By Elizabeth Christmas, LCSW, LCAC, Courier & Press, March 24, 2017 –

Rumor has it … ADHD is nothing more than an excuse for lazy, irresponsible behavior, poor parenting and “drugging” children in place of discipline and self-control.

The truth is … ADHD is a medical condition, and medication along with therapy can effectively manage symptoms.

In every situation, the best solution involves parents, physician and child collaborating, with feedback from teachers and therapist to decide the best course of treatment.

Clinical ADHD involves symptoms such as:


  • Frequently makes careless mistakes, skips over, loses things
  • Easily distracted, difficulty following directions
  • Unorganized, doesn’t finish tasks
  • Avoids or procrastinates tasks that require sustained effort


  • Can’t sit still
  • Runs/climbs at inappropriate times/places
  • Talks excessively/loudly
  • Extremely impatient/can’t wait turn
  • “Driven by a motor”
  • Blurts out/interrupts/intrudes

Sometimes anxiety, effects of trauma or immaturity are misdiagnosed as ADHD. Practitioners should only diagnose ADHD when symptoms persist for at least six months and impair functioning at school and home.

Boys are identified younger and more often due to more commonly presenting with hyperactive or impulsive symptoms; girls often go undiagnosed longer due to mostly inattentive symptoms.

ADHD affects the brain’s ability to learn and perform but also leads to social/emotional struggles. Day after day these kids unsuccessfully try to keep up with “average brain” expectations.

Frustration and low self-esteem trigger misbehavior that’s intended to distract from “below average” performance. Overall classroom productivity declines. Self-control is more difficult, but ADHD isn’t an excuse.

Dr. Ned Hallowell describes it this way, “It’s like your brain has the motor of a race car (powerful, fast, capable of enormous success) but with bicycle brakes.” Imagine trying to stop a powerful, fast moving racecar with the brakes of a bicycle. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it?

Fortunately, there is hope for “strengthening” the brakes. Research shows best practice is medication and therapy.

If your child is struggling with ADHD, or if you’ve sought help before that didn’t work, don’t quit. Contact your physician to discuss concerns. Consult the teacher, principal, social worker and any other valuable resources available.

They can provide diagnostic questionnaires, letters describing symptoms, referrals for treatment and encouragement. The sooner these issues are treated, the more positive the outcomes.

According to Dr. Alan Wachtel, psychiatrist and ADHD expert, “Untreated ADHD is among the most debilitating disorders to live with. Risks include: academic (failing, suspension and dropout), social (risky behavior) and emotional (anxiety/depression) problems. These issues follow a person into adulthood impacting job performance, marital/family relationships (2 times more likely to divorce), mental health and automobile safety. (Research shows untreated ADHD teens are more likely to destroy a vehicle than a drunk adult driver).  Children with ADHD who are not treated are more likely to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.”

Wachtel goes on to say, “If left untreated, adolescents will self-medicate. There is a 100 percent increased risk of substance abuse among this group of teens. Teens who self-medicate (typically progresses from tobacco to alcohol to marijuana to cocaine — all create focus for ADHD brain) will become calm and centered enough to read a book or concentrate on a task. Why wouldn’t they continue?”

Ask yourself, what are the risks of medicating my child? But don’t stop there. You must also ask, what are the risks if I don’t?

By Jordan Beach, MSW, Courier & Press, December 27, 2016 –

Now, more than ever, we live in a world where global interaction is normal, and even expected, in many fields of work. This trend will continue to grow, so it is important to raise children to be accepting and tolerant of cultures and norms different than their own.

Children are taught about other cultures in school, but as far as molding a child into a tolerant human being, most of the responsibility falls on the parents or caregivers.

The primary way for a parent to teach this is by example. Your children are going to model your behavior. If you show respect for people of all races, genders and religions, your child will learn to do that too.

