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By Amber Russell, LCSW – April 15, 2021 –

As a parent, I have recently been thinking about at what age it is appropriate and acceptable to leave your child home alone. I’ve often considered it when I need to run errands for a couple hours.

My son is 9 years old. I have asked other parents and family members when they first let their children stay home alone. I found the answer varied a lot based on who I asked.

Some people had very strong opinions on the subject and were certain that kids needed to be much older to be left alone. Others made me feel like I was crazy to even be worried about leaving my 9-year-old home alone for 10 minutes while I ran to the store to buy the one item I had forgotten on my list.

So who is right? I did some research and found that the answer varies. Only a few states have laws that specify a legal age to leave a child home alone, and they range from age 8-14.

Indiana, from what I can tell, falls into the “no specific law” category. There is no law or magic number specifying the right time or right age, but according to Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, there are some questions you should consider while making this decision.

  1. Is there a responsible adult available? Does an adult friend or family member live nearby? Or is there possibly a nice neighbor that your child is comfortable with in case they need help? Who can your child go to or call in case of emergency? Do they know how to call a family member for help?
  2. Does your child know emergency procedures? Does your child know what to do and where to go if there is a fire in the home? Do they know where the first aid kit is and how to use it? What about what to do in the event of bad weather such as a tornado?
  3. Does your child regularly problem-solve without assistance? For instance, what are the rules if someone rings the doorbell or a friend calls and wants to come over?  What do they do if they come home after school and the door is open or they notice a window is busted out? If they are outside playing and a stranger tries to talk to them, what would they do?
  4. Can your child perform everyday tasks such as making a snack or making a phone call? These are necessary skills. Do they know their address and phone number? Is there a phone available for them to make an emergency call?
  5. Is your child comfortable staying at home alone? Ask them, and if the answer is “no,” then now is not the right time. A child should feel confident and self-sufficient before being left home alone.The appropriate age for being left home alone depends somewhat on the child, their maturity level, and the length of time they will be alone. I know some 9-year-olds that could handle being home alone for an hour or two, but I also know some 12 and 13-year-olds that I would not trust.

Make sure both you and your child are comfortable with your absence. Ensure they know the rules, what to do in case of an emergency, and who they can contact for help. Start with a small length of time as a trial (like while you run to the grocery store). If they will be home for more than an hour alone, make sure to call and check in.

By Keisha Jackson, MSW – April 7, 2021 –

One of the most important things we can do for ourselves is ensure we are taking good care of our body, mind, and soul each and every day. Self-care is a habit we need to develop and use daily, not just when we are sick or feel it’s most convenient. 

Learning how to eat right, reduce stress, exercise regularly, and take a time-out when you need it are big components of self-care. Making a point to incorporate these habits into your life can help you stay healthy, happy, and resilient.

Practicing self-care isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s an ongoing battle I fight with year in and year out. Most of us are crazy busy. There are extracurricular activities to juggle, sporting events to attend, and of course our jobs to work around. Having a full and fast-paced life can be rewarding, but can also become burdensome from time to time.

As the pandemic continues to impact our daily lives, now is a good time to reflect on the past year and remind ourselves about the importance of self-care. Below you’ll find several different tips, ideas, and reminders to help you manage your mental health through self-care.

  1. Create a plan. Creating a self-care plan can make managing self-care easier. When life gets busy, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself. Making a plan and sticking to it helps release the stress of managing another “task” on your to-do list.
  • Say “no” to others. Saying “no” is a hard thing to do for some people. However, saying “no” when you’re feeling overwhelmed or when you need a day to yourself can be a powerful way to care for yourself.  
  • Do things that spark joy. Self-care is all about doing something specifically for YOU. Do one thing daily that sparks joy in your life. Examples of this could be a simple coffee run, getting up to go for a walk around the block, or even watching an episode of your “guilty pleasure” show.
  • Soak up the sun. As the days are beginning to lengthen as summer approaches, we have more time to enjoy the sunlight after school or work. Just getting 10 minutes of sunlight or having those blinds in your bedroom window open can spunk up your mood and provide you with much-needed Vitamin D. Be sure to wear sunscreen if you’ll be outside for extended periods of time!
  • Don’t skip out on the basics. Continue to eat healthy, exercise regularly, and get a healthy amount of sleep. 

Some of these tips may sound silly or obvious, but it can often be hard to prioritize that extra time to ourselves. It’s important to create time in your day to be alone with yourself, no matter how busy you are. Time alone can help you ponder the best way to move forward in life and keep you grounded, healthy, and happy.   

