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By Megan Shake, LSW- November 25, 2020-

They can happen anywhere – the grocery store, the doctor’s office, restaurants, school, or home. If your child is prone to meltdowns, you know they can strike at any time and any place!

The first step in helping children manage meltdowns is to understand why the meltdowns are happening. This can be difficult since these meltdowns can be triggered by a variety of reasons: fear, frustration, anger, anxiety, or sensory overload. Fortunately, children typically have meltdowns in very predictable situations, so you can learn to be more prepared to manage an outburst when it occurs.

Meltdowns are often symptoms of distress that your child is struggling to manage. As a result, children attempt to do whatever it takes to get what they want, even if it means crying, yelling, kicking, name calling, or throwing things. This can result in outbursts becoming learned behaviors if the child achieves the outcome they desire from the meltdown.

Understanding meltdowns means knowing what triggers them. According to Dr. Vasco Lopes, a clinical psychologist, a common trigger for many kids is when they are asked to do something they don’t want to do or when they cannot continue doing something they enjoy. This can be especially true for kids with ADHD as some tasks can be less stimulating and require them to control physical activity.

Once triggers can be pinpointed, try to modify the trigger. This could mean giving more warning that a task is about to start or end, especially for those kids who struggle with transitions, or this could mean restructuring problematic activities. For example, if homework time leads to tantrums, you can modify it by offering frequent breaks, support the child in areas that are particularly difficult, organize the work, and break down particularly large or intimating tasks into smaller ones.

Setting clear expectations can also help prevent tantrums from happening. Instead of telling the child that he needs to be good today, be specific and concise in your communication. Tell him that he needs to stay seated during mealtime, keep his hands to himself, and say only nice things as these are very concrete expectations. Also make sure expectations are developmentally appropriate and match the child’s ability.

Furthermore, parents’ or caregivers’ response to tantrums plays a role in preventing future ones. It is helpful to respond to meltdowns consistently. For outbursts that are not dangerous, the goal is to ignore the behavior and withhold attention from negative behaviors we want to discourage. Give attention and praise when your child exhibits positive behaviors. Try to reason with your child during an outburst because his or her ability to reason is diminished.

We all know meltdowns are not easy to get through, and may even cause embarrassment to parents when in public. Know you’re not alone in trying to help your child manage their emotions and remember your child’s meltdowns are not a reflection of your parenting skills. Remind yourself that you are doing great, even on the days when it does not feel like it!

By Jana Pritchett, Communications Manager -November 17, 2020-

Even though this year may be a little bit different, as Thanksgiving nears many of us are focused on holiday traditions – eating turkey and pumpkin pie, celebrating with family, and shopping on Black Friday.  However, as we gather around the table, it’s also a great time to give thanks and model an “attitude of gratitude” for the children in our midst.

Children are not born grateful.  According to author Mary Jane Ryan, Recognizing that someone has gone out of their way for you is not a natural behavior for children – it’s learned.”  If you have spent much time around toddlers, you know that they are self-centered by nature.  Studies have shown, however, that children as young as 15-18 months can begin to understand concepts that lead to gratitude.

Teaching young children to be grateful is not easy but can help them later in life.  A 2003 study at the University of California at Davis showed that grateful people report higher levels of optimism and happiness – along with lower levels of depression and stress.  Grateful kids have learned to look beyond themselves and understand that other people do things for them – wash their clothes, give them hugs, and prepare their food. 

On the other hand, according to Barbara Lewis, author of What Do You Stand For? For Kids, “Kids who aren’t taught to be grateful end up feeling entitled and perpetually disappointed.”  According to Robert Emmons, research also shows that youth who are ungrateful are more likely to abuse substances, have poor eating habits and display low academic performance.

So how can we teach our children the power of gratitude in their own lives?

