By Sarah Roth, MSW, LSW

Although the holidays bring much joy and excitement, they are also a very difficult time for families who have experienced loss. Children are no exception. Feelings of grief may increase or present differently as the holiday season approaches.

So, what can we do to help grieving children?

  1. Understand that everyone grieves differently. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Some may find comfort in talking, reminiscing, and doing things to honor the loss they have experienced. For others, these things may not bring comfort at all. Additionally, grief has no distinct timeline or roadmap. Family members may be at different stages of the grieving process. Remember that each family member’s journey is their own.
  2. Be honest with your children about your emotional experiences. As parents, we often feel we must shield our children from seeing our emotions so we do not further damage or worry them. While we do need to use discretion about what and how we share with our kids, it is also important that we are honest with them. This is especially important in times of loss. Our children are learning from our behavior. Hiding our feelings from our kids can lead to them feeling isolated and confused, as it may send a message that how they are feeling is abnormal. Demonstrating that it is okay to have feelings surrounding the loss is important and vital to everyone’s healing.
  3. Check in with your kid about their feelings. In addition to communicating with your child about your feelings, it is also important that you check in with your child about their feelings surrounding the loss. This helps you learn how to help them cope with the many emotions that may surface. It is important to relay the message to your children that even though they may be seeing each family member grieve in different ways, you’re all in this together. Encourage them to come to you if they have questions or feelings they do not know how to manage.
  4. Allow this year to be different while still providing consistency. There is an inherent change that occurs when loss happens. This is especially true during the holidays. Have an open discussion that traditions may look different than they did prior to the loss. Acknowledge that this is okay. It may provide comfort to all involved as opposed to moving through the holiday season as though nothing has happened. You can say things such as, “This holiday might look different because we don’t have ___ spending it here with us anymore. Is there a new tradition you would like to start or a way we could remember __ as we celebrate this year?” You could also ask, “Is there a tradition that we did with ___ that you would like to make sure we continue to do each year?” Providing a good balance of flexibility while not completely stripping the season of its routine is crucial. Working together to find what works for your family is an important way to ensure you are all providing each other with needed support.
  5. Know when to reach out to a mental health professional. If your child is struggling intensely during this time, it may be time to reach out for professional help. If you notice drastic changes in your child, seeking professional help may be the next step. Inability to complete daily tasks for a prolonged period, participating in risky/dangerous behaviors, or disconnecting emotionally are a few signs that seeking help may be beneficial. For some families this may only last a short period, but for others more long-term treatment may be necessary. Checking with your child’s school to see if there are mental health professionals in the building is a good place to start. The child’s family physician may also be able to connect your family with other resources to provide additional support.

By Youth First Staff, Youth First, Inc.

Red Ribbon Week is the oldest and largest drug use prevention campaign in the nation, reaching millions of young people each year. This event takes place annually from October 23 – October 31. According to Red Ribbon Week’s official website, this event is an ideal way for communities to unite and take a visible stand against drug misuse.

Red Ribbon Week was started when drug traffickers in Mexico City murdered DEA agent Kiki Camarena in 1985. This began the continuing tradition of displaying red ribbons as a symbol of intolerance toward the use of drugs. The mission of the Red Ribbon Campaign is to present a unified and visible commitment towards the creation of a Drug-Free America.

National Family Partnership is the sponsor of this annual celebration. They are helping citizens across the country come together to keep children, families, and communities safe, healthy, and drug-free through parent training, networking, and event sponsorship.

You might ask, “Is Red Ribbon Week effective?” According to Peggy Sapp, President and CEO of National Family Partnership, Red Ribbon Week has endured for over thirty years due to the following factors:

  • Red Ribbon Week is an environmental strategy, which means it doesn’t just affect a small group but reaches beyond schools, churches, and other groups into the broader community.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to be an awareness campaign that gets information to the public about the dangers of drug use.
  • Red Ribbon Week facilitates conversations about activities that will help rebuild a sense of community and common purpose.
  • Red Ribbon Week helps parents and schools deliver an effective drug prevention curriculum.
  • Red Ribbon Week is positive and fun, two things necessary to maintain good mental health.

Schools can benefit from curriculum available on the official Red Ribbon Week website, www.redribbon.org. Incorporating substance use prevention education into daily health/physical education classes is an ideal way to bring awareness to students and promote prevention.

Parents can access the website for great ideas about talking to children of any age about the dangers of substance use. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “children really hear their parents’ concerns, which is why it’s important that parents discuss the risks of using alcohol and other drugs.”

