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By Chelsea Pfister, MSW – September 15, 2021 –

For the past year and a half, families across the country have been working to settle into an ever-changing sense of what’s being referred to as “the new normal.” While simultaneously juggling workload, home life, and family relationships, parents and families are constantly being presented with new stressors.

These stressors can include changes in routines, changes in economic structure and societal functioning, online schooling demands, and fear of the unknown. As a result, many parents are reporting strains in family relationships, a decrease in tolerance, and an increase in mental health-related concerns in both parents and children.

Below are six helpful tips to consider when fostering positive family connection and communication during challenging times. 

  1. Connect with your loved ones. Focus on what’s important and create a sense of support and connection among family. Taking the time to connect with your child can help establish a stronger relationship and foster more cooperation. Setting aside specified time for a special activity, or even using simple, everyday routines built around dinnertime or bedtime can be helpful in establishing strong family connections.
  2. Let go of pre-pandemic expectations. Recognize that your “best” parenting might look different now than it did prior to the pandemic. That’s okay. Try to avoid setting unrealistic goals for yourself or your children. Don’t think about your parenting as what the media tells you it “should” be; instead, think about what you would like it to be and what steps you can take to get there. 
  3. Listen to your children. Get down to your child’s level and be fully present. Ask open-ended questions to gain further understanding such as, “What is the hardest part about this for you?” Ask permission before sharing your own thoughts. This can instill a sense of empowerment in your child, which can combat the sense of powerlessness they might be struggling with.
  4. Respond to your child’s needs rather than their behaviors. Parents might experience children acting out during these times, particularly when they are experiencing constantly changing schedules. Attempt to look beyond what you’re hearing and/or seeing, and consider what feelings are underlying the behaviors. Work to acknowledge those feelings and support their needs.
  5. Reach out for help. If you or your child is struggling, realize it’s okay to ask for help. Remember you cannot help your child if your own tank is empty. Stressors pile up and it’s normal to become overwhelmed. Reach out to other family members, therapists/counselors, teachers, and/or friends for support.
  6. Practice compassion. Strive to show grace not only to yourself and your own family, but also to other individuals within your community. Everyone has experienced their own losses, changes, and challenges as a result of the pandemic.

Modeling compassion for others and having open conversations with your children and family is a great way to build connections and spread even the smallest amounts of positivity during these trying times. It is now more important than ever for us to support and lean on one another as we continue to acclimate to the changes in the world around us.  

By Haley Droste, LCSW – September 10, 2021 –

Life is busy. Most parents feel stretched by stressors related to work demands, organizing family schedules, managing household functions like grocery shopping, planning meals, cleaning, and laundry.

When we’re stressed as adults, those feelings have a way of spreading through the home, creating an atmosphere where attitudes and short tempers can seem to come out of nowhere.

Stress is part of life; at times it is even good for us. But how can we manage the stressors of parenthood and be the positive parent we always thought we would be?

Managing and coping with our feelings is so important because our children are looking to us for guidance on how to handle similar situations. Teaching a child to regulate their emotions begins with us.

So how can we model positive self-regulation? Become familiar with using an intentional pause when feeling overwhelmed so that you respond to situations with intention. Often times we are reacting versus responding.

Reactions usually come from a place of frustration and anger. Taking a moment to pause and reflect will foster an intentional response, one rooted in patience and understanding. Once we’ve regulated ourselves, we can then parent in a productive, meaningful, and respectful way.

Below are some tips and ideas for implementing positive parenting strategies into your routine.

  1. Utilize everyday moments to build connection. This can be accomplished in many ways, but one simple way is to own our mistakes when we make them. This illustrates to our children that even adults make mistakes and we all have growing and learning to do. Having these honest conversations with our children builds connection but also helps them learn to problem solve in the future.
  2. Be loving but firm. So much of positive parenting is in our tone and the way in which we speak to our children. We can speak in a loving and respectful way while still being firm in our expectations. A calm, firm “no” is more effective than shouting “NO” in frustration. Set boundaries. Decide what rules are important to you, clearly communicate them to your child, and be consistent with enforcing those rules. Being a positive parent doesn’t mean letting your child walk all over you. It does mean trying to maintain a calm tone when your child needs reminders about the rules.
  3. Change the lens through which you see your child’s behavior. All behavior is communication and under that communication is a need. Often the underlying need is a bid for connection. Take a moment to practice that intentional pause and think about why your child may be exhibiting certain behaviors. If we start seeing behavior problems as stress behavior versus misbehavior, we can help our children communicate their needs and feelings in a more productive way.
  4. Give yourself grace. Step away and take a breath if you need to. Doing this will allow you to come back and respond in the way your child needs you to.

