Tag Archive for: Social Worker Articles

By Nolan Miller, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Throughout the school year, kids are constantly learning new material and building upon their strengths. Even after the first day jitters dissipate and students settle into a routine, new academic and social stressors can emerge that cause anxiety for students. As a parent you want the best for your child, and the teacher wants the best for their student.

Teachers can’t always perceive when a student is having a rough day or is struggling with something socially. Parents are more likely to notice if their child is coming home upset or just seems off. The only way to help fix the situation is with communication. This could be as simple as talking to your child at home to see what is going on and reaching out to their teacher to express your concerns.

Communication between the school and parents is vital to a child’s success. If a student is struggling with a subject, a teacher can relay that information to their parent to start a plan towards improvement. If a student is stressed and upset about something going on at home, letting their teacher know they are having a rough day can allow the teacher to be on the lookout. Building that trust with the teacher, as well as the school, can allow your child to find success.

Good communication starts from day one on Meet the Teacher Night. It is important to understand how to contact your child’s teacher and to be aware of the expectations your child will have in the classroom. Make sure the school always has up-to-date contact information for you. This is vital, not only to keep you as a parent in the loop, but to keep your child safe if emergencies occur.

Another way to keep communication flowing is to volunteer when you can. Many schools allow parents to come in and tutor or help a teacher with extra work that needs to be completed. This will allow you to be a part of your child’s life while they are going to school and help you understand what goes on from day to day.

One of the last ways that you can get involved at your child’s school would be to join the PTO. Parent Teacher Organizations can serve as extensions of the staff and help strengthen the bond between parents, teachers, administration, and your community as a whole. 

Understanding what your child does on a day-to-day basis avoids any miscommunication between schools and parents. Working as a team is best and will help our students find success.

By Beth Greene, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Teens often use social media to socialize. Although the internet is an amazing tool for our children, that reality is that it can also negatively affect their mental health and safety.

It is very important that parents stay up to date on the apps their child is using, set clear expectations for internet usage, and be aware of who their children are socializing with on social media.

Over the past five years, Snapchat has emerged as a platform ripe for bullying and online predators. Bullies will create groups or make stories on their profile to display embarrassing photos, make fun of, degrade, spread rumors, and threaten their victims.

Pictures and messages directly sent to a user immediately disappear after the message is viewed, and if someone posts on his or her story, it only stays up for only 24 hours. This can make it very difficult to gather evidence when students report issues to adults.

Although pictures and messages appear to vanish, they never actually go away within the app. It should be noted that if a crime has taken place, such as death threats or potential contact with a sexual predator, law enforcement can gain access to Snapchat accounts with a warrant.

Another concerning Snapchat feature is the “Snap Map,” which displays a user’s location to their snapchat contacts. To disable this feature, an account user must go into settings to “ghost” themselves so their friends cannot see their location. If you do not “ghost” yourself, anyone on your friends list can always see your exact location. When you get into a car and drive, Snapchat will even show your friends your movements in real time.

If a Snapchat account is not private, that account can receive messages and pictures from any stranger. Even if the account is private, Snapchat has a points system set up to give more points to users with the most friends, along with other creative ways to earn points. This encourages children to accept friend requests from strangers to gain points.

Because of these features, children become victims of unsolicited inappropriate images from child predators who have easy access to our children through this app. These predators can create an online relationship with a child to exploit them and gain access to their location.

Recently Snapchat has added its first parental control called “Family Center.” To use this feature, both parent and child must have a Snapchat account and both users must accept the request to use the Family Center feature. This feature allows parents to see who is on their child’s friend list, see whom they have communicated with most often in the past seven days, and it allows parents to report concerning accounts to Snapchat’s Safety Team.

Overall, Snapchat is currently one of the most used social media apps by teens, but it continues to maintain unsafe features. Inform your children that what they post on Snapchat never goes away and that law enforcement can get a warrant for other users’ accounts if your child falls victim to an online crime. Set clear expectations for internet/social media use and talk to your child about internet safety.

