Posts

By Jaclyn Durnil, MSW, January 15, 2019 –

Telling a child that someone has died can be difficult. Most children are aware of death, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they understand it.

Children may have seen someone die on television or in a movie, or some of their friends may have lost a loved one.

Experiencing grief can be a confusing and scary process for kids.  Grieving is a set of emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and physical reactions that can vary depending on the individual and the nature of the loss.

During the grieving process children may have a difficult time processing the actual event and coping with the loss of the loved one. One of the primary feelings can be fear – fear of not knowing what can happen in the future or fear of the unknown.

Some children might have a more difficult time with the grieving process. It’s very important to be patient and understanding. Long-term denial of death or avoiding grief can be unhealthy for children. Grief can easily resurface and cause more severe problems.

Children experiencing grief may exhibit these types of behaviors:

  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Regression to younger behaviors, such as separation anxiety
  • Expressing a desire to be with the deceased person
  • Lack of interest in playing with friends
  • Changes in grades or school behavior
  • Loss of interest in activities that once excited them

Children are constantly learning and growing and may revisit the grief process several times. Events such as birthdays, graduation, holidays, etc. may be difficult for children at times.  There is no “normal” period of time for someone to grieve.

Simply being present and attentive to a child who is grieving will help as they express their feelings.  At times children may worry about how their parents or caregivers are adjusting. Children may find it safer and easier to talk with someone else such as a teacher, friend, Youth First Social Worker in their school, etc.

No one can prevent a child’s grief, but simply being a source of stability and comfort can be very helpful.  Very young children often do not understand that death is a permanent thing and may they think that a dead loved one will eventually come back.

For many children, the death of a pet will be their first experience with grief. They build a connection with their pet that is very strong, and when they no longer have that bond, it can be extremely upsetting. It is important to let the child grieve for their pet instead of immediately replacing the pet with a new animal.

During that period is an opportunity to teach the child about death and how to deal with grieving in a healthy and emotionally supportive way.  At times, children may seem unusually upset as they are unable to cope with grief, which can lead to adjustment disorder.

Adjustment disorder can be a serious and upsetting condition that some children develop after going through a difficult event. If a child is not recovering from a loss in a healthy way, it is important to consult with your child’s doctor.

By Callie Sanders, LSW, January 8, 2019 –

Music is a universal language. It is the gateway for optimal brain health, longevity, and happiness.

In the world of research, neuromusicology explores the nervous system’s response to music and how it activates every part of the brain. Studies performed on musicians reveal significant brain health and well-being.

The largest fiber bundle in the brain, the corpus callosum, is said to be larger and more symmetrical in musicians. It is responsible for connecting the right and left hemispheres, allowing communication between both sides. It is also involved in several other functions of our body, such as eye movement, vision, and sensory perception.

The lack of musical ability does not keep a person from enjoying its benefits. Listening to upbeat music can have positive effects on mood. It naturally helps to lower the stress hormone cortisol. On the contrary, sad music has benefits too, both cathartically and revolutionary, that increase self-awareness.

Music also stimulates the formation of brain chemicals and hormones. One chemical particularly stimulated is the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for the “feel good” state. It also stimulates the hormone oxytocin, which helps us bond with and trust others. So continue to play, listen, and enjoy music whenever possible.

Another important area of life where music is beneficial is at work. Not only does music ignite more creativity and productivity, but when employees are allowed to pick the music, productivity and task completion accelerate, stress lowers, and work is more manageable.

The universal language of music, as a whole, supports social behaviors such as empathy, kindness, and cooperation. Children should be involved with music as much as possible. Encourage your child to join the band or choir at school.  It’s a great way to boost self-esteem, self-awareness, and a sense of community.

Because I am part of a musically inclined family, music has and will always be a staple in my life. I encourage you to listen to genres that aren’t familiar to you and play an instrument you are familiar with or learn a new one. Encourage your child to do so as well.

Happy listening and have fun playing!

 

By Jenna Whitfield, MSW, January 2, 2019 –

Is your teen getting enough sleep? If not, it could be impacting their life in negative ways. According to webmd.com, lack of sleep is one of the top sources of stress for teens. The recommended amount of sleep in order to function and perform well is 9 to 9.5 hours of sleep.

A whopping 91 percent of teens do not achieve the required hours. Although the majority of teens get less than recommended amounts of sleep, almost 75 percent of parents are unaware that their children are sleep-deprived due to various reasons. The question most likely coming to mind for most parents is, “why is my teen not getting enough sleep?”

