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By Valorie Dassel, LCSW, LCAC – May 19, 2020 –

All of our lives have changed with the pandemic, guidelines for social distancing and stay-at-home orders. We have been challenged to find new routines and a new normal during these unprecedented times.

While many of us have met the challenge with positive adjustments, some have also been challenged with bad habits easing their way into our routines.   

Drinking alcohol is definitely one activity that has increased during the stay-at-home order. According to the University of Southern California News, alcohol sales have increased by 55 percent in late March 2020 in comparison to sales for the same time period in 2019.

The challenges of staying at home during the pandemic include heightened fear of illness, increased stress and boredom. Some people may cope by drinking more alcohol. When we look on social media it is evident that many have turned occasional social drinking into an “every day is Saturday” mentality.

Recognizing why we are drinking more and becoming aware of our increased use of alcohol will prompt many people to pull back to a healthier normal. Unfortunately, this realization is not the case for all. Individuals in recovery from alcoholism must meet each day as a new challenge.

Dr. Stephen Wyatt, Medical Director of Addiction Medicine at Atrium Health, shares an analogy of how the disease of alcoholism causes neurobiological changes in the brain. He relates the normal brain’s need for oxygen as something an individual doesn’t process and think about, but rather just automatically fights for air to breathe.

In a similar manner, the individual whose brain structure has been changed due to alcoholism fights for the alcohol automatically to provide what it senses the body needs. With therapy and medication, just as in many other diseases, this brain response can be changed to allow the person to move into recovery from alcoholism. 

We must all be sensitive to the challenges that face each person in recovery. In addition, their families have also suffered through the process or, in fact, are dealing with a family member in the middle of active alcoholism.

For many of us not personally affected by alcoholism, someone who is drunk (or something they did while drinking) may be something to joke about. Unfortunately, alcohol use is never funny to the family members of the alcoholic; rather, it is often embarrassing or shameful. To the recovered alcoholic who nearly lost family or may have actually lost a relationship due to their alcoholism, an incident such as this may bring them back to those feelings of shame and embarrassment.

Additionally, someone in recovery makes a choice every day to stay sober. A comment or social media post mean to poke fun at ourselves – making light of drinking excessively, day drinking, or any normalizing of alcohol use during the pandemic – may potentially be a trigger to someone in recovery.

This is a time for us to support our families and community. Most of us know someone who has been affected by alcoholism, and we definitely celebrate those who have conquered and found themselves in recovery. Be mindful of how we can support them, and empathize with just how difficult it may be to be exposed to unintentional comments that may trigger old habits.

For information about Alcoholics Anonymous and to locate a meeting near you, please visit www.aa.org.

By Valorie Dassel, LCSW – January 7, 2020

Parenting in this era can be overwhelming. There are many opinions and parenting styles that can be argued. 

However, when we are facing drug and alcohol use among our teenagers, there must be an “all hands on deck” approach. It is a community issue that requires parents and adult mentors to communicate clearly with our teens while understanding both sides of the coin.

There are clearly reasons why our teens engage in risky behaviors, and it is important to acknowledge this while at the same time educating them on the severity of the risks. Visit websites such as drugfree.org and youthfirstinc.org to educate yourself on how to talk to your teen about drug and alcohol use. 

The following are some tips to guide substance use conversations with your teen:

  1. Ask your teen open-ended questions about the dangers of vaping, drinking and drug use. Use this conversation to guide discussion around the consequences about the things they care about in the “here and now.” Points to bring up include how substance use may affect their relationships and reputation. These are things they do not feel invincible about. They may do something that is embarrassing and have to deal with the social consequences at school on Monday morning. They may do something that they regret and consequently hurt a relationship or friendship. It is also helpful to aid in connecting their athletics and academics to substance abuse. If they are tired and hungover on the weekends, they will not feel like studying or practicing. 
  2. Be open with them about substance abuse issues in their family. According to the Genetics Science Learning Center of Utah, scientists estimate that a person’s genetics account for 40-60% of their risk of developing an addiction. Sharing family history and stories aids in the development of decision-making based on risks specific to them.
  3. In addition to genetics, individuals who suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, etc. are at a higher risk to abuse substances. The website dualdiagnosis.com is a good resource to help teens connect their emotional struggles to how they may self medicate with substance use.
  4. Clearly share your expectations and the consequences they will receive at home if they are found to be drinking, vaping, smoking or using drugs. It is important to create a relationship that allows the teen to share their struggles or experiences while also being aware of the consequences if caught using. 

