South Gibson Star Times – Aug. 30, 2016 – Parri Black was interviewed for the cover story, and Davi Stein-Kiley contributed a column about teen marijuana use.

Click here for the story:  SG Star times august-30-2016 2 and 3

Parent disciplining child

By Jordan Beach, MSW, Courier & Press, August 30, 2016 –

Parenting is one of the most demanding and difficult jobs around. We are surrounded with conflicting opinions about parenting and what is best for our children.

You can find debates on any parenting subject — breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding, co-sleeping vs. crib sleeping, allowing your child to have electronics vs. unplugging. The list goes on and on.

Another big debate is whether parents should adopt a strict parenting style as opposed to more permissive parenting.

The truth is, there is no definite right or wrong answer for any of these issues. Being a parent involves finding a way to walk the fine line that separates extreme forms of parenting styles.

A common term used for parents who are very strict is “helicopter parents.”  This basically means the parents are constantly hovering over the child, making sure their every move falls within the confines of what the parent deems appropriate.

Knowing where your kids are and what they’re doing is important, and ensuring they complete assignments is practical.  However, watching over their every move can often be detrimental in the long run. Children need to learn how to fall down and stand up again on their own.

Watching your child get hurt is never an easy thing to do. As parents, our natural instinct is to fix the problem, and if possible, prevent it from happening in the first place.

Many times this leads to parents arguing with teachers about grades or behavior, becoming involved in conflicts their child is having with peers or fighting to ensure their child never sits the bench.

Allowing your child to fail, though difficult to watch, is essential for growth and development. When your child suffers the consequences of failing to complete an assignment, it will help them learn the importance of time management.

There will be a time in your child’s life when they are expected to complete tasks independently. Help guide your child and teach them how to prioritize and complete tasks on their own. This will help them become self-reliant and lead to further success in school and future endeavors.

When your child fails to follow the rules at school and there are consequences, they  learn to respect authority. The desire to rescue your child when they are in trouble is normal. However, when you fight against an authority figure, you are teaching your child that the rules do not apply to them and they do not have to do what is asked of them.

When your child has a conflict with a peer, it is important to allow them to work it out on their own.  Allowing them to solve their own problems helps them learn conflict resolution skills, molding them into problem solvers and good communicators.

Watching your children struggle is never an easy thing to do. However, if you allow them to learn and grow by guiding them but ultimately allowing them to make their own decisions, they will be more independent later. The skills they learn as children will help them become more successful adults.

empty nest

By Laura Keys, LCSW, Courier & Press, August 16, 2016 –

Here’s a riddle: I have spent the last 12 years attending school events, PTA meetings and well child visits. I have spent the last four years paying for AP exams and ACT and SAT prep books. I have spent the last two years visiting colleges and researching the safety of each campus. I have spent the last year watching the mail for admittance and scholarship letters. I have spent the last three weeks shopping for sheets, shower caddies and collapsible laundry hampers. Can you guess who I am?

Yes, I am the parent of a child leaving home to attend college. I will soon be an empty nester, and I must say I am not very excited about it.  The closer the time comes for my child to leave, the louder the little voice in my head yells, “NOT YET!”

But being a “glass half full” kind of gal, I decided to focus on how I could handle this life-altering change in a way that is good for me and more importantly my child (who is actually pretty much a grownup).

While reading all I could about adjusting to an empty nest, I found some great truths that came up time and again. I will share some of the good ones, as I know many of my friends, family and co-workers are going through the same adjustment.

1.  Prepare yourself. Face the departure and look at it realistically. Remember how excited and ready you were to get out of your parents’ house.  It’s not as if you didn’t love your parents, and it’s not as if your own children don’t love you. But let’s be honest, you were ready to get the “heck out of dodge,” and you need to remember that feeling so you are not hurt when you see it in your own child’s eyes.

2.  Try not to catastrophize. Don’t spend the last precious days with your child running constantly down your top 10 list of things that could hurt them. Along with excitement, your child is also probably feeling a little anxiety about moving away from home, and the last thing they need to hear is a daily montage of what is scary in the world. Most college campuses put freshmen through safety protocol.  Give them a few gentle reminders and move on.

 
3.  Don’t expect your child to call every day. Think back to your first days on your own as a young adult in a new place. I don’t remember wanting to call my parents and chronicle every new experience. Much of the literature says it is good to set up a weekly call time and save communication by text or email for the rest of the week. I think I will utilize texting a lot at first so my daughter won’t be able to hear me cry after hearing her voice.

 
4.  Focus on the positives for you. As much as I will miss my child, her wet towels and dirty dishes will not be missed. There were nights that I would have liked to have gone to a 90-minute yoga class but instead did a 30-minute cardio workout so I could get home to see how everyone’s day went. Having sole rights to the TV or computer is another bonus.

