Tag Archive for: YouthFirst2022

By Christine Weinzapfel-Hayden, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

Children are creatures of habit. They thrive in calm, consistent, predictable environments. When there is change for them, or even when they have the anticipation of change, it can create anxiety.

As much as we would love to put our kids in a protective bubble, it is impossible to create a life for our children that is free of any fears or anxiety. Rather, what we should aim to do is help give them the tools, the strength, and the confidence to navigate new, anxiety-provoking situations with confidence and bravery.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell what anxiety looks like, especially with older children who more naturally start to pull away from their families. Some symptoms include new feelings of overstimulation (or becoming more easily overstimulated), becoming “hyper focused” on things they are worried about, feeling overwhelmed by daily tasks, or expressing fear of participating in activities or leaving home.

They could also have physical symptoms, such as stomach aches, headaches, bowel issues, or consistently feeling sick. As a parent, it can feel incredibly overwhelming when your child is struggling in these ways. However, it is important to know there are many tools we can put in your toolbox to help guide them through their more difficult moments.

  1. Be a model of self-regulation. This means when we see that our child is feeling anxious, we want to help them learn how to self-regulate and express how they’re feeling in a healthy way. It is important to remember that our children need to be calm before they can talk to us about what they are feeling.

There are several great strategies for helping a child self-regulate when they are feeling “big feelings.” First, I would recommend deep breathing with long, slow breaths. Inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, release for four seconds. The second technique is 5-4-3-2-1 grounding, which helps children find five things they can see, four things they can hear, three things they can feel, two things they can smell and one thing they can taste.

  1. Help them with visualizations. Visualization entails using the mind to picture a place that makes them feel safe and calm. They can use this very powerful tool at any time.
  1. Ask them to choose an activity you know they enjoy. This could include creating something artistic, being physically active, listening to or playing music, etc. By joining them in the activity while they are upset, you are re-enforcing the activity as a coping mechanism.

Anxiety is a big feeling. It can be overwhelming for the child as well as the parent. Together you can use healthy coping skills and communication to help your child work through their anxiety.

If you feel things are not getting better, professional help is always a positive choice for your child. Teaching our kids that it is okay to ask for help when they need it is also important. The Youth First Social Worker in your child’s school is always available to help as well.

By Dawn Tedrow, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

When I was younger, my parents knew who my friends were. They knew their parents, when I would be at their house, and what time I would be returning. If I decided to walk to a different friend’s house, I was required to either call my parents first or return home and get permission. Planning was an essential skill we were taught early in life. 

Now that cell phones have replaced our landlines, it is much easier to keep tabs on our children. We feel safer knowing they can contact us immediately. Parents feel safer knowing their child has a cell phone and can even track their location on most phones.  However, do you really know whom your kids are communicating with on their cell phone? Your child has access to much more than you realize, and strangers have access to your child through their phones.

If your child has a cell phone, it is important to monitor it on a regular basis. Who is your child talking to on the phone? They will always say it is a “friend,” because they truly feel like this person is someone they can trust. Unfortunately, kids are quick to trust people they don’t really know and pass along personal information that could put them in danger. If you don’t know this person or their parents, then your child should not be talking to them.

What apps have they downloaded? Many social media apps are popular among teenagers. Younger children hear about apps and want to explore them, but this opens the door to many dangerous situations. If your child wants to be on social media, talk with them about an appropriate age they will be allowed to create accounts.

Games can seem harmless as well, but hackers can use them to get information from your child’s phone or attempt to talk to with them. Educate yourself about social media apps and check your child’s phone regularly to ensure they have not downloaded anything that could put them at risk. 

Cyberbullying is also a risk. Children need to learn appropriate social skills and healthy relationships with their friends. These interactions can be easily monitored in person but become difficult when they occur on cell phones. It is too easy for a child to send a message or text that hasn’t been well thought out. These messages quickly spread to other children and escalate. Encourage your child to socialize with their friends face to face and save phone interactions for important calls or emergency situations.

