By Jessica Golba, MSW, LSW – March 13, 2024

Car rides with your kiddos can be the perfect opportunity to have meaningful conversations. You will have their undivided attention and can discuss a variety of topics. Since you are not looking directly at them, they will be more apt to share.

I suggest keeping the radio at a low volume or letting them choose the music. You will most likely be vying for attention from devices, music, or other kids. When possible, get them one-on-one, even if you are only running an errand to the bank or grocery store. If your teen is getting their license, ask them to drive you.  Most jump at the chance to get driving time, and this will ensure they are device free.

Here are some tips and ideas for topics to bring up during car rides:

1. Ask them about their day and how school is going. Ask open-ended questions. Limit the amount of yes/no questions, or all you will get are yes/no answers.

2. Talk about their hobbies and interests. They may balk at talking about themselves at first, but keep at it!

3. Ask if they have thought about what kind of job they want in the distant future. What about during high school? Tell them about your first job. I am always pointing out the orchard where I first worked, so often that my kids can tell the story on their own now.

3. Share stories about your teenage years. If you see the make and model of your first car, you must point it out…that’s the rule.  

4. Discuss current events or social issues. Refrain from judging and respect their viewpoint on the issues. Offer your view as an opinion, not fact.

5. Ask fun/silly questions, such as: “If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?” “What kind of animal would you want when you are on your own and what would you name it?”

6. Use the time to teach them important life skills like budgeting or changing a tire. With non-licensed kiddos, explain how a 4-way stop works, how to parallel park, and point out common road courtesy. These things can help in the future when they are learning to drive.

7. Listen, listen, and listen. The ironic thing about not asking too many questions is that you will get more answers by remaining silent and letting your child talk. If they are willing to open up about issues they are having, let them talk. Asking too many questions can sometimes make a teen feel as if they are being judged or didn’t do the “right thing” because you are questioning them.

8. In general, keep the topics light so that when you have to discuss something more serious they are already used to listening to you (and hearing what you have to say).

9. When in doubt, bad “Dad jokes” will at least get an eye roll, such as, “You know what bugs me? Insect puns.”

Remember, the key to having great conversations with your kids in the car is to be a good listener and show genuine interest in what they say. With some effort, car rides with your kids can become some of the best conversations you will ever have.

By Audrey Bowlds, MSW, LSW – March 6, 2024

As parents and caregivers, we definitely want our children to feel safe, happy, protected and cared for. However, we can’t always be with our children as much as we’d like.

Children are faced with making choices on their own every day at school, friends’ houses, summer camps, on social media, and even at home when parents are away. Every choice a child makes has consequences, either positive or negative.

Unfortunately, between peer pressures, social media influence, and immaturity, children sometimes make a choice that leads to a traumatic experience. Even if we are with our children, a traumatic event such as a car crash, witnessing a robbery, or sheltering together at home during a weather disaster could occur.

After a traumatic experience, children can show signs of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, intense emotional upset, academic and attention difficulties, nightmares, and changes in their sleeping and eating habits. No matter what traumatic experience took place, a child might react differently than others involved in the same experience.

Everyone experiences trauma and deals with the aftermath in their own way, whether they experienced it together or not. Children are often more resilient than adults when dealing with a traumatic experience. Because the neural pathways of their young brains are still developing, it is very important to seek out mental health counseling for a child after this type of event. The more we engage and reinforce healthy pathways, the better we can support the mental and emotional well-being of the child.

Although we never want to think about our children being in a traumatic situation, there are resources to utilize if needed. Along with seeking out a therapist or mental health counselor for your child, you can also help them through their healing journey. It is important to talk about the traumatic event with your child, even if it is uncomfortable. If you do not openly talk about the event with your child, it will be harder for them to accept what happened and move on from the experience.

You should take their feelings seriously. You may have to reassure your child repeatedly and listen to the same concerns. They might want to talk repeatedly about their traumatic experience, or maybe not at all. Either way, it is important that you check in with them and make sure they feel safe.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than two thirds of children reported at least one traumatic experience by age sixteen. The reality is that traumatic experiences happen every day, and while it is frightening to think about, it is important to know how to help a child if needed. The child might not fully recover or completely forget about their traumatic experience, but with the resources mentioned in this article, they will most definitely be able to live a happier, more fulfilling life.