Positive parenting takes practice, awareness, and patience. Don’t expect perfection. It starts with the simple step of making a commitment to show up every day with the intent to parent with understanding, empathy, and respect.

By Lori Powell, LCSW – September 1, 2021 –

Not many people can say they’ve read a story to a cat. Surprisingly, our furry feline friends can prove to be avid listeners, like my cat Jazzy! Jazzy and I have been registered through Pet Partners as an Animal Assisted Therapy Team since 2018. The Paws and Tales Program allows children to read books to cats, which is an awesome way to encourage children to read even just one page.

Prior to the pandemic, Jazzy and I would spend time at two libraries in Evansville to promote the importance of childhood literacy. When libraries began to re-open after pandemic closures, I was contacted about Jazzy returning to the libraries to continue these programs. My first thought was, “Of course we want to return!” But then I thought, “Is this really safe?”

At that time, I knew that I had to make an informed decision about whether or not we should continue to participate in this program. I began by reviewing information provided from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Although Jazzy is a healthy cat, I wanted to ensure both Jazzy’s and the program participants’ safety.

According to the CDC, there is currently no evidence of animals spreading COVID-19 to people, but there have been some reported cases of people spreading the virus to animals who have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

There are multiple ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to animals, including COVID-19 vaccinations for pet owners, staying 6 feet away from other people, avoiding places where someone has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or where social distancing cannot be maintained, asking individuals who may be sick to wear a mask when around the animal, and cleaning the animal’s harnesses and supplies on a regular basis.

Since it has been longer than a year since Jazzy and I were able to participate in the Paws for Tales Program, I also reviewed Pet Partners’ safety precautions, which require all individuals to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before and after petting the animal. 

With this information, I made the decision to take Jazzy for her first library appearance since March of 2020. At first she wanted to explore, but she was easily able to refocus once she remembered that this is an opportunity to earn treats and be petted.

There were only a few participants, which was ideal for reintroducing Jazzy to the library environment. The children were able to read to Jazzy, give her a treat, pet her, and brush her. The children seemed to have a wonderful time interacting with Jazzy and her return proved to be a great success!

Jazzy loves listening to children and adults read to her. Remember, Jazzy is always willing to listen regardless of the storyteller’s reading ability! Jazzy and I are scheduled to return to Red Bank Library in Evansville, IN on Thursday, September 16th from 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm CST. The plan is to begin offering this program monthly.

If you’re looking for a way to encourage your child to read aloud, bring them out to read to Jazzy!

By Staci Chambers, LSW – August 25, 2021 –

The last year and a half has certainly provided its fair share of uncertainties and changes. From school and business closures to stay-at-home orders, we have all had to adjust. Those adjustments inevitably lead to spending extended periods of time at home.

For some, this provided a silver lining among all the stress the pandemic generated:  more time with family. That time allowed for more flexible schedules and challenged us to find new ways to connect and comfort our family members. As time has progressed, it seems that our planners are beginning to fill up once again.

It is easy to get caught back up in our busy schedules like before as we return to school and work. The family time that was so precious during the prime of the pandemic is now more limited. The following are simple and inexpensive ways to incorporate family time into our schedules as we become busy again.

1. Prioritize mealtimes. Whether it is breakfast or dinner, at the table or on the couch, mealtimes are great opportunities to reconnect and update each other on recent experiences. Cooking a meal together may even be a fun task to complete together.

2. Plan a family night. At least once a month, plan a family night in. This may include takeout night, movie night, or game night. The kids will love to help plan this.

3. Go on regular evening walks with your family. When the weather permits, going on a walk with the family is a simple way to get some fresh air, chat, and exercise.

4. Be a part of the kids’ bedtime routine. This applies more to families with younger children. Make it part of the nightly bedtime routine to tuck them into bed and read them a book. This is a great way to wind down from the day with your child.

5. Create a group chat for texting. This applies more to families with older children. Creating a group chat for the entire family is a convenient way to share stories, pictures, and day-to-day experiences with one another. 

Time is a worthy investment to make when it comes to your family. Small strides to keep your family members connected can make all the difference. Consider implementing just one of these ideas into your family’s routine as the bustle of returning to school and work unfolds.