Get to know the parents of your teen’s friends. Share with them your values and that you do not approve of them drinking, smoking/vaping or using drugs. There are parents who mistakenly feel they are protecting teens by allowing them to drink or use substances under their supervision, as they feel it is a safer alternative.

Developmentally, teens are beginning to individuate from their parents, which gives them the sense that they can make their own decisions and act independently. Educate yourself and others that this concept inadvertently gives them permission to drink/vape/drug on their own.

Remember that we as parents can educate and guide, but our teens will be the ones who make the decisions. It is our responsibility to keep them as safe and as educated as possible.  Most importantly, be there when they fall and help them back up.

By Valorie Dassel, LCSW, LCAC – April 9, 2019

Organizational skills are important, whether we are professionals in the work force, parents, teenagers or children. 

Mastering this life skill will be valuable in every phase of our lives.  It is never too late to evaluate how your child is doing in enhancing this skill and help them develop the necessary strategies to be successful.  

When it comes to be organized, I firmly believe we all have the best of intentions.  I have yet to meet a student who wants to fail or be the student who doesn’t turn in their homework.  Just like with adults, children’s good intentions may not always yield good results.    

Parents can start with children as young as 2 or 3 years old.  Developing organizational skills is much like learning to ride a bike.  We don’t just sit our children on the seat of a bike and let them go.  We hold the seat of their bike until they seem sturdy.  Even then, we often run beside them to catch them if they lose their balance.  

The same strategy should be used in teaching our children organizational skills.  In the beginning of the process a parent should be very involved.  As they are ready for more independence, children can be given more responsibility and the parent can become more of a monitor. 

The academic setting is the perfect place to begin teaching these life skills that can be carried over throughout a lifetime.  A key component is allowing a child to develop an organizational system that makes sense to them.  What may seem to make the most sense to you may not be what makes sense to your child.  Therefore, allow your child to have ownership as you guide them by gently pointing out suggestions and potential pitfalls of their plan. 

Here are some tips to help you as the teacher and role model of organizational skills:

  1. Begin with consistency at home.  Having a set study time after school will provide a consistent routine that promotes good time management.
  2. Aid your child in organizing their backpack and binder to provide a system that prevents papers from being shoved into books, etc. 
  3. Strongly support your child using his/her agenda.  Developing the habit of writing down assignments/tests/events in the agenda as soon as the teacher assigns it in class will set them up for success.  This habit will lead to independent success in the academic years to follow.  This task is often overlooked by students as they get busy or distracted and forget to write things down.  This step is extremely important, so you may consider a reward system in the initial phase of developing this strategy that supports creating the habit.
  4. Create a to-do list and break down big projects into smaller tasks.  In a different color ink, fill in extra-curricular plans to help your child plan in advance to avoid evenings which will not allow enough time to accomplish the necessary tasks. 

As Donna Goldberg from the NYU Child Study Center emphasizes the importance of these skills, she clarifies the need for students with special needs in particular.  Children with attention difficulties often miss details and find organization difficult.  Those with executive functioning issues often have trouble with prioritizing and sequencing.  Children with auditory processing difficulties often don’t take in everything that is being taught.  Recognizing your child’s individual needs and teaching them how to compensate with organizational skills will be a lesson leading to success for a lifetime.

By Valorie Dassel, LCSW, LCAC, Courier & Press, August 8, 2017 –

The transition from elementary or middle school to high school can come with a wave of emotions for both students and parents.

Often times, there is excitement surrounding the new environment, both socially and academically.  Anxiety is commonly experienced among incoming freshmen.  These anxieties often stem from social and academic changes.

The opportunities for change can increase a  sense of self and positively affect academics.  As parents, it is important to nurture our teenager’s development during this transition.

In a retrospective research study conducted by Akos and Galassi (2004), adolescents identify homework and grades as the most difficult aspect of transitioning to high school.  Often times, high school courses demand more studying and homework outside of the classroom.

