By Aisha Givens, LCSW – June 16, 2021 –

As parents, we often worry about our children. It’s part of the job. We worry when they are young and continue to worry as they grow into teenagers and adults. Being concerned about your child is a healthy and appropriate feeling. However, constant or excessive worrying can be detrimental to both parent and child. This is known as parental paranoia.

Parental paranoia is constant supervision of a child. This type of paranoia often leads parents to limit their child’s activities to ensure that an adult is always present to observe and control the child’s behavior. This kind of attention can suppress creativity and prevents independent thinking. It can also negatively affect a child’s personal relationships later in life.

When I was a child, my parents gave us rules, but many of us freely wandered our neighborhoods. This was just another part of growing up. I remember walking to the store at least three blocks away at the age of four with my five-year-old brother and his five-year-old friend. 

“Adult geographic solidarity,” or lack thereof, plays a role in the parental paranoia we see in today’s society. We all know the saying, “It takes a village.” The village in the past was usually made up of family members and friends who all lived in the same neighborhood. This gave children the opportunity to freely roam, like I used to when I was a child.

Since extended families generally no longer share backyards or neighborhoods, it leaves today’s parents without the reassurance that their children are safely in the hands of other trusted adults.

These days, most parents don’t allow the same freedoms to their children that many of us enjoyed when we were young. The world has changed so much since then. When my girls were eleven years old and wanted to go the mall for the first time without me, my immediate thought was “Are they going to be safe?”

All of us have these questions about safety. They are normal and healthy responses to perceived risk. However, it is important to remember that in our constantly modernizing world, children are much safer today than during our childhoods.

Today’s most common parenting styles require parents to be observant about safety, which is a good thing in moderation. Most socialization is organized in the form of sports teams, play dates, and extracurricular activities.

These activities are wonderful ways for children to form bonds with each other without direct adult supervision. Make an effort to take a step back in situations like these and take comfort in the fact that don’t you have to worry.  

Ultimately, you want your children to be responsible, respected, and successful. Too much parental observation can add to a child’s stress and anxiety and take away opportunities for children to gain independence. Hovering and micromanaging reduces their ability to lead their own lives.

Strive to find a balance and allow your children the space to learn and grow independently from you. Think about what will happen when it’s time for them to leave home. Will they be ready to face the world, having been protected from it throughout their lives?

Childhood is meant to provide an emotionally secure grounding and a space for freedom, play, and learning from mistakes. Give your children that space and freedom to become their best selves.

By Teresa Mercer, LCSW, LCAC – June 9, 2021 –

Throughout the last year, the impact of a global pandemic has increased stress levels for people all over the world. Although pre-pandemic life had its fair share of stressors, Covid-19 introduced a new form of stress that many of us weren’t prepared to cope with.   

This type of negative stress has made it difficult for people to bounce back and return to their normal routines. Effects of prolonged stress can negatively impact a person spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Many people will continue to feel these effects, possibly for a long time after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.  

There are different ways to look at stress. It’s important to remember that not all of the stress we experience is necessarily bad. Good/positive stress can occur in the absence of a perceived threat or fear. We often experience good stress during times when we feel energetic or excited about something.  

We actually need good stress because it allows us to maintain a healthy outlook. Positive stress can motivate us and keep us working toward healthy goals. Think about completing a project for work, studying for an exam or playing sports. These positive stressors help keep us focused on succeeding in our endeavors.   

Another type of stress is daily stress, which is the “normal” stress of daily life. Going to work, paying bills, taking care of the family, and managing household chores are examples of daily stress. This type of stress probably sounds familiar because everyone experiences it to some extent on a daily basis. It can fluctuate between more and less stressful, but it is always there.  

Bad stress is another type of stress which can be broken down into two categories: acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress can be caused by a traumatic event such as a sudden death, serious injury, or unexpected occurrence. Remember the concept of flight, fight, or freeze? These reactions usually happen during times of acutely stressful situations.  

Chronic stress is when we have recurring stress that lasts over a long period of time. Things like strained relationships, unfulfilling jobs, and illnesses can create chronic stress. Over time, chronic stress can become unmanageable and may lead to other serious issues. 

How do we determine if the stress we are experiencing in light of the Covid-19 pandemic is becoming an unhealthy burden? First, look for negative emotions and feelings related to the pandemic. This can feel like a prolonged sense of fear, anger, anxiety, confusion, depression, grief, lack of motivation, and hopelessness.  

While these emotions are all a normal part of life, it is important to cultivate methods for coping with chronic stress when we notice symptoms persisting for extended periods of time. Some great ways to combat chronic stress include exercise, journaling, positive self-talk, keeping up with a routine, committing to a healthy lifestyle, and developing good eating habits. 

Most importantly, know that you are not alone. Spend time with people who are positive, those who can laugh with you, and those who can relate to your stress and triggers.  

