By Deena Bodine, LCSW – July 28, 2021 –

Parenting is no easy task. The teen years are notorious for challenging parents. While these years are a time of growth and a move towards independence for teens, parents may struggle to find a balance between encouraging independence and hovering too much. 

Distinguishing normal teenage behavior from serious problems can be difficult. While it is important for teens to grow their problem-solving capabilities, parents also need to be available to help when their child is feeling overwhelmed. Consider how your teen is fairing in school and their relationships for helpful clues.

Also, is your teen openly communicating with you about their daily life? If you are concerned about any of these areas, follow up with their school’s Youth First Social Worker or counselor about how to best help them. 

While it can be difficult to admit that your teen needs more help than you can offer, there are some issues that require professional counseling and intervention. Teens may need to meet with a professional for a variety of behavioral or emotional concerns, mental health issues, stress, relationship difficulties, substance use, or traumatic experiences.

It is important to recognize some warning signs so that you can seek help for your teen in a timely manner. Signs of depression, running away, participation in illegal activities, acting out sexually, self-harm, or abusing substances are all clues that immediate intervention is needed.

Other warning signs that there may be cause for concern include failing classes, changes in friends or activities, changes in eating habits, inappropriate anger or other significant changes in mood. These behaviors require consideration that your teen may be struggling with more than they can handle. 

After determining that your child needs professional help, seek more information from the school’s Youth First Social Worker, counselor, or your child’s pediatrician. They can assist in a variety of ways that may include completing an assessment, providing additional support, and offering information about referrals and other resources.

While it is not easy to ask for help, it is important to help your child get the assistance they need to be healthy. You may feel a wide range of emotions from guilt to worry to regret. These feelings are all normal, but don’t allow them to prevent you from helping your teen get professional counseling. Not only are you securing help for your teen during a difficult time, you are teaching them an important life lesson about asking for help when needed. 

Abby Betz, LSW – July 21, 2021 –

As a school social worker, I have worked with students of all ages in both public and private schools. I have found, unfortunately, that the majority of students are unable to verbalize what they like about themselves. Most students lack the ability to talk about positive conditions of self-worth.

I recently did an activity with second grade students and asked them to think about things they liked about themselves or what character traits they possessed which were most desirable. Although this may be a tough concept for some students to grasp, most students were unable to name something about themselves that they liked, with the exception of superficial or materialistic things, such as, “I am good at sports,” “I like my shirt,” or “I like my hair.”

It became evident that most children may not receive constructive feedback in the form of positive conditions of self-worth from their parents, caregivers, family, or friends. This saddened me, and I wondered, “What can we do to teach our children to love themselves for reasons other than being athletic or beautiful/handsome?”

As imperative as this is for parents and caregivers to understand and practice, it is equally as important for school staff to instill these skills in our children, as we spend a great deal of time with them every day. The following suggestions can help adults empower children and teach them to value their strengths.

  1. Introduce positive conditions of self-worth at a young age. Simply telling your child, “you are important” can be the catalyst to promoting positive self-worth as they grow older. By incorporating positive affirmations into everyday life, children will begin to understand how much they matter and recognize that their caregivers and teachers see them as worthy of their time, love, and attention.
  1. Focus on the positive. Providing praise and encouragement for achievements and good behavior instead of focusing on the negative or end-result can improve your child’s sense of self. Including your child in the decision-making process in your family (depending on the situation) can also help a child feel empowered and important. This is equally as important to practice at school as it is at home.
  1. Allow your child to grow from their mistakes. Fostering a positive growth mindset in children by providing reassurance that their abilities can improve over time helps reduce the pressure to be perfect. Teaching children that making mistakes is okay and turning these mistakes into “teachable moments” is a valuable learning opportunity. Kids will understand they have the power to problem solve and come up with solutions on their own.
  1. Encourage extracurricular interests or hobbies. Supporting your child’s passions can help them discover their own strengths and weaknesses. Deciding what activity your child is going to participate in without their input will stifle their creativity and erode the feeling they have some control over their own lives.

Creating positive conditions of self-worth is extremely vital to the development of children with learning and thinking differences as well. Giving children with all abilities the skills to recognize their strengths helps boost self-worth and makes for a successful childhood and future. In the words of American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Ashley Underwood, LCSW – July 13, 2021 –

As the mother of a child who will start kindergarten this fall, there’s been a nagging question in the back of my mind: “Is he ready?”

Beginning kindergarten is typically the start of formal education for most children, which can be an extreme transition from life at home or even pre-school/daycare environments.

