By Jordan Beach, LSW – August 20, 2019

The beginning of the school year is full of excitement that helps our students start out with a fire in their souls. Unfortunately, that new excitement seems to wear off quickly, which leaves parents scrambling and struggling to look for ways to keep their children engaged.

Sometimes getting a child to complete homework after school feels like a battle we have to fight every day. What can we do to help keep some of that fire we had at the beginning of the year?

A good place to start when discussing long-lasting motivation is to help your child set goals. This is also a great learning opportunity to discuss short term goals vs. long term goals. If they have a goal of making the honor roll all year that’s great but help them break that large goal down into smaller goals. They will stay more motivated with small victories working towards their larger goal.

Rewarding your children for completing undesirable tasks is a great and easy way to help motivate them to complete their work at home. The most important thing to focus on is how you word things and the tone of voice you use.

If you tell your children, “We can go to the park after you finish your homework” it sounds a lot more enticing than “We’re not going anywhere until you finish your homework.” Your children are much more likely to respond positively to a reward with a positive tone rather than a punishment with a negative tone.

Sometimes there is pushback on the idea of rewarding your children for things they are required to do. In these situations, I like to use the analogy of an adult going to work. When an adult goes to work they complete all the tasks that are expected of them in order to receive a paycheck.

School, and sometimes even extracurriculars are considered a child’s job. They put hard work, a lot of time, and effort into these things and in order to stay motivated they need to see some form of compensation for their efforts. 

It’s also important to understand what motivates an individual child. The same type of reward will not work for all children.

Some children are super competitive so creating some form of competition will be enough to motivate them. Some kids need to feel appreciated and hear words of encouragement so positive reinforcement may be enough. Other kids are going to need physical rewards in the form of treats, small toys, activities like time at the playground, or picking a movie to watch before bed.

Every child is different which means there isn’t one solution to the question of motivation. Find what works for each child and use a mixture of methods, if necessary.

The most important thing to remember is to stay positive. Try not to punish kids for not completing tasks, rather find ways to encourage them by rewarding the desired behavior. As the school year goes on and gets busier it gets easier to let schedules slide but staying consistent will help keep your family on track to a successful year.

By Lisa Cossey, LCSW – August 13, 2019

With most children already back at school for a new year, many families will find themselves in a struggle for the ages:  wants versus needs.  

Many families have difficulty finding a balance between work and play.  But what if the struggle is between your child’s academics and their extracurricular activities?

It would be hard to find a parent who would say academics aren’t important, but at times it seems academics are in direct competition with having fun.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great for kids to have fun. They need active and sensory experiences to help them grow and develop.  Extracurricular activities can also be a great way to develop skills.  

But if your child’s academics are suffering or your child is upset, tearful, moody or more anxious than normal, it’s time to take a hard look at your family’s schedule. And if you’re spending more time in the car than you do in your home together as a family, it’s definitely time to step back and reassess your priorities.

What your child is doing?  Do they have one activity, or two, three, four?  How many hours a day are they away from home?  How many nights a week is your family away from home?  Is your child getting enough sleep at night?

A healthy balance is needed between school and extracurricular activities.  At this point in the year, your family will soon have a good idea of how much homework your student is going to receive daily. Evaluate what your child and family can handle.

For reference, according to Dorothy Sluss, President of the US Chapter of International Play Association, for every week of intensive activity, three weeks of less structured time and activity are needed to maintain a healthy balance for children.

If your child’s grades are not what they used to be, or if they are having more incomplete or missing work, it may be necessary to back off the wants and focus on the needs. It is ok to drop an activity due to falling grades or place a limit on how many activities your child is able to join to keep a healthy balance.  Putting academics ahead of sports, scouts, and dance is ok too.

We have a culture that encourages and supports many sports and other activities.  Encouragement is great.  The issue is when children feel pressured to commit and join.  It is ok to say no.  It is ok to put your family’s needs first.  It is ok to limit the number of activities your family is involved in.