The first situation keeping students away from a restful night is a jam-packed schedule. While being involved in extracurricular activities can have many benefits for a teen’s social development and mental well-being, there are also downfalls. If they are constantly moving from activity to activity while trying to juggle school work, family time, and friends, they may have limited time to sleep.

The second factor playing a role in sleep deprivation is having a digital device near their bed. It’s true that we live in a technology-driven world, but your teen’s screen time could be cutting into much-needed sleep time.

I’ve had students share that they even go as far as keeping the sound turned on their phones at night so they can wake up if someone sends them a message. Others have shared that they regularly play video games past midnight.

These behaviors are becoming more and more popular, but oftentimes teens do not realize how their screen time is impacting sleep. Encouraging your teen to limit screen time, especially at night, can help establish healthy routines.

There is much research on how sleep deprivation affects teens. They are in a crucial developmental period and sleep is extremely important to their brain development and well-being.

When a teen does not receive an adequate amount of sleep per night there is a higher probability he/she will experience one or more of the following consequences:

  • Increased risk of injury
  • Inability to self-regulate behaviors
  • Decreased ability to focus in school
  • Increased risk of depression
  • Increased risk of drug or alcohol use
  • Increased risk of obesity

Don’t worry! While there are a number of potential consequences, there are also a number of symptoms to warn the teen and his/her guardian that they may be facing sleep deprivation.

Behaviors to look out for include, but are not limited to:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • More easily displays aggression/ anger
  • Misses more days of school than normal
  • Exhibits laziness
  • Falls asleep in class or while doing homework
  • Sleeps 2 or hours later on weekends
  • Naps for more than 45 minutes regularly

If these symptoms are making you think of a specific teen, it may be the time to talk about the importance of sleep. Convincing a teen to limit their screen time or to take a break from their busy schedules might be challenging, but in the end everyone can benefit!

If you need advice on how to start this conversation at home, reach out to a Youth First Social Worker or a counselor in your child’s school.  Remember, sleep is important for everyone, so make sure to take care of your teen and yourself!

By Youth First, December 24, 2018

Depression: it happens, especially this time of year with the hustle and bustle of the holidays. If you already battle some depression, it’s the most important time of year to learn to take care of yourself.

Depression doesn’t look the same for every person, and it happens for many different reasons. There can be genetic factors like family history or other risks like traumatic experiences, financial strain, relationship problems, or substance abuse. 

Depression is more than just having a bad day or going through ups and downs. We all have setbacks and struggles, but true depression is much more serious and needs to be dealt with before it causes major life struggles.

Most people don’t just snap out of a depression. It is an actual clinical disorder that requires treatment with the help of health professionals, therapeutic interventions and often medication management to get to a healthier place.

Depression can range from mild to moderate to severe, which sometimes includes thoughts of suicide. It’s important to put and keep the proper interventions in place even when symptoms are less intense. I always say it’s just like finishing out an antibiotic even though you’re starting to feel better.

If you think you might struggle with depression, share your concerns with a mental health professional, who will assess the symptoms and recommend a treatment plan.

Here are some other tips for managing depression from mentalhealthamerica.net:

Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others is also a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.

Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones.

Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion, and be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry.

Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.

Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed.

Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Continue to get plenty of sleep and physical activity.

Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do.

Make the call. Anyone dealing with a suicidal crisis or emotional distress can also get help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Outdoor Family Choosing Christmas Tree Together

By Jana Pritchett, Communications Manager – December 17, 2018

Christmas is almost here, and kids everywhere are hoping to be on Santa’s good list.  Interactive toys like the Nintendo Switch and Hatchimals are on many kids’ lists, as are classics like Legos, Play-Doh and Barbie.

We all hope to give our children the presents they want, but what do our kids really need from adults this holiday season?  What gifts can mom, dad or grandparents provide to help them become happy, healthy, successful adults?