  1.  Model it.  Children model their parents in every way, so remember to use “please” and “thank you” when you talk to them (“Thank you for the hug.”).  Good manners and gratitude go hand-in-hand. 
  2. Work gratitude into your daily life.  Spend some time at the dinner table listing things you are grateful for.  Keep a “gratitude journal” handy for older kids, or help younger ones write a grateful sticky note to put on the refrigerator.  Keep a thank-you note basket handy and help children write notes for gifts or acts of service. 
  3. Say no sometimes.  It seems like some days kids are asking hourly for candy, toys, or video game time. It is impossible for them to feel grateful when their every wish is granted.  Saying no sometimes makes saying yes that much sweeter.
  4. Encourage generosity.  Teach them that there are others less fortunate.  Donate a new toy, give used clothes to charity or adopt a family in need.  Emphasize that although they may have outgrown something, it may meet another child’s needs. 
  5. Find a mission project.  Once the pandemic is over, older children can volunteer or participate in mission trips.  Actively helping someone in need inspires thankfulness for your own blessings.  After seeing a hungry family while serving at a soup kitchen, a child may be more appreciative of the food at their own table.   
  6. Downplay gifts during the holidays.  Put more emphasis on celebrating and establishing traditions – making cookies, attending worship, visiting family. If you adopt a family for the holidays, shop for online gifts with your kids or have them create something handmade.  Consider putting half of your child’s gifts away after the holidays to bring out as rainy day surprises throughout the year. 

Teaching gratitude requires patience.  It doesn’t develop overnight but takes many months and years of reinforcement. You will be rewarded, however. Teaching your child to be grateful will help them enjoy making others happy and can lead to a fulfilling, optimistic life.

By Jana Pritchett, Communications Manager -November 11, 2020-

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 on Evansville’s west side 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 risk of gathering with members outside of your household, but it’s still important to fit in simple traditions that help children and teens establish a sense of belonging.   

Denise Witmer offers five reasons to observe family traditions on About.com – Parenting Teens:

  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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 29 and 25, 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 Laura Keys, Vice President of Social Work & Programs -November 3, 2020-

Well, here we are – still in the midst of a pandemic, mostly back in school, mostly back at work, but not quite back to normal.

Most Hoosier children returned to school by Labor Day. Some schools have had to close intermittently because of staff and students testing positive for COVID-19, but all of them are trying very hard to stay open.

It’s no question that students benefit from in-person learning. Schools also recognize that some students do not have the support and consistency in food, nurturing, and shelter at home. Youth First partners with over 90 schools across the state of Indiana, and I am here to tell you, educators are focusing on two things right now: 1) making the most of the days school buildings are open, and 2) engaging with and checking on the students who aren’t showing up.

Educators are teaching at a rapid pace, and the worry over potential school building closures is taking its toll on teachers, students, and parents. It’s also affecting student achievement. School personnel know only too well about the “summer slide,” that time when students are out for a couple months and not being challenged with the rigor of steady schoolwork.

Well, the pandemic has essentially doubled the “summer slide.” From March to August 2020, there was not a structured rigor of academics that kept our students fresh and ready to learn. I’ve heard from countless parents and teachers that students who were making A’s and B’s are now making C’s and sometimes D’s. Most students did not return to school ready to learn.

One may assume I’m mentioning this decline to recommend applying extra pressure on students in order to meet the academic standards that were lost over the past few months. Shouldn’t we push them to do just a little more so that they don’t continue to lose language arts and math skills?

No, quite the opposite! At the beginning of the school closures in March, we stressed that parents should give themselves some grace while trying to juggle at-home learning along with many other stressors. We need to extend the same grace to students right now.

The toll that this pandemic has taken on children’s mental health has been well-documented. Separation from friends and family, disruption in routine, and the fact that there is no clear end in sight all impact the mental wellness of students.

Those pressures, combined with the doubled “summer slide,” should give us a pretty clear indication of why students may be behind. Take it from a mother and a mental health professional, your kids will catch up. Students will gain ground once the ground beneath them is steadier.

Although schoolwork is important, it is not the most important thing. Caring, nurturing environments for kids are the most important thing right now. In my opinion, children need to be allowed to skip some beats on schoolwork and teachers need to be allowed to let them. We really need to take care of everyone right now, not put more pressure on them.

Kids are resilient and capable, and as long as they feel loved at the end of the day, especially with some extra grace sprinkled in there, they will turn out just fine.

By Grace Wilson, Program Coordinator – October 28, 2020-

The conversation around marijuana is a hot topic in our society these days.  Most folks seem to choose one side or the other and not many fall in the middle.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), marijuana is the most used illegal drug in the United States with 36.7 million users (youth and adult) in 2018. This number is alarming because not everyone is aware of the physical and mental health risks, especially for our youth.