If you have concerns for your child or need further ideas on how to strike the right balance for your family, please feel free to reach out to your child’s teacher or to the Youth First School Social Worker at their school.  We are here to help.

By Krisi Mattingly, LCSW – August 6, 2019

Sleep deprivation is an epidemic in America today. Poor sleep habits have been linked to problems like depression, anxiety, ADHD, increased risk for heart disease and cancer, memory issues, compromised immune system, and weight gain. 

Students are busier than ever with more expectations and demands of their time, so sleep may not seem too high on their priority list. There is also the added lure of the internet, social media, and electronics like video games or TV.

Getting the recommended amount of sleep, however, is one of the most important things you can do for your mental and physical health.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9 to 11 hours of sleep for grade schoolers, 8 to 10 hours for teens, and 7 to 9 hours for adults.  If your family has been struggling to get the proper quantity or quality of sleep lately, here are some tips to make sleep a priority in your household.

  • Establish a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Try not to deviate from this too much, even on weekends or days off.
  • Establish a routine. Try to follow the same routine each night before bed. A good one for younger children is the 3 B’s – take a bath, brush teeth and read a book. 
  • Limit screen time before bed. TV and other electronics are stimulating to the brain. The “blue light” can suppress melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Turn off all devices 1 hour before bedtime. A good solution: Set up a family overnight charging area for smartphones and tablets in an area far from the bedroom.  
  • Don’t force yourself to sleep. If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something calming, then return to your bed when you feel tired. Some ideas are reading a book, writing in a journal, drawing, listening to music, or taking a warm bath.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine at least 4 hours before bed. Consuming these substances can hinder your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Avoid napping. If your child likes to come home from school and crash, try to keep them from doing this if possible. If not, limit naps to 30 minutes or less.
  • Only use your bed for sleeping. Using your bed for watching TV, using a smartphone or working will lead your body to associate your bed with these activities. If you reserve your bed solely for sleeping, your body will recognize this and hopefully fall asleep easier.
  • Exercise and eat well. Being active during the day and eating healthy are both vital to better quality sleep. However, you should avoid eating big meals and strenuous exercise 2 hours before bed.
  • Sleep in a comfortable environment. Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable temperature, quiet and dark. Darkness promotes sleep and healthy levels of melatonin.

If you can use as many of these suggestions as possible, you should notice big improvements in your sleep habits. If the whole family follows these guidelines, everyone will be more healthy, productive and agreeable!

By Lynn Bell, LCSW – July 30, 2019

If you are a parent of a child with a chronic medical condition such as diabetes, asthma, allergies, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, etc., your child may require specialized accommodations at school. Your child’s needs may require individual arrangements for homework, tests, attendance, and medication dispensation.

There are important documents that will help protect your child and determine how these accommodations will be carried out. The sooner the documents are completed in the school year, the better. 

The process starts by requesting a meeting in writing with the school counselor, principal or school nurse. It is best if the letter includes the date on which it is written, as this starts the “time clock” for when the school must work to ensure your child’s needs are being met. 

The letter should include your child’s diagnosis and a list of your main concerns.  Your child’s doctor or medical social worker can be a wonderful resource to help you write the letter. Reputable websites that focus on your child’s medical diagnosis can also be helpful, as they often include samples of letters and documents as a starting point.    

A commonly used document is a 504 Plan of Care.  A “504” is an outline for how the school will provide accommodations and supports to remove barriers so the student has equal access to a general education curriculum.  

For example, for students with Type 1 diabetes, the plan will distinguish which school personnel are responsible for administering or supervising blood sugar checks, drawing and administering insulin, where these tasks will be completed (nurse’s office or classroom), what supplies the student will carry with them and who will be trained on how to administer medication in case of emergency.  

