By Amber Russell, Courier & Press, March 3, 2015 –

At the beginning of the year, gyms and fitness centers are filled with individuals who have made resolutions to get healthy. Studies show that more than half of these people will have abandoned their New Year’s resolutions by June.

Exercise should be a way of life — not just about losing weight or making a resolution that falls by the wayside. Here are some ways in which exercise contributes to a healthy body and mind:

1. Exercise helps decrease disease and other health conditions.

Regular physical activity can help control or prevent a number of conditions. Exercise can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, keep blood pressure in check and lower cholesterol levels. Research also shows that just 2 to 2½ hours of moderate aerobic exercise a week can help control glucose levels and lower rates of Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Studies also show that physical activity is associated with the reduced risk of colon and breast cancers.

2. Exercise improves mood and boosts energy.

Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. It helps produce endorphins, brain chemicals that act as natural pain killers and elevate mood. You might have heard the term “runner’s high” before, which is a feeling of optimism, relaxation, and energy after a good workout. This high is the result of increased endorphins.

3. Exercise can improve brain function.

Research has shown that exercise impacts the brain in numerous ways. The hippocampus, the part of the brain essential for learning and forming memories, is highly activated during exercise. Recent studies have also shown that with regular exercise, white matter in your brain becomes more fibrous and compact. The more compact your white matter, the faster and more efficiently your brain functions.

There is also evidence that regular physical exercise can improve cognitive function (a person’s ability to process thoughts) and brain plasticity, which is important in learning, coordination, memory and motor skills. A more plastic brain can reorganize itself and strengthen connections between nerve cells and different brain areas.

Here are some helpful tips to get started:

1. Find an accountability partner: It helps to have someone to meet at the gym, exchange motivational texts with, and share workout ideas/routines with.

2. Make it a competition: Set up a competition at work or with friends. It could be as simple as keeping track of points for 30 minutes of exercise each day.

3. Schedule it: Depending on your schedule you may have to get up earlier to get a workout in. If you are already an early riser with no time to spare in the morning, it might be better to work out on the way home from work or after the kids go to bed at night.

4. Set goals and rewards: If you exercise 5 out of 7 days for two weeks or beat a personal record in running, lifting, etc., rent a movie you’d like to see or treat yourself to something new.

5. Exercise for a cause: There are lots of affordable run/walk events that also help out a great cause. I have personally participated in walks for March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen Foundation, Suicide Awareness, and St. Jude.

6. Mix It Up: Find an activity you like. If running or walking is not for you, try yoga, Zumba, swimming, cycling, boxing, etc. Over time even activities you enjoy can become monotonous. Switch it up and try a new activity, class or workout video once in a while.

Once you are in a routine, the benefits of exercise for body and mind will be obvious. Get started, set small goals, reward yourself and stick with it. You can do it!

By Heather Miller, Courier & Press, February 24, 2015 –

“None of us are born knowing how to be a special needs mom. I’m still trying to figure it out and am just stumbling along.” These words were written by a mother of a child with spina bifida in response to my email asking for advice about how to navigate the world of individualized education programs (IEPs), needed therapies and a host of other things related to parenting a child with special needs.

Although I had experience working with children with special needs, I realized being the parent of a child with special needs was an altogether different experience. My youngest son was noted to have developmental delays at age1.

I remember feeling lost at first. How would my son be successful in school? I am happy to say he is excelling, although at age 6 he continues to struggle with fine motor skills and communicating clearly. He is enrolled in a regular kindergarten room but is pulled out for services.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 6.4 million children ages 3-21 were served in United States schools under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2010-2011. While this represents nearly 10 percent of children enrolled in public and private schools, parents of children with special needs often feel overwhelmed and alone.

I have found the following five tips useful when helping my child with special needs:

1. Communicate. View your child, yourself, teachers, and service providers as a team working toward the common goal of your child’s success. Ask for progress updates and ideas to help your child meet goals at home. Be mindful of the fact that teachers and service providers receive numerous emails and phone calls daily. Allow a reasonable amount of time for a response to be received.

2. Listen. Teachers, psychologists, and service providers have experience educating and helping children with special needs. I often was initially uncomfortable with a suggestion such as allowing my son to ride a bus to pre-K. I learned that stepping outside of my comfort zone and listening to ideas presented by those working with my son allowed him to grow in ways that I would have never imagined.