The point is, find some freedoms in this change. They are there, but you may have to dig for them. I think Dr. Margaret Rutherford said it best:  “Your child’s life will be filled with fresh experiences. It’s good if yours is as well.”

Confident child

By Laura Arrick, LCSW, Courier & Press, August 2, 2016 –

As a parent of two young girls, I have mixed emotions at the beginning of the school year.

It is exciting to get back in a routine and watch their educational growth each day.

The physical, educational, and social milestones seem to pass very quickly, and seeing your child on the right track brings joy and satisfaction.

This time of year can also bring feelings of nervousness and fear. As a Youth First school social worker, I see children growing into young adults every day. They begin to develop self-esteem, question confidence in their abilities and compare themselves to their peers. These internal milestones and changes may be difficult to see in some children who need help in these areas, however.

At Youth First we feel very strongly about prevention. We work with students and families to teach coping skills and empower youth to handle their problems and emotions in a healthy, positive way. We work to foster independence and build confidence to help kids handle whatever life throws their way.

Parents should instill these skills when children are young and developing their own identity. Here are some strategies to help parents build confidence and emotional skills in their children:

Help children become problem solvers and critical thinkers. As kids grow older, move away from fixing every problem and doing everything for them. Let them succeed and fail. This will build their independence, resilience and confidence in their own abilities.

If possible, let kids make their own choices. It can be scary giving them the reins to make decisions, but involving them will build confidence and give them a sense of freedom and independence.

Trust them with responsibilities. Take some time to research appropriate responsibilities for different age groups. There are countless articles and ideas for giving children suitable chores around the home. The younger they are when you introduce these concepts, the more buy-in you will get.

Encourage children to pursue their own interests. Spend time paying attention to their strengths and help them pursue those passions. Parents want children to be involved, and they often pick activities and sports for them. This is OK as they are growing, but as they start to have their own voice, they should have more input on what extracurricular activities make them happy.

Be a good role model. Take time to think about decisions you are making, and show your children it is OK to make mistakes. Being wrong or vulnerable is not necessarily a bad thing. Children are paying attention to your reactions and responses, however.

So with the new school year just around the corner, education and social development are definitely priorities. However, let us not forget that psychological and emotional learning are just as important in shaping children to be healthy adults.

Child doing homework

By Jordan Beach, MSW, Courier & Press, July 26, 2016 –

Does your child put things off until the last possible moment? Does he find other things to do when an important task needs to be completed?

When a child procrastinates it can be extremely stressful and frustrating for everyone involved.

As a parent you might feel discouraged when your child fails to complete tasks. It may feel like your child is being defiant or lazy, but in reality he is more likely bored or distracted from what he should be doing.

There are some simple ways to help your child get back on track and minimize the stress of completing tasks on time.

Allow your child to participate in setting up their after school schedule. This routine doesn’t have to have time limits attached; it could just be a list. Fun things should fall to the bottom of the list. Make sure they know they can’t move on to step B until step A is completed.

This will give your child something to look forward to and incentive to complete the tasks on the list. It is very important to stick to the schedule, however. If you allow your child to skip the “boring” parts one day, he will expect it every time.

Since your child will have a say in creating the schedule, the fun activities listed are things they actually enjoy. The schedule does not have to be set in stone; you could change activities weekly.

If you feel as though you are always giving out punishments or consequences, offer rewards instead when you see good behavior. Offer praise when you see your child doing even small things you like to see. Positive encouragement will boost self-esteem and make them feel more productive.

Be a positive role model for your child. It is much easier for them to procrastinate when they see parents procrastinating. By setting a schedule, staying in a routine and completing necessary tasks on time, you are teaching them important steps to being successful.

Give concrete instructions. Instead of telling your child to complete their homework, be specific and tell them to complete their spelling homework. This way there are no questions about what needs to be done, and they are able to focus on one subject at a time. If possible, break up homework subjects into different nights of the week to help prevent your child from feeling overwhelmed.

When asking your child to clean up, be specific about what you are looking for. If you ask a child to put their clothes away, there is a good chance the clothes will just get shoved out of sight. If you ask them to fold their clothes and put them in the dresser, they will know exactly what you are asking, and there is less room for a misunderstanding.

Procrastination is a learned behavior, which means that it can be unlearned. To help your child be successful, it is important for you to be consistent and a good role model of the behaviors you want to see.

Elderly woman

By Tiffany Harper, MSW, Courier & Press, July 19, 2016 –

Living with and caring for a chronically ill family member is like going for a long run; it is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires a lot of understanding, endurance, energy and empathy.

Caring for the chronically ill impacts everyone in the home on some level. Relationships, household finances, personal freedom and functioning in general can all be affected.