By Sarah Elrod, LMHC – February 28, 2024

If you are a working parent, whether it’s full or part time, this article is for you. Have you ever just felt so overwhelmed that you couldn’t breathe? Is it difficult to find a minute for yourself each day after taking care of others? Are there days you get off work and just don’t want to talk to anyone or even take care of your kids? Or maybe you’ve had a day where you just want to sit on the couch and binge your favorite Netflix show without being bothered.

If you answered yes to any of these, you are not alone, and I am here to validate you. You are doing an amazing job. For most parents, there are days where we push ourselves to the limit and feel like we have nothing left to give.

In addition to working and taking care of a family, many parents choose to take time for hobbies, workouts or coaching their child’s sports team. Then, when you finally convince yourself to do something you enjoy, you might feel guilty for not spending the spare time you have with your family.

I want you to know is that it is okay to take a break. It is okay to not get everything done in one day. That’s what tomorrow is for. Personally, I am not immune to feeling guilty when I believe I haven’t done enough. It’s a completely normal feeling.

Working as a mental health professional for the past 6 years has taught me that we are all fighting our own battles, no matter how big or small we may think they are. We all have our own ways of adjusting or getting through the hard times. I have come up with some steps to follow during those times to help focus on you.

  1. Acknowledge how you feel. Take at least 30 seconds each day to check in with yourself. Assess how your body is feeling. Pay attention to the thoughts you’re having. Once you have taken the time to focus on yourself for just a moment, move on to the next step. 
  2. Validate yourself. Validate feelings of guilt, anger, sadness, satisfaction or happiness. Per, the definition of validation is, “recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile.”  Give yourself some credit for all that you’re able to accomplish and give yourself grace. 
  3. Identify what soothes you or how you can cope effectively with the stress you are experiencing. A coping skill is a behavior or activity that one might use to decrease stress or manage difficult emotions. So when you’re trying to cook dinner after a long and stressful day, the kids are fighting for your attention and you feel stressed out, a coping skill is your best friend. Some examples of coping skills include listening to music, exercising, smelling a candle, interacting with your pet, hanging out with friends, or deep breathing and meditation. A great resource is, where there’s a long list of coping skills. See what works best for you. The goal is to get to a level of functioning where you don’t feel like you’re going to self-implode. 
  4. Remember that you are capable and strong. If you feel as though taking steps on your own is not working, I highly recommend seeking out a mental health professional so you can talk in a comfortable and supportive environment. Additionally, most employers offer an Employee Assistance Program, where they collaborate with a local mental health facility and offer a designated number of therapy sessions free of charge.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, know that you are not alone. Your feelings are valid and you have the right to take care of yourself along with everyone else. Give yourself permission to focus on you and be the best version of yourself you can be!

By Jordan Nonte, MSW, LSW – February 21, 2024

There are many factors impacting sports and athletes today, including social media, cost to participate, time commitment, and hyper competitiveness. I think anyone could make the argument that sports help kids develop many skills that can benefit them in adulthood. However, since sports culture has been evolving, are the benefits outweighing the costs?

According to the Aspen Project, in 2018, 38 percent of children participated in an organized sport, down from 45 percent in 2008. According to the MedPage Today, research has found that early or overspecialization in sports, or playing the same sport for 8 months or more per year, has increased injuries and burnout.

Meanwhile, parents are paying big money for their child to participate in some programs, on top of gear and travel. These high costs may cause parents to put more pressure on teams to succeed. Some parents may be expecting their children to obtain athletic scholarships for college, also increasing an athlete’s pressure to compete.

Demanding schedules can cause overuse injuries, resulting in medical bills and worried parents, causing further stress and anxiety on young athletes. These stressors may pressure kids to play through the pain or return to a sport before their injury has fully healed.

When kids try out for a sport, their main goal is usually to “have fun.” They are expecting to make new friends, develop skills in a sport, and get some mentorship from a coach. As time goes on and the stakes get higher, this may evolve into burnout from a packed schedule, guilt from parents’ financial contributions and time commitment, stress from an injury, anxiety to earn a scholarship, and ultimately, pressure to win. Many times, older athletes are completely basing their value as a person on their ability to compete in a sport.