In a 2014 study, it was reported by Lancet Psychiatry that teens who smoke marijuana daily are 60 percent less likely to graduate from high school or college than those who never use. They were also seven times more likely to attempt suicide.

A human brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. When marijuana use is started at an early age, there will be damaging effects to the long term cognitive abilities of that individual.

Marijuana has many damaging effects on the brain. It can affect the parts of your brain responsible for memory, learning, decision making, emotions, reaction times, and attention. These effects could look different in each person. Different factors can come into play, including the potency of the marijuana, how often it is used, if other substances were used along with it, and at what age the individual began using marijuana.

Many people believe marijuana use can calm anxiety and relax an individual, but frequent and heavy use can actually bring on more feelings of anxiety or paranoia.

What are some of the other risks of using marijuana? First, marijuana is addictive. According to the CDC, about 1 in 10 marijuana users will become addicted. That number rises to 1 in 6 if they began using before the age of 18.

Some signs of addiction can include unsuccessful efforts to quit using, giving up activities with friends or family because of marijuana, and continuing to use even though it has caused problems with work, school, and home.

Marijuana also elevates the heart rate, causing it to work even harder. This is especially the case if other substances are used along with marijuana. It can also cause respiratory problems, including chronic cough. While marijuana use has not been found as a direct link to cancer, many marijuana smokers also use cigarettes, which do cause cancer.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 71 percent of high school seniors do not view regular marijuana use as being harmful, but 64.7 percent say they disapprove of regular marijuana use. Now is the time to start the conversation with your child around marijuana.

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  1. Do your research on the topic and know how marijuana will affect your child’s health.
  2. Find a comfortable setting to have the conversation.
  3. Keep an open mind. Your child will be less receptive if they feel judged.
  4. Stay positive and don’t use scare tactics, as they are counter-productive.
  5. Don’t lecture; keep the conversation flowing freely between the two of you.

Stay involved in your children’s lives by keeping the conversation open, and let them know they can come to you without fear or judgment. This can make a world of difference when having a discussion with them about marijuana.

This column is written by Grace Wilson, Program Coordinator for Youth First, Inc., a local nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families. Youth First provides 64 Master’s level social workers to 90 schools in 11 Indiana counties. Over 60,000 youth and families per year have access to Youth First’s school social work and afterschool programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors, and maximize student success.

By Salita Brown, Project Manager -October 22, 2020-

Addiction… overdose… death… serious consequences that have become synonymous with opioid use.

Opioids are very powerful drugs that have received significant media attention in the past years. However, through all of the coverage the reason opioids have become so addictive has gotten lost.

So, what exactly is an opioid?  Why are people addicted to them?  According to the Mayo Clinic website, mayoclinic.org, an opioid is a broad group of pain-relieving drugs that work by interacting with the opioid receptors in your brain cells, meaning an opioid can temporarily control your brain.

Opioids trigger the brain to release a signal that lessons your perception of pain and increases your feeling of pleasure. This feeling of pleasure, though temporary, has led to repeated overdoses. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) currently reports 128 Americans die every day from opioid-related overdoses.

This crisis is one that everyone can help combat, even if you think it does not affect you directly. One of the easiest methods to prevent addiction is proper disposal of unused medications.  All unused/expired medications become quite dangerous when found by the wrong person. This is especially dangerous when medications find their way into the hands of a child.

In order to help prevent this issue it’s best to get these medications out of your home. You might think you need to go to your medicine cabinet and flush those unused pills down the toilet or maybe throw them directly into the trash. You are not entirely wrong, but both of those disposal methods require a couple more steps to be safe and effective.

So, what exactly is the proper means for disposing of your expired or unused prescriptions? One option is to bring the unwanted medications to an authorized collector.  An authorized collector will simply take the medications, with no questions asked, and properly dispose of them for you. To find an authorized collector near you, please call the DEA Office of Diversion Control at 1-800-882-9539.

Another option is to flush your unused medications down the toilet. Before you rush to flush all of your medications, please be advised that not all medicines are recommended for flushing. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a list of medicines approved for flushing that can be found by checking their website at www.fda.gov. If your medication is not on the approved list, it can be taken to an authorized collector or properly disposed in the trash.