Parents should talk with their teen about academic expectations.  Discussions should include preparing them to increase organizational strategies, time management and good study habits.

If elementary or middle school has been easy for a teen, they may begin high school with a relaxed attitude toward grades.  If high school proves to be more academically challenging for them, the teen may have a difficult transition.

Priorities for a teenager can often be difficult to navigate. Students may want to do well academically, but new social opportunities may interfere with academic success.  During this developmental stage, friends become just as important to the teen as their family, and they also want instant gratification.

When they are faced with the choice of doing their homework or hanging out with friends, they may opt for the more immediate and “fun” reward of socializing.  Parents can lend support by encouraging set study times and monitoring assignments being turned in on time through the school’s website.

High school includes social adjustments as well.  Typically, the high school student is coming from a social network where they knew exactly where they fit in to an unknown social environment in a new and larger student body.  This change offers exciting opportunities for most.  For the student who has desired different or more friendships in elementary or middle school, it offers the opportunity to reinvent and develop many more relationships.

Throughout freshman year, social groups tend to go through many transitions.  Often times, new friends are added to established groups of friends.  Sports and extra-curricular interests involve an increased amount of time spent together and new friendships are formed.

With a larger student body, there is greater opportunity to find friends who share similar interests and values.  Parents should encourage involvement in activities to promote social connectedness and the protective factors provided.  Spending time constructively makes it less likely the teen will be involved in negative social behaviors.

If the social adjustment is not what your teen expected, they could be struggling with feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression.  Open communication at this time is crucial.

Communicate understanding and brainstorm peers they have something in common with.  They often lack the social awareness to build friendships.  Work with them on how to initiate conversations and suggest non-intimidating ways to “hang out” outside of school to nurture friendships.  This will give them the skills necessary to work through their social difficulties.

The transition to high school offers many exciting opportunities.  There are also going to be difficulties on this journey.  Maintaining an open and positive relationship and communication between parent and teen will make it easier on the entire family.

child-studying

By Valorie Dassel, LCSW, Courier & Press, Sept. 6, 2016 –

With school back in session, many families are struggling to transition into a new routine. This is the perfect time to evaluate your child’s strengths and build on them for maximum academic success.

If your child feels ownership in the plan, they are much more likely to do well. Allow your child to help develop their academic plan while you remain firm on the most important aspects. Below are some strategies that many families find helpful.

1. Designate study time. Along with your student, decide on an appropriate amount of time to devote to studying outside of school. Students who require medication to stay focused will likely benefit from studying during the hours right after school. You may also have an unmedicated child who has an abundant amount of energy and needs to have some down time before they focus on homework.  Spending at least an hour on studies each night will help foster good study skills down the road.

2. Have a set day of the week you will check online grades together. If your student struggles to turn in assignments on time, ask them what they feel appropriate consequences should be for late work. As parents you can ultimately decide on more strict consequences if necessary. Consequences that many families find effective are taking the phone/iPod away for a day for each missing assignment, grounding for the following weekend, taking away video game time, or giving a chore for each missing assignment. Be creative! You know what motivates your child. Be careful to give appropriate time for groundings. If the punishment is too long, you risk your child giving up. Consequences should be set together ahead of time and written out so kids know what to expect and parents respond with rational thinking.

3. Encourage consistent use of an agenda book.  For better organization and less stress, encourage kids to develop the habit of writing assignments down when given and reviewing the homework written down before leaving school.

4. Encourage your child to communicate with teachers. If kids are struggling in a particular class, conversations with the teacher about what to study can prove very helpful.

5. Encourage your child to review notes and chapters every evening if they do not use all of their study time for homework. This will reinforce what has been taught and give them a jump on preparing for tests.

6. Look for improvement and brag on good grades. Positive feedback motivates kids. Help them set a small goal for improvement each week.

If the family can establish written study guidelines and have them handy for reference, the parent- child relationship should be less stressful. Many arguments are centered on grades. The key is remaining consistent and staying calm while enforcing guidelines. These steps should give your child more academic success, increased self-esteem and better self-discipline, leading to happier and healthier children and families.