By Valorie Dassel, LCSW, LCAC

The transition from elementary or middle school to high school can come with a wave of emotions for both students and parents. Often there is excitement surrounding the new environment, both socially and academically. Anxiety is also commonly experienced among incoming freshmen.

These anxieties often stem from social and academic changes. Opportunities for change can increase a sense of self and positively affect academics. As parents, it is important to nurture our teenager’s development during this transition.

Parents should talk with their teen about academic expectations before high school begins. Discuss ways to practice useful organizational strategies, develop time management skills, and maintain good study habits. If elementary or middle school has been easy for a teen, they may begin high school with a relaxed attitude toward grades. If high school proves to be academically challenging for them, the teen may have a more difficult transition.

Priorities for a teenager can be difficult to navigate. Students may want to do well academically, but new social opportunities can interfere with academic success. During this developmental stage, friends become just as important to the teen as their family.

When teens are faced with the choice of doing their homework or hanging out with friends, they may opt for the more immediate and “fun” reward of socializing. Parents can lend support by encouraging set study times and monitoring assignments being turned in on time through the school’s website.

High school includes social adjustments as well. Typically, incoming freshman are coming from a middle school where they knew exactly where they fit in amidst the study body. The transition to high school offers exciting opportunities for most. For the student who has desired different or more friendships in elementary or middle school, they have a chance to reinvent and develop better relationships.

Throughout freshman year, social groups tend to go through many transitions. With a larger student body, there is greater opportunity to find friends who share similar interests and values. Parents should encourage involvement in activities to promote social connectedness. Spending time constructively makes it less likely the teen will be involved in negative social behaviors.

If the social adjustment is not what your teen expected, they could be struggling with feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Open communication during this time is crucial. Help your teen brainstorm which peers they have something in common with. Work with them on how to initiate conversations and suggest non-intimidating ways to “hang out” outside of school to nurture friendships. This will give them the skills necessary to work through their social difficulties.

The transition to high school offers many exciting opportunities. There are also going to be difficulties on this journey. Maintaining an open and positive relationship and communication between parent and teen will make it easier on the entire family.

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By Christine Weinzapfel-Hayden, LCSW – July 29, 2022 –

I know you feel it. The new school year is looming. A new school year always comes with a variety of emotions, excitement, nervousness, and dread (Looking at you, common-core math…). One of the hardest things about starting a new school year is settling kids into their school year routine. It seems like it takes 30 seconds to adjust to a lack of routine, but weeks to get back into a structured schedule. 

Don’t start the night before school starts and expect to have a successful transition back into routine. The best strategy is to start early. Give yourself three weeks of slowly moving back into routine. Make bedtime a little earlier each night and wake up a little earlier each morning. One week before school starts, consistently have them go to bed at their school year bedtime and wake them up like you would for school in the morning. This will help deter some arguments about earlier bedtimes and help them be prepared for those early mornings when school starts. 

It is good to remember that every kid is different, but they all need a healthy amount of sleep. According to Cleveland Clinic, kids ages 5-12 need 9-12 hours of sleep a night, and teens 13-18 should sleep close to 10 hours per night. Making sure you have a consistent bedtime routine can help your child’s body recognize that it is time to settle down and prepare for sleep. This is even true for your older children. 

If you feel like your family is always running around in circles in the morning, preparing for your day the night before can be a huge help. Laying out outfits for the next day takes decision making out of your morning routine. Make sure you check their school calendar, so those pesky spirit days do not sneak up on you. 

I love the use of a calendar in our kitchen for many reasons. Our district doesn’t send home paper copies, so I write all necessary school events on that and check it each evening before bed. This includes whether my child will need a packed lunch. If you have a picky eater like me, chances are you’re packing a lunch. Depending on the age of your child, this is a fantastic opportunity to help them develop independence by asking them to assist with packing their lunch each night.  