By Grace Wilson, MSW – June 3, 2021 – 

In a world that is constantly on the go and filling our family’s schedules with various activities, it is important that we take time to slow down and spend quality one-on-one time with our children.  

If you have multiple children, take time to spend individual time with each one. Our attention is so often divided between many different tasks, relationships, and worries that we often forget to give devoted time to each child.  

Simply carving out even 10-15 minutes a day to spend with your child will transform your relationship. This works for children of all ages, but the sooner you start implementing this time together, the more easily it will become a part of everyday life.  

Create a list of activities to do together. Some ideas include going on a walk in your neighborhood or local park, painting pictures, baking a treat, playing board games, or reading a book together.  

When you are spending time with your child, all phones and other distractions should be put away. It is important that this time spent together is child driven. You should let them choose the activity and engage in it with them. Let them “run the show” as long as it is something you can feasibly do. 

This one-on-one time is beneficial for the long term mental health of both parent and child. Building strong personal bonds from a young age will enrich a child’s life in the following ways. 

1.     One-on-one time builds confidence and self-esteem. When your child has additional opportunities to express themselves within a loving environment, their confidence increases. Take this time to encourage creativity, imagination, and other positive traits you see in your child. 

2.     Your child will be more apt to open up to you. Extra time spent together gives your child the chance to communicate with you about their thoughts and emotions, good and bad. 

3.     Children will learn to develop positive habits. Kids are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as drugs and alcohol when they have open and positive relationships with parents and caregivers. Forming healthy bonds at home can also boost academic performance and engagement at school.  

Although our lives often seem hectic in the moment, the rewards of spending quality time with your children will last for years to come. These times together will feel like a special treat and provide perfect opportunities to build lasting traditions and create memories together.  

By Haley Droste, LSW – May 26, 2021 –

Today’s youth have never known a time that was not heavily focused on the digital world. Even before a global pandemic shifted work, school, and social events to online spaces, children today have been experiencing a childhood that is very different from that of their parents.

Technology provides amazing opportunities for our young people, but navigating the digital world is also a heavy responsibility that children cannot and should not maneuver on their own. As summer approaches and students will have more time to spend online, here are a few tips to take into account while parenting in a digital world:

1. Embrace the opportunities while minimizing the risk. As a parent, it can be a normal response to feel the need to shield your child from technology. However, withholding technology altogether does not teach children or provide them with the skills necessary to navigate the digital world. A more effective approach is to accept the presence of the digital world and help your child navigate it successfully by traversing it with them. Parents should be the guide.

2. Be a digital role model. Be aware of your own digital presence. Think about how much time you are spending in front of a screen. Are you fully present with your children or are you behind a phone or device? Are you an example of positive digital etiquette? Remember, your children look to you for direction. Create digital rules that work for your family. Create time and opportunities at home that are without the presence of technology, and make sure you fall in line as well. Your children are more likely to comply and respect the house rules if they see the leaders of the household setting the tone.

3. Strive for screen balance. Again, the key is not avoiding technology altogether but rather to find a balance that works for your family. Try one hour of engaged family time for an hour of screen time. Create a checklist of tasks to be completed prior to any screen time, such as homework and chore completion. Create boundaries and clear expectations and be consistent. Children feel safe and secure with parents who are consistent. Be comfortable with the fact that your child will not always be happy with your parenting decisions. Don’t be afraid to set limits.

4. Start the conversation and keep it going. Talk to your child about their digital world and their experiences. Make certain your child knows you want them to come to you with problems or concerns they may be encountering online. And most importantly, when your child comes to you with a concern, be aware of your reaction. Don’t overreact. Thank them for sharing the concern with you and use the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation about the issue.

Most importantly, strive to teach your child to be resilient so they are able to bounce back from pitfalls they will likely experience online. Have thoughtful conversations and work with your child on increasing their social and emotional skills so they have the ability to manage and cope with their emotions effectively.

By Laura Keys, LCSW, and Heather Miller, LCSW – May 21 2021-

More than half a million Americans have died of COVID-19 and, in Indiana, families are grieving the loss of nearly 15,000 loved ones. The pandemic will define a generation of children who lost a parent, grandparent or caregiver. A recent study estimates 43,000 US children lost a parent to COVID-19, not to mention the countless grandparents that have died as well.

In response to this need, Youth First will provide two free, daylong grief recovery retreats for kids this summer. Called Camp Memories, this retreat began five years ago as a way to address the need to help children in our community cope with grief. 

The Youth First program takes place on a designated Saturday from 9 am-5 pm.  Master’s level social workers facilitate the program. At Camp Memories, losing a loved one is the common denominator among participants. Children spend an entire day surrounded by people who have a true understanding of what they’ve experienced.