It is very difficult to teach your child to respect others if you are not doing it yourself. The way you speak to (and about) a person from another culture does not go unnoticed by your child. Make sure you always treat others with respect and dignity so your children learn to do the same.

Don’t be afraid to talk about differences with your children. At times it seems as though people get embarrassed when their children point out different physical characteristics, races or ethnicities. The truth is, there are a lot of races, cultures and ethnicities in the world. Your child is simply learning through observation and pointing this out.

It is a positive thing to have conversations with your child about these differences and encourage them to be accepting of everyone — no matter what they look like. Diversity makes our world a great place, and introducing this to your child will help them become a better-rounded individual.

Helping your child build their own confidence is also a tremendous help. People who are comfortable in their own skin and confident about their own lives are more likely to be tolerant of the lives others choose to live.

 This is true of children too. If you celebrate your child’s uniqueness and happiness, they will radiate joy to those around them. They will be less consumed with the differences of others because they are comfortable being themselves.

Allow your child to have experiences in diverse settings. Sign them up for camps or clubs that will support your goal of raising a tolerant child. When possible, travel together. Seeing different ways people live will help your child be more aware that everyone’s lives don’t look like theirs.

Children grow up so fast. As parents, it is our job to prepare them for their futures to the best of our abilities. Raising your child to be tolerant of others is a huge step in raising a successful child.

Besides preparing them for success in an ever-changing global economy, having this strength will allow your child to build positive relationships throughout life.


Our innocent children are born not knowing how stressful and judgmental the world can be. As they grow, they often look to us for guidance on how to react to certain people and situations.

How do you personally cope when you are feeling angry, overwhelmed or sad? Your reactions are cues tucked away in the deepest recesses of your child’s brain, and they retrieve this information to determine how to treat people and cope with certain situations. They observe our behavior and in turn future presidents, teachers, fathers, mothers, mentors (and bullies) are created.

It is no secret that our kids make us angry from time to time. We are human. We all have our triggers and have learned to react in a certain way to each one.

But it might be time to take stock of how you react to your triggers. What are we teaching them when we shame our kids by yelling, hitting or calling them names?

Shameful behavior leads to low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. The child then may begin acting out in ways that are unhealthy — drinking alcohol, experimenting with drugs, fighting or engaging in self-harm.

It is every parent’s goal to raise their child to be an upstanding member of the community. As parents, however, we don’t always realize how our words or actions come across during a heated argument.

If you are seeing the same bad behavior in your child over and over again, then it is time to realize what you are doing is not working.

One of the skills I teach students in my Coping and Skills training group is STEPS. It is an acronym that stands for Stop, Think, Evaluate, Perform and Self-Praise. Utilizing STEPS is a quick and easy when used consistently.

For example, I tell my son to take out the trash, and he responds, “Just a minute.” But it never gets taken out. I get angry. I have learned that when he says, “Just a minute,” it means the trash is not going to be taken out. So I yell at him, “Not just a minute; right now!” We end up yelling at each other until he goes into his room and slams the door. We stay mad at one another for the rest of the night.

STOP. The trigger in this situation is when the son responds, “Just a minute.”

THINK. How can you respond in a way that will set a good example for your child and encourage them to do what you ask?

EVALUATE each option. Are your choices helping mold your child to make good decisions in the future and to treat others with respect?

PERFORM the option you have decided to use.

SELF-PRAISE. Praise yourself for taking the opportunity to evaluate how you will respond to your child appropriately.

The goal is to use STEPS without yelling or saying hurtful things to your child. This will help manage your mood so you can be a positive role model for your child. Teach your child how to use STEPS so they can choose more appropriate ways of handling stressful situations.


By Ashley Hale, MSW, LSW, Courier & Press, Dec. 6, 2016 –

The teenage years can be very difficult for both teen and parent. It’s a time when the child becomes bombarded with many changes.

Your teen may be starting a new school, taking on more difficult studies and more extra-curricular activities, facing more intense peer pressure, and making new friends.  Hormones and bodies are also changing, causing heightened emotions.