It’s also important to model appropriate cell phone use. Our children will imitate what they see adults doing. If you want to see your child engaging with people face to face, then allow them to see you doing this as well.

By Niki Walls, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Resiliency is something many of our children utilize unknowingly every day. So, what exactly is resiliency? Resiliency is building immunity to stressors and adversity; or in other words, the many ways we can adapt and learn from stressful experiences. Resiliency is more of an adaptive skill that is trainable and less of a fixed personality trait.

Developing resiliency can help students stand up to bullies, lose a competitive event with grace, say no to negative influences, and even cope with traumatic experiences like abuse or neglect. The adverse childhood experiences that some children face do not discriminate by age, gender, or location, although certain populations are more vulnerable. Although we all face stressors of various kinds, the way we are taught to cope with those stressors determines our ability to overcome adversity.

Resiliency can be tricky to measure because not all stressful events are the same. The way children respond to stressors can influence the severity of the stressor itself. Some situations may seem mild to some and very serious to others. Sometimes stressors are short lived while others last quite a long time.

The way children learn from stressful experiences is a key part of building resiliency. They must be able to grow and adapt from the stressful events they face instead of accepting defeat. Focusing on the growth perspective and positive circumstances will help them improve their ability to bounce back from stressful situations. Working on developing appropriate coping skills and mindfulness strategies is also important when considering resiliency development.

In the past few years, our children have faced multiple stressful events. They have lived through a pandemic and the challenges it brought with it, such as virtual learning, heightened anxiety, financial hardships, loss, and more. Children have proved their resiliency in ways adults had not prepared them for. While it has been challenging, children have been able to grow and strengthen their resiliency despite negative circumstances.

The world can only hope children are able to look back on some of the difficult events that unfolded in the last few years and recognize the ways they became stronger. As adult role models, we can model resiliency for our children by managing our responses to these types of stressful events. The more we respond capably to adversity in front of children, the more we increase their resiliency and the likelihood they grow to become healthy, well-adjusted young adults.

By Sarah Audu, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

It seems all new parents are warned about the much-dreaded “terrible twos.” I have reflected upon my own journey as a new mom and have given this phrase much thought and consideration.

Throughout pregnancy, new parents dream of what their child will be like, and their love for this child is already indescribable. When the child is born, our love for them only grows a million times more. At the same time, parents are trying to figure out how to care for a tiny human, which is a process full of self-doubt and deep emotions.

Society understands that having a newborn is hard, and support is commonly shown to new parents. Is that same support always given to parents when their baby grows into a toddler?

Imagine a time when you’ve seen a toddler throw a tantrum at the grocery store. Situations like those can often be viewed as annoying, obnoxious, or simply the result of bad parenting. Now that I am the mother of a two-year-old, I have more respect for parents raising toddlers, because this phase is not for the weak! (LOL)

Behavioral tantrums can include kicking, hitting, crying, screaming, throwing themselves on the ground, rolling around, and more. Tantrums may be triggered by something that upset the child, such as being told “no,” or can occur for seemingly no reason at all.

These negative behavioral outbursts are extremely defeating for parents. Parents are typically putting their best effort towards teaching their children to behave positively, make good choices, communicate effectively, and calm down when they are upset.

In my own experience, I try my best to teach my child positive social-emotional skills and practice these things with him daily. However, that did not stop him from screaming, kicking, and refusing to walk with me when we were trying to leave a restaurant.

One arm was carrying a heavy infant seat with my 8-month-old, and my other arm was carrying my toddler, who was still screaming and refusing to walk. I received many annoyed stares from bystanders, and the looks on their faces just communicated, “Why can’t you get him to stop?” I was trying everything. I felt so defeated.

I am forever grateful for the woman who stopped me right before I reached the door and said, “Would you care if I helped you?”

What needs to be remembered is that toddlers are still trying to figure out this big world. They are trying to learn to communicate and express themselves. They are trying to find their independence.