By Diane Braun- October 15, 2020-

Red Ribbon Week is the oldest and largest drug prevention program in the nation, reaching millions of young people each year.  This year’s event will take place October 23-31.

According to the Red Ribbon Week website, this event is an ideal way for people and communities to unite and take a visible stand against drugs. 

Red Ribbon Week was started when drug traffickers in Mexico City murdered DEA agent Kiki Camarena in 1985. This began the continuing tradition of displaying red ribbons as a symbol of intolerance toward the use of drugs. The mission of the Red Ribbon Campaign is to present a unified and visible commitment towards the creation of a Drug-Free America.

National Family Partnership is the sponsor of this annual celebration. They are helping citizens across the country come together to keep children, families and communities safe, healthy and drug-free, through parent training, networking, and sponsoring events.

With over thirty annual events having taken place, you might ask, “Is Red Ribbon Week effective?”  According to Peggy Sapp, President of National Family Partnership, consider the following:

  • Red Ribbon Week is an environmental strategy, which means it doesn’t just affect a small group but usually goes beyond schools, churches and other groups into the broader community.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to be an awareness campaign that gets information to the general public about the dangers of drug use.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to get people talking to other people and working on activities that will help rebuild a sense of community and common purpose.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to help parents and schools deliver an effective drug prevention curriculum.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to create critical mass, which is necessary to reduce destructive social norms/behaviors and promote positive social norms/behaviors.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to be positive and fun, two things necessary to maintain good mental health.

Schools can benefit from curriculum available on the official Red Ribbon Week website, www.redribbon.org.  Incorporating substance use prevention education into daily classes such as health is an ideal way to bring awareness to students and promote prevention.

Parents should also access the website for great ideas about talking to children of any age about the dangers of substance use. Children of parents who talk to their teens regularly about drugs are 42 percent less likely to use drugs than those who don’t; however, only 25 percent of teens report having these conversations.

Alcohol and other forms of drug abuse in this country have reached epidemic stages, and it is imperative that visible, unified prevention education efforts by community members be launched to eliminate the demand for drugs.

Please join Youth First this week as we promote the importance of prevention and educating our children, families and communities about the dangers of substance use.

By Shannon Loehrlein, LCSW -October 1, 2020-

This time last year, no one dreamed 2020 would bring a worldwide pandemic. We were forced to adjust very quickly to quarantines, stay-at-home orders, social distancing, travel restrictions, working remotely and masks. Who knew a year ago we would be using terms like “social distancing” and “face masks” in our everyday conversations?

Anxiety, depression, and suicide have all been on the rise. Unemployment and economic numbers are worse than during the Great Depression. Everyone is on edge. 

As adults the coronavirus pandemic is scary enough, but what if we are also parents? How do we take care of ourselves while also providing comfort and stability to our children? 

As a parent of two young children myself, working from home at the start of the pandemic was a challenge. Parents have always struggled with work/home life balance, but stay-at-home orders and working remotely were something new. We also had the challenge of not only being a parent but also our child’s teacher.  I think all of us now have a greater appreciation for teachers and the work they do. 

Stay-at-home orders have ended, and many of us are gradually returning to work and school. As we adjust to a new normal, however, many parents are struggling to find time for their own self-care.

Self-care is the practice of intentionally taking care of your own needs. Self-care is important for everyone, especially parents and caregivers. Some may find that certain activities they used to enjoy as part of their own self-care, such as going to the gym, vacationing, going to the movies, and eating out may be more difficult with COVID-19 restrictions or closures. 

Here are some practical self-care ideas for parents:

  1. Avoid overexposure to the news. I personally found that when I was watching the national news I was more anxious and worried. Spend time watching television that is enjoyable and gives you an escape from reality for a bit.   
     
  2. Spend quiet time alone. It could be on your commute to work or after your children go to bed. It’s important to have time to process the day and enjoy calm.
  3. Spend time enjoying hobbies. Some pandemic-friendly ideas include listening to podcasts, reading, going for a drive, or talking to friends or family on the phone. I’ve recently discovered audio books and love being able to “read” while driving to work or taking a walk outside.
     