The school year can be stressful. The number of events and expectations can be exhausting. Creating a realistic evening and morning routine can be a huge help. Make sure you’re working smarter, not harder, when it comes to routines at home. 

By Kacie Shipman, LSW – July 20, 2022 –

Children and adults may react to stress in different ways. Trauma and stress can cause the brain to feel challenged or threatened, and the part of the brain that reacts is often on high alert. Our instinct is to protect ourselves, often by fleeing, fighting, or freezing from our perceived danger.

When individuals have experienced trauma or are in high stress situations, their behavior can sometimes become confusing to others. The term “trigger” is often used to communicate what caused someone to enter a state of dysregulation. Our brain works in a way that allows us to react before we think. It is a means of protection, although when trauma has been experienced our brain can set off false alarms.

What causes dysregulation? Our body has five great senses: taste, smell, sight, touch, and hearing. For example, a certain smell may trigger someone to experience dysregulation before thinking. If abuse was experienced in a home that often smelled like coffee, the smell of coffee alone could trigger the brain to go into a protective defense mode. This correlation is easier for adults to recognize than children.

Children in a high alert state are not able to reason. It is crucial to help the child regulate their body and mind so they can process stressful situations later. There are many ways to help children and adults regulate, or “calm down.”

It is impossible to know what difficulties others have experienced. That is why it is crucial to treat everyone as if they are functioning in a high alert state or have experienced trauma. Regulating children through their environment can be very impactful in managing behaviors that are difficult to understand.

For instance, if a child is often misbehaving, it’s important to track those incidents. There is a possibility that behaviors may be occurring in a predictable pattern. Making small changes in the environment can help eliminate stressors. Creating a safe relationship with a child can also create an environment where their brain is able to stay at a level of calmness with the ability to reason more than react.

The most critical part of supporting an individual with trauma is maintaining your own self-regulation. Being supportive in a non-confrontational way will encourage the brain to recognize the situation as safe and non-threatening. Understanding our own triggers and challenge areas will help us stay regulated in moments that may provoke unwanted emotions.

Practicing self-regulation skills can be done in many ways including yoga, meditation, or journaling. Finding a positive and encouraging support team who understands the impact of trauma on children can be a tool to maintain ongoing work with those who have experienced it.

By Lizzie Raben, MSW – July 17, 2022 –

The last few years have brought new sources of uncertainty and unforeseen challenges to everyone’s lives.  As we’ve moved forward from a global pandemic, we’ve all adjusted to embrace new ways of living to accommodate the needs of our society.  

It takes time to adapt to change; however, there are simple habits each of us can employ to make it easier to stay grounded and reconnect with the people and activities that enrich our day-to-day lives. 

1.     Staying connected is crucial to preserving important relationships. It is more important than ever to purposefully find ways to both reconnect and stay connected with one another. Though many of us may associate virtual meeting spaces with the isolation we experienced early in the pandemic, don’t discount the benefits of maintaining virtual connections with our friends and families when we cannot gather in person.   

2.     Re-establish routines that work for you. Throughout the pandemic, many of us sacrificed parts of our routines that enriched our mental and physical health. If daily trips to the gym went by the wayside during the pandemic, consider re-establishing this healthy aspect of your routine if you feel comfortable doing so. Alternatively, if you adopted new routines throughout the pandemic such as going on daily walks or reading a chapter of a book each night, make an effort to keep those healthy habits in your routine.  

3.    Commit to finding a healthy balance. Although the pandemic brought additional stressors, it also allowed people the ability to slow down and reflect upon the good and bad aspects of their lifestyle. Now that the world has largely opened back up, don’t feel obligated to accept every social invitation you receive if you’d rather take some time for self-care.  

4.     Forgive yourself and others. Within the new times we face, we’ve all had to accommodate new societal expectations. It is important for us to continue granting others some grace, as everyone adapts to change at their own pace. While we cannot control the ever-changing world around us, we can control our reactions. By letting things go and forgiving, we can treat ourselves and others with the compassion each of us deserve.  