One concept that is ever present in my mind these days is adjusting to the “new normal.” Among all of the other changes we have had to adopt, why not make prioritizing time with your family another “new normal?” This is one that all members of the family are sure to appreciate and benefit from.

By Kelli Chambers, LCSW – August 18, 2021 –

When we talk to fellow parents about how hard our jobs can be, we often hear responses like, “Oh yeah, I’ve experienced that too. That’s just part of being a mom/dad.” Sometimes it feels as if your child’s needs are endless and seem impossible to manage. Of course our child’s happiness is what we as parents strive for, but sometimes we need more.

We often hear about how people feel burnt out in their jobs or even in their relationships, but rarely do we hear about feeling burnt out on parenting. It almost feels taboo because parents have been taught that being tired, stressed, and overwhelmed is just part of it.

Social media plays a big role with the expectation of being the “perfect” family who has it all together. These expectations are unrealistic and untrue. There will inevitably be times of stress, chaos, and unhappy emotions in every family.

So what does parental burnout look like? Burnt out parents are exhausted from the never-ending demands of parenting. They can feel as if they are on autopilot or in survival mode. Your sleep can be negatively affected – both the amount and quality. Going to work can serve as a relief. There, you might feel calm, focused, and successful, where you might not feel that at home.

Parental burnout can be broken down into three categories: exhaustion, detachment, and inefficacy. Just as it sounds, exhaustion is never getting to fully recharge. Detachment is being less able to take pleasure in day-to-day activities with your children. Lastly, inefficacy shows through when parents feel they are ineffective in their parenting.

We can’t give what we don’t have. It is our responsibility as parents to identify when we are struggling and to make a decision about what to do about it. Our kids ultimately feel the consequences of our lack of self-awareness or self-care.

One of the biggest effects on our kids is when we are not able to attune to them. We can’t be our most patient, loving, and nurturing selves if we are disconnected from our own needs.

Parents often struggle with taking time to do something for themselves when they could be doing something for their child instead. By taking care of ourselves, our kids are reaping a bigger benefit. They get a parent who is fully present and engaged. Here are a few ways to alleviate some of your burnout symptoms:

  1. Reach out to your doctor or therapist to discuss any concerns.
  2. Ask your partner to take something off of your plate or utilize daycare to give yourself time to rest or do something that makes you happy.
  3. Give yourself permission to say no to demands that will stretch you too thin.
  4. Communicate your needs to your partner/loved ones.
  5. Prioritize your sleep.
  6. Take care of your body through exercise, healthy eating, etc.

Another good way to do a self-check is to use Dr. Oscar Serrallach’s acronym SPAN. Identify what your true needs are and determine what you need to do to fulfill them.

S- Sleep

P- Purpose

A- Activity

N- Nutrition

Parenthood, at times, can be a difficult and thankless job, but it is a job many of us would not trade for anything. Being mindful of your needs allows for a better version of yourself, and your kids will directly benefit.

By Diane Braun, Project Manager – August 12, 2021 –

Many parents struggle with getting their young child’s attention and teaching them to follow simple directions such as picking up toys, throwing away a napkin, or going to bed. What’s the secret to getting them to listen?

It starts with making the direction as simple as possible. There might be a long list of things to do before bedtime, but most children aged three to five have trouble devoting attention to more than one task at a time.

Saying something like, “Please pick up your toys, brush your teeth, and get your pajamas on,” will probably result in no action by the child at all. These are called “chain directions,” which are usually more appropriate for older children. Breaking the chain down to one link or task at a time will result in better understanding.

Vague directions can also be a problem. Saying “Behave yourself!” or “Be careful!” are not specific directions. Instead, explain how you expect your child to behave. Telling them directly what you expect helps them understand your expectations. Phrases like, “I expect you to sit quietly while we watch the movie” are much more effective.

Notice that directions should not be presented as a question. “Would you like to pick up your toys now?” is a question that most children would say no to. “It’s time to pick up your toys” is a direct statement of expectation. Keeping the direction short and to the point makes the task seem more doable to a child.

Tone of voice is also important when giving directions. Many parents have “THAT VOICE” they use when they want to get a child’s attention. Most children recognize when they are being told to do something with no room for negotiation.

When a small child begins learning to follow directions, you may have to say it a few times before they comply. Once they start listening and following through, remember to recognize that they’ve listened and done what was asked.

Rewards for good behavior don’t have to cost money—a high five, happy dance, or an extra ten minutes of television before bedtime are all exciting for small children. Use these incentives to encourage positive behavior in the future.