Camp Memories incorporates a variety of activities that help remove barriers to healthy grieving through games, art therapy activities, and free play. Geared to meet the needs of kids from 1st through 12th grade, the camp creates a safe environment for bereaved kids to process what they’re going through and get the care they need.  Additionally, parents are given an opening and closing meeting to keep them informed and equip them to be helpful as their kids leave the camp.

At the beginning of the day, children are typically hesitant about participating and nervous about what will be discussed. As the day progresses, they begin sharing their experiences as well as their emotional responses to these experiences. Sadness, anger, guilt, worry, and fear are some of the common emotions children express throughout the day.

Allowing them an opportunity to talk about their grief through activities geared for children helps them make sense of their emotions. Invariably, by the end of the day the group is smiling, chatting, and having fun playing with new friends.

This year’s Camp Memories dates are June 12 at Washington Middle School in Evansville and May 29th at Camp Illiana in Washington (Daviess County). Both camps start at 9 am and end at 5 pm. If your child has experienced the loss of a loved one and is interested in participating, please contact your school’s Youth First School Social Worker or Laura Keys at 812-421-8336 x 107. Space is limited. This is a free program that depends on donations to continue providing grief support for children.

This year’s Passport to Adventure Auction will be a virtual event held on May 13, 2021, at 7:00 pm.

Online bidding begins May 3.

The program will be live streamed on our Facebook page and YouTube channel (Youth First Indiana).

Click here for all of the info!

By Kacie Shipman, LSW – May 12, 2021 –

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word communication as “the imparting or exchanging of information or news.” Communication goes much deeper than words alone. Every day we communicate through various means of technology including news and social media, through body language, and through our actions.

Communication starts at birth and continues throughout our life span. From infancy, babies use ways to communicate their needs to be fed, soothed, or changed. During the toddler years, as language skills develop, so does our communication style.

As parents and caregivers, we model and teach communication. Much of our communication as adults is learned from the environment in which we were raised. Learning to communicate well is an ongoing challenge and takes daily practice.

There are many ways to teach effective communication at any age. During the baby and toddler stages, rolling a ball back and forth helps practice taking turns speaking. It is important to speak clearly to children learning to talk so they understand the correct pronunciation of words. Requiring the child to use words early in life rather than pointing or grunting encourages them to use their voice in communicating needs.

At any age, it takes much practice to develop good listening skills. Teaching children to listen well can take a lot of patience. Practicing listening skills with young children can be done in fun ways, such as playing a game of “Simon Says.” This allows them to practice and develop the skill of listening before acting.

Other communication skills that are important to teach early are body language and manners, which are often part of a pre-school curriculum. Body language can include facing the person that is talking, nodding, and not interrupting. If you child interrupts during a phone conversation or other important adult conversation, talking with them about the importance of not doing so when it happens will help them succeed.

A goal of positive communication is learning to understand the other person’s point of view. Understanding is crucial during communication. Miscommunication begins with misunderstanding. Even when you disagree with your child, repeating an overview of what they said or what you heard is a good start.

Validation is a key component in communication. Webster identifies validation as “recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile.”  Validation does not mean that you agree with what the person says or believe their opinion as fact. It does mean that you validate their right to have their own beliefs and they are respected whether the statement is one that is agreed upon or not.

By validating someone’s feelings or thoughts, it makes them feel valued and builds upon the skill of understanding in communication. Often times as we move into adulthood opinions become stronger and deeper.

Communication skills help a person succeed in life. People crave relationships, and when good communication is used those relationships can thrive. Communication can not only help in personal relationships with significant others and in families, but in professional relationships as well.

If as an adult you find yourself struggling in relationships or in interactions with others, please seek a professional therapist to help you learn to communicate more effectively. It is never too late to start.

By Kelli Chambers, LSW – May 6, 2021 –

How do you make time specifically for your family when carving extra time out of your already busy schedule seems next to impossible?

Often times it might feel like there are just simply not enough hours in the day, but intentionally setting aside family time is so valuable and will strengthen your relationships as a whole.

One of the best ways to start setting time for your family to be together is to lay out your weekly plans. It may help to keep a family calendar and post it in a spot where everyone can see it. Make sure to include work, school, extracurricular activities, and other weekly tasks like cleaning, grocery shopping, and attending church.

Categorizing each calendar item into “negotiable” and “non-negotiable” helps to see what can be shifted or eliminated. Using a family calendar can help keep the whole family’s activities organized and can help keep everyone on the same page. Weekly family meetings can also help with communication and decision making.

It is important to remember each family has different things going on, and your time together as a family can look different than others. Sometimes only a small portion of time can be devoted, but schedules might change later to allow for more family time.

If only a limited amount time is available to be with the family as a whole, seize every opportunity and make the most of it. Some small changes in your family’s daily routine could include sitting together at the dinner table for at least one meal a day and also making sure all electronic devices are turned off or put away when the family is together. Big changes can take time, but remember to celebrate the small successes along the way.