Drug misuse in this country has reached epidemic stages and it is imperative that visible, unified prevention education efforts by community members be launched to eliminate the demand for drugs. Please join Youth First this Red Ribbon Week as we promote the importance of educating our children, families, and communities about the dangers of substance misuse.

By Valorie Dassel, MSW, LCSW, LCAC, Youth First, Inc.

In the era of social media, we’ve probably all watched a viral video of an adult throwing a temper tantrum in public. Imagine if the people in those videos had the skills to calm themselves down before expressing a reaction.

If they were able express their emotions in a healthy way, imagine how different and more in-control of themselves they’d feel. Imagine how much stronger their relationships could be if they possessed emotional regulation skills.

The benefits of having quality emotional regulation skills are boundless. Being able to regulate emotions allows a person to identify their feelings and choose an appropriate reaction that will not result in negative consequences.

As an adult and a parent, being able to regulate my emotions helps me be the calm in my child’s storm. It’s hard to help someone else regulate when you’re not regulated yourself. For children, having self-regulation skills will allow them to feel more confident, respond better to conflict, and build healthier friendships.

Now we know why these skills are important, how can we learn to consistently model self-regulation skills? First, let’s note that not all emotional dysregulation looks like fit throwing. According to Psych Central, it can also look like crying spells, binge eating, self-harm, and poor frustration tolerance. When we notice these symptoms in ourselves or our children it is important to move in the direction of regaining control of the emotions and responding appropriately.

Becoming dysregulated is a limbic system reaction. Calming yourself with sensory input can be a great first step when feeling dysregulated. Ideas for sensory input include a tight hug, petting a pet, holding ice cubes, or listening to calming music.

Grounding techniques can also be very helpful in bringing a dysregulated person back to the present. Grounding techniques look like identifying things outside of you in the moment (five things you see, four things you hear, three things you feel or touch, two things you smell, and one thing you taste.) Using all five senses can have a quick calming effect.

Once the work has been done to calm the initial reaction, take time to acknowledge what the feeling really is. Maybe it is anger, or maybe it is frustration, jealousy, disappointment, or fear.

The next step is to identify that actions can be taken to move through this moment. If you’re helping your child manage these emotions, you might also have to help them identify the natural consequences that could come with decisions they make.

If you have a child who is struggling with emotional regulation the best place to start is by ensuring you’re modeling healthy regulation skills yourself. It is always okay to seek professional assistance if you feel it is needed for you or your child.

By Abby Betz, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Now that our youngest children are back in school, it is time to start thinking about college-aged students returning to campus. We spend lots of time preparing our youngsters for going “back to school,” but what about our college students? Are we preparing our young adults for what lies ahead of them in the real world?

Not only is it important for these students to prepare themselves for the responsibilities of living independently, but it is also important for college-aged students to think about protecting their emotional well-being before they even set foot on campus.

Many college students have thought of the necessities needed for school – computers, mini fridges, parking passes, and other supplies. But have these students and their parents considered what tools they may need to support themselves on an emotional level?

In a 2017 survey by WebMD and the JED Foundation, 40 percent of over 700 guardians and parents said they did not discuss the potential for developing either anxiety or depression with their children getting ready to attend college. Additionally, most parents reported access to on-campus mental health services was not a factor in choosing a school for their child.

Unfortunately, many teenage and college-aged students struggle with their mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 3 high school students have experienced feelings of persistent sadness or hopelessness. 

These problems do not seem to go away once they arrive on campus. Continued studies are showing a decline in mental health across the country among college students. Experts recommend that parents and students take the necessary steps to ensure they have a plan to address mental health issues if they arise.

It is vital for a student with already existing mental health disorders to connect with a counselor prior to arriving on campus. However, it could be beneficial for any student to contact the counseling center and become educated on services provided if needed. It is also important to be aware of other supportive services being offered, such as tutoring, academic advising, student activities, and career services.

Extracurricular activities and clubs also help students connect with others and create a sense of belonging to help combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. Students should also be mindful of how they eat, sleep, and socialize. If basic needs are neglected, this can make developing a healthy lifestyle more difficult and lead to a decline in mental health.

Discussing alcohol consumption and setting healthy boundaries is another important conversation that parents need to have with their college-aged children to help them be mentally prepared for new situations.

The transition from high school to college can be life changing and challenging. Students and parents must work together to create a plan that best fits the needs of each student. This plan should include a mental health checklist to protect the emotional well-being of the student. Prioritizing mental health should be something we all strive to achieve.

By Ellen Dippel, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

It’s summertime! The days are longer and the air is warmer. This time of year, it’s much easier to toss routines out the window. Who needs a bedtime when there are fireflies to catch and s’mores to roast?