Here is my list of the essentials:

  1. Security and stability. Kids need the basics – food, shelter, clothing, medical care and protection. In addition, a stable home and family environment make them feel safe, and being part of a family gives them a sense of belonging.
  2.  Full attention. Be present. Turn off your phone, the TV, and all gadgets and listen to them, especially at meal times and bedtime. Removing distractions lets them know they’re special and there’s no need to compete for your attention.
  3. Time. Spend quality family time together.  Take the whole family to pick out a Christmas tree or to see a ballgame or holiday concert. Take each child on mom and dad “dates” to create special memories and boost their self-esteem, especially if they’re used to sharing parent time with siblings. Spending quality time together encourages deeper conversations and strengthens the bonds between parent and child.
  4. Love. Saying and showing your kids you love them can help overcome just about any parenting “mistake” you might make. Even when your kids have disappointed, frustrated, angered or disobeyed you, they must know you will always love them.
  1. Affection. Don’t wait for your children to come to you for hugs. Regular physical affection helps strengthen and maintain your emotional connection with kids of any age. When that bond is strong, kids act out less often and know they can come to you for support. 
  1. Emotional support. Through good and bad times, kids must know you are there for them. According to Dr. Harley Rotbart of Children’s Hospital Colorado, “Parents’ words and actions should facilitate kids’ trust, respect, self-esteem, and ultimately, independence.”

  2. Consistency. Parents need to work together to enforce rules. Important values should not be compromised for the sake of convenience or because the kids have worn you down. If parents are no longer married, mom and dad should still try to communicate and work together whenever possible to maintain consistency.
  3. Positive role models. Parents are their kids’ first and most important role models. Kids see plenty of bad behavior in the media. Be the kind of person you want them to become and don’t just give “lip service” to good behavior.
  4. Education. Give your kids the best possible shot for their future by stressing the importance of education. Providing guidance and teaching them life lessons during the time you spend together is also important.

Spending quality time with your kids is the best solution for just about any parenting dilemma. This holiday season and in the New Year, don’t stop with what’s on your child’s wish list. Give them what they really need – the gift of being the best parent you can be.

By Youth First – December 10, 2018

Sometimes the demands of this busy season can override the inherent joy, allowing stress to be an unwelcome guest at the table.

Here are some tips to help reduce stress and appreciate the upcoming holidays.

Put first things first. In the words of Dr. Redford  Williams,  director of Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University, “ The holidays are supposed to be about kindness and  generosity and people most often neglect to extend these courtesies to those who need them the most – themselves.”

Remember the advice of airlines when “in the event of loss of cabin pressure,” adults are told to put on their oxygen masks first and then help their children. As parents, this may sound counterintuitive, but if you’re not breathing, you can’t help anyone else.

Healthy self-care allows us to handle those bumps in the road that are inevitable for us all.

Set a realistic budget. The cost of food and gifts seems to have grown faster than Jack’s proverbial beanstalk. Decide how much you can spend and stick to it.

Refrain from trying to buy the happiness of others, especially children. Those same children may try to convince you otherwise, but is that the message you want to instill?

Large families may opt for a gift exchange. Just decide what works best for your family. Overspending during the holidays could result in a post-holiday financial crisis, which is not a stress-free way to start the New Year.

Accept help. This is not a time to “out-Martha” Martha Stewart. Just think of the shopping, cleaning, baking, and entertaining this season. Remember, Martha has help and lots of it. All family members can help with shopping and cleaning, according to their age and abilities.

If Aunt Jane wants to contribute her famous horseradish-chocolate chip Jell-O mold, accept graciously. It may not be what you had planned, but it will make her feel appreciated and valued. Isn’t that what we would all like?

Just say no. Avoid over-committing your time when you know you are over-scheduled. Not speaking up can allow feelings of resentment, being overwhelmed, and being out of sorts.

If you’re thinking:  “They should know how busy I am!” Surprise! No one, outside of Cinderella’s fairy godmother, can discern our wishes or read our minds.

Similarly, no one can support and participate in every project, no matter how worthy. Schools, churches, and charities can all benefit from our time, talent, and treasure, but it’s up to us to choose what we can reasonably support.

Remain open to the joy of the season. Enjoy the first snowfall, the innocence of a kindergarten Christmas program, the gathering of family and friends around the dining table, or the sweet sounds of a church choir. All of these and more are available to us if we allow it.

In the words of those accidental philosophers, the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.” Peace and joy are gifts of the season, freely given.

By Ellen Dippel, MSW, December 3, 2018 –

Technology gives us access to information at the speed of light and communication with others in an instant.  People can order their groceries, do all of their banking, and even take a college-level class – all with just a smart phone.

There is an application for virtually anything and everything on a smart phone.  These applications can help increase productivity and efficiency for both parents and students, give access to games for children, and serve as a tool to share ideas across the world.

Technology has helped the world greatly advance, but are these technological advancements also hindering creativity and imagination?

Technology such as television, tablets, and video games are becoming more and more popular for young children and teens. Screen time includes time spent on phones, televisions, tablets, and other electronic devices.

