By Nolan Miller, MSW, LCSW – July 17, 2024 –

Picture this. You are in school and kids are choosing teams for a basketball game. Five students are very good at the sport and five may need to work on their skills a bit more. No matter how the teams are chosen, one team will have an advantage over the other. As a result, what should we do? Quit or play the game?

For some, this question is not so easy to answer. As a school social worker, I often see children who love to play games, sports, or anything that is competitive in nature, but they do not like to lose.

It’s safe to say none of us, even adults, really want to lose. It can make us feel like we are not good enough and therefore shouldn’t even try. However, this is far from the truth. We learn more from losing than from winning.

A better question is: How do we help our children understand that it isn’t always about winning and it’s okay to lose sometimes?

For example, when playing a board game (and I know as an adult I can win this game nine times out of ten), do I let the child win sometimes or beat them every time? Perhaps try to find a balance between victories and losses. It’s all about the discussion after the game and how the child reacts. When they win, are they enjoying the win or are they gloating that they are more skilled? This may give insight on how they feel when they are losing. When they lose, are they brushing off the loss or running away from the game saying they never want to play again? 

I grew up playing sports and games with my family. I didn’t enjoy losing. However, understanding that I was more than just a competitor in a game was a lesson I could use in different aspects of my life. Bad days happen, and we have the opportunity to learn and grow from them. Some factors are not in our control, and we can either run from our struggles or learn to control our reactions.

No one expects a child to take every loss in stride, but you can begin laying the foundation to accept losses with grace and courage. Whether they are competing on the field, the court, the stage, or just playing on the playground with friends, keeping the lines of positive communication open can lead to a more positive experience with others. 

By Haley Ballard, MSW, LSW – July 11, 2024 –

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. It is an important skill for children to develop, because it helps them understand and connect with others from all walks of life. Ensuring that your children learn about empathy will allow them to deepen their relationships with friends and other loved ones.

One of my closest relationships is with my little sister. I have spent more quality time with my sister than I have with anyone else, because we grew up so close and we still spend time with each other any chance we get. She knows how to make me laugh so hard, but she also knows how to push my buttons. Any emotion you can think of – excitement, pride, loss – I have felt with my sister. We have learned a lot about empathy by going through our major life experiences together.

When my sister was graduating from high school and had been accepted into college I felt so proud of her. I saw the struggle and the effort she put into her homework every night as I tried my best to help her understand math and writing prompts. I saw the pride in her face as she walked across the stage in her cap and gown at her high school graduation to receive her diploma. We also shared excitement as she opened up her college acceptance letter and received academic scholarships. In those moments, I could really empathize with her because it reminded me of how I felt when I graduated and was accepted into college.

When our family dog of twelve years died, my sister was there for me and I was there for her. I felt no one else understood what I was feeling better than she did, because we felt the hurt and loss together. We sat, cried, and talked about all the wonderful and silly memories we had of our dog running around in the snow, stealing our blankets, and the time she ate a whole pie while we were gone. Grieving the loss of our dog helped us connect and mutually feel love and loss.

My sister and I have helped each other go through the “ups and downs” of life. Because she has been there with me through it all, I have learned to connect more with her through the emotions we share. She has helped me learn to connect with others by being able to fully understand and share the feelings others go through.

Take the time to talk about and give names to feelings with your children to help them learn about empathy. Use real-life situations happening with siblings as a way to talk about and process their feelings. Be sure to point out when they are (or are not) showing empathy towards their siblings and help them practice it through their interactions with each other. This will help them develop their relationships as siblings and with other people in their lives.

By Kacie Shipman, MSW, LSW – July 3, 2024 –

It’s important to teach your child to communicate well from an early age. Getting your children to share their thoughts or feelings with you can sometimes feel like an impossible task. Often, as children age and their peers become an increasingly important part of their lives, they spend more time communicating with friends than their parents/caregivers.

As a school social worker, when working with teens and encouraging them to share with their parents, we discuss the barriers to being more open. First, students tend to share that their parents or caregivers are too busy to listen. The definition of busy can vary. I encourage children to think of times where they might interact with their parents, such as on a car ride home from school or practice.

Set aside a time where the distractions are limited and give kids an open opportunity by verbally reminding them you always have time for conversation. This is a good way to open a discussion. Sharing during car rides or dinner prep might be situations where they don’t feel pressured to make eye contact. 

Most children are concerned about the reaction they will receive when they share their feelings. Establish a plan where the child lets you know they have something on their hearts that needs specific, uninterrupted time for conversation. One way could be to leave a note or send a text that they would like to talk. This is a time where siblings or other household members understand that interruptions should be limited. Your child will feel valued by the specific time set aside.