It’s okay to loosen your schedule when summer comes, but we shouldn’t completely throw away all the time spent during the school year establishing a healthy routine for your family.

Your daily schedule may look more relaxed in the summer. You might not need to wake up quite as early and be rushed out the door to the bus stop. However, keeping an earlier wakeup time and not allowing your kids to get in a habit of sleeping until noon will make your back-to-school season smoother when the time comes.

Start your day discussing your plans and goals. This is a great time to get your family’s input on what they might want to accomplish for the day. It is also a good time to front- load them with any information they might not want to hear. If there is an unpopular activity (like a dentist or doctor appointment) that day, you will want them to have a heads up about this activity.

Eating meals and snacks at regular times is important for maintaining routines as well. Sometimes kids get busy playing and forget to eat. Creating set times and space for snacks and meals helps ensure they’re getting the nutrition they need during the summer months. Get creative during this time. This is the perfect opportunity to invite your kids to help you plan their meals and make their snacks.

Be sure to keep bedtime routines the same. This includes keeping a consistent time, which is not only good for their health but will also help tremendously with creating a healthy back-to-school routine. It can also prevent your child from becoming overly tired with the more strenuous activities they may be involved in during the summer months. 

Plan for fun! Kids need a good combination of structured time and creative free play. Mixing planned time with down time, when your kids pick their own activity and play independently, are both very important. Parents sometimes feel a need to create never-ending magic, which turns into overscheduling and exhausting your kids. Letting their imaginations thrive is a great use of their time as well. 

Having structure doesn’t have to mean no fun. Kids need structure and consistency to feel secure. By providing routine, you’re giving them a sense of security that will help ease their anxiety and give them a sense of safety. With the consistency and structure of a well-established routine, there will be plenty of time for catching fireflies and roasting marshmallows, but you will also be able to enjoy the comfort of predictability.

By Jordan Nonte, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

We’ve all felt sad at some point in our lives, we’ve all felt anxious, but at what point do these emotions go from normal to disruptive? You may be wondering why anxiety and depression often get lumped together. How are these two related?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, half of all people diagnosed with depression will also be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent of mental illnesses in the US, affecting 40 million adults, while 17 million suffer from depression. Anxiety and depression are very treatable, but only about a third of people seek treatment.

So when should you seek treatment for anxiety or depression? And what is anxiety and depression? Typically, anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or uneasiness, possibly due to an uncertain event or outcome. This is a completely normal response, especially before participating in events such as a big test, sports game, or public speaking. This feeling becomes an issue when the worry is disproportionate to the situation at hand or is unnecessarily present.

Some affected by anxiety may be obsessively worrying about an event or idea that is utterly unrealistic, such as a loved one being in danger at that very moment. It is then, when the feeling becomes a constant despite the truth about reality, that it is no longer helpful—but problematic to daily living.

Depression, on the other hand, is typically defined as persistent sadness. Symptoms may include decreased mood, difficulty sleeping, lack of energy, loss of interest in hobbies/pleasurable activities, feelings of hopelessness, guilt, irritability, difficulty focusing, or suicidal ideation. Anyone at any age can be depressed, and not everyone will experience all the same symptoms.

Some risk factors of depression include family history of depression, traumatic life events, stress, or a major life change such as giving birth or the passing of a loved one. This feeling of sadness may become problematic when a person feels as though they cannot complete their regular daily tasks at work, school, or home. They may struggle just to take care of themselves every day, and have trouble finding motivation to eat, shower, or brush their teeth to name a few.

If you think you may be suffering from anxiety or depression, what should you do? Do not hesitate to call your family physician. Your doctor will want to assess your physical and mental symptoms before deciding on some treatment options. Some people may also experience physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, heart palpitations, chest pain, and headaches that can be linked to anxiety or depression.

Some treatments may include psychotherapy, medication, relaxation techniques, or self-help practices. It’s important to get help early to decrease the chances of thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Just remember, you are not alone, and there are many options for treatment. Start feeling like you again!

By Chelsea Pfister, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

In today’s hustle and bustle, our society is keen on focusing on our never-ending to-do lists, as well as the other roles and responsibilities that scatter our lives. With hectic schedules during the school year, inflation at an all-time high, and post-COVID protocols still around, parents might wonder what steps they can take to seize these moments of opportunity with their children and maximize their children’s success.

Below, parents can find several tips on how to strengthen bonds with their children and maximize their children’s success.

