By Christine Weinzapfel-Hayden, LCSW – March 31, 2020 –

America has found itself in a medical crisis that most people didn’t see coming. There have been a lot of sudden changes in our lives that we weren’t anticipating. One of the most significant changes is the sudden break from school. Some school corporations have announced they will not resume school this year.  

It is crucial that we help provide our children with sense of comfort during this time. What are some things we can do to help provide our children with comfort and routine during a time that seems to be anything BUT routine? 

First, take care of your own mental health. If you’re feeling anxious about current events it is very important to minimize your own anxiety. Your children will be able to tell that you’re anxious, and this could create some anxiety in them as well.  

Strategies for managing your anxiety might include meditation, exercise, yoga, and reading. It is important that you have an outlet during this time. Be sure conversations you’re having about your own fears are not happening in front of your children.  

Your kids are probably spending a lot more time at home than they’re used to. It is important to provide them with some normalcy during this time. If you have assignments for them to complete, set aside time daily for them to do this work. This time should be structured and quiet, much like their school day.  

If you do not have assignments your children are working on at this time, I strongly suggest creating structured time in their day where they read quietly or work on age-appropriate math and language arts activities. There are a lot of websites providing free services at this time due to so many schools being closed. Keeping some structured time is important; when they return to school it will help lessen the shock.  

Once you have your structured time planned, it is also important to build in fun. I know it seems more difficult to have fun when you’re stuck in your house. This is a perfect time to dust off those old board games, have some killer dance parties, try a new recipe together and remember what it’s like to enjoy each other’s company without deadlines and schedules hanging over your head.  

Times are difficult and confusing right now, but we can absolutely make the best of it. Take this time to enjoy togetherness with those you love most.  

By Jordan Beach, LSW – March 24, 2020 –

Let’s take some time to talk about one of those dreaded “F” words…failure.

A lot of times we think of failure as the worst-case scenario. Failure is viewed as the thing that happens when you weren’t prepared or you didn’t try hard enough.

Take a moment and think of a time you failed. Try to remember what you were doing, where you were, and who was there. Now, focus on the feelings you had.

Personally, a knot immediately forms in my stomach when I feel I’ve failed. For most of us it brings up uncomfortable, unpleasant feelings that we try to prevent, not only for ourselves but also for those we love. We become so fixated on the unpleasant feelings immediately after our failure that we lose sight of the good things that can happen.

Preventing failure doesn’t automatically lead to success. Failure is an essential part of growth.

What happens when we prevent failure? Well, on the surface everyone is happier. We feel a sense of accomplishment, success, and we get to avoid those negative feelings that settle into the pit of our stomach.

Most importantly, though, we get to feel comfortable. As parents we feel like we’ve helped our kids get a taste of success when we help them avoid failure. As individuals we are able to avoid feelings of discomfort, shame, and embarrassment.

There is a lot more at play when we prevent failure from happening, though. To start, when we strive to make things easier for our kids to prevent them from failing, we are telling them we don’t believe they can do it on their own. When children are taught to associate failure with something negative, we are teaching them to avoid risks. They start to develop a fixed frame of mind in which they think, “If I might fail, I won’t even try.”

Looking at the opposite end of the spectrum, what happens when we embrace failure? Looking back to that moment when you failed, what could have made that moment different for you? What kind of support could you have used in that moment that would have changed your outlook?

If we stop looking at failure as a time our children did something wrong and start looking at it as a time they experienced growth, we can encourage them to take more chances and be more adventurous with their lives. It’s time to start talking about failure as something that happens to everyone.

When talking to your kids about the successes of their day, also discuss the things that didn’t go well. Help them pick out the positive things that happened or could have happened because of their struggles or moments of defeat.

Teaching our children to put forth their best effort and to be okay when things don’t work out in their favor is a huge step toward creating more resilient children. They will learn that failing at something doesn’t make them a failure. Use moments of failure as stepping stones to growth, and your kids will become more successful adults.

CLICK HERE to visit the online bidding site for Youth First’s 18th annual Passport to Adventure Auction, which will be held on June 18, 2020 at the DoubleTree Hotel Ballroom in downtown Evansville, IN.