As I reflect on my experiences, the word that comes to mind is “grace.” As adults and parents, we should put more effort into showing grace to toddlers as they navigate the world. We should show more grace to other parents, as they are trying their best. Lastly, we should be intentional about showing grace to ourselves, as we have earned it as well.

By Brooke Skipper, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

No school, sweet treats, presents, and parties…You might think this is every kid’s dream! If you have a child with anxiety, however, you know this combination can be a huge trigger.

While a long school vacation might feel like a relief for many kids, the break in routine can be difficult for those with anxitety. The parties, loud noises, and bright lights can create sensory overload for anxious kids.

For children who struggle with anxiety or who are simply more introverted, the constant activity and socializing can be very overwhelming. To minimize meltdowns, tantrums, and stress for the whole family, work on coping ahead of time by employing some simple strategies.

1.    Identify the warning signs. Talk with your child about how their body feels when they are anxious. Are they experiencing sweating, racing heart, or butterflies in their bellies? Pay attention to your child’s behavior during anxious times. Some warning signs may be:

·       Excessive tears or clinging to parents

·       Isolating

·       Psychosomatic complaints (headaches, stomach aches, random pains that cannot be explained)

2.    Create coping strategies. Once you and your child understand the warning signs, know what to do to decrease anxiety before it spirals. The more a child can practice these coping skills, the better at them they will become. Make sure your child’s favorite coping tools go with you to events and outings. Some easy skills to try are:

·       Journaling

·       Music

·       Art expression

·       Exercise

·       Deep breathing

·       Fidgets or stress balls

3.    Set expectations. Let your child know what the schedule for the day is. Describe the events you will be attending, who will be there, and what your child may enjoy while there. This helps your child feel more in control and less anxious.

4.    Make time to reconnect. With the holidays full of busy schedules and lots of family and friends, it can be hard to have meaningful one-on-one time with your child. An anxious kid craves that slow-paced rest and relaxation time spent with you as their safety net. Find time to recharge with your child each day, talk through how they are feeling, and identify any needs they have.

Children thrive on routine. Finding ways to maintain some form of normalcy during this chaotic time can be extremely beneficial for an anxious child. Try to ensure your child gets plenty of restful sleep and eats nutritious meals, even if bedtimes and mealtimes shift to accommodate events.

Remember, you are your child’s best advocate. If there is an event that just does not work for your family, it is ok to maintain boundaries and not attend.

By Jana Pritchett, Communications Manager at Youth First, Inc. – Updated 12/15/2022

Christmas is almost here, and kids everywhere are hoping to be on Santa’s good list. Popular toys like Squishmellows and LOL Dolls are on many kids’ lists, as are classics such as Star Wars figurines, LEGO sets, and Barbie.

We all hope to give our children the presents they want, but what do our kids really need from adults this holiday season? What gifts can mom, dad or grandparents provide to help them become happy, healthy, successful adults?

Here is my list of the essentials:

1.     Security and stability. Kids need the basics — food, shelter, clothing, medical care and protection. In addition, a stable home and family environment make them feel safe, and being part of a family gives them a sense of belonging.

2.     Full attention. Be present. Turn off your phone, the TV and all gadgets and listen to them, especially at mealtimes and bedtime. Removing distractions lets them know they’re special and there’s no need to compete for your attention.

3.     Time. Spend quality family time together. Take the whole family to pick out a Christmas tree or to see a ballgame or holiday concert. Take each child on mom and dad “dates” to create special memories and boost their self-esteem, especially if they’re used to sharing parent time with siblings. Spending quality time together encourages deeper conversations and strengthens the bonds between parent and child.

4.     Love. Saying and showing your kids you love them can help overcome just about any parenting “mistake” you might make. Even when your kids have disappointed, frustrated, angered or disobeyed you, they must know you will always love them.

5.     Affection. Don’t wait for your children to come to you for hugs. Regular physical affection helps strengthen and maintain your emotional connection with kids of any age. When that bond is strong, kids act out less often and know they can come to you for support.