By Haley Droste, MSW, LCSW

We’ve all heard it at some point: “That child needs to be spanked,” or “My parents did (insert punishment here), and I turned out fine.” Each generation has made significant changes in parenting style for a couple of reasons. One, when you know better, you should do better. Two, the world has changed, not only for adults, but also for children.

We’re navigating a completely different world now than our grandparents or even our parents did. I’ll be the first to say there are some “old school” parenting techniques that should be here to stay. Family dinners are a great example of a tried-and-true way to connect with your loved ones, but even those are drastically different than the ones our parents sat through with their parents. Gone are the days of “children should be seen and not heard,” making way for the dining room table being a place to connect with all family members discussing the highs and lows of the day.

At the core of parenting is a deep desire to raise happy, healthy, well-balanced children. At times, the power struggle between parents and their children can seem overwhelming. There must be a delicate balance between fostering an environment that allows children to feel and express their emotions while also establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries.

The most important things parents can do is model healthy boundaries and take care of their own mental health. Teach your children it’s okay to take a deep breath and have a minute to themselves instead of responding while angry.

A good way to model this is handling your child calmly when they throw a fit. Instead of yelling at them and sending them to their room, explain that they need to go to their room until they’re able to communicate their needs without yelling at you. It isn’t a punishment, there isn’t a time limit involved, and they’re able to take time to decide when they’re back in control of their emotions. You’re also teaching them that speaking to someone in a disrespectful manner is unacceptable behavior.

Parenting in a gentle or respectful manner gets a reputation of not providing adequate boundaries and allowing children to run wild with their words and actions. This could not be further from the truth. When done correctly, this style of parenting sets firm boundaries about what is allowed and what is not.

Raising resilient children starts with respecting their feelings and teaching them how to communicate in a healthy way. Respecting our children’s boundaries teaches them how to respect others. In short, setting clear, respectful boundaries with your kids sets them up for success in the future. It allows them the time and the space to explore their emotions and grow in their relationships. There is nothing weak about choosing growth.

Sometimes it feels unnatural to talk about our feelings or discuss our mistakes when handling situations with our children, but in doing this we can confidently send them into the world as more well-rounded, loving individuals.

By Jennifer Kramer, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

I once had a student say to me, “I thought death only happens to people when they get old.” What a world that would be, where everyone got to live long, happy lives.

The reality is that loss is very much part of life. Grief is an experience all people will have, and it is something we all must learn. 

I think about my own life before the age of 18. I lost a great-grandmother at age six as well as our next-door neighbor. In middle school, my grandmother passed from cancer in my home. A friend my age passed away in high school in a car accident. As a school social worker, I realize these experiences shaped so much of how I help students handle loss. As much as we would like to shield kids from the heartbreak of grief, our goal should be to help them move through it.

Sometimes we forget that our children are exposed to the concept of death at a very young age. Many Disney movies center on the loss of an important family member: Coco, Encanto, Frozen, The Lion King, and Moana, just to name a few.

These movies all show different ways individuals and families heal after a loss. Watching these movies and starting conversations with your children about loss (even if your family hasn’t experienced this) can help them understand loss and be empathetic to others who may be experiencing feelings of grief.

We hear a lot about the stages of grief, but what are they? The stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. There is no order in which a person should grieve. In fact, it is not uncommon for a person to be in one stage for a moment, move to another, and back again. Children go through the same stages of grief that adults do, but it may look different. It is not uncommon for a child to go from crying to playing in a matter of minutes. 

Where children move through the same stages as adults, they will most likely express themselves in very different ways. The website verywellfamily.com discusses different ways a child may grieve, including new academic problems, anxiety, behavioral reactions, changes in play, clinginess, developmental regression, difficulty concentrating, feelings of abandonment, guilt, or sleeping problems.

Changes in play may look like action figures, dolls or stuffed animals dying during play and then coming back to life. Your child may also blame themselves for the death of the loved one. Young children can sense the feelings of their parents and may become more irritable, and slightly older elementary age children may revert to crawling or baby talk. 

It is important to talk to children on their level. Answer the questions they ask, but don’t divulge too much information.   