The academic, social, and emotional demands are much more intensive for children in kindergarten than what was previously expected. Despite these new demands, kindergarten is a wonderful opportunity for children to learn new things, meet new friends, and experience growth.

So, what are some indicators that your child is showing readiness for kindergarten? According to the Mayo Clinic website, these areas are some common readiness milestones that children can show:

  • Demonstrating a curiosity or interest in learning new things
  • Being able to explore new things through their senses
  • Taking turns and cooperating with peers
  • Speaking with and listening to peers and adults
  • Following instructions
  • Communicating how they’re feeling
  • Empathizing with other children
  • Controlling impulses
  • Paying attention
  • Limiting disruptive behaviors

While many of these skills develop between ages 4 and 5, there is not a set age limit at which children obtain these skills. Some parents choose to wait until age 6 to send their child to kindergarten to allow more time for further maturity.

What are some things we can do to help prepare our children for kindergarten before they begin? The National Association for the Education of Young Children provides a list of tips for preparing your child for kindergarten.

1)      Help them develop independence at home. Encourage your child to dress himself, take his coat on and off and hang it up, use the bathroom without assistance, wash his hands without constant reminders, and put on his own shoes.

2)      Teach responsibility. Start transferring small responsibilities over to your child, if you haven’t already.

3)      Develop and follow routines. Set up morning routines that will transfer into a school setting. Getting up around the same time every day, getting dressed, and having an early breakfast together is a great way to transition to a school schedule.

4)      Read aloud to your child. Read a variety of books, read the captions under pictures in the newspaper, even share the comics. Just read together!

5)      Engage them in meaningful literacy activities. Encourage your child to help you with thank you cards, shopping lists, or notes.

6)      Acknowledge their feelings. Your child may express being nervous, not wanting to go or, alternately, feeling very excited to start school. Whatever they feel, take time to acknowledge and appreciate where they are.

It is a big deal to send your child off to school for the first time, and parents want to make sure they are doing everything to ensure their child’s success and happiness. Chances are you’re already practicing many of these skills your child will need for kindergarten. Remember to keep it fun and don’t make it stressful for you or your child!

Additional information about kindergarten readiness from the Indiana Department of Education can be found at: https://www.doe.in.gov/sites/default/files/earlylearning/k-readiness.pdf

By Lisa Cossey, LCSW – July 7, 2021 –

Parenting can be like spending time on a seesaw. There are ups and downs. Parenting with your partner when you don’t see eye-to-eye on discipline methods, however, adds another challenging element to the mix.

In cases like this, both parties need to sit down and discuss discipline philosophy. Discipline means “to teach” and should not be looked upon as being punitive. Children are smart, and if they see that one partner does not discipline the same way the other does they may try to manipulate the situation, leading to conflicts between partners.

It is important that children understand they cannot get their way by winning one parent over. Children should see their parents as a unified team. Working together as a team and communicating daily will help guard against confusion and head off potential family arguments and conflicts.

Here are a few suggestions to help couples work together in parenting. These strategies can help cultivate healthier relationships between all parties within a household.

1)     Consistency is key. Both partners should agree on which behaviors are desirable and which are unacceptable. Both partners also need to agree on the parental response to their child’s behaviors. What will the logical consequences be? If possible, include children in creating a behavior plan or family plan to follow. Make sure that your behavior plan is age appropriate and has realistic expectations. We want both the children and the plan to succeed!

2)     Demonstrate and practice with children what exactly is expected. For example, if you ask them to pick up their toys, show them how to do that. (i.e. – It does not mean they hide them under the bed, but instead should put them in their toy box or in their closet). If they do not pick up, they might lose their favorite toy for a day (or more) depending on their age. This is an example of a logical consequence.

3)     Use logical consequences whenever possible. For example, on Wednesday, they are asked to have their room clean by Friday night in order to spend time with a friend. If they choose not to do that, then they will not be able to get together with their friend. Be sure to offer positive reinforcement with your children at every opportunity for making good choices. When they make mistakes, ensure that the consequences are logical and age appropriate.

4)     Make your expectations clear. Another strategy is to have children repeat back the request/command you have made. To ensure better understanding of the directions say something like, “What is it that I just asked you to do?” Using a chore chart or calendar assists with putting chores in better order and creates better rhythm and routine in the home.