Children and adults alike can waste hours scrolling through phones and playing games without even realizing it. Unfortunately, spending time in front of a screen is becoming a go-to activity.

It is suggested that children younger than 18 months have no screen time, and no child should have more than two hours of screen time per day.

Screen time is replacing the development of creativity and imagination in children and adolescents.

Much of a child’s imagination and creativity is expressed through play, which develops problem-solving and critical thinking skills.  Children are able to come up with alternative ways of doing things when they explore the world through play-time activities.

There are many activities that parents can encourage to help promote creative and imaginative play, including the following:

  1. Spending time outdoors offers children the opportunity to discover and explore the world around them. Nature supplies many natural toys, tools, and canvases such as rocks, sticks, mud, and sand. Children can also participate in sports activities as a healthy alternative to screen time.
  2. Art activities encourage children to express themselves through a variety of media. Clay, paint, and other artistic media require concentration to develop. Creating a work of art gives the child a sense of accomplishment after making a unique creation.
  3. Role play different situations with your child. Encourage your child to play house, teacher, doctor, store, etc. Role play can help your child learn and develop verbal and social skills.
  4. Limit screen time for your child. Screen time does not require any real physical or mental strength. Limiting screen time encourages children to participate in creative or imaginative play activity that stretches their mind and body.

Encourage your child to develop their imagination and creativity through play. Monitor their screen time and set a good example by limiting your own screen time. Play with them and have conversations with them. Children and adults alike can benefit from enjoying other activities that engage the mind and body.

By Dawn Tedrow, LCSW, November 29, 2018 –

My son perfected his excuses for missing homework around sixth grade, and for some reason it became my problem.  That’s a strange thing for a parent to say, but I really felt as though teachers were accusing me of not being an adequate parent because I couldn’t ensure my child completed his homework at home.

This created a dynamic between the teachers and me, allowing my son to step back and play his games while I hashed it out with school.  Everyone was working harder for his success, and he had manipulated me into believing he was the victim.  It was toward the end of his eighth-grade year that I admitted defeat, and finally realized the problem was ME.

I was not listening to the information given to me by the teacher, because in my head, I was being told “You are a bad parent” – and it was hurtful.  The tone of my voice when talking about the teacher became negative, and my son fueled this.  He even went to school and told his teachers, “My mom doesn’t like you, and it makes her mad when you call her.”  I was my own worst enemy.

Taking a look at how I responded to teacher concerns was a big help for me.  Instead of taking the information as a personal attack, I reminded myself the teacher was attempting to form a positive alliance to determine why he was not turning in homework.  I hadn’t taught my son to be accountable and take responsibility for his actions.

Here are some suggestions for teaching this skill:

  1. Model positive communication with the teacher, and encourage the same from your child. When your child begins making negative statements about their teacher, redirect them to think about things they like about the teacher.
  2. Practice appropriate responses. There is an appropriate time and way to let the teacher know your child needs help or you don’t agree with a decision.
  3. Help your child see things from another’s point of view. This is particularly helpful for students who believe their teacher doesn’t like them.
  4. Do not make excuses for your child. Teach them to own their mistakes.  Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s alright.  Teach your child to admit their mistakes, then think of ways to prevent it from happening again.
  5. Encourage your child to process their feelings appropriately. It is perfectly normal to become upset, but it isn’t appropriate to throw a fit in the classroom.  Practice ways your child can excuse themselves from the classroom in order to calm down.  Discourage yelling, throwing things, slamming the door, and calling names.
  6. Be prepared to side with the teacher. Your natural instinct is to protect your child, so this is difficult for many parents.  It may be necessary to take 24 hours to think about information and decide how to respond to the situation.  Your child needs to know you support them, but you must also respect the teacher.  It is your responsibility to help mold your child into a successful member of society who treats others with respect.  This is a skill that will be used in college, jobs, and future relationships.
  7. Set clear expectations. Sit down with your child and write clear consequences for their actions.  For example:  Student is told he will lose cell phone for 24 hours if he has missing homework.
  8. Follow through. It is very important to always follow through with consequences.  There is no negotiation.  If you don’t follow through with consequences every single time, then behavior will continue to escalate.

It may not be the easiest thing to do as a parent, but it’s worth it. Holding kids accountable for their actions will help mold them into successful, responsible adults.

By Kacie Shipman, LSW, Nov. 21, 2018 –

The holidays are coming, and many people have special family traditions they enjoy observing this time of year.

Family traditions hold values and beliefs that are passed down from one generation to the next. Traditions help children feel a sense of belonging and consistency in their family.