All are welcome to attend this FREE and exciting evening that features a live and silent auction, heavy hors d’oeuvres, and an awards ceremony that honors young people and supporters who have benefited from or advocated for Youth First’s programs and services. Doors open at 4:30pm and the live auction begins at 7:00pm.

CLICK HERE to register to bid, view our auction items, and bid on silent auction items. New items will be added as they are received, so check back often. Online bidding will begin on June 4 and will close at the live auction on June 18.

By Laura Keys, LCSW – March 12, 2020 –

You don’t have to tune in the news to know how worried everyone is about the Coronavirus (COVID-19).  If adults are worried, it follows that children will be scared as well. 

I have had a lot of parents reach out to me in the past two weeks to get advice on how to discuss the virus with their children.  Because many children are hearing about it at school and online, it’s important to make sure they have accurate information. 

As always, it is best to make sure they are getting their primary information from you.  Many parents are wondering how to bring up the epidemic in a way that will be reassuring and not make kids more worried than they already are. Most experts agree to some general guidelines.

  1. Model composure – When I am on a bumpy flight, I always keep my eye on the flight attendant. If they are calm, I am calm. Children watch their parents every day in a multitude of situations. Even though you may be concerned yourself, it is important to model calmness when talking about the virus.
  2. Limit news exposure on the coronavirus – Although the news can be helpful by keeping everyone informed, it tends to sensationalize current events to keep our attention. The news can have strong language and visuals that may be scary to a young child or lead to anxiety in an older child.  For this reason, it is best to limit this coverage when the kids are around, especially if they tend to be worriers by nature.
  3. Try to catch when your child is looking for reassurance – I’m sure all parents can remember times their children seemed to ask the same question over and over. It’s not that they weren’t listening the first time. Most likely your answer made them feel better, and they may need to feel better about something over and over if it’s scary to them. Try to answer their questions in a consistent and calm manner without bringing up that they have asked this “a thousand times.”  If you notice repeated reassurance seeking or you are not able to reassure them after several attempts, it might be helpful to seek extra support to help your children manage their anxiety.

Remember, everyone is working hard to manage the virus. There are many ways to prevent further spread. Practicing and modeling these simple behaviors can be a proactive measure for you and your child. Kids and grownups can try their best to stay healthy by continuing their usual activities while practicing these healthy behaviors:

  1. Sneeze or cough into tissues (and throw them away) or sneeze or cough into your elbow. This helps keep germs from traveling and making other people sick.
  2. Wash your hands with soap and water at the same times you usually do, like after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose. When you wash your hands, remember to count slowly to 20. (Parents can help by singing the ABCs or “Happy Birthday” with their children the number of times it takes for 20 seconds to pass. This helps children remember to wash for a sufficient amount of time.)
  3. Try to keep your hands out of your mouth, eyes, and nose.

For more information on kids and the coronavirus, visit the CDC’s website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/talking-with-children.html.

By Deena Bodine, LCSW – March 10, 2020 –

We live in a society that glamorizes busyness. Our calendars are full, but we may be left feeling less than fulfilled at the end of the day.

We spend our days busy with work and parenting responsibilities, squeezing in time for maintaining a household requiring chores and upkeep. Often we forget to slow down and enjoy the little moments. We seem to have an expectation that if we work hard now it will allow us to relax and enjoy life later. 

We are fooling ourselves. Life really is about the little things. And in our busy world, those small moments of joy and connection matter. While we may not be able to slow our world or eliminate tasks from our calendar, we can take steps to increase the moments that matter and remind ourselves of what is truly important. 

One way to do this is through family rituals. Developing family rituals can help ensure that we have impactful, shared experiences amid the everyday busyness of our lives. Family rituals and traditions are the basis for creating family culture. Through family culture we encourage nurturing bonds between siblings and parents and develop a sense of belonging, with the bonus of creating a memorable childhood. 

Family rituals can be simple daily, weekly, or seasonal traditions that your family looks forward to. The rituals do not need to be expensive or extravagant.  A bedtime routine of dinner, a bath, and reading a book while snuggling can be a simple and encouraging ritual. Selecting a phrase or gesture (the “I love you” sign is an example) to use in greetings or goodbyes is another no-cost, low time-commitment idea. 