By Deena Bodine, LCSW – Updated July 7, 2022 –

As a Youth First Social Worker, I have been fortunate to facilitate several Reconnecting Youth programs with small groups of high school students. One semester, the group I was working with selected some inspirational “pay it forward” activities to complete.

One of the activities involved writing encouraging messages on Post-It notes that we placed anonymously on student lockers. One of the students penned, “Think smarter, not harder” as her words of encouragement. Her message inspired me to think about how easy it could be to prioritize self-care by simply taking a pause.

Our kids are faced with high expectations at school with fewer opportunities to unwind through recess and the arts. On top of this, so many of them are navigating busy extracurricular and social calendars. The same can be said about our adult calendars.

This non-stop agenda doesn’t allow for much downtime. Downtime gives our brains the opportunity to refresh, recharge, and make sense of what we have recently learned or experienced. Downtime can be characterized in three forms, all of which are important for the health of our brains. 

  1. Getting good quality sleep. There is a great deal of information about the importance of sleep. I have witnessed the effects of inadequate or interrupted sleep firsthand in myself and my children. I’m guilty of sacrificing sleep for the sake of more urgent tasks, but it’s important to remember the role of sleep and its impact on our health and brain function.
  1. Idleness or time spent awake doing nothing. Examples of this include lying awake at night before falling asleep or meditation. Meditation allows us to refresh our ability to concentrate and attend to tasks more efficiently.
  1. Time spent on mundane tasks. Mundane tasks are also essential for learning. These tasks, such as feeding a pet, putting toys away, or cleaning a room give learners a much needed break from sustained brain activity.

Even closing your eyes, taking one deep breath, and exhaling can help refresh the brain and takes practically no time. Carving out some time at the end of the day or the end of the week to engage in meditation or mindfulness is good practice.

Other great opportunities for downtime include vacations and holiday breaks. Placing an abrupt pause on busy extracurricular and academic schedules during these times may feel jarring at first, but it can be incredibly beneficial for our brains and overall mental health. 

In the wise words of a high schooler, we need to “think smarter, not harder” and allow our brains more downtime. Fitting downtime into busy schedules is easier said than done, but it is well worth the effort.

By Jenna Kruse, LSW – June 29, 2022 –

It’s no secret that there has been a great shift in the types of activities that children prefer. According to the Child Mind Institute, the average American child spends 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured play outside, while spending over 7 hours a day in front of a screen. These numbers are concerning and are directly correlated to the increase of mental health concerns in young students.

There are many benefits of outdoor, unstructured play for children. Unstructured time outside is said to reduce stress and is important to foster skills such as creativity, responsibility, and confidence. Outdoor play also improves physical health and overall mood. Here are several other benefits to sending your children outside for playtime.

  1. Playing outside promotes creativity. When children participate in unstructured play outside, they are challenged to create their own activities, use their surrounding resources, and interact socially with those around them.
  2. Children learn how to care for the living things in their environment. Responsibility is taught in this environment because children quickly learn that, in nature, living things do not survive if they are not tended to.
  3. Making choices helps children build confidence. Children have the power to make decisions about what activities they want to play and where.
  4. Playing outside reduces stress. Children who play outside can take a break from stressors such as homework, social media, technology, etc.
  5. Another benefit of outdoor play is a dose of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for bone and muscle health and is absorbed from sun exposure. It is important for children to spend time in the sun, as this vitamin is not as easily absorbed in large quantities through food.
  6. Children thrive in open spaces. Outdoor play promotes better physical health due to the large space for children to move, play, and explore. When children play inside, they are often more restricted. Several sources suggest children need at least one hour of physical exercise a day. To create the right environment for outdoor learning, it is important to eliminate harmful tools or hazards such as chemicals. It is important to listen to your child’s feedback and interests, plan outdoor time into your busy daily schedule, and reduce barriers for outdoor play time.