If you are a caretaker, make sure you’re practicing self-care. Here’s how:

1. Come to terms with the change. Depending on how your loved one’s mobility has been impacted, freedom to come and go can be significantly altered. Activity may be limited. If this is the case, household members will be required to adjust to the change.

Patience goes a long way in this process, particularly if there are children in the home. If there is a new diagnosis or the prognosis is not hopeful, fear can set in. There is fear of the unknown, fear of what the future holds, and fear of losing your loved one.

Educating yourself about your loved one’s illness is important. Getting information directly from medical personnel is strongly recommended over website searches, which potentially give misleading information and cause additional anxiety.

It is OK and even important to grieve over changes and the future prognosis. Comfort can be found in cherishing the moments you still have with your loved one.

2. Focus on the positive. While it is important to grieve the loss of the former way of life, it is also important to find the “half full” portion of the glass. Find moments to stay connected to your loved one, but also be sure to focus on other aspects of life, other family members and friends you cherish, and simple pleasures like a beautiful sunset or the sound of rain.

Practice mindfulness. This requires you to focus on specific moments of your day in the present tense, honing in on the sights, sounds and feelings of the moment. This can be practiced during the most mundane of activities, even tasks as simple as washing dishes.

3. Get support. One of the best catchphrases for support is, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Self-care is crucial to those caring for chronically ill family members. Self-care looks different for everyone. It is important to know what activities or practices rejuvenate us physically, mentally and emotionally. Activities as simple as leaving the house for a quick walk, taking a long bath, or talking to a friend can go a long way in renewing body and mind. If you don’t know what works for you, try new things, especially those that fit into the new lifestyle of your home environment.

4. Accept help. If a friend or family member offers help, accept it. This can be very difficult for some. Keep in mind that the people in our lives who care enough to offer probably truly want to help. Allowing them to step in and give you a break, help out with household chores or errands, etc., gives them validation and encouragement in return.

Remember, you must care for yourself to care for someone else. There is nothing selfish about caring for your own health so you can avoid stress and burnout and give your loved one the very best care.

College campus

By Laura Keys, LCSW, Courier & Press, July 12, 2016 –

Last week I took my oldest child to freshman orientation at Indiana University. During one of the parent sessions, they asked us to write a letter to be mailed to our child’s dorm a few weeks after classes begin.

The idea is to give the students a boost a few weeks into the school year, but I think the real reason for the exercise is to help parents start the process of letting go.

As parents, we do need to prepare ourselves for our children leaving the nest, but we also need to prepare our children to fly safely.

The statistics around campus violence are a bit scary. What might be even scarier is that our kids don’t understand a lot of the dangers.

Many experts say that if a student is going to be victimized it will most likely be in their first semester. For that reason, the first six weeks of college is known as “The Red Zone.”

To help both student and parent prepare for this crucial time, a face-to-face discussion on safety needs to happen before departure. Below are some tips and talking points.

Students should always be aware of their surroundings. They shouldn’t walk alone with ear buds. They shouldn’t walk alone at night. Most campuses have many safety options, including free rides on and off campus 24 hours a day as well as strategically placed emergency phones. Let your child know they should not be afraid to use these resources.

Strangers are often not the danger. Most sexual assault victims on campus know their attacker. Stress the importance of getting to know people before placing yourself in a vulnerable situation. It is impossible to really know someone after two dates and going for “nice” over “cool” can’t be emphasized enough.

Be on guard at parties. It’s not enough to tell college students not to go to parties, drink or do drugs. Parents will not be there to enforce the rules, so we need to have a more realistic conversation about the consequences of partaking. They should always monitor their drink and never drink from a common or shared container. Help them understand their judgment is impaired when they are under the influence, and they are less able to defend themselves. In case they get into a dangerous situation, tell them to keep their phone charged and money or a credit card on them at all times.

It’s important to cultivate great friendships. Stress investing in friends that will have your child’s back. The buddy system is the single best safety measure your child has throughout their college career. It’s another set of eyes on your child, and it’s another set of brains to give input when sticky situations arise.

Teach them to trust their gut. If a situation seems scary, it is. If they feel like they shouldn’t be somewhere, they probably shouldn’t. Instinct is one of the few remnants in our DNA from the portion of human history when we were a part of the food chain. Urge them to trust their gut; it’s a biological measure of safety.

If they are listening, all of these points will help improve your child’s security. But the most important thing to say to your child as they leave the nest is that you will always be there if anything bad or good happens. They should never be afraid to call.

open-house-1163353_960_720

By Elizabeth Christmas, LCSW, LCAC – Courier & Press – April 5, 2016 –

In July 2015 I took my children to see a movie. All I knew about the plot was that it centered around the emotions of a young girl.