During this time, provide them with the opportunity to share fully before expressing your thoughts or feelings. It’s a good idea to take an hour or wait until the next evening to give yourself time to reflect and regulate before responding.

Letting your child know that you won’t react in a big way can help decrease initial hesitation to talk about a difficult feeling or situation. If your child is concerned that what they share will bring about conflict or punishment, their hesitancy may override their desire to have you help them problem-solve or provide a supportive listening ear.

Share with your child that it is okay to reflect on your feelings and not make quick statements from an initial reaction. This will help in all of their relationships. Relationships suffer when things are said in haste or when we are dysregulated by the intensity of the discussion that may have caught us off guard.

Using statements to reflect how you are feeling by using “I” can help tremendously in making difficult conversations productive. An example of using an “I statement” with your child could be, “I felt a lot of fear and concern when your curfew passed last night and I wasn’t sure where you were.” Walls of defense go up when we hear “you” to start a conversation. When walls are up, the conversation tends to be defensive rather than on finding to a solution.

Being vulnerable and showing concern and fear rather than anger can also help keep your child’s walls of defense down. Overall, teaching and modeling positive healthy communication styles for your child teaches them lifelong skills. Positive communication skills will help your child in many aspects of both their private and professional lives.

By Chasidy Lambert, MSW, LSW – June 26, 2024 –

Life is busy! We’re managing so much in our daily lives to stay on top of things: jobs, kids, school, sports, other extracurricular activities, community projects, relationships with family and friends, staying healthy, managing finances…the list goes on and on. Getting all of these boxes checked can feel like a second job in itself. 

Our lives are buzzing as we attempt to make everything happen at once. It’s no wonder we are seeing the rise of young families moving away from the “city life dream” their parents once had to a minimalistic world view – a quieter life with activities like growing their own garden, decluttering, canning food, and other ways to escape the “chaos” and be more self-sufficient. 

Though escapism is not always healthy, we can appreciate the lost art of living a less stressful life by resting in our current reality. One way we can experience this stillness is through practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is a skill often used in meditation.

To practice mindfulness, you focus on the present without fear of the future or dwelling in the past. There are different ways to be mindful, but the gist of it is being completely in the moment without any distracting thoughts. Mindfulness is a great skill for all ages to learn.

Studies have shown that mindfulness helps children develop skills such as self-control and stress management. It helps adults reduce stress and learn to enjoy even the small moments. When families combine their individual practices of mindfulness, they are able to make more meaningful connections together. Though being still in the hustle and buzz is often hard, utilizing mindfulness can be a simple yet effective way to reset our minds and bodies.

One activity I would suggest is gratitude mapping. You begin by taking a breath, being mindful of all the things in your life you are thankful for, and then writing a list of those things. This activity shifts the focus to a more positive mindset, which results in fostering kindness in our interactions.

Another activity you can try as a family is mindful listening. There are so many ways to do this, but the easiest one is going outside and closing your eyes. What do you hear? Pay attention to the birds, wind, and other outside noises. You can take it a step further and notice the grass under your feet or the wind or sun on your face. You can also use calming music for this activity.

Breathing, movement, and growth are basic human functions needed to live a purposeful life. To achieve the art of being still, we can utilize our mindfulness skills to reset our bodies and remind ourselves that our “to-do” lists and events are not what define us. Rather, it is the interactions we have with those around us.

By Lizzie Raben, MSW, LSW – June 20, 2024 –

Are children disconnecting from nature? According to The National Recreation and Parks Association, today’s children spend less time outdoors than any other generation.

On average, children spend less than 10 minutes per day outside in unstructured play, compared to seven hours spent indoors in front of an electronic device. That’s around 1,200 hours a year in front of a screen. Multiple studies show that too much screen time leads to several detrimental effects on a child’s physical and mental well-being. Lack of development of fine and gross motor skills, increased risk for obesity, anxiety, depression, and decreased social interaction are just a few of these negative effects.

According to the website health.harvard.edu, while electronics play a pertinent role in decreased outdoor play, there are other contributing factors, such as concerns about sun exposure, emphasis on scheduled activities and achievements, and lack of safe outdoor play areas.

So why is outdoor play important? The following are reasons children need to play outside:

Physical Health: Immunity and Exercise

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, studies show many children have Vitamin D deficiencies. We need sun exposure to make Vitamin D, an essential vitamin used in many body processes such as bone development and building our immune system. Sun exposure stimulates a part of the brain called the pineal gland, crucial to keeping our immune system strong and improving our mood.