You can participate in several different outdoor activities with your child. Finding a local park with a playground, taking a walk, throwing a Frisbee, swimming at the local pool, or taking a hike are all great family activities.

It is important to note that students are more willing to play and spend time outside if they have positive role models showing them the way.

Outdoor play has many great benefits. How can you begin to reduce screen time and increase unstructured outdoor play for your child?

By Heather Miller – June 22, 2022 –

Author Jill Churchill once wrote, “There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.”

Before having children, I had many ideas of what I would and would not do as a mom. I would limit screen time, offer healthy snacks, have a consistent daily schedule, and always remain calm when correcting behavior. Then I had a baby. Two years later, another baby with special needs joined our family.

I had a decision to make. I could try in vain to be a “perfect parent” knowing I would fail, or instead choose to give myself grace. As a parent, you will make mistakes. You will have tough days. Some days it may seem as if nothing went right, but the sun will rise again the next morning.

An article by HuffPost focuses on what can be learned from making mistakes. This information also gives insight into lessons children may learn when parents recognize perfection is not the goal. These lessons are summarized as the following:

  1. When someone has a bad day, move forward and make an effort to make tomorrow better. Children will learn that it is normal to have “off” days. Focusing on the present and being mindful of current circumstances is an important lesson for all ages.
  1. Perfection is not required to be loved and accepted. Family and home are intended to be safe zones. People can be their genuine selves, knowing that they’re loved unconditionally. Behavior can be corrected and positive coping skills can be retaught. However, there needs to be a separation between disliking behavior and disliking the person. It will help children feel safe to have open communication with parents. Additionally, children will learn that it is not necessary to expect perfectionism from themselves. While we want kids to try their best, attempting to be perfect often causes increased anxiety and lower self-esteem.
  1. It is okay to ask for help. Accepting support is equally as important as providing support to others. Learning to accept help from trustworthy adults teaches children how to communicate their needs. Children learn that if they are having a rough day, there is no shame in saying so. Empathy is often a focus, as learning to consider how others feel is important. It is equally as important to teach children to recognize when they need extra support.

If parents model this behavior, children will learn to give themselves and others the same type of grace. Youth First offers several programs geared at supporting parents and families. For more information, please visit our website at youthfirstinc.org.

By Brooke Skipper, LCSW – June 15, 2022 –

Most of us are familiar with the unpleasant feeling of being excluded. In order to raise children who celebrate diversity and include others, we need to be comfortable starting conversations about differences.

These conversations don’t have to be scary! Children are innately open-minded and seek honest answers out of curiosity. They don’t feel discomfort about differences unless we portray a discomfort to them.

If your child points out differences or questions you about them, take time to pause and have a positive conversation that explains diversity and the value of all people.

Our individual gifts and challenges come in many different forms. We need to demonstrate this is not only okay, but something to celebrate. By doing so, we can model self-acceptance and peer acceptance.

Here are some tips for teaching your child to be more inclusive.

  1. Confront your own biases and be comfortable challenging them. Conscious or unconscious, we all have biases. These can come from our parents, our upbringings, and our experiences in the world. Acknowledging they exist and working to overcome them is a crucial step to ensuring we do not pass down negative biases to our children.
  1. Model inclusive behavior. Children are always watching, listening, and learning. Make sure the behavior you are projecting is the behavior you desire your children to emulate at home, school, and in the community. Celebrate diversity, use respectful language, and treat everyone with kindness and respect. Remember the golden rule to love your neighbor as yourself. If you live your life by this rule, your child will as well.
  1. Teach your child to be full of empathy and positive self-esteem. A child who feels good about who they are is more likely to be inclusive of others. Children who empathize and understand how others are feeling will be more likely to stand up for what is right.
  1. Talk about bullying. Once your child understands what empathy is and how to display it, make sure they know how to proactively stand up for others and report bullying behaviors to an adult in charge. Encourage them to befriend students who sit alone.
  1. Expose your child to diverse people and experiences. We often belong to social circles and communities of people who look like us, believe in similar things, have similar jobs and incomes, etc. Providing opportunities for your child to encounter diversity can help normalize differences and teach children there is no “one way” to be. You can do this by visiting museums, attending multi-cultural events, and reading stories that celebrate diverse characters.