Teens are often described as moody, but we have to remember that all of these emotions can be confusing and turbulent. When an emotion intensifies, the child may feel like something is wrong with them.  As a therapist, I have had countless teens sigh with relief after I explain that it’s normal for them to feel angry, sad, or whatever the presenting emotion may be.

Anger is a common emotion around this developmental age because it’s the “umbrella” hovering over various other emotions such as fear, frustration, helplessness, rejection, sadness, and others.

It is tough for us to watch our children struggle. We would rather suffer these emotions for them, but we can’t. However, there are some things we can do to help them gain self-control and avoid damaging behaviors.

Not all strategies work for all children, and these are solely suggestions. Please remember that just like walking, talking, and toilet training, the regulation of emotions is a learned behavior that takes time.

  • Be present and supportive. Don’t minimize your child’s feelings (even when you don’t agree). Normalize their feelings and let them know it’s okay to feel what they feel. Avoid the words “should” and “ought to.” Provide stability and consistency.
  • Encourage discussion and discourage bottling of emotions. Avoid statements like “Don’t be angry” or “You shouldn’t be sad about that.” Encourage them to talk when they are ready. Praise their efforts to control their reactions. (i.e. “You are working very hard at controlling yourself and I am proud of you.”)
  • Help your teen process the emotion. Assist them with labeling an emotion and what may trigger it. Teach problem solving skills. Help them identify their warning signs and teach calming strategies to put in place at that time.
  • Teach and model appropriate coping skills. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. State how you are feeling and brainstorm out loud how you are going to handle it. Identify negative self-talk and substitute positive self-talk. (Positive examples: “I can calm down.” “It’s okay to make mistakes.”)

Let your teen know that although we are entitled to our emotions, it’s not an excuse to behave inappropriately or in a way that is damaging to others. We must teach our kids that they are responsible for their own actions.

Although you should be as supportive as possible, it’s necessary to set consistent limits.  Use those opportunities as teaching moments. Remember that it’s vital to feel emotions rather than suppress them. Teens must learn to be self-aware and able to manage themselves.

The absolute most important thing you can do is be an encouraging supporter and love them through it. The teen years are a struggle and new emotions are scary, but these challenges can be balanced by providing the teen with appropriate guidance and a safe person they can confide in.



By Terra Clark, MSW, Courier & Press, November 29, 2016 – As a staggering number of people continue to fall victim to heroin and other opioid addictions, their lives begin to crumble around them.

Opioids are prescription drugs usually prescribed to treat pain, such as hydrocodone (e.g. Vicodin), oxycodone (e.g. OxyContin, Percocet), and morphine (e.g. Kadian, Avinza). Heroin is also an opioid but is cheaper, and in some cases, easier to obtain than prescription opioids.

The downward spiral of addiction takes others in its wake. Families often suffer physically, financially, and emotionally – and children are particularly vulnerable to the impact of a parent’s drug abuse and addiction.

Moreover, substance abuse can affect parenting skills, since using substances changes the way a person thinks, looks, feels and behaves. These changes are unpredictable, making the home feel even more unstable.

Under the influence, a parent will often neglect their child’s needs. The child may be confused or scared by the changes in the parent. A parent who is drugged cannot respond effectively, if at all, to a child’s needs.

When using, parents have poor impulse control and say and do things they wouldn’t normally do or react to their child in ways that are inappropriate or harmful. It is normal for a parent to feel frustrated at times; after all, parenting is challenging. The use of substances makes it more likely that the parent will respond to frustration inappropriately, directing it at the child. Children may see these behaviors or reactions as “normal” and repeat the same behaviors/actions they see from their parents.

Often, the maltreatment is a matter of what the parent fails to do. A substance-abusing parent may consistently overlook meals and other necessities such as proper hygiene and supervision.