As a therapist who works with children daily, I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to see this social/emotional brain activity play out on the big screen.

I had no idea just how much my own children and I needed to experience “Inside Out,” as our lives were about to turn upside down.

We had known for several months that our small family would likely be relocating. Like any good mother/therapist, I made sure we talked about what it would be like when the big day came.

My children were familiar with the new community and had visited. I had done some networking to find a few girls my daughter’s age and scheduled some play dates.

We kept our most special toys and stuffed animals with us during the transition. But I don’t think the reality of starting our lives over in a new place really hit my daughter and me until that summer afternoon we moved to our new town.

If you haven’t seen the movie, you truly are missing out on an opportunity to grow. Most of this movie is set inside the brain of an 11-year old girl named Riley who’s depressed about her parents’ decision to move, separating her from her friends.

In the master control room of her mind, five major emotions jostle for control: joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust. The story kicks into gear when Riley attends her first day of fifth grade and has a flashback to a “joy-colored” memory from Minnesota. Sadness is somehow compelled to touch this core memory, prompting Riley to cry in front of her new peers.

For the rest of the movie “Joy” and “Sadness” battle for control, until these personified emotions eventually learn Riley cannot thrive without them working together.

At the end of the movie, Riley finally confessed to her parents how sad she truly was about the move. She had tried to wear a happy face, but that only caused her to become angry on the inside.

As Riley and her parents embraced, I heard a sniffle next to me. I looked over and saw a big tear running down my daughter’s cheek as she watched Riley’s story play out and related it to her own.

Over the last eight months my daughter and I have often come back to the lessons we learned that day. Every time she gets sad about missing her friends, her school, our house, our church … we cry together about all that we miss. I try to be open with her about my own feelings of sadness.

And then we talk about all that we love about our new friends and new school. We make sure to visit the pieces of our past while we enjoy our present. What we learned from “Inside Out” is that life will be sad at times. Children need to hear that parents struggle too and that sadness is acceptable.

When facing a difficult transition such as a move, embrace and press on together — always looking for the joy. God has a way of tying it all together and bringing us full circle. My daughter celebrated her 9th birthday this week … at our new home in our new town on Riley Street.

Cemetery

By Amber Russell, LCSW, Courier & Press, March 29, 2016 –

Dealing with the death of a friend or family member is something very hard for adults to cope with, much less a child. When adults are experiencing a loss, it may be hard to know how to help a child who is also grieving.

The first thing to keep in mind is that grief is not a problem that needs to be fixed or bypassed; it is an experience we live through.

Secondly, just like an adult, a child’s grief is impacted by a variety of factors. A child’s relationship with the deceased, how the person died, the child’s age and developmental level, support system, past experiences with death and personality are all factors to be taken into consideration.

Regardless of the age of the child experiencing loss, here are a few things you should consider:

1. Validate feelings and let them know it’s normal to feel a variety of emotions while grieving. Reactions can include sadness, anger, guilt, fear, relief and many others.

2. There is no time limit on grief; everyone goes through stages in their own time. Children who have lost a loved one might re-experience the loss when they have certain milestones such as getting their driver’s license, graduating, getting married or even doing something that the deceased person enjoyed.

3. Be aware of your own need to grieve. Many adults hide their sadness because they don’t want to make a child feel worse. This might send a message that being sad or crying is not OK. Being open about your own grief will help normalize feelings for the child and help them be more open to talking with you. But also be aware that if you are struggling with extreme emotions, it could cause the child anxiety and make them feel they need to support you. Make sure you examine your own coping skills and get help if needed.

4. When talking with the child, do not lie about the cause of death or what death means. Often adults will avoid words like “dead” or “died” and instead use phrases like “passed away” or “gone to a better place,” which can cause confusion. Some adults might avoid having conversations about the deceased loved one or death in general. This may lead a child to think the subject of their departed loved one or death is taboo, causing them to keep feelings and unanswered questions inside.

5. This may be the child’s first experience with death, and aside from feeling sad, they may feel anxious about the whole process. Talk with your child about what to expect at the funeral, memorial service or burial. Encourage them to ask questions. If we don’t listen to and talk with our kids about death and all that goes along with it, they might assume things or fill in the blanks with false images or expectations.

6. Talk with your child about healthy ways to cope with their feelings and remember their loved one. As a school social worker, I have used some of the following ways to help children express grief: drawing, keeping a journal, putting together a photo album or creating a memory box with pictures and mementos of their loved one.

7. There are also support groups and age-appropriate books that explore grief. A few children’s books I have used in the past are: “When Dinosaurs Die” by Laurie Krasny, “Tear Soup” by Pat Schwiebert and “When Someone Very Special Dies” by Marge Heegaard.

Talking with a child about death is never easy, but with openness, support and love, you can guide them through this life experience.