown children, ages 30 and 26, still insist on finding the hidden pickle in the tree to see who will open the first gift on Christmas Eve. As they leave the family nest and everything in their world seems to be changing, busy young adults stay connected through family traditions.

If your existing traditions don’t seem to have the same appeal, create new ones. Do what works for your family. Cooking dinner together, taking a hike at a local park, driving through the countryside to see Christmas lights, or even eating a special food one night a week will create memories that your children will pass on to their own families and remember for a lifetime. 

By Callie Sanders, LSW – November 17, 2021-

Somehow, here we are. November is flying by, and we’re in the season of Thanksgiving.

Being thankful and appreciative for what is received, tangible or intangible, is an example of gratitude. By acknowledging the good things in life, people usually recognize that sources of goodness can exist both inside and outside of themselves. Gratitude helps people connect to something larger and can help them appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new.

Although it may sound silly at first, this mental state grows stronger with time and practice. Studies support an association between well-being and gratitude, resulting in fewer doctor’s visits, taking better care of self, and improved relationships.

For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partners felt more positive towards each other and more comfortable expressing concerns related to their relationship.

Workplace gratitude also comes with great benefits. Showing gratitude in the workplace costs nothing and only requires minimal time. This can lead to employee morale and better performance. Leaders can also create an environment where everyone is responsible for showing gratitude to ensure all are recognized.

In a recent study by the American Psychological Association, researchers found that 93% of employees are motivated to do their best at work and 88% reported being more engaged when they feel valued by their employer. Only 21% of the polled group said they were considering searching for new employment in the upcoming year.  

Another benefit of practicing gratitude at work is “the spillover effect,” which has the power to enrich other aspects of our lives outside of the office. With gratitude, many people experience greater satisfaction in life, reduced stress, and a healthier outlook, physically and mentally.

Lastly, here are a few simple ways to start cultivating more gratitude.

1.     Write or email a thank-you note. This can help nurture and strengthen relationships with others. You can decide how often to send a note of gratitude. Do not forget to write to yourself!

2.     Keep a gratitude journal. This will help boost happiness and better coping for life’s challenges.

3.     Take time to meditate. Practice mindfulness by focusing on what you are grateful for today.

4.     Say a prayer. Prayer can help cultivate gratitude.

5.     Mentally thank someone. Think about someone who has done something nice for you and mentally thank that person.

Life brings many unexpected twists and turns. There’s no better way to tackle that stress and show yourself and others love than spreading a little gratitude along the way. 

By Valorie Dassel, LCSW, LCAC – November 10, 2021-

From day one as parents, we strive to nurture our children and protect them from all foreseeable dangers. As they grow and become more independent, it is our job to give them skills to protect themselves. We must also grant them just the right amount of independence to nurture that growth.

The teenage years seem to be the most challenging for both parents and teens. A sense of newfound autonomy, combined with the risky situations many teens face, makes this time period very daunting from a parent’s perspective.

Addressing substance use can be difficult for parents. We want to open the conversation and create a very safe space for open communication, but we must also be very clear while expressing family values and expectations.

Communicate with your teen that you want to sit down and talk with them about vaping, drugs, and alcohol in advance of the actual sit-down. This helps avoid the defensiveness you may encounter if it is an impromptu conversation.

By asking your child to “make good choices” or “be smart,” you are leaving room for interpretation. Instead, be very clear about your expectations and the potential consequences if your teen makes the choice to use these substances. Say you expect them not to use any substances and clearly outline what the consequences will be. Always encourage your child to use these consequences as an excuse if they don’t feel comfortable just saying no.

In addition, some professionals recommend drug/alcohol testing your child randomly. This holds them more accountable as drug use/vaping can sometimes be difficult for parents to detect. It can also serve as a great tool for them to use in saying no to the pressure.

Be sure you are listening to your child as well as helping them understand your expectations. It is important to make an agreement that your child can always call you if they find themselves in a bad situation. Communicate to them that there will not be yelling or confrontation at the time, but the next day you will sit and talk about their choices and how to be safer.