Then there is emotional neglect; the unpredictability of a substance-abusing parent scares a child. The parent may be loving one minute and enraged the next. Children need consistent affection and attention, and addicted parents typically cannot provide such an environment.

A substance-abusing parent may leave the child alone for long periods of time or expose the child to violence by allowing drug trafficking in the home or other drug-abusing adults that are a direct threat to the child.

In many ways, children of drug addicted parents are robbed of their childhoods. These children often take over household responsibilities, care for siblings and sometimes even parents who cannot care for themselves. This can affect learning, friendships, mental health, and every aspect of their lives. Children often feel it is their fault because they cannot understand their parent’s substance abuse problem, especially if the parent criticizes or yells often.

Surrounded by the lifestyle of substance abuse, a child is under constant stress. Children are always wondering, “How will my parent react?” “What will happen next?” “Who will be here today?” Children in this situation are unlikely to develop at the same rate intellectually, socially or emotionally as children whose lives are less burdened by stress.

Children who grow up in a home with substance abuse often find that it follows them into adulthood. They have difficulty in relationships due to mistrust and the lack of exposure to healthy adult relationships. Children of substance abusers are more likely to abuse drugs and start at an earlier age.

There is hope and help if you want to make things better for yourself or your family. You can talk to your primary care physician or call a trained therapist.

It is never too late to be a sober parent and a positive role model offering consistency, structure, attention, communication, praise and patience. Your children deserve for you to be at your best!


By Brooke Skipper, LCSW, Courier & Press, Nov. 22, 2016 –

Turning on the news or logging into social media each day, you are sure to be bombarded with messages of fear, anger and intolerance.

The constant turmoil in our country and our world makes the thought of raising children scary. Will they be safe? Will they make good friends? Will they get bullied? What if they are the bully?

It seems more important than ever to raise kids who can understand and be kind to other people. You do not have to go out of your way to do so.

Teaching empathy should be part of everyday life: how you respond to your child’s questions, how you solve conflict with siblings, how you strengthen his or her capacity to think about other people. You have influence in fostering your child’s ability to empathize.

Here are some easy ways to build empathy into each day:

  1. Develop “feelings” language. A child cannot be expected to consider the emotions of others if they do not first understand their own. This goes beyond the basic happy/sad/mad. Try pointing out different emotions in books, TV shows and those around you. Use a variety of words to strengthen their “feelings” vocabulary such as frustrated, hurt, hopeful or excited.
  2. Demonstrate empathy in your own behavior. Empathizing with your child can be done in many ways, including tuning in to their physical and emotional needs, understanding and respecting their individual personalities and taking a genuine interest in their lives. Children also learn empathy by watching our interactions with others. They’ll notice if we are friendly to the server at a restaurant or rude to the cashier at the grocery.
  3. Be consistent. If you ask your child to use kind language when speaking to others, make sure you are modeling that language in your own conversations. If you’ve been short-tempered with your child or spoken harshly to your spouse, apologize. All parents make mistakes. It’s how you address your mistake afterward that makes a difference.
  4. Recognize kindness. When your child shares a toy with someone or gives the dog a hug, be sure to acknowledge the actions as kind. Over time, your child will understand that being a helpful friend, sibling, neighbor and human being is something you value.
  5. Praise daily, but don’t overdo it. Praising your child’s efforts is important for building confidence and positive self-esteem. However, you do not want your child to demand praise for small, expected tasks. Find a balance that works in your home. We should expect our kids to help around the house, with sibling, and with neighbors, and only reward uncommon acts of kindness.
  6. Promote emotional literacy. Many schools are working to incorporate social/emotional learning programs. Talk with your child’s Youth First social worker, teacher or counselor to determine what is available at their school.
  7. Volunteer. Teaching your child the gift of giving back is an invaluable lesson. Children learn to think about the experience of those around them and can appreciate the positive aspects of their own life. There are many ways to volunteer in the community that are also age-appropriate.