So what do we do to prevent this? An athlete’s enjoyment in a sport largely contributes to whether or not they will stick with it. So how can we make sports fun again for athletes?

What about if we check in with our athletes as parents and coaches? We might ask questions like, “What are you hoping to get out of this season?”  “What would you like to see happen?” “How can I support you?”

It might mean, as a parent, leaving the coaching to the coaches and not coaching from the stands or coaching on the way to and from games, or cutting out the travel season and just competing during the school season. As a coach it might mean cutting back on the two-a-day practices, having a team bonding day or outing, incorporating fun games into practice, or giving a day off.

And for both parties, it might mean prioritizing fun and skill building over winning. Overall, having positive and encouraging conversations with athletes and checking in is a must.

Unfortunately, there is no black and white answer. What works for one athlete may not work for all. Every athlete is an individual, trying to thrive with different dynamics of parents, coaches, and teammates. How they are doing and feeling about a sport depends on many factors.

Therefore, I’ll leave you with this. Check in with your athletes whether you are a parent or coach. Take time to talk with them one-on-one and really listen to their hopes as well as their burdens. From there, assist them in coming up with some options to find relief, address an issue, or maybe sign up for another sport. We won’t know the answer until we have these conversations and show our athletes that we are there to listen, support, and help them make the best decisions for their mind, body, and spirit. Maybe then, we will see more kids joining sports again, and more importantly, having fun!

By Hailey Hagan, MSW – February 14, 2024

Anxious teens are vulnerable to experiencing panic attacks, which can be a frightening experience for both the child and the parent/caregiver. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, panic attacks are characterized by a sudden wave of fear or discomfort or a sense of losing control when there is no clear threat of danger.

Panic attacks are often accompanied by physical symptoms such as racing heart, dizziness, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Oftentimes these symptoms develop without warning, so what can you do to help your anxious teen cope with a panic attack at home?

  1. Stay Calm and Reassuring. Even though teens won’t show it, they look to their parents and other adults for stability and reassurance that everything is okay. If a parent reacts with great concern, it can unintentionally send a message that the panic attack is serious and potentially dangerous. So, when your teen is in the midst of a panic attack, stay calm, speak in a soothing tone and remind them you are there for them. Your relaxed demeanor can act as a guiding light in their storm of anxiety.
  1. Validate Their Feelings. Let your teen know that what they’re feeling is valid and okay. Avoid judgment or dismissive remarks. Reassure them that it’s a temporary situation and that you are there to support them unconditionally.
  1. Create a Safe Space. Find a quiet, comfortable place where your teen can sit or lie down. Eliminate any triggers, if possible, and offer them a comforting item, such as a soft blanket or a favorite stuffed animal.
  1. Help Distract Them. There are many tools and techniques to help distract an individual during a panic attack. Exercising, playing a game, eating a snack, using ice packs to cool down the body, breathing techniques, a shower or a bath, or watching a favorite show are all techniques that can be used to distract your teen during a panic attack.
  1. Help Them Avoid the Panic Attack Trap. Once a teenager has a panic attack, they may become fearful of having another one and may avoid activities and situations they feel could trigger another attack. As a result, your teen may try to avoid school, social activities, family events, or sports. While understandable, this avoidance only worsens anxiety and increases the chance for more panic attacks. It is important to encourage your teen to face these situations, while at the same time empathizing with how challenging it is to face a scary situation.

In these moments, your understanding, patience, and support can make a significant difference. By being a source of strength, you can help your teenager manage panic attacks and, in the process, strengthen your parent-child relationship.

By Hannah Gill, MSW, LSW – February 7, 2024

These days it seems like a surprising number of children and teens are under significant stress, and this is likely true for many others in our communities. Research shows that the COVID-19 pandemic heightened anxiety and depression for many kids, and we are now seeing the effects. It can feel overwhelming to consider the impact these events, although out of our control, have had or will have on our children. It can be even more overwhelming to think about healing and moving on from these stressors.