By Deena Bodine, LCSW – July 28, 2021 –

Parenting is no easy task. The teen years are notorious for challenging parents. While these years are a time of growth and a move towards independence for teens, parents may struggle to find a balance between encouraging independence and hovering too much. 

Distinguishing normal teenage behavior from serious problems can be difficult. While it is important for teens to grow their problem-solving capabilities, parents also need to be available to help when their child is feeling overwhelmed. Consider how your teen is fairing in school and their relationships for helpful clues.

Also, is your teen openly communicating with you about their daily life? If you are concerned about any of these areas, follow up with their school’s Youth First Social Worker or counselor about how to best help them. 

While it can be difficult to admit that your teen needs more help than you can offer, there are some issues that require professional counseling and intervention. Teens may need to meet with a professional for a variety of behavioral or emotional concerns, mental health issues, stress, relationship difficulties, substance use, or traumatic experiences.

It is important to recognize some warning signs so that you can seek help for your teen in a timely manner. Signs of depression, running away, participation in illegal activities, acting out sexually, self-harm, or abusing substances are all clues that immediate intervention is needed.

Other warning signs that there may be cause for concern include failing classes, changes in friends or activities, changes in eating habits, inappropriate anger or other significant changes in mood. These behaviors require consideration that your teen may be struggling with more than they can handle. 

After determining that your child needs professional help, seek more information from the school’s Youth First Social Worker, counselor, or your child’s pediatrician. They can assist in a variety of ways that may include completing an assessment, providing additional support, and offering information about referrals and other resources.

While it is not easy to ask for help, it is important to help your child get the assistance they need to be healthy. You may feel a wide range of emotions from guilt to worry to regret. These feelings are all normal, but don’t allow them to prevent you from helping your teen get professional counseling. Not only are you securing help for your teen during a difficult time, you are teaching them an important life lesson about asking for help when needed. 

Abby Betz, LSW – July 21, 2021 –

As a school social worker, I have worked with students of all ages in both public and private schools. I have found, unfortunately, that the majority of students are unable to verbalize what they like about themselves. Most students lack the ability to talk about positive conditions of self-worth.

I recently did an activity with second grade students and asked them to think about things they liked about themselves or what character traits they possessed which were most desirable. Although this may be a tough concept for some students to grasp, most students were unable to name something about themselves that they liked, with the exception of superficial or materialistic things, such as, “I am good at sports,” “I like my shirt,” or “I like my hair.”

It became evident that most children may not receive constructive feedback in the form of positive conditions of self-worth from their parents, caregivers, family, or friends. This saddened me, and I wondered, “What can we do to teach our children to love themselves for reasons other than being athletic or beautiful/handsome?”

As imperative as this is for parents and caregivers to understand and practice, it is equally as important for school staff to instill these skills in our children, as we spend a great deal of time with them every day. The following suggestions can help adults empower children and teach them to value their strengths.

  1. Introduce positive conditions of self-worth at a young age. Simply telling your child, “you are important” can be the catalyst to promoting positive self-worth as they grow older. By incorporating positive affirmations into everyday life, children will begin to understand how much they matter and recognize that their caregivers and teachers see them as worthy of their time, love, and attention.
  1. Focus on the positive. Providing praise and encouragement for achievements and good behavior instead of focusing on the negative or end-result can improve your child’s sense of self. Including your child in the decision-making process in your family (depending on the situation) can also help a child feel empowered and important. This is equally as important to practice at school as it is at home.
  1. Allow your child to grow from their mistakes. Fostering a positive growth mindset in children by providing reassurance that their abilities can improve over time helps reduce the pressure to be perfect. Teaching children that making mistakes is okay and turning these mistakes into “teachable moments” is a valuable learning opportunity. Kids will understand they have the power to problem solve and come up with solutions on their own.
  1. Encourage extracurricular interests or hobbies. Supporting your child’s passions can help them discover their own strengths and weaknesses. Deciding what activity your child is going to participate in without their input will stifle their creativity and erode the feeling they have some control over their own lives.

Creating positive conditions of self-worth is extremely vital to the development of children with learning and thinking differences as well. Giving children with all abilities the skills to recognize their strengths helps boost self-worth and makes for a successful childhood and future. In the words of American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

By Lisa Cossey, LCSW – July 7, 2021 –

Parenting can be like spending time on a seesaw. There are ups and downs. Parenting with your partner when you don’t see eye-to-eye on discipline methods, however, adds another challenging element to the mix.