3. Prepare. There will be times when you disagree with your child’s teacher or service provider. Creating a plan for dealing with disagreements ahead of time will better allow you to remain calm and maintain the team relationship necessary for your child when the time comes.

4. Advocate. Parents know their children best. If you feel a need is going unmet, discuss the situation with the teacher, administration or service provider. Ask questions about items you do not understand. I found the use of acronyms confusing. Asking what something means is important to meeting the needs of your child.

5. Acknowledge. Acknowledge the fact that educating yourself and advocating for your child with special needs can be challenging. Be attentive to yourself and practice self-care. Additionally, acknowledge providers that often go the extra mile to help your child.

Youth First, Inc. can provide parents with information about Youth First programs and community support groups for parents of children with special needs. Please contact your school’s Youth First social worker or visit our website for more information.

By Wendy Lynch, Youth First Social Work Intern, Courier & Press, February 17, 2015 –

Does your child have trouble navigating relationships? Do you feel confident in your ability to help your child sort through their conflicts?

Being available and willing to listen are the building blocks to establishing the necessary trust to help your child get through relationship conflicts. When open communication is established between parent and child, it empowers the child to carry those communication skills over into future relationships. Most children, like adults, really want to be listened to and understood.

Children learn and parents teach through modeling, often unaware they are engaging in either. If you yell, your child will be more likely to yell. If you respond to someone in a negative manner, your child will emulate this behavior. Conversely, if you engage in positive behavior, your child will behave more positively, and so on.

By modeling desired values and guiding your child, you can significantly increase the chances of them absorbing positive relationships skills. As your child develops healthy relationship patterns, they will be much more likely to self-regulate their own emotions — especially when relationship conflict occurs.

Sharing emotions, feelings, and thoughts is imperative in navigating life’s challenges. The next time your child is dealing with a relationship problem, invite them to come to you and freely express themselves. This will allow you to bond and communicate in a healthy way.

Practicing open communication from an early age will help them connect with and understand others in the future. Parents can have an enormous impact on their child’s happiness by just being present.

According to a 2001 study on parent/child communication by Dr. Susan Ennett at University of North Carolina, African American families tend to talk more openly about alcohol and tobacco use with their children than do Caucasian parents. According to Ennett, having those open discussions is vital to the parent-child relationship and explains why African American youth have lower alcohol and tobacco use.

Boundaries are also important in all relationships; therefore, it is important to help our youth recognize the importance of them. Setting boundaries is essential to taking care of self.

According to Dr. Margaret Paul, if you are going to set a loving boundary, instead of saying “You can’t treat me that way,” you will say something like, “I don’t like being treated this way, and if you continue, I will leave this conversation (or get off the phone, or leave the house, or leave the relationship).” What you choose to do in the face of another’s unloving behavior is what you DO have control over.

So parents, be proactive. Work on opening the communication between you and your child by making a concerted effort to be as present as possible. Listen and model the behavior you wish your child to emulate, and help them learn to set and respect appropriate, loving boundaries. These adaptations of trust building will improve your child’s quality of life and help them improve their relationships. After all, the quality of your child’s relationships is the most direct link to the quality of their happiness.

By Katherine Baker, Courier & Press, January 20, 2015 —

As a school social worker, I often work with individuals whose past resentments escalate from anger to hate. Unresolved anger can affect you and those around you. Your ability to reason and think clearly can be clouded by the anger you feel.

American society promotes anger in many ways. We are taught to be super competitive. Others are sometimes viewed as rivals who are trying to defeat and destroy us, and we are taught to be on guard.

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By Jon Haslam, Courier & Press, 1/13/15 —

When I was teen, I remember turning on my television at night and cranking the volume down to a quiet hum. I prayed that my parents wouldn’t be able to hear the bass riff that kicked off an episode of “Seinfeld” and, to be honest, I usually got away with it. It seemed like every night I would fall asleep to the warm glow of my TV/VCR combo.

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by Kate Thrall, Courier & Press, 1/13/15 —

The holiday season has been busy for many of us. You may have gone out of town to see family and friends or hosted a holiday celebration. There is something special about having loved ones near us during this time of year, and it is comforting to have family traditions we can count on.

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By Teresa Mercer, Youth First School Social Worker, Courier & Press, 1/6/2015

Happy New Year! For many people a brand new year brings resolutions. While some resolutions may be broken before Valentine’s Day, many will produce positive changes that will last.

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