By Laura Keys, LCSW, and Heather Miller, LCSW – May 21 2021-

More than half a million Americans have died of COVID-19 and, in Indiana, families are grieving the loss of nearly 15,000 loved ones. The pandemic will define a generation of children who lost a parent, grandparent or caregiver. A recent study estimates 43,000 US children lost a parent to COVID-19, not to mention the countless grandparents that have died as well.

In response to this need, Youth First will provide two free, daylong grief recovery retreats for kids this summer. Called Camp Memories, this retreat began five years ago as a way to address the need to help children in our community cope with grief. 

The Youth First program takes place on a designated Saturday from 9 am-5 pm.  Master’s level social workers facilitate the program. At Camp Memories, losing a loved one is the common denominator among participants. Children spend an entire day surrounded by people who have a true understanding of what they’ve experienced.

Camp Memories incorporates a variety of activities that help remove barriers to healthy grieving through games, art therapy activities, and free play. Geared to meet the needs of kids from 1st through 12th grade, the camp creates a safe environment for bereaved kids to process what they’re going through and get the care they need.  Additionally, parents are given an opening and closing meeting to keep them informed and equip them to be helpful as their kids leave the camp.

At the beginning of the day, children are typically hesitant about participating and nervous about what will be discussed. As the day progresses, they begin sharing their experiences as well as their emotional responses to these experiences. Sadness, anger, guilt, worry, and fear are some of the common emotions children express throughout the day.

Allowing them an opportunity to talk about their grief through activities geared for children helps them make sense of their emotions. Invariably, by the end of the day the group is smiling, chatting, and having fun playing with new friends.

This year’s Camp Memories dates are June 12 at Washington Middle School in Evansville and May 29th at Camp Illiana in Washington (Daviess County). Both camps start at 9 am and end at 5 pm. If your child has experienced the loss of a loved one and is interested in participating, please contact your school’s Youth First School Social Worker or Laura Keys at 812-421-8336 x 107. Space is limited. This is a free program that depends on donations to continue providing grief support for children.

By Kelsey Weber, LSW – February 10, 2021-

Many people gauge levels of student academic success based on teacher status, academic grades, or socioeconomic status. However, the real key to student success is none of these. The best indicator for student academic success depends on how involved families are with learning at home and in their child’s school.

Families involved in their child’s education at home and at school have higher academic achievements than those who do not. Many staff members such as social workers, teachers, counselors, and administrators play a vital role in connecting families with their school by encouraging family engagement. Family engagement is not only parent interest in their child’s learning; it is a shared responsibility with staff and teachers to meet educational goals and encourage a student’s growth.

When families are engaged in their child’s school life, kids develop a love of learning that will expand their knowledge base and sense of wonder. When teachers focus on family relationships, they often see change with those children in their classroom. The more teachers involve parents, the more motivation, positive behaviors, and good grades increase.

Teachers often encourage parent engagement and involvement by inviting parents to school meetings or events, asking them to volunteer at school or get involved with PTSA, or suggesting parents meet with their child’s teacher to set goals and objectives.

When parents and teachers commit to this learning atmosphere and work together to help students succeed, this is when we see success and growth. So, why is parent involvement so important? When school staff establishes relationships with families early on, families will feel more welcome and more willing to be involved in their child’s education. If those relationships are not established early on, parents may feel they are not supposed to be part of their child’s learning process.

Other factors can create a disconnect between parents and teachers, such as scheduling conflicts, transportation issues, and lack of cultural awareness for low-income or minority families. Working together to overcome these obstacles is an essential part of being an active participant in a child’s education.

Children with engaged parents are more likely to earn higher grades and test scores, graduate from high school and attend post-secondary education, develop self-confidence and motivation in the classroom, and have better social skills and classroom behavior. According to waterford.org, children with engaged families are also less likely to struggle with low self-esteem, develop behavioral issues, or need redirection from their teacher in the classroom.

So, how can parents become more involved with their child’s school life?

  1. Save contact information for your child’s teachers to be sure you can easily
    address any concerns or questions regarding your child’s progress.
  2. Connect with the school by attending school events, meetings, and parent-teacher committees.
  3. Discuss classroom goals with teachers.
  4. Be responsive to both positive and negative feedback from teachers about your
    child’s progress.

Teachers can encourage more family involvement in the following ways:

  1. Give parents your contact information to encourage parents to reach out when
    needed and establish a strong communication with the teacher.
  2. Invite parents to connect with the school by sharing school events, meetings, and parent-teacher committees.
  3. Discuss classroom goals with parents.
  4. Establish a connection with parents in person as much as possible. Communicate often with both positive and negative phone calls, upcoming events, and any classroom concerns you may have.

When parents and school staff work together, student academic success grows. By working together and establishing a relationship early on, this creates a positive school and working environment.

Support Youth First by purchasing half pot raffle tickets now! Winner will be drawn on September 30, 2020. Raffle tickets can be purchased from Youth First staff and board members, at the Youth First office Monday through Friday 8am to 12pm, or by filling out the contact form here.