In cases like this, both parties need to sit down and discuss discipline philosophy. Discipline means “to teach” and should not be looked upon as being punitive. Children are smart, and if they see that one partner does not discipline the same way the other does they may try to manipulate the situation, leading to conflicts between partners.

It is important that children understand they cannot get their way by winning one parent over. Children should see their parents as a unified team. Working together as a team and communicating daily will help guard against confusion and head off potential family arguments and conflicts.

Here are a few suggestions to help couples work together in parenting. These strategies can help cultivate healthier relationships between all parties within a household.

1)     Consistency is key. Both partners should agree on which behaviors are desirable and which are unacceptable. Both partners also need to agree on the parental response to their child’s behaviors. What will the logical consequences be? If possible, include children in creating a behavior plan or family plan to follow. Make sure that your behavior plan is age appropriate and has realistic expectations. We want both the children and the plan to succeed!

2)     Demonstrate and practice with children what exactly is expected. For example, if you ask them to pick up their toys, show them how to do that. (i.e. – It does not mean they hide them under the bed, but instead should put them in their toy box or in their closet). If they do not pick up, they might lose their favorite toy for a day (or more) depending on their age. This is an example of a logical consequence.

3)     Use logical consequences whenever possible. For example, on Wednesday, they are asked to have their room clean by Friday night in order to spend time with a friend. If they choose not to do that, then they will not be able to get together with their friend. Be sure to offer positive reinforcement with your children at every opportunity for making good choices. When they make mistakes, ensure that the consequences are logical and age appropriate.

4)     Make your expectations clear. Another strategy is to have children repeat back the request/command you have made. To ensure better understanding of the directions say something like, “What is it that I just asked you to do?” Using a chore chart or calendar assists with putting chores in better order and creates better rhythm and routine in the home.

5)     Engage in learning opportunities as a family. Reading a story to a preschooler or nursery rhymes with repetition all create the moments of simple directions and serve and volley interactions that improve brain development and learning as they grow. Encourage better focus by playing games like “I Spy” or “Red Light Green Light.”

Helping children become responsible adults is our goal. Kids build self-worth by doing and learning that they are capable of accomplishing things on their own. Behavior plans will also teach them to pay attention, focus on the task at hand, remember the rules and consequences, communicate and learn self-control.

Creating these positive interactions will help children grow into confident people poised for success.

By Shannon Loehrlein, LCSW – June 30, 2021 –

The numbers are staggering. According to the CDC, 61% of adults in the United States endured an adverse childhood experience in their youth. Childhood trauma comes in a variety of forms. It can be caused by divorced or incarcerated parents, death of a parent or caretaker, physical/emotional/sexual abuse, substance abuse in the home, mental illness, and poverty.

Why does this matter? Adverse childhood experiences can affect short term and long term physical and emotional health. Childhood trauma also negatively affects development. Children who experience toxic stress on a continuous basis cannot develop properly without the help and intervention of caring adults.

In short, when we experience prolonged toxic stress in childhood such as abuse, neglect, or domestic violence, our brains cannot thrive and grow. Unfortunately, if these problems are not treated, they can eventually lead to significant physical and mental health problems later in life. 

Children who have experienced trauma are in a constant battle with their physiological flight/fight/freeze response. Many children who experience this do not have parents or adults at home to help them feel safe. These children need adults or trusted authority figures outside of their home to help give them a sense of safety and security. 

Schools are uniquely positioned to play an important role in a child’s life. Teachers, school administrators, social workers and school staff have the opportunity to be role models for students if they don’t have positive influences at home. Children who have just one positive adult in their life are much more likely to thrive and be resilient later in life.

Now that we know childhood trauma is a serious and pervasive problem in America, it is important to know how to mitigate the damage. I recently completed an excellent training on Trauma Informed Resilient Schools by STARR Commonwealth. In the training, they recommended steps to take into the classroom to help students with trauma.

STARR recommends providing students with security, structure, and consistency to minimize anxiety and reduce instances of flight/fight response in students. When students are in a flight/fight/freeze response, they cannot focus on learning. STARR noted that students test better and teachers have more job satisfaction when trauma protocols are in place.

If students have a positive environment at school, it helps them weather the storms of their personal lives. Having rituals and routines that make students feel connected and welcome at school increases their engagement within a healthy environment. It is also important for adults to be aware of possible triggers that students could be having in the classroom in response to noise, raised voices, or lack of structure.

I am hopeful that although trauma is a significant problem in our culture, adults and educators can have a significant impact on children’s lives by being nurturing and emotionally available to children in need.