Identity is often found in the traditions and values of our families. These traditions can be very simple, such as eating dinner together at the table or watching a movie together every Friday. They are activities that take place in a consistent manner and show the importance of togetherness.

Family traditions help bond families together, as they link generations. Children that have traditions implemented into their lives are found to be more resilient and well-adjusted. Traditions can teach children values about religion, heritage, and culture.

In an article by Bill and Kate McKay titled “Fatherhood, Relationships, and Families,” they state, “Researchers have found that family traditions and rituals can provide comfort and security to children, even if a main source of their stress originates from within the family itself.”

It is also important to keep things positive during the time of bonding. Be intentional in setting aside time, such as during dinner, to keep the conversation positive and upbeat. The greatest source of bonding occurs during times of high emotions.

Establishing a family game night is a great opportunity for many laughs and positive interactions (as well as stress relief). By establishing routines, you are showing your children that quality time with them is important.

Consistency of family traditions is especially important during challenging times, such as moving to a new area, parents’ divorce, or the loss of a loved one. Grief is often a time when families bond through rituals, such as taking flowers or special items to the burial grounds or planting trees or flowers in memory of their loved one. Creating a traditional way to remember those who have passed away can help in the grieving process.

Volunteering is another tradition that many families take part in together. Working together opens up important conversations regarding personal views on helping others. It also provides children with important life lessons, while spending important time bonding as a family. Identifying your values and what is important to you can be a good start in brainstorming ideas for new traditions to implement into your family.

Family traditions often occur during holidays and special events, but they can be implemented into routines throughout the year. Even if your children are grudgingly participating in your traditional events, they will someday appreciate the effort that was put into them.

You are giving your children so much more than the activity itself; you are passing on family values and life lessons. When you are observing your family traditions this year, remember there is a deeper meaning you are instilling in and providing for your children.

By Vicki Kirkman, LCSW, LCAC, Nov. 15, 2018 –

Imagine the following scene: There are bright balloons, a delicious cake and a room full of happy friends celebrating your child’s birthday.  As each of the birthday gifts is unwrapped, you hold your breath and wait for your child to say, “Thank you!”

It can be so disheartening when those words aren’t said without a reminder or “the look” from mom or dad.

Expressing gratitude doesn’t necessarily come naturally to young children.  It is normal and developmentally appropriate for younger children to be focused on themselves during their early years.

However, as children grow and their world becomes bigger, their ability to appreciate others and show gratitude becomes larger. Parents can help build their children’s awareness of gratefulness and teach them to demonstrate a grateful attitude. Listed below are some helpful tips.

  • Teach your child the simple but important practice of saying “please” and “thank you.”
  • Don’t miss an opportunity to catch your child doing something thoughtful! Acknowledge and praise what they did. Your kind words will set a good example for your child to use toward someone else.
  • Model your own gratefulness. Children will notice when their parent is grateful for a beautiful day, a door being held open, or a thoughtful gift from a friend.
  • Make it a daily or weekly habit to discuss what you are grateful for as a family. During dinner, in the car or before bed are great times to talk. Have each family member share one or two things they are thankful for and why. To begin the conversation it might be helpful to say, “What or who are you thankful for at home, school, or in the community?”
  • Foster experiences that allow children to help others. Volunteering at a food bank or animal shelter are great opportunities. Developing a list of random acts of kindness to check off together would be a fun way to teach children how good it feels to help others. Encourage your kids to identify the emotions they experience (happy, proud, helpful, nice, etc.).
  • Identify “helpers” with your child. Talk about the role of police, firefighters, military, teachers, and doctors. Discuss how each helper is valuable and do something to show gratitude toward them.  A simple note of appreciation or delivering cookies is a great way to say thank you!
  • Focus on sharing experiences instead of buying materialistic items. Leave the phone on the charger, turn off the television and enjoy the company of family. Use compliments and praise the strengths of each family member.
  • Get children involved in purchases. When your child wants the newest toy or electronic item, offer the opportunity to earn it by completing more chores or saving money to go toward the purchase.  The memory of working for it will hopefully create better maintenance of the item and a sense of ownership.
  • Engage older teens in discussions about world events. They are old enough to have their own thoughts and opinions about big issues that are happening. Talking about what is important to them and how it shapes their view on the world can be a great lesson in gratitude.

Start early and offer many opportunities to help children express and practice gratitude.  Teaching children how to express gratitude is a skill that will help them throughout their life!