According to Harvard Health Blog, children should be active at least one hour a day. Allowing children to play outside encourages active play, considered the best exercise for children. When children play outside, they have more space for big movements: running, jumping, kicking, and throwing. These physical movements foster physical development.

Mental Health

When children spend time outdoors, they experience reduced levels of stress. Sunlight boosts serotonin levels, which helps regulate our mood and can decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Allowing children to play outside provides them with a natural and therapeutic environment.

Executive Function and Social Skills

Unstructured outdoor play allows children to build executive function skills. These mental skills allow us to negotiate, plan, multitask, troubleshoot, and more – all essential for daily life tasks. Spending time in nature allows children to explore, fostering their creativity and imagination. Children need time alone and with other children to use their imagination to problem-solve, entertain themselves, create their own games, etc.

It’s important that children learn social skills such as how to share, take turns, work together, make friends, and treat other people well. Only interacting in structured settings (like school) does not always allow the child to build these skills. Allowing them to play outside gives them space to practice these life skills.

Need some simple outdoor play ideas for your kiddo? Check out the following articles:

https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/play-learning/outdoor-play/outdoor-play

By Kelly Leavitt – June 11, 2024 –

As a Youth First Social Worker, I interact with children in an elementary school setting daily. Most students I serve have the world readily available with electronics such as cell phones, tablets, video games, the internet and social media.

Unfortunately, there is the risk of exposure to material parents are not aware of and wouldn’t approve of. Being able to recognize and understand how electronics can play a factor in your child’s development is key to their growth.

Limiting exposure to electronics has proven beneficial to children in a number of ways. Some of these benefits include increased creativity, socializing, and better sleep. Limiting exposure can also benefit one’s overall physical health, such as decreasing the risk of obesity and other health conditions related to obesity (diabetes, cardiovascular issues, etc.).

There are several ways to limit the use of electronics. Setting aside a specific time (with a time limit) to use electronics, monitoring your child’s activity, using parental controls and encouraging other activities are just a few. Some alternative activities may include playing a board game, reading a book, playing outside or arts and crafts.

Many of us are guilty of spending too much time with electronics and the internet. Unfortunately, many parents today are so busy, and electronics are a quick form of entertainment for the child. Between working, running the household, and all the daily tasks, parents are spread thin and sometimes need that “20-minute break.”

The negative effects associated with long-term electronic use are prevalent in school-aged children. Some of these effects include sleep deprivation, internet addiction, sensory overload and cyberbullying. As a social worker in an elementary school setting, I often observe these issues.

Parenting in our current electronic-based world is no easy task, but it is imperative to set guidelines for electronic use at an early age. Explain to your child the reason behind the guidelines and find a replacement activity instead. Zone in on your child’s interests and hobbies, giving them choices of how they would like to spend their free time.

According to www.pewresearch.org, parents reported the most common device their young children engage with is a television, with 88 percent of parents saying their young child only uses or interacts with a television.

The following statistics relate to the children and families I serve at the elementary school level:

  • 54 percent of children ages 5-8 use a desktop or laptop, while 73 percent of children ages 9-11 use a desktop or laptop
  • 80 percent of children ages 5-11 use or interact with a tablet
  • 59 percent of children ages 5-8 engage with a smartphone, whereas 67 percent of children ages 9-11 engage with a smartphone

It is no secret that technology is greatly influencing our world, and it is our responsibility to prepare our children. Having the tools, feeling informed and being prepared to help your child navigate our ever-changing technological world can make all the difference in their success.

By Rebecca Williams, MSW – June 6, 2024 –

Burnout is defined as chronic stress related to helping others. As a school social worker, I can certainly relate to this, and I believe teachers and other school personnel can as well. According to Michelle Ratcliff in the article, “Social Workers, Burnout, and Self Care” in the Delaware Journal of Public Health, social workers and mental health professionals are very susceptible to burnout.

Ratcliff also notes that a form of burnout we may feel the most is emotional burnout. This type of burnout comes from being emotionally drained and can result in feeling a low sense of personal accomplishment, depersonalization, and pessimism. According to social worker burnout statistics on the website crowncounseling.com, emotional exhaustion is observed at a rate of 70.3 percent of social workers. Current burnout rates among social workers are at 39 percent with a lifetime rate of 75 percent.