  1. Words of affirmation. Getting into the routine of giving words of affirmation to your child is a great way to seize the opportunity for connection. Practice this by saying things such as “I love you” or “You are doing so well.” This is important even on challenging days. In fact, when parent-child disagreements occur, this is a more important time than ever to express your love to your child.
  1. Share values and beliefs. Talk with your children about your values and beliefs. It is important to allow your child to ask questions and to answer them honestly. The more frequently these teachings are reinforced, the deeper the understanding your child will have of expectations within the home. 
  1. Allow children to help you. Sometimes, parents can miss forging these closer relationships with their children by not allowing them to help with household chores and various tasks. Examples of this include helping with organization around the house, cooking meals, and even grocery shopping. Children that experience this autonomy and feel as if their voice is heard can have higher self-esteem and closer relationships.
  1. Eat meals as a family. Families that eat dinner together have closer relationships and better communication with one another. Utilizing mealtime to discuss each other’s day can be a great way to open communication lines and engage in family time. Some parents even make a fun tradition out of it; for example, having each person share one positive thing they accomplished that day. Remember to keep conversations positive and avoid using this time for confrontation or discipline.
  1. Seek out one-on-one opportunities often. Make time for individual experiences with your child (Or, if you have more than one child, make time for individual time with each of them). This does not have to be an extended period of time; rather, taking small moments throughout the week to engage in small tasks with children individually can make them feel important, and can help forge those family connections.
  1. Practice your own self-care. This is perhaps the most important tip on the list. As important as it is to be mindful to optimize positive connections with our children, it’s also incredibly important to take care of yourself as a parent. Take moments of opportunity to nourish yourself by doing things that you enjoy and that fulfill you. Remember, it is a marathon – not a sprint!

Chelsea Pfister, MSW, LSW, is a Youth First Social Worker at North Posey High School and North Posey Jr. High in Posey County. Youth First, Inc. is a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families, providing 83 Master’s level social workers and prevention programs to 117 schools in 13 Indiana counties. Over 60,000 youth and families per year are served by Youth First’s school social work and after school programs that promote mental health, prevent substance misuse, and maximize student success. To learn more about Youth First, visit youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336.

Join us to strengthen kids! A local tradition continues, as this year’s 21st Annual Passport to Adventure Benefit Auction will be held online from April 10 – April 22. New auction items are being added daily, so check back often!

Register to bid and browse auction items here.

By Ashley Underwood, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

How does one describe a traumatic event? Traumatic is defined as “emotionally disturbing or distressing,” which can vary from person to person, so that question has many answers.

“Adverse Childhood Experience” is a term that refers to various forms of trauma individuals may experience in childhood. This includes experiencing violence, abuse or neglect, witnessing violence in the home or community, having a family member attempt or die by suicide, growing up in a household with substance use problems or mental health problems, or instability due to parental separation or incarcerated family members.

According to the CDC, about 61% of adults surveyed across 25 states reported they had experienced at least one type of ACE before age 18, and nearly 1 in 6 reported they had experienced four or more types of ACEs.

There is a direct link between ACEs and physical health. Unfortunately, for each adverse child experience, there is an increased risk of chronic health issues. Center for Youth Wellness shares that those individuals experiencing 4 or more ACEs are associated with significantly increased risk for 7 out of 10 leading adult causes of death, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, COPD, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and suicide.

There is also significant detriment that can occur to a child’s brain when experiencing that amount of stress. Experiencing ACEs can impact attention span, memory, stress response, immune system, emotion regulation, decision making skills, and overall learning. We see many of these issues in the school setting on a daily basis, and sadly, it is related to the amount of trauma our children have experienced.

What can we do to help? Prevention is key. The CDC recommends the following six strategies for helping to prevent ACEs:

  • Strengthen economic support for families. This includes churches, community organizations, and non-profits helping with financial distress as well as employers providing adequate pay, time off, and benefits for employees.
  • Promote social norms that protect against violence and adversity. Work to create safe spaces for children and adults to talk about mental health challenges and reinforce the motto, “See something, say something” for children in regards to acts of violence, bullying, abuse, etc.
  • Ensure a strong start for children. This can include funding early education programs for families with affordable options, as well as increasing in-home learning options for parents.
  • Teach skills. Allow programs in schools that promote and teach emotional regulation, conflict resolution, social skills, and boundaries.
  • Connect youth to caring adults and activities. “Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.” -Josh Shipp

Get kids involved in mentoring programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, encourage teachers to put them in leadership roles at school, have them join after school activities like choir, intramurals, or scouting.

  • Intervene to lessen immediate and long-term harms. Educate the public on ACEs, the risk factors, and the support available including treatment options, resource assistance, and organizations that promote these things.

Let’s do our part! For more information about the ACEs, check out https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/index.html