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 Valorie Dassel, LCSW – January 7, 2020

Parenting in this era can be overwhelming. There are many opinions and parenting styles that can be argued. 

However, when we are facing drug and alcohol use among our teenagers, there must be an “all hands on deck” approach. It is a community issue that requires parents and adult mentors to communicate clearly with our teens while understanding both sides of the coin.

There are clearly reasons why our teens engage in risky behaviors, and it is important to acknowledge this while at the same time educating them on the severity of the risks. Visit websites such as drugfree.org and youthfirstinc.org to educate yourself on how to talk to your teen about drug and alcohol use. 

The following are some tips to guide substance use conversations with your teen:

  1. Ask your teen open-ended questions about the dangers of vaping, drinking and drug use. Use this conversation to guide discussion around the consequences about the things they care about in the “here and now.” Points to bring up include how substance use may affect their relationships and reputation. These are things they do not feel invincible about. They may do something that is embarrassing and have to deal with the social consequences at school on Monday morning. They may do something that they regret and consequently hurt a relationship or friendship. It is also helpful to aid in connecting their athletics and academics to substance abuse. If they are tired and hungover on the weekends, they will not feel like studying or practicing. 
  2. Be open with them about substance abuse issues in their family. According to the Genetics Science Learning Center of Utah, scientists estimate that a person’s genetics account for 40-60% of their risk of developing an addiction. Sharing family history and stories aids in the development of decision-making based on risks specific to them.
  3. In addition to genetics, individuals who suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, etc. are at a higher risk to abuse substances. The website dualdiagnosis.com is a good resource to help teens connect their emotional struggles to how they may self medicate with substance use.
  4. Clearly share your expectations and the consequences they will receive at home if they are found to be drinking, vaping, smoking or using drugs. It is important to create a relationship that allows the teen to share their struggles or experiences while also being aware of the consequences if caught using. 

Get to know the parents of your teen’s friends. Share with them your values and that you do not approve of them drinking, smoking/vaping or using drugs. There are parents who mistakenly feel they are protecting teens by allowing them to drink or use substances under their supervision, as they feel it is a safer alternative.

Developmentally, teens are beginning to individuate from their parents, which gives them the sense that they can make their own decisions and act independently. Educate yourself and others that this concept inadvertently gives them permission to drink/vape/drug on their own.

Remember that we as parents can educate and guide, but our teens will be the ones who make the decisions. It is our responsibility to keep them as safe and as educated as possible.  Most importantly, be there when they fall and help them back up.

Here’s a follow-up to our big news! The state of IN is endorsing our approach to prevention and wants to see it grow.

 

Learn more in this interview: http://www.tristatehomepage.com/…/brad-byrd-in-de…/719075441

By Alice Munson, MSW, Courier & Press, May 9, 2017 –

Anyone who attends school athletic events has probably noticed negative behavior in a small percentage of parents. These are the folks who believe winning is everything, and the opposing team, players and coach are not deserving of respect. Forgetting the meaning of sportsmanship, they make their opinions known to anyone within earshot.

We all like to see our children or team win, but there is much more we hope our children will learn from their involvement in athletics. Here are some things that come to mind:

  • Physical as well as mental challenges
  • How to adapt to unforeseen problems
  • Learning to show respect for the efforts of others
  • How to share time and talent
  • Learning to work harder and smarter to achieve goals

These are certainly lessons our children could use in day-to-day life outside of sports. Here are some additional benefits from participating in sports:

  • Learning problem solving
  • Learning to develop strategy
  • Developing trust in one’s self
  • Exposure to calculated risk taking

Looking at the last four benefits, you can see how easily they could translate to situations like standardized testing. This would certainly be a win for both athletics and academics so that these benefits could positively impact a student for life.

According to momsteam.com, here are some other behaviors you can model to make sure your child has a positive experience:

  • Don’t view the other team as the enemy. Talk with parents and players from the other team to send a message that the game isn’t life or death.
  • Congratulate and applaud ANY player (on either team) who makes a good play.
  • Have fun! If kids see you having fun on the sidelines, they will keep the game in perspective and realize they can be good sports and have fun too.

Don’t condone poor sportsmanship. Don’t cheer on the coach or player who gets ejected from the game because of bad behavior. Rather, use this as an opportunity to talk to your child about poor sportsmanship at home after the game.

Take a look in the mirror. How is your behavior on the sidelines viewed by other parents, coaches and players? Are you keeping your cool, remaining calm and under control in tough situations? Children learn self-control by watching adults model self-control.

When we get caught up in the emotion of a tie-breaking play, we need to remember that we all want our kids to win and they all deserve respect. The essence of competition is sportsmanship – learning to be gracious in winning as well as losing.

This is a quality that everyone can model for his or her child. After all, we are our children’s first and most important teachers. Let’s give them something to be proud of – parents who are positive and supportive of their student athlete, team and coaches.

After all, whose game is it anyway?

A very brave young lady shared her amazing story for this video. Her courage allows us to show others how lives can be saved and impacted through Youth First social work services and prevention and life skills programs.  You will be inspired by her courage and her gratitude for her Youth First Social Worker.