A roadblock parents often encounter during these years is your child feeling that you are a hypocrite for your current behavior or your own choices in your youth. There are several different approaches that can be helpful. A parent can meet questions about their teen years with prefacing the conversation by sharing that it is our job as parents to guide them and help avoid things that may result in regret.

Another approach is to be honest while being extremely cautious not to glamorize your experiences. The important piece to the conversation is to be clear about your expectations while also creating a safe space for your child to come if there are pressures or situations they need to talk to about.

Youth First’s website, youthfirstinc.org, offers great articles and resources for further education on this topic and many other youth-related issues.

By Jordan Nonte, LSW – November 3, 2021 –

I’ll be honest; pregnancy is one of my biggest fears. I know this doesn’t have anything to do with therapy, but stick with me for a moment. There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to welcoming a child into a family.

The thing is, no matter how much I research and prepare, I know that everyone’s experience is different. There is no way to be completely prepared. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith, branch out of your comfort zone, and do the thing that scares you.

Guess what? Therapy is the same way. Although you can’t research exactly what you’ll experience, it can help you feel a little less anxious if you know what to expect when you walk into your first session.

There are many different types of therapy: psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, dialectical behavioral, solution-focused, and motivational interviewing to name a few. Your therapist will determine which of these would be the most beneficial for your goals. They may assist in creating a treatment plan to develop specific goals, objectives, and interventions to track your progress.

Some common reasons one may seek therapy is to get a handle on anxiety, depression, anger, grief, marital/family issues, trauma, addiction, stress, and crises. You may just want to talk through something and get a second opinion. Therapy may be short-term and focus mainly on problem solving, or it may last longer to explore factors contributing to a larger issue.

I’ll be honest, therapy takes work. Be aware that your therapist may give you “homework.” It is very important to fully participate in therapy, stay engaged, and follow through with any outside work.

Confidentiality is a major factor in services. Your therapist will have you sign an informed consent document, likely the first day you meet. Therapists have a duty to report abuse and neglect.

The only professionals that can prescribe psychiatric medication in the state of Indiana are physicians, psychiatrists, and nurse practitioners. However, your therapist can always refer you if you feel that medication is necessary for your success.

In a nutshell, therapy is different for everyone. Remember that it is always okay to ask for help. Many people may wait until the last second to get therapy because it makes them feel like a failure, weak, or ashamed.

I heard a quote once that has always stuck with me: “Going to a therapist or counselor when you’re sad or overwhelmed should be as normal as going to the doctor when you have the flu.”

Don’t wait until you’re on your last straw to seek help. Talk to your family physician about their recommendations in the area or do your own research to schedule an appointment. 

By Lisa Cossey, LCSW – October 27, 2021

I’m sure it’s safe to say we’ve all heard the phrase, “You are what you eat” at some point in time. Recent research into food and its effects on the body and mind may have us saying a new phrase: “Change your food, change your mood.”

Our brains are made of neural pathways, transmitters, and chemicals that make up and regulate our thoughts and moods. The foods we eat impact the balance of these chemicals. Something as simple as our lunch choice could have the power to impact our feelings and emotions, for better or worse.

For example, serotonin, the feel good neurotransmitter, makes us feel happy. When serotonin levels drop, one may feel sad or depressed. Serotonin is directly linked with an amino acid found in food, tryptophan. Diets consisting of foods with low or no tryptophan levels lead to depleting serotonin in the brain. This in turn then can cause irritability, aggression, lowered mood, and impaired memory.

Diets including foods with high levels of tryptophan can provide the opposite effect and raise serotonin levels naturally. Turkey is one food that is high in tryptophan, so don’t just relegate turkey to Thanksgiving dinner! Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds are also foods to eat to get a mood boost from tryptophan.