5)     Engage in learning opportunities as a family. Reading a story to a preschooler or nursery rhymes with repetition all create the moments of simple directions and serve and volley interactions that improve brain development and learning as they grow. Encourage better focus by playing games like “I Spy” or “Red Light Green Light.”

Helping children become responsible adults is our goal. Kids build self-worth by doing and learning that they are capable of accomplishing things on their own. Behavior plans will also teach them to pay attention, focus on the task at hand, remember the rules and consequences, communicate and learn self-control.

Creating these positive interactions will help children grow into confident people poised for success.

By Shannon Loehrlein, LCSW – June 30, 2021 –

The numbers are staggering. According to the CDC, 61% of adults in the United States endured an adverse childhood experience in their youth. Childhood trauma comes in a variety of forms. It can be caused by divorced or incarcerated parents, death of a parent or caretaker, physical/emotional/sexual abuse, substance abuse in the home, mental illness, and poverty.

Why does this matter? Adverse childhood experiences can affect short term and long term physical and emotional health. Childhood trauma also negatively affects development. Children who experience toxic stress on a continuous basis cannot develop properly without the help and intervention of caring adults.

In short, when we experience prolonged toxic stress in childhood such as abuse, neglect, or domestic violence, our brains cannot thrive and grow. Unfortunately, if these problems are not treated, they can eventually lead to significant physical and mental health problems later in life. 

Children who have experienced trauma are in a constant battle with their physiological flight/fight/freeze response. Many children who experience this do not have parents or adults at home to help them feel safe. These children need adults or trusted authority figures outside of their home to help give them a sense of safety and security. 

Schools are uniquely positioned to play an important role in a child’s life. Teachers, school administrators, social workers and school staff have the opportunity to be role models for students if they don’t have positive influences at home. Children who have just one positive adult in their life are much more likely to thrive and be resilient later in life.

Now that we know childhood trauma is a serious and pervasive problem in America, it is important to know how to mitigate the damage. I recently completed an excellent training on Trauma Informed Resilient Schools by STARR Commonwealth. In the training, they recommended steps to take into the classroom to help students with trauma.

STARR recommends providing students with security, structure, and consistency to minimize anxiety and reduce instances of flight/fight response in students. When students are in a flight/fight/freeze response, they cannot focus on learning. STARR noted that students test better and teachers have more job satisfaction when trauma protocols are in place.

If students have a positive environment at school, it helps them weather the storms of their personal lives. Having rituals and routines that make students feel connected and welcome at school increases their engagement within a healthy environment. It is also important for adults to be aware of possible triggers that students could be having in the classroom in response to noise, raised voices, or lack of structure.

I am hopeful that although trauma is a significant problem in our culture, adults and educators can have a significant impact on children’s lives by being nurturing and emotionally available to children in need. 

By Amber Russell, LCSW – June 22, 2021-

The words empathy and sympathy are often grouped together or used interchangeably, but they mean two very different things. According to the dictionary, sympathy means: “Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.” Empathy, on the other hand, means: “The ability to understand another person’s feelings, experiences, etc.”  

We cannot fix all of the problems we come across, but we can make active choices to empathize with those who are going through a hard time. Empathizing with others is sometimes more valuable than finding solutions to their problems. At some point all of us need someone to validate our feelings and sit in the darkness with us when we are having bad days. 

For example, if someone tells you they are struggling with something, you may respond with sympathy and say something like, “I’m so sorry you are going through this.” If you were to respond with empathy, you might instead make an effort to relate to them. You could say something like, “That’s really tough. I’ve gone through something similar.”  

How can we work to help ourselves and our kids become more empathic? The first key is to be always present and actively listen. Setting an example by giving others your full attention and working to truly understand what they are experiencing is a great start. Try not to listen to others’ problems just so you can offer solutions.  

The next way we can respond with more empathy is not to judge or assume that we know how someone feels. Just because we reacted to a past situation in a specific way doesn’t mean that others will respond the same way. Ask them how they feel, ask them to tell you more, and ask them how you can help. 

A great way to help kiddos develop empathy is to encourage them to identify their own emotions as they arise. This will help them imagine how others might feel and allow them to contemplate how other people’s emotions may be different from theirs. 

Another way to instill empathy in children is by expanding their horizons. Expose them to different types of people with different backgrounds, views, and perspectives. Story books, TV shows, and movies are a great way to do this. Use books and shows with different characters in them to discuss how certain characters might feel and why.  

Mastering the art of using empathy doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and practice to truly understand others. Working to express this type of empathy fosters a deeper connection and will allow you to more readily step into another person’s shoes.   

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.