As a parent, it is helpful to educate yourself about the documents best used with certain medical conditions. Two helpful resources are the ASK (About Special Kids) and Insource websites, both of which are based in Indiana and include a parent hotline:

As you develop a Plan of Care, the most important thing to remember throughout the entire process is that parents and school personnel must maintain open communication. Do not be afraid to ask questions or state your concerns.

It’s also important to monitor how well the Plan of Care is working throughout the school year and discuss whether changes need to occur.

You will always be the best advocate for your child as you work toward the best Plan of Care with the school.

By Mary Haas, MSW – July 23, 2019

Change is hard for most of us. We typically don’t welcome change fearlessly with arms wide open. Transitions are sometimes our greatest fear and can provoke anxiety, even in adults.

When faced with changing schools, our child can share these same fears. Even though change is inevitably a part of our lives, it is rarely easy.

When transferring schools and changing educational environments, our children face not only new school buildings but also new faces, new routines, and many new adjustments. As parents, we need to do our best to combat their fears and anxieties to help make their transition as smooth as possible.

Make sure changing schools is the most appropriate option. If other options are available, weigh all of the choices and be sure this is the best thing to do for your child.  

Communication is important, because it is what connects us to our nervous child as they tackle this big life change. Talking to your child early and often throughout the transition will help make each step less scary and confusing.

As parents, it is important to remember that we are changing our child’s whole environment, disrupting their friendships and relationships, and taking away their familiar place of learning.

Because of these major life changes, it is crucial to include your child in the open discussion process. If possible, let your child be part of the decision-making process regarding which school they will attend or when the transition will take place. The more decisions they can be part of, the more they will feel in control of the situation.

Validate your child’s feelings about changing schools, including all of the things they are sad about leaving behind and all of the things they are anxious about going into. Show them that you are standing alongside them and support them the whole way. Communicating, validating, and nurturing this change can make all the difference in their emotional transition.

Making time to get to know the new teachers and staff ahead of the move to the new school can be an added support for both you and your child. This can be a chance for you to discuss any concerns or questions you may have regarding the school.

This is also the time to for them to get to know your child and to talk about your student’s needs to the people who will care for them throughout each day.

Another great way for your child to get involved in their new school is to join extracurricular activities. If your child is old enough they can try to join athletic teams such as soccer, basketball or perhaps other types of activities such as the debate or drama club.  

Getting involved will help your child connect with other peers that share the same interests. This can create friendships and help your child develop a sense of belonging to the school.

As a parent you can get involved by joining the PTA and attending school meetings. Become friends with other parents and plan play dates if your children are young.

Together with these tips and objectives, you can ease your child’s transition into a change of hope and a bright new beginning at a new school.

Yes, changing schools can be scary, but it can also be a wonderful new beginning in a child’s life.

By Aisha Givens, LCSW – July 16, 2019

Blended families or stepfamilies are more common than ever. These families form when two partners make a life together with children from previous relationships. When families blend, it is rarely a smooth or easy process.

These new families often form after a death, divorce, or separation of the birth parents. The transition to a new family unit can be very confusing and uncomfortable for children.

Children may feel they must choose between loving their original family or loving their new blended family. They may feel they will hurt someone’s feelings if they love someone new. They may be worried about how their relationships with their natural parents will change or how their relationships with their new parent and siblings will evolve.

Blending families creates a new dynamic, one where every person must find their role. Trying to replicate your first family can set you all up for confusion and disappointment. Instead, embrace your new family with the respect it deserves and allow for change and new growth.