When we think about recovery from intense stress, our brains will go right to traditional one-on-one outpatient therapy. While this is undoubtedly an essential part of healing for some children and teens, it is also important to consider how small therapeutic moments in a child’s day can immensely impact their life.

Clinician and researcher Bruce Perry has studied trauma in young children and developed an understanding of how it affects them and how communities can help them overcome trauma and adversity. While many situations that Bruce Perry researches and discusses are extreme, one important takeaway is the power of therapeutic moments and interactions.

These interactions may be with parents, teachers, administrators, counselors, and social workers in our schools and communities. In his book The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Perry explains that a therapeutic moment can significantly influence a child’s life. He writes, “It merely requires being present in social settings and being, well, basically, kind… The more we can provide each other these moments of simple, human connection – even a brief nod or a moment of eye contact – the more we’ll be able to heal those who have suffered traumatic experience.” 

This gives me hope when I think about our communities and the children in our schools. It illustrates that any moment can be therapeutic if we are attentive and engaged with a child and their actions. This might mean interacting with a child getting ready for school in the morning, after they get home, or in the hallway as students go from class to class.

It may seem like a challenge to help a child recover from stressors or move on from a situation that felt hard for them. Yet this view of recovery and therapeutic moments gives adults the space and permission to engage authentically with the children and teens in their lives. It shows the power that nurturing adults can genuinely have.

This lens gives us, as the adults in a child’s life, permission to show up authentically and gives us evidence that if we do so consistently, that alone may be enough to help a child overcome stress and heal from traumatic events they might have experienced. The Youth First Social Worker or Youth First Mental Health Professional in your child’s school building can help parents and teachers consider ways in which they can bolster and provide therapeutic moments and create moments for co-regulation in a day.

By Natasha Goodge, MSW, LSW – February 1, 2024

“I’m bored,” 5-year old Julian often says.  

As a mother, social worker, and let’s face it, a people pleaser, my initial reaction to this and other complaints is to try to fix them. I offer suggestions, provide distractions, or simply hand over my smart phone.  

For some children and adults, boredom can feel uncomfortable and result in feeling anxious. Boredom is disengagement, and disengagement from your environment feels vulnerable and dysregulating. Chronic boredom can even lead to depression and anxiety.  

Chronic boredom, however, is very different from the initial, superficial level of boredom experienced when standing in line or waiting for the next episode of our new favorite show. These days, this initial dip into monotony is easily avoided by checking our email or with a quick scroll through our favorite social media pages. This avoidance of boredom, however, may mean a loss of opportunity for connection, innovation, and creativity. 

Boredom can make children feel restless and frustrated, but it can also lead to the discovery of new interests and meaningful activities. When children engage in play that is undirected and unmanufactured, the creative part of their brain is stimulated. They can develop creative skills that stay with them for life.

For example, a child may start playing keys on the piano and then picking out a tune, which may spark an interest in taking piano lessons. They may observe grandma working on a knitted hat and ask to learn to knit. Younger children may search the house for sheets and blankets to build a fort to play in.  

Being bored can be especially good for children by helping them develop planning strategies, problem-solving skills, flexibility, and creativity. It also helps kids build tolerance for the inevitable, not-so-fun experiences, such as long car rides and adult dinner conversations. Being bored together offers opportunities for your child to observe their surroundings more closely, practice mindfulness, self-reflect, or to develop and practice interpersonal communication skills and share about themselves. Once, in an especially long line for pizza, my son explained in detail his complicated feelings about his classmates.  

“You can’t teach creativity,” writes psychologist Peter Gray, “All you can do is let it blossom.”  Now when my son tells me he is bored, I say, “That’s great honey!”

By Krista Kirk, MSW, LSW – January 24, 2024

Navigating friendships in high school can be a daunting task for many teens. As we grow older, our brains become more complex, and with that, our friendships become more complex as well. It is no longer as simple as relying on our parents to help us make friends through playdates with the children of their friends.

High school students must learn how to navigate peer relationships on their own, which can be a challenging process. However, with the right guidance and support, it is possible to build strong and healthy friendships that can last a lifetime.