Be understanding that these behaviors are normal. Be supportive of your children. Show them love and give them the space and time to feel their feelings. It is also a good idea to ask for help if you feel you need it yourself.

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By Amy Steele, MSW, LCSW, LAC, RPT

Telling children “no” can be a difficult task for parents and caregivers. Many parents shy away from saying no, and some will do anything to keep a child from becoming upset. When adults fail to set consistent limits, children miss out on developing the important mental health and life skills they need to succeed.

Children who don’t have rules tend to feel out of control and experience anxiety.  Kids are comforted knowing adults are taking care of things and helping them stay in control. Boundaries and limits help children feel more secure, and following rules makes their lives more predictable, especially when they know what the outcome will be when they follow the rules.

Experiencing consequences when rules are broken lets kids know that the adults in their lives are not going to allow certain behaviors. This can build trust and shows children that you are reliable, you mean what you say, and you will follow through on your word. Using consistency when limit setting indicates you will also be consistent in other areas where they depend on you, lessening their anxieties.

Avoiding limits to prevent a tantrum or an argument sets our kids up for failure in the long run. If children don’t learn how to feel and cope with feelings at a young age, they will spend their life trying to avoid these feelings. If they learn at an early age that feelings are okay, even ones we don’t like, then they learn coping skills that help them make choices that result in more positive outcomes.

Children need parents to set limits on what is appropriate to keep them safe, healthy, and rested. This allows them to be prepared to achieve their goals in life and become happy, healthy, contributing members of their community. Parents must decide to teach and model positive and healthy ways to handle negative feelings, otherwise life (society, social media, video games, peers) will teach them instead.

What a gift it is to teach a child that life is full of choices. If they make a choice that isn’t the right one there are consequences, but with love and guidance, life goes on and they can do better next time.

By Abby Betz, LSW, Youth First Inc.

“I hear congratulations are in order!” If you are currently expecting or recently had a baby, you are most likely still experiencing the joys of welcoming a new child to your life.

Although bringing home a new baby is a joyous time, it can also be a challenge for parents. Adding another child to the family is a big transition. The dynamic of the entire family changes when a new baby arrives, which can cause stress and be traumatic for some kids. 

For some children, the integration of a new baby into the family can trigger some big feelings and emotional crises. A child’s transition to becoming an older sibling must be handled with compassion and empathy to preserve the child’s sense of security and self-worth. It is key for parents to provide reassurance and love to all of their children.

It is completely normal for children to feel jealous toward a new baby. Children are being asked to adjust to the shift in the amount of attention they receive from parents, and this may also trigger feelings of grief or loss. That child is no longer the center of mom or dad’s attention and affection, and these feelings can be difficult for some children to navigate.

It is important to address any feelings of abandonment a child may feel by letting them be part of the process. For example, it would be beneficial to explain to young children when and why Mommy will be away at the hospital so it is easier for them to accept when it is time for the baby to come home.  

It is best to start preparing children for the new arrival of a baby before the arrival. The goal is to help children feel a sense of connection with the baby and to become enthusiastic about its arrival. Some strategies that may be helpful include validating your child’s feelings, whether the feelings are happy or unhappy, about a new baby. If you acknowledge their frustration, children will not feel the need to suppress their feelings, which can cause problematic behaviors.

Offering children one-on-one time with each parent is vital for helping them feel special and valued. Enlisting help from other family members or friends your children have a special bond with can also be helpful. Focus on things that have not changed within the family and maintain traditions that have already been established to help strengthen your child’s sense of belonging.

Moreover, if your child does not automatically bond with a new baby, it is important not to pressure the child into a relationship and let this happen organically. By doing so, the relationship which is fostered between your child and the new sibling will be one of genuine love. 

By Jenna Kruse, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Over the last decade, there has been a boom in technology advancement and an increase in screen time for both adults and children. As a result, there has also been a noticeable increase in stress, anxiety, and depression.

According to The Very Well Family, the average amount of time American children spend on a device is four to six hours per day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one hour a day for children ages two to five and no screen time for children under eighteen months.

The benefits of limiting screen time for your child would include, but are not limited to: improved sleep habits, better focus and brain function, increased academic success, decrease in obesity, better vision, and lower risk of anxiety and depression.