Another dietary tweak that could lower risk for depression, especially in women, is to drink coffee regularly. Coffee boosts dopamine and norepinephrine, which are also feel good neurotransmitters in the brain. A National Institute of Health study tracked women over a ten-year period (1996-2006) and found women who drank coffee regularly throughout the week had lower reported depressive episodes than non-coffee drinking women.

How about a sweet treat to go with your coffee? Dark chocolate has been found to increase serotonin levels naturally as well, leading to improved mood. Bananas can also be included on a list of foods that will decrease negative mood-related symptoms thanks to their high vitamin B6 levels.

Other amino acids, such as L-theanine and Omega-3, a fatty acid, minerals such as magnesium and zinc, and antioxidants can reduce anxiety symptoms. Salmon is a great source of Omega-3 and can also alter dopamine and serotonin levels, packing a double advantage to reduce anxiety and improve mood.

Dark leafy greens, such as spinach and Swiss chard, contain magnesium which can lower anxiety. Blueberries are another food with potential to alter one’s mood. Flavonoids, an antioxidant found in blueberries, assist in regulating mood, in addition to the other health benefits eating fresh fruit provides.

The foods listed above are not an exhaustive list. If you are considering a major change to your lifestyle, please consult a physician and/or nutritionist. Changing your diet, such as eating a banana for a snack, or swapping out the lettuce in a salad with dark greens, can impact overall health and mood for the better.

By Kelsey Crago, LSW – October 21, 2021 –

Learning to drive is an important milestone in a young person’s life. Take a minute to think back to that time in your youth. Driving has the power to provide freedom and helps instill a stronger sense of independence in teenagers.

This milestone not only brings changes to your teen’s life, but also to yours as a caregiver. You’ll have less running to activities and an extra hand with errands. You may also experience some fears and ask yourself, “How can I keep my child safe?”

According to the CDC, teenage drivers are nearly three times more likely than drivers over age 20 to be in a fatal car accident. The biggest contributing factor to this danger is simply lack of experience. Other contributing risks include texting and driving, speeding, unsafe vehicles, and use of alcohol and drugs.

How can we combat these risk factors as caregivers? Here are eight recommendations for keeping your teen safe on the road.

  1. Be informed. Stay up to date with your state’s driving restrictions for newly licensed drivers. Discuss and enforce these with your teen.
  2. Model safe driving habits. Make sure you’re setting a safe example when driving by avoiding phone use, following traffic rules, and utilizing a designated driver when consuming alcohol. Our kids are always watching and learning.
  3. Limit passengers. Crash risks are nearly double for teens with one passenger and increase with each additional passenger. Consider limiting your teen’s passenger privileges initially and gradually increasing privileges with driving experience.
  4. Limit nighttime driving. The most severe teen crashes occur between 9 pm and midnight. Practice supervised night driving with your teen. Consider setting a time restriction for your teen’s vehicle use and gradually allow later driving as your teen gains experience.
  5. Watch the weather. Bad weather increases risk of accidents for all drivers. Teens do not have the experience to react safely in dangerous conditions. Limit your teen’s unsupervised driving in bad weather, increasing privileges with supervised experiences.
  6. Stick to familiar roads. Unfamiliar or high speed roads increase your teen’s risk for an accident. Consider limiting your teen’s range of driving to familiar places. Allow time for supervised practice on highways, interstates, or unfamiliar settings before increasing privileges.
  7. Ban driving (and riding) under the influence. Any amount of alcohol or drugs produces impairment in teen drivers. Establish a safety plan with your teen that can be followed if they find themselves in this dangerous situation.
  8. Prioritize vehicle safety. Factors including engine power, vehicle size, and airbags need to be considered when choosing a vehicle for your teen. Spend time with your teen reviewing car maintenance and safety.

Statistics show a teen’s greatest improvement in safety occurs within the first year and after their first few thousand miles of driving. Following these recommendations can help keep teens safe while they gain driving experience.

Consider creating a driving agreement with your child outlining expectations and consequences. Being involved in your teen’s driving experience is a great opportunity to connect and build lasting memories!