Maybe you have experienced burnout before or maybe you haven’t. Either way, we should try to prevent it or reverse it. As school-based service providers, I believe we are given a unique opportunity to combat the onset of burnout. This opportunity comes with holiday breaks and our longest break, summer.

Although some of us may take on an extra job or have young kids home in the summer, we should try our best to plan time for ourselves. We have many options during the summer to implement self-care for our families and ourselves. When I think of summer, I think of a time to take a vacation, go for walks, go on picnics, learn a new skill, go to the beach, or read a book entirely for pleasure instead of something educational. These new skills and forms of self-care we build on in the summer will better prepare us for a new school year in the fall and have us feeling refreshed to provide the best service.

It is also very important for our students to be refreshed. Summer is a perfect time for parents to engage with their children during a much-needed break. Teachers and school personnel should encourage families to implement their own forms of self-care.

According to the article, “Schools Out! Tips For Taking Advantage of Summer Break to De-Stress from the Hustle and Bustle” on the website psychiatry.org, many summer options can fit into any family and lifestyle. The first idea is to spend and enjoy time outside. This can be as simple as going for walks, going to a park, or going to the pool.

A second idea is to reduce the use of technology and electronics during summer break. Technology can have a negative effect on a young person’s mood and self-esteem, so it is important to encourage families to unplug their devices and find creative ways to interact with each other. Additionally, we should encourage our students to spend time with friends and keep their healthy/positive relationships strong.

Lastly, consider practicing mindfulness, which can be defined as paying attention in the present moment. Mindfulness can include practices such as meditation, walking while observing nature, mindful eating, or taking stock of how each body part is feeling while sitting or lying down. This is a way for the family to relax and build closer connections. Mindfulness is something I encourage with my students, and extending that to their family would be an added benefit. This way the family can reinforce progress the student has made and build good habits together.

By Sarah Laury, MSW, LCSW – May 30, 2024 –

The month of June is Pride month, dedicated to celebrating and recognizing members of the LGBTQIA+ community as well as supporters and allies. Pride is celebrated during the month of June in honor of the Stonewall Uprising, which took place in New York City on June 28th, 1969.

According to GLADD, an organization focused on LGBTQ advocacy and cultural change, Pride month provides “an opportunity for the community to come together, take stock, and recognize the advances and setbacks made in the past year. It is also a chance for the community to come together and celebrate in a festive, affirming atmosphere.” 

There are many ways you can celebrate Pride month in Southern Indiana.  Here are some of the events scheduled:

June 1st:    River City Pride Parade and Festival, Evansville

June 8th:   Warrick County Pride Festival

June 9th:   Pride Pickleball at Wesselman Park Courts, Evansville

June 14th: Resource Fair and Music Fest and Haynie’s Corner Pride Night, Evansville

June 15th: Pride in the Park at Garvin Park, Evansville

June 23rd: Pride Night at the Evansville Otters, Bosse Field

June 29th: Princeton Pride Festival

June 29th: Dubois County Pride

More information and a full calendar of events can be found at https://www.rivercityprideindiana.org/events.

Below are some resources specific to LGBTQIA+ youth:

University of Evansville Pride Camp – June 23rd-June 28th : According to the University of Evansville website, kids in grades 8-12 can “spend a week living on campus at the University of Evansville for this first-of-its-kind summer camp! Build lifelong friends with incredible activities throughout the week while learning about social justice and activism. Hear powerful stories of LGBTQ+ history and heroes – and learn how to write your own story your way.”  More information can be found on their website: https://www.evansville.edu/camps/pride-camp.cfm

Greater Evansville Youth is a youth group for LGBTQIA+ students and allies. According to their website, “Greater Evansville Youth creates a positive safe space for youth to build community with each other, learn how to advocate for themselves, and to express their individuality and personal identity.”  Groups meet weekly, and more information can be found on their website:  https://greaterevansvilleyouth.org/  

The Rainbow Jacket Project is a free clothing resource for trans, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming people.  According to their website, “The Rainbow Jacket Project strives to create a safe, supportive environment for trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming individuals. We offer free clothing and accessories to help affirm people’s gender identities, regardless of age or socioeconomic status.” https://rainbowjacket.wixsite.com/home

The Trevor Project is a nonprofit suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization that offers support and information for LGBTQIA+ young people 24/7, all year round. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/

By Amanda Haney, MSW, LSW – May 29, 2024 –

How does screen time affect your child’s sleep patterns?

Sleep is important to growing and developing brains. According to the CDC, toddlers need 11-14 hours of sleep, preschool-aged kids need 10-13 hours, school-aged kids needs 9-12 hours, teens need 8-10 hours, and adults need at minimum seven hours per 24-hour time period.

