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By Danielle Tessier, Communications & Development Assistant

2020 has required all of us to dig deep within ourselves to cultivate more patience and kindness. Our trips to the grocery store have become more stressful and hectic. Our work spaces have changed completely. Our interactions with others have been cut to a fraction of what they were this time last year. Conflicts have been exacerbated by months of turmoil and troubling news headlines.

Overcoming these additional challenges is hard. With the push from everyone around us to stay isolated and make difficult changes to our day-to-day lives in order to stay safe, it has become easy to fall into a negative or selfish headspace. For many of us, remembering to be kind to everyone is not at the forefront of our minds.

Because we cannot freely hug the ones we love or show an un-masked smile to someone in need of one, it is important to find new gestures that allow us to practice kindness. These gestures of kindness not only benefit the recipient- they also benefit you.

This time of year is the perfect opportunity to start practicing kindness. During the holidays, many families center their focus on giving to others. Many of these kid-friendly methods of showing kindness can continue safely despite the pandemic. Whether these traditions are deep-rooted or brand new, they will help create positive memories and bring hope and comfort to those who need it most.

  1. Write a handwritten note to someone. This act of kindness is a wonderful way to remind someone how much they matter- whether that person is an old friend or a complete stranger. Illustrations (especially from younger artists) always make notes like these just a little bit more special.
  2. Bake/decorate cookies with someone you love. What sweeter way is there to show someone you care than with cookies? If you normally make cookies with a family member you can’t see this year, leave some at their doorstep with a photo or special note. It’s a great way to keep traditions alive.
  3. Leave a kind message for passers-by. Many of us will be relaxing in our respective homes and neighborhoods during the holidays. A sign in a window or message written in chalk on a driveway or sidewalk is a colorful way to spread kindness and holiday cheer. 
  4. Determine what you really need. Looking through clothes, toys, and books to choose items to give to others in need is a wonderful way to show kindness to a family you’ve never met, no matter the season.
  5. Do what you love. Being kind to yourself is arguably just as important as being kind to others. Think of an activity you used to enjoy and purposefully make time to do it regularly. Or find a new hobby to do with someone you love.

These acts of kindness are wonderful; however, as the hustle and bustle of the holiday season fades, it is important to not allow our generosity to fade with it. Although the world continues to change before our eyes, the extraordinary value of even the smallest act of kindness remains the same.

By Leah Lottes, LSW – December 9, 2020-

When you think about the holidays, it’s likely that you picture your whole family gathering together to celebrate. You look forward to it every year, but in 2020, many families are choosing to stay apart in an attempt to keep everyone safe and healthy. This year is different.

Many of us are upset by the challenges and changes brought on by COVID-19. This is something we’ve never experienced, so it makes sense that so many of us are struggling to adapt. If adults feel as though they don’t know how to cope, we surely can’t expect our children to build coping strategies by themselves.

So how do we adjust? First, it’s important to accept the reality of this pandemic, as recommended by therapist Kim Eisenburg, LCSW, in an article released by Sharp Health News. Allow yourself and your children to be upset, disappointed, and angry at everything that has been taken away from your family. Everyone is experiencing some type of loss, whether it’s big or small.

Sometimes it’s the little things we miss the most, such as going to school, going out to eat, going to church, and gathering with friends – all without fear of the virus. We must allow ourselves to mourn what we’ve lost before we can focus on creating new traditions.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to help your kids adjust to changes made this year, here are some ways to reframe the situation and still add a little bit of Christmas magic to your family’s holiday season.

Zoom with your extended family. If your family is tech-savvy, you can have a big family Zoom meeting. No, it’s not the same as meeting in person, but it’s a great way for everyone to feel like they are all in the same place. It’s also a great opportunity for families to share many laughs and memories together.


Check in on family and friends. Check in on those who have lost family members or friends this year. Call family members who are alone during the holidays. Send a “thinking of you” card. Bake some cookies for friends and deliver them to their front porch. Including your children in these little kind gestures will not only help those who are feeling down this holiday season, but it will also bring your children joy.


Volunteer. Whether it is donating your time, money, or resources, volunteering can be a way to help you feel good and remind you of the real reason behind giving during the holidays.

Create new traditions or modify old traditions. This could include having a family game night, starting a new TV series, or having a baking day. These are all activities that allow you to do something fun in the comfort of your home.


Make future plans. No, we don’t know what the future looks like, but we can still try to make plans for future events, gatherings, milestones, and vacations. Having something to look forward to allows us stay motivated and helps us feel hopeful.

This holiday season looks different than past holidays, but it is up to us to help those around us make the most of it. Remember, kids are resilient. We can choose to have a positive attitude and appreciate the little moments together as a family. Modeling this behavior can help build resiliency in kids and can give meaning to a wonderful holiday season, even during a pandemic.

By Nolan Miller, LSW- December 2, 2020-

Just like a lot of things these days, the upcoming holidays will be different this year. Extended family get-togethers are not safe, and our traditions might not look the same as they did in previous years. 

Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. As we get closer to the holiday season, we need to prepare for the deviations ahead and develop strategies to cope with departures from tradition.

One of the ways we can do this is to accept that there are things out of our control. When it comes to losing control, it is easy for us to start feeling stress. Accepting that this year will be different does not mean that our traditions are lost; perhaps they are just on hold.

The next way we can handle not meeting expectations this year is to practice more self-care. This is something most of us should do more often, but during the holidays self-care becomes even more essential. Giving yourself a break and doing something you enjoy or haven’t had the time to do before can be helpful. Set a time each day to walk away from your cell phone or other stressors and spend time with the loved ones around you. 

Here are some ideas for self-care during this holiday season:

  1. Read a holiday book. Whether it is a book you already have at home or a book that you have been wanting to read, use this time to slow down and escape in the pages.
  2. Take a walk or drive around the neighborhood. We can still socially distance from our neighbors while enjoying the Christmas lights around us.
  3. Watch Christmas movies with the family. Self-care does not necessarily mean “alone time.” Sometimes self-care means spending special quality time with people we love. 
  4. Do something fun or creative. Making cookies or building a gingerbread house can be something you add to your yearly holiday traditions.
  5. Reach out to other family members. Just because we can’t visit our families in person does not mean we can’t meet with them virtually. Video chat may not be the normal we are looking for, but taking time to check in on each other can help everyone feel more connected.

Another way to handle disappointment is to lower our own expectations. Positive or negative, our expectations can have a big impact on our mental health. Holidays are especially hard when our expectations are based on fond memories from years without pandemic restrictions. However, if we are able to drop our expectations and live in the moment, we may find ourselves enjoying the holidays more than we have in previous years.

The most important thing to remember this year is that we are not alone. We are all in the same boat.

We might find that the holidays during a pandemic are not like they were before, but neither are we. This year has made us more resilient and has shown us strengths we did not know we had before.

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.