By Emily Bernhardt, MSW – October 13, 2021 –

Self-care is something that can look different for every person. There are people who like to cuddle up on the couch with a book, do a face mask, take a bubble bath, or even those who like to clean. There are so many ways to partake in self-care, and it is so important to make sure you are setting aside time to de-stress and have some “you time.”

A lot of people can acknowledge that self-care is important, but they may find it hard to find time to focus on themselves when their hectic schedule is constantly pulling them in different directions. Here are a couple of tips to help you prioritize making time for yourself.
 

1. Create a self-care plan. Write out a list of different self-care activities you enjoy and decide how much time you can devote to each activity. After you know how much time you need, start scheduling out time for self-care in your weekly schedule and stick to it!

For instance, if you know that you would like to take a bubble bath for 30 minutes and you also know you have Friday evenings free, you can plan it out for Friday from 6:00 to 6:30. Once you have planned something out, treat it like you would all other important events and prioritize it, because it is just as important.
 

2. Say “no” more often. Another tip to help ensure there is enough time in your week to focus on yourself is to start saying no to other things more often. We live in a society that often offers too much of themselves to other people.

Say no to babysitting the neighbor’s kids if that means you will then have time for yourself that evening. At times it can feel selfish saying no to the requests of others, but it is a necessary skill to learn and will help you begin to prioritize yourself and your needs.
 

3. Re-evaluate your current schedule. Maybe your spouse or kids can help you with the daily household chores if they aren’t already. There may even be things on your schedule that aren’t essential. If you find yourself looking through your schedule and finding tasks that don’t actually have to be done, use that extra time for self-care activities instead.
The important thing to remember is that you are just as important as the people around you, and you should treat yourself as well as you treat other people in your life. Without taking the time for self-care, we become more irritable, stressed, and less available for the people we love.

In order to fill other people’s cups, we must make sure our cups are filled. Even though it can feel like there is not enough time for self-care, there is. Sometimes, we just have to learn how to fit it in and prioritize it. Prioritize yourself today.

By Mary Ruth Branstetter, LCSW, LCAC, RPT – October 6, 2021 –

Grief is one of the most intense, sacred, painful, and intimate emotions humans are capable of feeling. Most people associate grief with the death of a loved one or a close personal friend. For some, especially children, grief can be associated with the passing of a family pet, which is often their first experience with death.

Sometimes people use the words death and loss interchangeably, but loss can also mean the loss of anything carrying importance or value. Loss may be associated with something as simple as misplacing a favorite pen given to you by someone special. Loss can also be experienced when an academic year or athletic season is cancelled or interrupted. 

When we experience grief, sometimes we try to sidestep the emotion. However, it is only a matter of time before grief catches up with you and knocks the wind out of you, blows you over, and smacks you in the face. That is the power of grief. There is no way to get under it or around it. You have to go through it to heal from it.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross, one of the pioneers who researched and studied grief, identified five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. It is important to remember that no one goes through these stages in a nice neat order. Each stage may look different depending on your age, life experience, and personality. Grief induced sadness or depression might look like acting out for a child.

If you experience the stages of grief once, that does not mean you may not revisit one or more of the stages again at other times in your life. This is especially true around special anniversary dates and/or holidays.

These are just a few of the reasons why grief is such a powerful emotion and must be worked through and not ignored. Grief will find a way to make its presence known emotionally, mentally, physically, and/or spiritually.

Reach out to others for help, be it friends, family, a pastor, or another professional such as a therapist or counselor. It is okay to cry. Do not be afraid to let others know you are hurting. Your vulnerability may be a gift to someone else who is feeling the same way but is too afraid or hurt to share their pain. Most importantly, remember there is no right or wrong timeline for working through grief and loss.     