By Lori Powell, LCSW – March 31, 2021 –

In 1980 I was a five-year-old attending kindergarten in Evansville, Indiana. It was the year of the infamously destructive June 8th storm that brought hurricane force winds to my hometown, and it was the first time I remember having to cope with the world around me changing.

I really didn’t understand the dangerous nature of the storm at the time, but I remember all teachers and students were asked to go to the cafeteria, which was located at the lowest level of the school. We were supposed to sit under the tables in the tornado position. However, I remember sitting with my friend giggling and not following directions very well, because I did not understand the seriousness of the situation. 

The school busses were not able to take us home, so my father picked me up that day.  There was no electricity in my house for a few days. Restaurants without gas appliances couldn’t reopen due to the lack of electricity. Our favorite restaurant was closed.

My grandmother did not have electricity for over seven days in her area. I knew that I had shelter, water, food, and could depend on my parents for safety and reassurance. I swung on the swing set outside of my home, rode my bike, and played cards and board games with my family members. The lack of power, damage, and destruction caused by the storm left me largely untouched and unburdened. 

Since then I have lived through multiple storms and have lost my electricity for only a short amount of time. The Covid-19 pandemic is the first time in my life that schools and businesses have closed their doors for such an extended amount of time.  Even during most snowstorms we were still able to go to the mall when school was cancelled.  

After the pandemic lockdown, I went to the grocery store with my husband for the first time in months. The shelves were stocked minimally, but we were able to obtain all of our necessities. As I stood in the grocery aisle, I thought about the large number of people shopping in the store and realized how different this crisis felt than the one I experienced as a child. I wondered how people who were already experiencing anxiety were getting through the stress and uncertainty of a global pandemic.  

Although the world has changed drastically as the pandemic drags on, it is important to find ways to remind yourself that things will get better. Many people have found that using deep breathing techniques, positive self-talk, and positive visual imagery to stay calm can help mitigate overwhelming thoughts and worries. Exercise and getting outdoors are also very helpful in relieving anxiety.

Breathing in and out slowly, reminding yourself that this situation is only temporary, and taking extra time to relax can be helpful for lightening the burden we’ve all carried throughout this last year.

We also need to remember that there are aspects of life that we do not have control over and focus on what we are able to control, such as our attitudes and our behaviors. For example, I can choose to have a great day, stay positive, and do my best to help others do the same.

By Mary Ruth Branstetter, LCSW, LCAC, RPT – March 24, 2021 –

A common problem many of us experience is an inability or unwillingness to appropriately address our powerful emotions. Most of us want an outlet where we can express our feelings, but sometimes it can be a struggle to find someone who will truly listen and understand. 

I believe this is a problem for both adults and children. When we copy behaviors that we grow up with, we sometimes learn unhealthy methods of expressing how we feel.

For example, if a child is told not to cry with phrases like, “Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” they learn to keep important feelings bottled up.

Another example of how we learn from our surroundings might be how we cope with frustration or anger. If anger was never talked about in the home or was only displayed in an aggressive manner, those behaviors may be learned and repeated as a normal reaction to upsetting situations.

Occasionally the opposite stance may be taken such as, “I am never going to deal with feelings the way they were expressed in my home or by my role models.” This too can be unhealthy, leading to passivity and stuffing of true emotions.

Repressing feelings can only work as a coping skill for a certain amount of time before problems start to surface in your personal relationships and/or through physical and mental distress. Such distress may take the form of overeating, over-spending, depression, anxiety, repeated health problems, or self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.

Trying to teach our children healthy ways to express their feelings is becoming a critical skill. It is important to begin encouraging children to be honest about their emotions at a young age, as our children are exposed to external influences early in life.

Young children may or may not be emotionally ready to understand some of these influences in a healthy manner. For small children, this may result in some form of regression, acting out in anger or destructive ways, or development of unexplained fear.

Some of our kids are modeling what they see in social media or video games as a way to handle conflict, hurt feelings, competition, or disappointment. These forms of media may disrupt our children’s ability to learn how to carry on a conversation, resolve a conflict without aggression, read another person’s body language, or recognize basic social cues. The inability to grasp these communication skills can eventually leave a child emotionally stunted.

It is never too early or too late to ask your child about their feelings. This is a perfect time to take the opportunity to help your child process emotions in a way that helps them feel better. If you are unsure how to do this, there are many books for all age groups on feelings and healthy coping skills at local libraries, bookstores, and online.

Do not be afraid to consult with a mental health professional for guidance. This is an investment in your child’s long term emotional and mental health. The way your child learns to address their emotions now will impact the rest of their lives in terms of personal relationships, academic success, career success, physical health, and positive self-worth.