A social media meme is making the rounds that states, “We need to care less about whether our children are academically gifted and more about whether they sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria.” There is a lot of power in this statement. In order to create a kinder world, we need to teach our children the importance of being kind and thinking about the feelings of others.


Youth First is one of the featured “best practices” on the Bright Ideas Indiana website. This is a joint venture between the State of Indiana and the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research. It highlights promising practices by Indiana nonprofits to encourage peer-to-peer learning and innovation.

Click here to see this recognition of our work:


By Terra Ours, LCSW, Courier & Press, Nov. 15, 2016 – Michael  is being raised by a single mom who recently went to prison with a 10-year sentence. What effect will his mother’s incarceration have on 7-year-old Michael?

It is often said that we don’t incarcerate a person, we incarcerate a family. This statement is especially true when considering the impact of parental incarceration on children.

Studies show parental incarceration can be more traumatic for children than death or divorce. The effect on a child’s health, education and relationships puts them at an elevated risk for future incarceration as well.

The impact of parental incarceration on a child’s educational process is overwhelming. However, this issue is difficult for schools to track and often becomes hidden and overlooked when the child “flies under the radar,” performing fairly well academically  but is left to deal with the trauma, shame and stigma alone.

Lower grades, poor health leading to chronic absenteeism, lower school engagement, increased behavioral problems, learning disabilities and anxiety are just a few of the issues children may experience when they have a parent in prison.

Children often also experience anger, depression and anxiety related to being separated from their parent. These children are at an increased risk for experiencing additional “adverse childhood experiences,” otherwise known as ACEs. Research has shown that cumulative ACEs are often an indicator of childhood trauma and a precursor to future mental and physical health problems.

As a Youth First Social Worker in area schools, I have witnessed the devastating effects on a child with an incarcerated parent. Children are often too embarrassed to seek help for fear of being ridiculed by classmates. This leaves the child to bear the secret alone.

What do we do to help children experiencing the impact of an incarcerated loved one?

As long as the parental relationship is safe, it is very important for children to be able to maintain a relationship with their parent during the incarceration. Visits, letters or phone conversations can calm a child’s fears about their parent’s welfare and the parent’s feelings for them.

Reach out to the prison to identify resources available to help the child stay connected. If a child is unable to physically visit their parent, make resources available so the child is able to call or mail letters.

Explain to the child, at the appropriate developmental level, why the parent is not living in the home. Children have rules, and even very young children can understand the consequences of breaking a rule.

Help the child understand they did not have a part in the incarceration of their parent. Children will often take the blame for circumstances beyond their control. Help the child understand they are not at fault for what has happened, and what they are feeling is completely normal.

Most importantly, advocate for the child to receive resources and support within the community. Seek out social workers in the child’s school to help locate additional resources and assistance with addressing traumas related to the incarceration. Encourage the child to speak to a counselor, empowering the child to tell their story.


By Joel Fehsenfeld, LCSW, Courier & Press, Nov. 1, 2016 –

In last week’s column we discussed what many people believe to be the secret to their success: grit. In short review, grit is the balanced combination of passion and perseverance but not one without the other.

According to Angela Duckworth, awarded the MacArthur Fellowship for her research on success, one of the first steps to instilling grit in your child is to put a challenge in front of them. Give your child the opportunity to pursue at least one difficult task that requires discipline and practice, like playing a musical instrument or a sport.

Once given the challenge, have your child follow through. Feelings of frustration can surface at times, but resist the urge to take over or let them quit. Learning isn’t always easy, so helping your child think through the steps teaches them to deal with and overcome adversity.

If your child fails at the task at hand, it’s okay. Being able to pick yourself up after hitting a low moment is a crucial skill a child should learn; that is how perseverance is instilled. Remind your child it is possible to be smart, accomplished and successful and still lose or fail at times.