As we all know, limiting screen time is easier said than done in a society where we are so connected on social media, Zoom, and FaceTime. Beyond communication, we also use our devices frequently for entertainment.

The following are specific strategies for setting screen time limits at home:

  1. Set your daily limit and stick to it. Doing this establishes clear rules for your child. This will be difficult at first, but after a short time your child will learn what to expect. Try your best not to give in to bargaining and tantrums from your child, as this will become a learned skill to acquire more time on their device.
  1. Do not allow your child to have any electronic devices in their bedroom. Children who have devices in their bedroom get less quality sleep and are more tempted to use their device. Set a “bedtime” for your child’s device each night. Have your children plug their device into the charger in a designated space outside their bedroom at a specific time. Set clear boundaries and expectations.
  1. Monitor the content your child is taking in and sending out. Children are impulsive and can click on links that allow access to information they should not be receiving. Your child’s device is your device. Monitor the texts they are sending and receiving; this will allow for teachable moments and discussions as needed.
  1. Create “phone free spaces.” This boundary ensures that balance is found and that time on a device is not taking away from personal connections. This could look like setting all devices on airplane mode during family dinner or family game night.

Studies show that new habits generally take a week to a month to form, but once changes are made, it does not take long to notice improvements. Your child’s healthy future will be worth every tantrum, bargaining session, or disagreement over your new boundaries to decrease screen time.

Technology can be a very positive thing as it allows for learning and connection. Allowing your child to use a device is okay, but help your child find a healthy balance.

By Ashley Hale, LCSW

“Nobody likes me.”  “I hate school.” “Something is wrong with me.”  “I don’t care about anything.”

As a school social worker, these are common sentiments I hear when talking with students. I think it is safe to say we all sometimes struggle with negative thoughts, but these thoughts are becoming more prevalent in our homes and schools, especially with teens. 

The teen years can be difficult, as a lot of changes, new responsibilities, and expectations emerge. Helping our teens navigate these changes and emotions is challenging, but vital.   

How can we positively influence how teens feel about themselves without so much pushback? It’s important to understand that teens desire privacy, space, and independence as a normal part of their development. This makes it more challenging for parents and caregivers to get them to open up to have genuine conversations. 

Here are some tips to help facilitate meaningful conversations with your teen and promote a positive self-image:

  1. Be authentic. Teens can detect when someone is not being authentic, and this is the key to creating the respect and rapport necessary to build a positive relationship. I highly encourage you to learn about the teenage brain. This will help you gain insight into their thought processes and empathize with their experiences.  
  1. Let them know you care by listening. Sometimes we worry so much about what we are going to say that we forget to open our ears. Listen to your teen while also showing positive regard. Be present in conversations and follow through with your commitments. Put your phone down, nod, and make eye contact. Most teens are more likely to share when they feel less pressure for details and are more in control of the conversation. Watch their mood and body language. Verbalize that you can see this is a hard situation for them. Let them know they don’t have to explain everything right now, but you are there for them when they’re ready. Tell them you love them and show physical affection with hugs if they are okay with that.  
  1. Ask them what they need. Most often, teens don’t want a lecture, they want to be heard. Active listening will open the door. Ask them regularly about their day with specific questions that you change up. Examples: “What was the hardest part of your day?” “What is your favorite class right now and why?” Point out specific skills and strengths. Focus more on providing praise than criticism.  
  1. Don’t avoid the hard conversations. Conversations about sexual health, gender, relationships, consent, drugs and alcohol, and other challenging conversations are hard, but they are essential.  
  1. Take a deep breath before you respond. It’s not uncommon for the things teens share with you to trigger worry, anxiety, and the desire to fix it for them. This often causes us to over respond. Responding with a lecture is likely to shut the conversation down. Note your internal thoughts, take a deep breath, and think about what you needed when you were their age. It is okay to say something like, “I love you. I don’t quite understand this right now, but we can figure it out together. What can I do to help right now?”