Take charge and be a leader in making sure your family gets to spend quality time together. Once changes are made and expectations are set they will eventually become the norm.

Putting in the extra effort to make family time a priority will positively impact your relationships with one another as well as strengthen your communication. Time spent together is precious, because your kiddos are only young once.

By Alicia Slaton, LSW – April 27, 2021 –

Being a new mom brings a wide range of emotions, whether you’re a first-time mom or a seasoned veteran. New babies pose new challenges and worries.

If you plan to be a working mom, whether you decide to stay home for 6 weeks or 3 months, the time will come when you must return to work. This too presents a whole new set of challenges.

The responsibilities and expectations from home continue as you add on stress and expectations at work. It often feels like you must make difficult decisions and set aside one for the other.

For example, you might be faced with the need to work overtime, which then means your kids eat a fast-food dinner from a drive through. Or perhaps you have to drop your children off at daycare early so you can get to work and catch up from the day before.

Unfortunately there is no magic formula to help you balance work and home life. It is okay to continue working without feeling you are neglecting your children. It is also okay to spend extra time with your children without feeling that you are failing at your job.

Here are some suggestions for easing the transition back to work as a new mom:

  1. Ask for help when you need it. They say it takes a village, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Instead of dragging the kids to the grocery store each week, schedule a grocery order pick up and ask a family member to pick it up for you. This will save more time (and stress) than you know.
  1. Put off unnecessary tasks. The laundry is washed and dried but not put away. So what? It’s okay to live out of the clean laundry basket for a week, I promise. Also, there are often ways to hire affordable help for tasks such as cooking and cleaning.
  1. Stay connected. Whether it’s a night out with the girls, a daily check-in phone call with a parent or a kid-free date night with your spouse, stay connected to your loved ones.
  1. Focus on stress management. According to verywellmind.com, “Stressed working moms often find themselves less able to connect with their children or focus at work, which may lead to acting out by the kids, time-consuming mistakes at work, and other things that increase stress for working moms and their families. Therefore, taking a proactive stance on stress management is quite important.”

It’s essential to have several quick stress relievers in your toolkit. Breathing exercises and reframing techniques (alternative ways of looking at stressful situations), as well as long-term strategies such as regular exercise, meditation or a hobby, can help relieve stress for working moms and their families.

There’s no such thing as a “perfect” working mom. The important thing to remember is that you are a good mom and a good employee. All you need is a healthy balance between the two.

By Mary Haas, LSW – April 22, 2021 –

Whether we like it or not, we are constant role models to our kids. Our children are always watching our actions and listening to our words. What a high pressure job to have!

There are times when we are not the best parents, but this is to be expected. We are human just like our kids. As parents, we often make mistakes and respond negatively to everyday stressors. Although life can occasionally become overwhelming, it’s important to remember that we always have a choice as to how we respond to frustrating situations.

Healthy management of stress is an essential skill for children to develop. If we pretend that nothing flusters us we lose an opportunity to guide our child with helpful and productive methods to manage stress and discomfort. Our actions and choices as parents are the best learning tools for our children.

One of the key elements in helping developing adolescents is providing the space for open and honest communication. This means remaining calm even if what we hear is hard to swallow or causes us some discomfort. Honesty is crucial, because our kids can sense when we are faking emotions or not being genuine in conversation, just as we can sense it in them.

When difficult conversations with your teen arise, it is okay to say something like, “Right now, I’m so upset that I can’t make decisions. I want to think this through instead of reacting.” Or maybe something like, “We’ll talk when I’m ready. I need to calm down first.” Then, go take care of yourself. Take the time to process your thoughts and feelings. Once you are ready you can come back ready to support your teen.

Remaining calm is easy in theory, but it can be a lot harder in practice. Calmness is crucial, however. A calm response strategically positions us to have the influence our children need as we guide them toward adulthood.

By the time young people reach late adolescence, they still do not have the ability to make decisions nearly as well as adults because their brains are still developing. When we use calm responses and openness, we create the opportunity for logical problem solving. If we yell and scream, we are signaling to our child the need for an emotional defense by tapping into the survival part of their brain.

By providing calmness in an intense situation, we allow our child to develop and practice thoughtful plans to carry into challenging situations. We allow our adolescent to reflectively link short and long-term consequences to their choices.

Although we may not agree with our teen or approve of the choices they make, we can still express love and empathy. When we get upset with them, it is because of how deeply we love them. Their radically developing brains need reassurance that they are unconditionally loved as their emotional sensors are maturing and sensitive to the reactions of others.

When we practice calmness in our parenting, we become parents who are more willing to work together with our teen. Young people talk to adults who listen. We have a tough job on our hands raising a teen, and although we will never be perfect, we can work to become trusted partners with our child.