Another ritual idea includes implementing a weekly (or more frequent) family dinner where all family members are encouraged to disconnect from TV, cell phones, and computers and reconnect with one another. This is a great opportunity to incorporate a conversation jar with prompts for all members to help start the discussion. 

Another idea is to start a family gratitude journal where each member adds one thing they appreciate on a daily or weekly basis. Reviewing those entries at the end of the month can be entertaining as well. 

As children grow older, implementing a regular family meeting can provide an outlet to discuss activities and events that need to be included on the family calendar (tests, practices, dance classes, sleepovers, etc.) and can also provide an avenue for conversations about chores, allowances or other tough topics. You can also add seasonal rituals such as apple picking, hiking, decorating cookies, building a snowman, or planting a garden. 

There are so many possibilities for family rituals, and this could be a great opportunity for all members to provide suggestions (i.e. each member chooses an activity for “Sunday Funday”). The important part of the ritual is less about what you are doing and more about doing it together as a family. 

For more family ritual ideas, please visit the Youth First Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/YouthFirstInc/  to find suggestions and add your family’s favorite.

By Keisha Jackson, MSW – March 3, 2020 –

Chores. They can be defined as simple everyday tasks that few of us enjoy but all of us need to complete to keep a household running smoothly.  

It’s a given that adults in the household should do their part and lead by example.  However, when it comes to children and teens being assigned household chores, that’s when much debate comes into play.

Assigning your children chores can definitely take some stress off as a parent; however, it also can help build life skills and teach responsibility. Completing chores also helps kids feel as if they are part of the family team. Assigning younger children chores demonstrates that you trust them to complete a task.

Here are some age-based suggestions for chore assignments:

Preschoolers – Preschoolers can be given simple everyday chores, including picking up after themselves, placing their plate by the kitchen sink when finished with meals, and picking up their room when it becomes messy. Younger children respond well to rewards, so if your child struggles with picking up after themselves, encourage them with a reward system. Sticker charts, special dates to get ice cream or a trip to the park are just a few examples of rewards for kids this age. 

Elementary-age children – Once children begin to attend school their responsibilities increase, and they should take on more at home as well. Chores should also include picking up after themselves at this age. As your child grows older, gradually add more responsibility to their chore list.  As chores become more challenging or complex, give them your expectations. Teach them how to put away their clothes and where the dishes go after they are clean. Give them step-by-step instructions and encourage them along the way. Never expect perfection, especially for a new chore.

Teens – Your teen’s chores should help prepare them for the real world. Have them help you prepare dinner, do their laundry, and mow the grass. These life skills are important for your child to develop early in their teenage years so they can live independently when the time comes. Encourage your teen by giving them age-appropriate rewards. This could include giving them time to spend with their friends or giving them money for chores completed.

Assigning your children chores is important for teaching life skills and responsibility, and it can definitely help prepare them for the real world. If everyone pitches in the household runs more smoothly and kids feel they are part of the family team. Start laying out expectations when they are very young and gradually increase responsibility and rewards as they grow older. Chores are an essential part of daily living.

By Vicki Kirkman, LCSW, LCAC – Feb. 25, 2020

Everywhere you look you see people with their heads down staring at a bright screen, often consumed with the endless communication, information and entertainment that an electronic device provides.  Cell phones, tablets, smart watches and computers are everywhere! 

Kids and teenagers growing up in this digital age are learning how to use technology at a huge rate of speed.  When used appropriately, there are so many positive benefits that come with technology and using social media.  There are also many risks and potential harmful consequences to social media use.

The Oxford Reference defines social media as “websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.”  There are many social media platforms that teenagers use, but some of the most popular among that age group include Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, Tik Tok and Twitter. Facebook, Skype, Pinterest, Vine and Linked In are other popular social media sites that people of various age groups use.

One of the best benefits of social media is it allows people to easily stay connected through messaging, video chats or photographs.  It can provide opportunities to meet people from all areas of the world without even leaving the comfort of your own home.  Social media also provides so many platforms to express feelings, thoughts and opinions. It’s a great way to explore and learn more about various interests and stay informed about current events. Social media and technology can help someone develop or discover a community or support network too.