6.     Emotional support. Through good and bad times, kids must know you are there for them. According to Dr. Harley Rotbart of Children’s Hospital Colorado, “Parents’ words and actions should facilitate kids’ trust, respect, self-esteem and ultimately, independence.”

7.     Consistency. Parents need to work together to enforce rules. Important values should not be compromised for the sake of convenience or because the kids have worn you down. If parents are no longer married, mom and dad should still try to communicate and work together whenever possible to maintain consistency.

8.     Positive role models. Parents are their kids’ first and most important role models. Kids see plenty of bad behavior in the media. Be the kind of person you want them to become and don’t just give “lip service” to good behavior.

9.     Education. Give your kids the best possible shot for their future by stressing the importance of education. Providing guidance and teaching them life lessons during the time you spend together is also important.

Spending quality time with your kids is the best solution for just about any parenting dilemma. This holiday season and in the New Year, don’t stop with what’s on your child’s wish list. Give them what they really need — the gift of being the best parent you can be.

By Brandi McCord, Youth First, Inc.

As parents, we always strive to provide for our kids and guide them to become successful adults. During adolescence, the brain grows at a rapid rate and continues to mature until the age of 25. In that time, there are factors that can help brain growth and others that can hinder development.

Let’s dive into some steps we can take as parents to support our teens’ healthy brain development.

  1. Build a balanced home life. Just like outside environmental factors, the home environment can highly affect a teen’s well-being. As parents, we should be loving and supportive to our kids. This includes providing rules and instilling moral behaviors.
  1. Provide healthy experiences. Getting teens involved with a range of activities, hobbies, and experiences can also positively impact brain development. This could include suggesting your teen try out a new sport, having them create some artwork, or even encouraging them to join a club at school.
  1. Establish good sleep habits. Did you know that teens need more sleep than children and adults? Yes, you heard that right. Melatonin levels increase later in the night and drop early in the morning for teens. This explains why teens want to stay up late and then struggle to get up out of bed the next morning. Teens need an average of 9-10 hours of sleep a night. Try and stick with a routine to help unwind from the day. Taking electronics, such as the cell phone, out of their room can also help your teen get more sleep. They may not be happy about it, but just remember it is to help them grow!
  1. Encourage an active lifestyle.  Most of us know that exercise provides many benefits and additional energy! You can use physical activity to bond with your teen by taking a family walk or helping them find physical hobbies they enjoy.
  1. Offer healthy options. Brains need nourishment from a healthy, balanced diet. Try to help your teen avoid junk food and increase their intake of healthy foods like fruits and veggies. These nutrients help the brain thrive and develop.
  1. Develop a plan to manage stress. When your brain gets stressed, it does not develop appropriately. Work with your teen on developing a stress plan to keep the stress levels at a minimum. It’s helpful to find a plan that works for you too! Relaxation techniques such as yoga and mindfulness, along with healthy outlets like reading and writing can help reduce stress levels.
  1. Protect the brain from injury. Safety and protection are key for a brain to grow and mature. Encourage helmet safety and the use of seatbelt, along with discouraging use of harmful substances (drugs, alcohol, etc.). Teens are always looking for guidance and will look to you to help them. This is a great opportunity to model healthy behaviors.

By Julie Hoon, Youth First, Inc. – Updated 12/7/2022

The busy holiday season brings many priorities, and our mental health does not always earn a spot at the top of the list. However, gratitude and giving can have a direct link to improved health, increased happiness, and infinite joy…especially this time of year.

As a fundraiser for Youth First, I hear story after story about the joy that comes from giving. Our donors experience feelings of connectedness, wellness, and life satisfaction when they donate to Youth First, because they are giving to a cause they care about. They are helping kids thrive and are positively impacting the future of their community.

In fact, gratitude and giving are contagious, as I was recently reminded by Youth First donors James and Diane VanCleave. James and Diane have a heartfelt Christmas gift for one another that impacts kids and avoids the hectic hustle and bustle of the holiday rush: they each make a donation to Youth First in honor of their spouse.