Share with your child your own hard-fought battles and challenges. Some feel the most important skill a child needs to learn is the ability to get back up after a fall.  Encourage them and model that failure is nothing to be afraid of. A simple do-it-yourself project in the home can be a great opportunity to show a child some of the challenges grown-ups face.

Another way to build grit in your child is to develop a growth mindset. Carol Dweck, Stanford University professor and author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” describes a growth mindset as the journey of improving and strengthening your abilities through hard work, effort, good strategies and/or help and input from others. This mindset opposes the belief that your talents, intelligence and abilities are set in stone.

Dweck has come up with some tips to encourage your children to develop a growth mindset. The first step is to praise their effort, strategies and choices rather than their ability or intelligence. Kids will be more apt to take on challenges and stick with something if the praise they receive is directed toward the work they put in rather than their natural ability or intelligence. Demonstrate that a little bit of elbow grease goes a long way toward improvement.

Responding positively to failure is a critical lesson to learn. They also need to learn that not being perfect is okay. Helping your child set goals teaches them a step toward success and equips them with the skills to achieve the task at hand.

Instilling grit in your children does take effort and consistency, but in the long run the results will benefit them in many aspects of their life. If you would like to learn more about grit, check out Angela Duckworth’s website and take the grit scale at or check out this TED Talk presentation by Angela Duckworth at


By Joel Fehsenfeld, LCSW, Courier & Press, October 25, 2016 –

Why are some people more successful than others? Is it talent? Luck? Genetics? Money? Who you know? Street smarts? Book smarts? High IQ? Hard work?

This question has plagued the minds of psychologists for decades with no real clear answer to the secret of success. For example, West Point Military Academy has one of the most rigorous admissions processes. Of the roughly 14,000 applicants who begin the admissions process to West Point every year, only 1,200 are selected; of that number, 1 in every 5 drop out before graduation.

The ability to predict one person’s likelihood of success over another has also evaded psychologists. However, Angela Duckworth, awarded the MacArthur Fellowship for her research on success, figured out the secret characteristic that separated the candidates who would actually graduate from West Point from those who would drop out.

So, what is the secret? Simply put, Duckworth revealed that the key ingredient was grit.

What is grit? In this article I will help provide an explanation and understanding of Duckworth’s notion of grit and why it predicts success. Then, in a following article, I hope to convey what Duckworth shares on ways to develop grit.

Duckworth points out that a West Point graduate, people who earn master’s or doctorate degrees, finalists of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, top-performing salespeople, or even Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos are often no more talented or intelligent than others. Instead, it is their “grittiness” that carries them to a high level of success.

Grit is the balance of an interdependent relationship between passion and perseverance.

To persevere, in Duckworth’s mind, is the ability to endure struggle, be okay with failure, try again and again and continue to work hard. Perseverance is required for an athlete to practice the mundane, day- to-day routines that build up to greater skill and excellence. It is the sustained effort to build mastery with the long-term horizon in view.

Perseverance, however, without Duckworth’s notion of passion, does not equal grit. Without passion, perseverance is just the ability to work hard at something without satisfaction. Passion is key to the sustained persistence required for gaining a refined skill or completing a long-term goal such as graduation from West Point.

Passion is the ability to sustain interest, desire, or energy towards some type of goal or achievement, whether it is a sporting, business, academic, or personal financial achievement. It is easy to muster energy for something that is a fleeting interest, but to manufacture energy towards a sustained goal without passion is nearly impossible.

Passion is the excitement and energy sparked over and over again to love the pursuit and process of building skill for the sake of the long-term achievement. Therefore, passion is crucial to fueling the effort that is required in Duckworth’s success equation:

  1. talent multiplied by effort = skill  and   2)   skill multiplied by effort = achievement.

Interested in figuring out if you have grit? Check out Angela Duckworth’s website and take the grit scale to see where you rate: If you would like to hear more about grit, check out this TED Talks presentation by Duckworth:

If you would like to know how to build grit in your child or yourself, stay tuned for part 2 of this article next week.