It is vital to remember friendships do not form at the snap of a finger. They take time to develop and mature. School is a prime place to make friends; however, this is not easy for every student. Remind your teen that if they notice someone without a friend or friend group, they could encourage that student to join them at lunch or get involved in a club, sport, hobby, or outside organization they are interested in.

Parents also want to watch for signs of unhealthy friendships; here are some red flags:

● Your child isolates from other friends, peers, or family

● The friend shames them for spending time with others

● Your child has a significant age gap with their friend(s)

● The friend strives to “one-up” them after they share good/bad news

● The friend blames them for their own problems or disciplinary actions

● The friend encourages them to keep secrets from everyone but the friend

● You notice shifts in behavior or engaging in behavior that is more reckless

● Feeling drained or not feeling like themselves after spending time with friends

If you or your child see some of these red flags in a friendship, it is important for them to let the friend know how they feel. Encourage them to use “I” statements such as, “I don’t like when you get mad when I want to spend time with my family.” Another tip is to stick with the facts. Stating facts comes off as less aggressive and can help if the friend becomes defensive.

It is also important for your child to establish boundaries in a friendship and hold firm to the boundaries. If the friend continues to cross their boundaries, they will need to consider establishing stronger boundaries.

You can also advise your child to take a break from unhealthy friendships to help them process how to communicate more effectively and establish healthy boundaries.

Additionally, here are some tips to help your teen build positive friendships:

● Model healthy friendships yourself

● Have a discussion with your teen on what qualities they look for in a friend

● Highlight good qualities you see in their friends

● Help them realize quality friendships are better than quantity

● Be supportive and lend a listening ear

● Be realistic about friendships having ups and downs

When reflecting on friendships at the high school level, it is important to remember that our friendships play a part in how others view us and how we are remembered. It is important to seek characteristics and values in a friend that reflect our own.

For example, if they would like others to remember them as a welcoming person, they should surround themselves with peers who will let others join their circle and make them feel welcome. Encourage them to remember who they are and who they want to be. We all have control over who we choose as friends. As humans grow and change, so do friendships.

By Kandace Troxell, Intern – January 17, 2024

When you have a baby, your world changes. Your entire focus on life shifts from yourself to keeping your newborn safe and happy. You are constantly holding them, cradling their head, and watching their every move to ensure their safety.

As they grow into a toddler, you put safety locks and guards throughout the house to ensure that they do not bump their head or seriously injure themself. When they become a young child, you insist they wear a helmet when riding a bike and you keep a diligent eye on them in and around swimming pools.

As they reach the teenage years, you make sure they wear their seat belts when they drive in their first car. As parents, protecting your child’s physical health is completely natural…but have you considered how you are protecting your child’s mental health?

Children’s bodies develop and change as they grow, and their brains are developing and changing as well. According to Melissa Ford, senior strategist and writer for the Center for Parent and Teen Communication, a child’s brain is growing and changing even as they move into the teenage and young adult years. In the same way that you protected their bodies, it is important to protect their minds.

One way of doing so, according to Ford, is to create a nurturing environment for the child to grow and develop. If a teenager is experiencing a stressful environment, they may not have the ability to process their emotions in a productive and healthy way because they are overwhelmed by the stress of the environment.

How can you create a low stress environment at home? Start with creating a solid foundation by making sure a child’s basic needs are met, including providing three meals a day, making sure they practice good hygiene, and ensuring that they get adequate sleep. Additionally, it is important to create an environment that does not focus on pressure, shame, or guilt, but instead, focuses on understanding, openness, and empathy.

Another way to protect your child’s brain is by helping them understand the importance of doing so. The Center for Parent and Teen Communication explains that one essential way to educate your child about their brain is to teach them about the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol on their brain and body. Young people may perceive drugs and alcohol as fun, recreational activities to enjoy with friends; however, there are serious consequences for their developing brains.

Additionally, you can teach children WHY it is important to protect and care for their mental health. Together as a family, you can practice self-care activities that lessen stress. These self-care practices could include eating a healthy diet, exercising, doing yoga, taking long walks, journaling, talking to others, and more.

We all want what is best for our children. The bottom line is that it is just as important as a parent to protect your child’s developing brain and their mental health as it is to protect their bodies from harm.