“There was nothing material we could give each other that we didn’t have,” says Diane about their Christmas ritual, “so one year, James said he was making a donation to Youth First for Christmas on my behalf. I immediately said that I would like to do the same.” Years later, their gifts to Youth First have become a holiday tradition. James makes the first donation in honor of Diane, and then Diane makes her donation in honor of James.

James, an Evansville Police Department officer who worked as a school liaison officer for the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation after retirement, says he saw firsthand the value of Youth First Social Workers as an intervention for students to talk to rather than a police officer getting involved. Diane, a Youth First Social Worker who worked with Youth First founder Dr. Bill Wooten at the Mulberry Center early in her career, says social workers and teachers are making a change for kids and influencing lives. She says, “It just makes sense to support this work.”

Gratitude and giving can cause delightful spillover effects. When donating to a cause you love, you might see the ripple effect in your life from family, to friends, to work, and to yourself. Giving brings about a sense of gratitude for what we’ve been blessed with, along with happiness and joy in knowing you are helping others. Studies highlight an association with well-being and gratitude, resulting in fewer doctor’s visits, taking better care of self, and improved relationships. With giving, many people experience greater satisfaction in life, reduced stress, and a healthier outlook in general, both physically and mentally. 

Perhaps this season your holiday list may include giving to a charity you love? If so, I can assure you that joy and happiness will follow. Our community thrives and so does your mental health. James and Diane certainly agree that their Christmas gifts of giving to Youth First are a natural extension from their hearts to give back to their community. “Plus, it’s the perfect gift,” adds James. “It always fits and you will never have to return it!” 

Julie Hoon is the Vice President of Philanthropy for Youth First. If you would like to find out more about how to make a donation to Youth First, please contact Julie at jhoon@youthfirstinc.org. Youth First, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families, provides 83 Master’s level social workers to 110 schools in 12 Indiana counties. Over 60,000 youth and families per year are served by Youth First’s school social work and after school programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors and maximize student success. To learn more about Youth First, visit youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336.

By Nolan Miller, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Throughout the school year, kids are constantly learning new material and building upon their strengths. Even after the first day jitters dissipate and students settle into a routine, new academic and social stressors can emerge that cause anxiety for students. As a parent you want the best for your child, and the teacher wants the best for their student.

Teachers can’t always perceive when a student is having a rough day or is struggling with something socially. Parents are more likely to notice if their child is coming home upset or just seems off. The only way to help fix the situation is with communication. This could be as simple as talking to your child at home to see what is going on and reaching out to their teacher to express your concerns.

Communication between the school and parents is vital to a child’s success. If a student is struggling with a subject, a teacher can relay that information to their parent to start a plan towards improvement. If a student is stressed and upset about something going on at home, letting their teacher know they are having a rough day can allow the teacher to be on the lookout. Building that trust with the teacher, as well as the school, can allow your child to find success.

Good communication starts from day one on Meet the Teacher Night. It is important to understand how to contact your child’s teacher and to be aware of the expectations your child will have in the classroom. Make sure the school always has up-to-date contact information for you. This is vital, not only to keep you as a parent in the loop, but to keep your child safe if emergencies occur.

Another way to keep communication flowing is to volunteer when you can. Many schools allow parents to come in and tutor or help a teacher with extra work that needs to be completed. This will allow you to be a part of your child’s life while they are going to school and help you understand what goes on from day to day.

One of the last ways that you can get involved at your child’s school would be to join the PTO. Parent Teacher Organizations can serve as extensions of the staff and help strengthen the bond between parents, teachers, administration, and your community as a whole. 

Understanding what your child does on a day-to-day basis avoids any miscommunication between schools and parents. Working as a team is best and will help our students find success.

Giving Tuesday is a day of global generosity. Whether it is time, money, or advocacy, Giving Tuesday inspires us to give back to the causes close to our hearts.

What a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Youth First’s programs and services and the positive impact they have on over 50,000 students across Indiana!

Learn more about Giving Tuesday at givingtuesday.org. You can make a donation to Youth First at our Donate Page at youthfirstinc.org/donate.