Along with the benefits of social media, risks and negative consequences can arise.  Too much social media use can result in lower interaction with family, friends, or co-workers.  Exposure to inappropriate content like violence and pornography is highly possible without the use of monitoring and parental control applications.  Inappropriate behavior such as bullying, slander, or sending/posting risky pictures can happen because a social media user has a false sense of security behind the screen.  Often people don’t consider that their digital footprint can last forever. 

Lack of sleep or interrupted sleep is another negative side effect of too much social media use.  Some people report feeling anxious or depressed after using social media. Pictures and stories often depict someone’s “best of the best” or “highlight reel.”  The pressure to keep posts engaging, picture-perfect and time-worthy can add to feelings of anxiety.  It is easy to start comparing your life to someone else’s digital life and feel down or not good enough. 

Young people have the ability to be in contact with friends all the time, thus leaving them with a sense of no privacy and “too connected” with peers.  Despite the constant ability to stay in contact, they can also feel lonely at the same time. Due to apps that share your location or show if a message has been read, it can be apparent if someone is ignoring or not including you.

Listed below are some good reminders about using social media and technology responsibly to make the most of the positive benefits it can offer.

  • Develop and tend to your real life relationships and experiences.
  • Take an honest self-assessment of your use. How much are you using social media and why?
  • Be yourself and be nice!
  • Set limits and take breaks. For example, no posting during homework time, shut phone off or keep in another room during sleeping hours, make “technology free” rules with peers and family members.
  • Don’t share your passwords with friends.
  • Learn about privacy settings and review them often.
  • Utilize social reporting policies and sites.
  • Always think before you post.
  • If you’re a parent, monitor and set limits for your children and teen’s social media use, have honest conversations about the benefits and risks, and model appropriate social media and technology use yourself.

By Teresa Mercer, LCSW, LCAC – Feb. 18, 2020

At some point most of us have probably lost some or all of our self-control. It may have involved our emotions, shopping, eating, or even something as simple as the urge to pop bubble wrap lying around.

Losing self-control can create a lot of problems with relationships, the legal system, the workplace, health, the school system, etc. While many of us learn from these experiences, there are some who will continue to have problems.

Think about how you learned self-control. Was it modeled from your home environment, social environment, or did you just instinctively know how to obtain and maintain self-control? It’s probably a combination of all three.

This fast-paced world and its ever-changing technology raises the concern that our youth are growing up with too many conveniences and instant gratification. This leads to lack of self-control. As a school social worker, I have talked with many young people over the years that can’t manage their emotions appropriately when they do not have their cell phone or get their game systems taken away.

Self-control is required in many aspects of life. It can also be achieved through various techniques.

Of course the first way to teach children self-control is to model it. Children of any age are watching and learning from us all the time, so self-awareness and regulating your emotions and behaviors is important.

Engage in activities that require a lot of patience and determination. Think about trying yoga or meditation. Both encompass the physical, emotional, spiritual and mental self. Mindfulness techniques also teach self-control. You can practice mindfulness just about anywhere at any time, by yourself or with someone else.

Mindfulness practice involves paying attention to and focusing on the present moment – and only the activity of the present moment, such as your breathing. This can be practiced at work or in the classroom.

Some games that promote self-control are the blinking game and charades. You probably remember the blinking game from childhood.  Sit across from your child and stare into each other’s eyes. The first one to blink loses the game.

People of all ages are tempted at times to do things they are specifically instructed not to do. Charades is another game to play. The person who is doing the acting out of the word must stay in control and not blurt out the word. It’s hard to keep quiet and not get frustrated when the other players are not guessing the correct word, especially for a child/young person. This is a great way to practice self-control. Children can also learn controlled breathing by blowing bubbles slowly.

Finally, learning effective ways to manage anger and other low moods is beneficial to everyone. Teaching children to express their feelings, listening to them, being non-judgmental and respecting their feelings only increases their skills in self-control.

Remember, it’s important to model the behavior you want from your child. You can only encourage and develop effective self-control skills in your child if you are demonstrating the same skills.

By Jenna Kruse, LSW – Feb. 11, 2020

Each day after school you may ask your child, “How was your day at school?” Most parents are met with a response similar to, “It was fine.” You may continue to ask questions to try to find out what happened during the day to create this mood, but instead of sharing, your child may become frustrated and shut down.