The following are ways to build a stronger blended family and help children heal from the grief, disappointment, and resentment that can result from the loss or separation of their biological parents:

  • Positive Reinforcement – Give encouragement and praise to children often. Find ways to make them feel appreciated and valued.
  • Love – Give them positive attention and show them they are loved every day.
  • Safety and Security – The children may have had at least one family fall apart or one parent leave or die, so they need to feel very safe and secure in this new family.
  • Expectations and Boundaries – Talk to your new partner about parenting styles before your family blends. It’s best for the new parent to ease into a role of authority, but it is very important that both parents agree on how to parent all of the children before situations arise.
  • Patience – Children deal with a wide range of feelings during the transition into a new family. It is important to remember that any new bad behaviors may be a result of their confusing emotions. Love and patience are necessary.
  • Communication – Give children your undivided attention as often as possible. Prompt them to talk about their feelings and let them know they can be honest with you. Open communication with your children can be the best thing for all of you.
  • New Experiences – Create new memories as you experience new activities together. Take family trips, go on picnics, have game nights, paint together. Find things to do that you will all enjoy and make new, happy memories for the children. Take photos of your new blended family to hang in your home.
  • Family Meetings – As you are all adjusting to the new family unit, it is a great idea to hold regular family meetings and let each person speak their truth without being judged. This can be a time to talk about rules, feelings, events, or absolutely anything.
  • Respect – It is impossible to force all family members to like one another, but you can insist that everyone respect each other.
  • Limit Expectations – You may feel that you give a lot of time, energy, love, and attention to your partner’s children and get very little in return immediately. Think of it as an investment that will yield a great return one day.

You could do all of the right things and the children may still reject the new parents and resent your new family, but if you are consistent and genuine it will allow the children to know you are sincere.

By Jenna Kruse, MSW – July 9, 2019

Technology has become a large part of our society; we depend on it to learn, inform, and connect with others daily. However, it can have negative effects as well.         

Most of us probably know a young child who watches YouTube regularly. How often do we stop to watch and closely monitor what is on the screen?

A growing trend with children on YouTube is the fascination of watching other children play with toys. There is a countless supply of these videos, such as, “Surprise Eggs” and “Finger Family” which each have hundreds of thousands of views.

YouTube also added an auto play feature which allows similar videos to stream one after the other, continuously. Kids are then exposed far beyond their initial search and are soon plagued by this technology.

Parents across the country can attest to the fighting and tantrums thrown when the tablets, phones, or iPads are taken away from the children because they are so entranced by the videos.

Social media is another black hole, typically for older children. Teens can be subjected to cyber bullying, stranger danger, identity theft, phishing, and sexual exploitation.

Apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, Whisper, Twitter, and YouTube can all be dangerous for teens if used incorrectly. Many teens have several accounts, some of which include “ghost accounts” which are used to hide from their parents.

Children are being sexualized by photos of celebrities and are taught that appearance is what matters most. Pressure is put on both girls and boys to look a certain way and “likes” and “follows” become addictive for young teen brains. Children can feel they need to post sexy photos and say extreme things just for more attention.

Now that we know some of the problems with technology, let’s try to avoid them. We need to help and support our children by closely monitoring what they are doing online.

This can include having clear rules for children regarding social media, checking the web browser regularly, activating privacy settings and parental controls on devices, and installing anti-virus hardware on your computer.

Talking openly to your children is the best way to ensure that they know the harms of the internet and social media. These may be uncomfortable topics, but they are very important for their safety. It is much better to have these conversations before a situation occurs rather than after.

There are many safety apps which help parents monitor and control their children’s online usage. These apps include but are not limited to, Netnanny, Mammabear, SafeKidsPro, Social Shield, WebWatcher, MyMobileWatchDog, Teensafe, and Phonesheriff. Each app is unique in what it helps control, so find the one that will work best for your family.

CLICK HERE to visit the online bidding site for Youth First’s 17th annual Passport to Adventure Auction, which will be held on April 11, 2019 at the DoubleTree Hotel Ballroom in downtown Evansville, IN.

The doors will open at 4:30 pm. The silent auction will begin at 5:00 pm and the live auction will take place at 7:30 pm. Light refreshments will be available throughout the evening.

CLICK HERE to register to bid, view our auction items, and bid on silent auction items. New items will be added as they are received, so check back often. Online bidding began on March 28th and will close at the live auction on April 11th.

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?