  4. Exercise.  Maybe you still feel uncomfortable going to the gym, but fall is a beautiful time for the family to enjoy outdoor walks. Exercise is also a natural stress reliever. 
  5. Practice mindfulness or meditation. There are several apps you can download for free mindfulness exercise, such as CALM, Stop Breathe and Think, and Headspace. Some of the apps have both a free and paid version with additional content. Research links meditation to increased levels of happiness.
     
  6. Find a babysitter for the night and enjoy some time with friends or your significant other. It is important to have adult time away from your children. 
  7. Spend time planning upcoming experiences. Dr. Laura Santo from Yale University’s work on the secret of happiness has found that spending money on experiences is linked to increased levels of happiness versus spending money on material possessions. For many, this could be planning a trip. I was reading in a travel magazine that the act of planning a vacation can actually lead to more happiness than the vacation itself. If you had a trip cancelled this year, plan for something exciting in 2021. You don’t necessarily have to leave town; you could plan a local experience such as a trip to the zoo or a walk by the river.
     
  8. Enjoy time together as a family. Have a game night or order carry-out and have a backyard picnic.   
     
  9. Socialize. I think one of the tragedies of COVID-19 is the loss of human connection.  Isolation can lead to depression. People have been told to stay away from others and maintain distance, but this does not mean we have to isolate. Plan to FaceTime a friend or have an outdoor get-together with chairs spaced 6 feet apart.
     
  10. Order carry-out food (or dine in if you feel comfortable) and support a local business.

If you’re a parent or caregiver, be sure to make self-care a priority during the pandemic. Taking care of yourself ensures that you will be able to give your best when taking care of others. 

By Ashley Underwood, LCSW – September 16, 2020 –

Hi. Hello. Hola. Bonjour. Ciao. Oi.

Each one of these greetings, along with many others, is the gateway for social interaction. Social interaction with others helps create a culture of inclusion and acceptance.

According to Ferris State University, inclusion is involvement and empowerment, where the inherent worth and dignity of all people is recognized. 

Why is inclusion important in our schools and communities?

Heartland Community College has created the HEIP (Heartland Equity and Inclusion Project), which identified the following reasons that inclusion is important:

  1. Inclusion molds the values of the next generation of children.
    • Students see a person first and the person’s disability second.
    • Students learn to practice empathy and appreciate the value of diversity.
  2. Inclusion provides opportunities for friendships.
    • The development of friendships requires close proximity and a common experience. Keeping children together encourages both objectives.
    • Students develop a comfortable way to interact with students with disabilities.
    • Children with disabilities attend the same school as their neighborhood friends.
  3. Inclusion prepares individuals for adult life in the community.
    • Today’s classmates are tomorrow’s employers and co-workers.
    • Community life includes people of all abilities.
  4. Inclusion helps create family-like social structures outside of the home.
    • Siblings can be educated together at the same school.
    • Parents are not stretched between two or more school settings.
  5. Inclusion cultivates an enriched learning environment.
    • Additional resources (therapists, special educators, etc.) in the classroom benefit all children.
    • Diversified teaching strategies and the common use of modifications and adaptations ensure everyone can be part of the learning process.
    • Children with disabilities learn from typically developing peers who can act as role models, making them more likely to develop appropriate social and communication skills.

What is the opposite of inclusion and why is it important? Social isolation is a feeling or sense of not belonging. It is overwhelming and in many cases debilitating to a person’s functioning. When feeling isolated from others, loneliness and invisibility can consume a person’s thoughts and behaviors, causing a significant increase in self-harm or harm of others.

To decrease the negative impacts of social isolation, the Sandy Hook Promise has created a campaign to increase social interaction and inclusion among students. This campaign began after the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in December of 2012. Each fall, schools around the world are asked to participate in the campaign called “Start With Hello” Week. The scheduled date for this year’s “Start With Hello Week is September 21-25, 2020.

Start With Hello Week raises awareness about social isolation and educates students and the community on how to prevent it through various trainings, awareness, activities, public proclamations, media events, student contests and school awards – all provided by the Sandy Hook Promise campaign. You can find the “Start With Hello Week planning guide along with the registration submission for your school or agency to participate in this event at https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/startwithhelloweek.

Let’s all join together in this movement to show our children that everyone should be valued, to bring awareness to social isolation, and to increase empathy and inclusion all around! Just remember, it can be as simple as starting with “hello.”