This is a scenario that many parents know all too well. As a parent trying to engage in positive conversation with your child, it is very easy to take these short, frustrated responses personally.

The next step may be to ask your child’s teacher if they are acting out at school. When asked, the teacher may respond, “No, your child does very well all day and is very pleasant,” which leaves you even more puzzled as the parent experiencing these difficult afternoons.

Consider this: A typical day for an adult might include waking up early, getting ready for work, working all day, engaging in relationships with coworkers and family, answering questions, helping others…the list goes on and on. Students often experience the same challenges throughout the day. At school students are met with rules, expectations, and routine. They are also expected to focus intently, answer questions and make difficult decisions all day.

The difference between the adult and child, however, is the coping skills used to help face these daily demands. Most adults have positive coping skills that help them. Kids don’t always have those skills yet.

The following are simple ways parents can help their children conquer their afternoon struggles.

  1. Encouragement Over Questioning – After exerting much thought and energy, even some adults need silence after a long day of work. Children are no different. Offering a smile and an encouraging phrase such as, “I hope you had a great day” or “I’m happy to see you” instead of a string of questions helps children feel more relaxed. It is also important that parents become comfortable giving the child space and saving questions for dinner or after the child has had time to decompress from their day.
  • Brain Break – Allow your student a break between school and homework time. Students are often overstimulated from the school day. By providing students a break to color, listen to music, play outside or do a craft, they are able to relax their brain and body before they are asked to complete more work. A consistent homework routine also helps students know what is expected and decreases the chance they will argue when it is homework time.
  • Afternoon Snack – Provide your student with a healthy and nutritious snack after school. Some students eat lunch as early as 10:50 am. After exerting considerable energy all day students are often very hungry after school. Having a snack prepared helps you avoid them being “hangry” and sets you up for a more positive afternoon with your child.

By supporting your student in these ways you are fostering positive coping skills and routine, which are tools that will aid your student in their school years and beyond.

By Jennifer Kurtz, LCSW – Feb. 4, 2020

Prior to working as a Youth First Social Worker I worked with the homeless for 7 years. I helped men, women, and children who were living in cars, hotels, shelters, or with family or friends in overcrowded homes. 

While this is not healthy for an adult, it can have an even bigger impact on a child. When I say childhood trauma you may think of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. There are many other types of trauma that can occur, such as witnessing violence or going hungry.

Trauma can also be caused by a child’s separation from a loved adult due to alcohol or drug use, incarceration, or mental or physical illness. Even witnessing physical violence or devastation left by a natural disaster on television can cause trauma to a child. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative (NCSTI) reports that more than two-thirds of children experience at least one traumatic event by the age of 16. 

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that children between the ages of 3 to 6 who are exposed to trauma may:

  • Have difficulty focusing or learning in school
  • Be unable to trust others or make friends
  • Show poor skill development
  • Lack self-confidence
  • Experience stomach aches or headaches. 

These difficulties in elementary school have the potential to effect children into their teen and adult years, repeating the cycle onto their own children.

How, as parents and caregivers, can we help our children? The Child Mind Institute encourages the following tips to help children after a traumatic event:

  • Remain calm
  • Allow children to ask questions
  • Give them your full attention and listen well
  • Acknowledge how the child is feeling
  • Share information about what happened
  • Encourage children to be children (to play and take part in activities)
  • Understand that children may cope in different ways
  • Help children relax with breathing exercises
  • Watch for signs of trauma and know when to seek help
  • Take care of yourself

This website offers more in-depth tips to help children recover in a healthy way, and it gives advice for children in different age groups:  https://childmind.org/guide/helping-children-cope-traumatic-event/.

The National Survey of Children’s Health found that children who have family to help them build resilience respond well to stress. Resilience can be built through having caregivers who believe in a child’s future, teaching children to calm themselves and regulate their emotions, being involved in the community, and having social connections.

The comfort and support of a parent or caregiver can help a child through a traumatic event, make them feel safe, and help them recover in a healthy way that will benefit them their entire life. A child can also get a lot of support and guidance from their school’s Youth First Social Worker or another mental health professional. Do not hesitate to ask for help if it’s needed.