By Abby Betz, LSW – October 1, 2021 –

The 2020-2021 school year was marked by adapting to quarantine procedures, social distancing, virtual learning, and masking. While not all fond memories, hopefully some of the aforementioned things will find themselves in our soon-to-be distant past as we move forward in the 2021-2022 school year. 

As virtual learning was widely used throughout 2020 for most students in our community, increased screen time has become mandatory, and in some cases, a necessary “evil” in order for students to learn and connect with other students, teachers, and staff. What we must focus on now is how we use technology to better our lives and promote its sustainability into the future.

“Screen time” has been known to carry a negative connotation among parents, educators, and mental health professionals who have spent years urging students to decrease and limit their screen time. However, following a year of e-learning and working from home, screen time has become a new way of life. 

In addition, more virtual support was provided to parents and caregivers to help alleviate the stress of the pandemic over the past year. Although some situations require an in-person consultation, the use of telehealth has emerged as an effective and beneficial way to provide services.

Our task for 2021 and moving forward will be to learn to integrate purposeful technology into our lives and to adjust our previous notions and attitudes that all screen time is unproductive and just for leisure. Perhaps engaging your family in an educational game or exploring a new place through virtual reality – accompanied by meaningful conversation, family fun, and human interaction – is a way to incorporate positive screen time into your everyday life.   

However, it is important to be mindful of how often screens are being used. To start a conversation about this, parents and/or educators can invite kids to track their activity for one 24-hour period. After this time has been tracked, have an open discussion about what screens or content are present in their lives, how each is being used and for what purpose, and how they feel during and after screen time.

In order to create an environment for purposeful technology, we have to let go of the idea that screen time is just for recreation or for “couch potatoes” who sit and stare at a screen for hours at a time. Of course children do need to be supervised and limits should be set. 

According to the Child Mind Institute, endless hours on social media platforms such as TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram, can lead to increased depression and anxiety in youth. In a technology-driven world, it is important to keep in mind that screen time is not going to go away. It is vital to have conversations with our children about setting appropriate boundaries and monitoring their own mental health.

By Deena Bodine, LCSW – September 21, 2021 –

Research has shown that students are more successful academically when they have support from their parents. Many parents are eager to jump in to help ensure success in the classroom, but it’s important to allow your child to carry some of the responsibilities related to school independently.

A parent’s level of involvement will also vary based upon the age, ability, and personality of their child. Parents may need to be more involved with school for younger children, helping them learn healthy study habits, teaching children how to communicate about their academic needs, and following up with teachers as needed. 

It can be beneficial to open the lines of communication with the teacher early, before your child is in need or feeling overwhelmed. Many schools offer parent-teacher conferences, scheduled once or twice a year, where progress and concerns can be discussed between parents and teachers.

These conferences may look different in the time of COVID. Whether you are participating in a face-to-face meeting with your child’s teacher or planning to reach out via a phone call or email, there are steps you can take to make the most of this conversation. 

Before reaching out or meeting with your child’s teacher, check in with your student about how they are doing in each subject. Take a moment to review their homework assignments, quizzes, tests, and progress reports to determine their strengths and weaknesses.

Discuss any areas of concern with your child and address questions they may have for their teacher. Create a list of questions or concerns that you have to use as a prompt during the meeting, phone call, or as you draft an email. 

Start the discussion by sharing a few details about your child, maybe an interest or a strength. Next, discuss your greatest concerns, keeping in mind that your child’s teacher is an instrumental team member in supporting your student and their education. By beginning with your areas of greatest concern, you ensure that if time becomes an issue, you will have addressed the most pressing needs first.

Continue discussing any other areas of need including academic progress, how your child may compare to their peers, interactions with other students both inside and out of the classroom, or other supports that may help your child be successful at school. 

At the end of the conference, discuss a plan for follow up with the teacher to check on progress and any goals established during your conference. If you find that you have additional questions after the conference, follow up with an email to your child’s teacher requesting clarification. 

At the end of the day, remember that you are your child’s strongest advocate, but your child’s teacher is also an important partner in ensuring your student achieves academic success.