Remember, teens will make mistakes. It’s how they learn. Talking to teens can be challenging and takes a lot of patience, but it is worth the effort. You will build a strong rapport and will help them create a positive self-image during the process.  

By Leah Lottes, LSW

There is no denying it. Students face a lot of change and stress as they navigate their high school years. Seniors, in particular, face an overwhelming amount of stress and decisions about the future. As soon as you become a senior, the questions begin and people start asking, “What are your plans after high school?” “Do you plan on going to college?” “What are you going to study in college?”

These questions are great conversation starters and a way to get to know someone better, but they can also be very overwhelming for a high school senior. It’s hard to know what you want to do with your life when you’re just 18 years old.

There are many ways to help support kids throughout their senior year. Helping students identify positive coping skills can be beneficial when they are experiencing stress. We spend a lot of time preparing students for their academic futures, but we also want to prepare them emotionally and socially. Building on emotional regulation and distress tolerance strengthens skills they can carry into adulthood.

Another way to help seniors navigate the last year of high school is to encourage the pursuit of interests and talents. Parents and educators can invite professionals in different fields of study to discuss the possibility of job shadowing or interning, and they can help students establish realistic career goals.

One of the biggest ways to show support for seniors is to encourage them every step of the way. When I meet with high school students who are unsure about what to do after graduation, I always reassure them it is okay be undecided about the future. I encounter some students who are not interested in going to college. I often remind these students that all jobs are important and necessary.

Personally, I started college as an undecided major, and I think it was the best choice for me. It eventually led me to discover the field of social work. I would always panic a little when one of my friends announced their plans for after graduation while I was still unsure about what college to attend or which major to choose. I think it’s good to remind seniors that it’s okay to take extra time when making important decisions.

A lot of pressure is put on seniors to figure out their career paths, and I believe the best way to guide them is to support their career choices and encourage them to do what they think feels right (while being realistic). Overall, helping students navigate their senior year is not always an easy task, but having support systems in place and encouragement from family and friends is a step in the right direction.

By Emily Bernhardt, LSW

Divorce impacts both parents and children within a family. Depending on a child’s age when divorce occurs, it can affect a child’s behavior in different ways. Learning the most common effects of divorce can guide parents through difficult interactions and can also help lessen the stress your child may be feeling.
             

While infants and toddlers may not fully understand what is happening when it comes to divorce, they can sense when there is tension between their parents. This can cause irritability and could cause your child to become clingy and insecure. This can also lead to regression that may look like a developmental delay.  

When it comes to the infant and toddler age range, it is best to provide as much consistency as possible so your child can feel familiarity and stability. Your child may also need extra attention and reassurance. If your child is a toddler, it is a good idea to explain the divorce to them using words they can easily understand.
             

Preschoolers and kindergarteners will often feel confused about their parents’ divorce and may even feel responsible. It is important to explain the divorce in simple, concrete ways, such as where the child will stay, how often they will see each parent, etc.  

Parents should be prepared for their child to ask plenty of questions and should also make sure to answer each question as best as they can. Anger, anxiety, sadness, or even uncertainty of how to feel are all very common ways for children at this age to express themselves in this situation.
             

Children between the ages of 7 and 11 will be able to grasp the concept of divorce better at this age. Older children will also have a better understanding of their own emotions, which will likely cause them to be more affected by their parents’ separation. It is common for children to feel a sense of abandonment, causing them to attempt to stop the separation from happening.  

As older children age, it can be common for them to place blame on one parent or take sides. Therefore, it is important to make sure the parents are engaging in clear communication and avoiding placing blame on one another.
             

Preteens and teenagers are more likely than younger children to place blame on someone. They may place blame on one or both parents, or they may even blame themselves. Teens and preteens may also begin to question the authority of the parents, especially the parent they do not live with on a regular basis. Anxiety, anger, sadness, and even acting out are common responses to divorce. It is best to have open communication with your child and to try and connect with them even more than before.
             

It is so important to be aware of the common effects divorce can have on children, so you can do your best to lessen the stress your child is feeling. Be aware, communicate with your child regularly, and give them the space to express how they are feeling. Creating positive interactions with your child through this change can make all the difference.