Sleep is an important indication of overall physical and mental health. Several things can get in the way of a healthy sleep schedule, but in recent years screen time has been high on the list for school-aged children.

Our sleep cycle (circadian rhythm) mostly takes its cue from sunlight. Our brains register when we need sleep based on when it becomes dark. When our circadian rhythm is out-of-sync, it can lead to insomnia. According to sleepfoundation.org, smartphones, tablets, computers, television screens, and some e-readers give off short-wavelength blue light that is very similar to sunlight. The blue light from these devices not only makes individuals more alert but also prevents the production of melatonin in the user’s body.

Not getting the proper amount of sleep can cause school-aged children to struggle at home and at school. This can cause poor school performance, poor attitude, decrease in mental health, and conflicts in relationships. It can also play a part in students having the inability to self-regulate, which causes more issues that are disciplinary.

According to Afy Okoye on the website sleepdoctor.com, “Not getting sleep puts teens in a kind of haze. That can have negative effects on the way they think, react and learn. It also has an impact on their ability to control their emotions and get along with adults. Not getting sleep can cause traffic accidents and accidental injuries, and it also results in teens acting impulsively and recklessly.”

The average teen uses electronics more than seven hours a day, according to Dr. Michael Breus (https://sleepdoctor.com/teens/how-screen-time-affects-teens-sleep/). They use electronics for school, as well as personal devices such as tablets, cell phones and even televisions. When teens and school-aged children spend more time on their devices, it leads to them getting fewer hours of sleep each night.

Here are some tips to help students improve their sleep schedules and ensure they get more hours of sleep each night:

1. Set boundaries for screen time. Have a conversation with your child and let them know your limits.

2. Stop device usage at least an hour before bed. Have a set bedtime to make this easier.

3. Remove electronics from the bedroom.

4. Wear blue light-blocking glasses.

5. Set a schedule and time limit for daily usage.

6. Practice good sleeping habits. Lead by example. Show your children how you follow these rules to improve your own sleep habits.

7. Give options of activities that students can do in place of using devices, such as reading a book, coloring, journaling, or spending time with family.

Sleep plays a major role in our children’s physical and emotional health. Too much screen time influences the amount and quality level of sleep. Setting screen time limits for our children can help them improve their sleep health and overall well-being.

By Haley Droste, MSW, LCSW – May 22, 2024 –

Everyone knows someone with a “glass half-empty” attitude about life. It seems like a dark cloud just follows them around, and it can be exhausting to spend too much time with them.

We also know people who are just the opposite; they always see the “silver lining” and fill the people around them with hope. Being positive or negative is not just a personality trait; it’s a way of thinking. Our brain is a muscle that can always learn new tricks. Training your brain to be more positive has many benefits – not just for the people around you – but also for you!

Even the most positive people have negative things happening in their lives. Being positive does not mean bad things won’t happen; it means you will be better equipped and more resilient when faced with adversity.

According to the Mayo Clinic, thinking positive is good for more than just your mental health. It also has physical health benefits, such as increased life span, decreased depression, and better coping skills during times of stress, which impacts cardiovascular health.

Knowing that thinking positive is good for you is one thing, but changing your way of thinking is something else completely. The first thing to do is just notice when you feel yourself sinking into negative thoughts. Noticing the behavior is the first step to correcting it. If you feel yourself consistently blaming others for things that go wrong, catastrophizing events, or expecting perfection from yourself or those around you, you could be following a negative line of thinking. Once you notice yourself doing these things, calling yourself out on the thought process (or asking someone to help you notice them) is the first step.

Practicing positive self-talk can be beneficial for this change as well. We tend to be our own worst critic. You can improve your self-talk by identifying your own strengths. Focusing on individual strengths can be a challenge if the practice is not familiar to you, but it is also very rewarding when your brain starts to learn how to focus on the positive. Try using daily positive affirmations to help rewire the thoughts you have about yourself.

The company you keep can also be a factor when it comes to your outlook on life. Surrounding yourself with people who think positively allows you to be more comfortable thinking this way as well. You also want to be sure that the people around you are supportive of you and your goals. Being with people who put down your ideas or view things in a more negative light can have an impact on your thought process and your self-esteem.

The power of positive thinking is limitless. There are many areas of our lives that can improve by consistently and purposefully focusing on the good around us. Practice leads to progress. The more you start integrating these skills into your day-to-day, the easier it will be to have a more positive attitude and reap the benefits of positive thinking.