Most importantly, do not shy away from the topic of differences. Be prepared to openly discuss the topic with your child in an honest, age-appropriate way.

Foundation Recognized for Investment in Morgan County Youth

Youth First, Inc., presented the “Heart of Youth First” plaque to the Kendrick Foundation on Thursday, May 19, at The Brickhouse on Main in Martinsville.

The “Heart of Youth First” is awarded to organizations who have demonstrated a significant commitment to youth mental health, strong families, and community well-being through their support of Youth First’s model of service.

The Kendrick Foundation has played a primary role in bringing Youth First’s award-winning programs to Morgan County youth and families. Since 2018, with financial support totaling over $200,000, the Kendrick Foundation has galvanized partnerships between Youth First, the MSD of Martinsville, and Mooresville Consolidated School Corporation. More than 1,300 students at Bell Intermediate Academy in Martinsville and Paul Hadley Middle School in Mooresville have access to a full-time Youth First Social Worker in their school building, along with a toolkit of programs to boost resiliency and other valuable life skills.

Keeley Wright, Executive Director of the Kendrick Foundation, remarked, “Supporting the mental health of children and youth will require a whole of society effort to address longstanding challenges, strengthen the resilience of young people, and support their families and communities. We are profoundly grateful for the work of Youth First to make vital mental health services, resources, and supports more accessible for our youth and families and for their efforts to move upstream and prevent substance misuse, promote healthy behaviors, and maximize student success.”

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About Youth First, Inc.:

Youth First’s mission is to strengthen youth and families through evidence-based programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors, and maximize student success. Youth First partners with 107 schools across 13 Indiana counties to provide 78 Master’s level social workers who assess needs, develop and implement prevention plans, and connect students and their families to vital resources. Youth First also offers community programs involving parents and caregivers to strengthen families. For more information about Youth First, please visit youthfirstinc.org.

About Kendrick Foundation:  Formed from the proceeds of the sale of the Kendrick Memorial Hospital in 2001, the mission of the Kendrick Foundation is to financially support education and initiatives that improve the physical and mental health of Morgan County residents. To learn more about how the Kendrick Foundation is leading health initiatives for Morgan County, please visit kendrickfoundation.org.

By Cynthia Ehmke, LSW – June 8, 2022 –

Did you know that according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, half of American adults can’t read a book written at an 8th grade level? Although this statistic may be surprising to some, it reveals the need for learning to extend beyond the classroom.

Teachers are amazing individuals, but they have limited resources and time. Assigned homework can be a wonderful tool if students understand the material and have the support they need at home to complete assignments. Learning to value education is more difficult when students lack positive academic role models.  

There is also strong evidence to support the benefits of early reading. Psychology Today says that infants who are read aloud to have advanced literacy skills by the time they start school. Not only is this a great way to help with brain development, but it also helps you bond with your child.

Just a few weeks ago, I was working with a student who had a digital book on his tablet. I observed as he clicked the speaker button and continuously flipped through the pages while the tablet read him the words on the page. After I watched this a few times, I asked him what the story was about. It was clear he was not comprehending any of the material.

The day and age we live in makes online learning a necessary tool, but could it also be hurting the way our students are learning? Professors from Princeton University and UCLA conducted a study analyzing the effectiveness of hand-writing notes versus utilizing a computer. They learned that students who took notes on a tablet retained less information and therefore did not perform as well on exams and assignments.

This doesn’t mean that utilizing technology while learning will cause students to fail but highlights the importance that our children are learning with appropriate supervision and support.   

I don’t write this article intending to criticize technology. It serves many purposes and aids education in a variety of ways. However, when it comes to relying on individual devices and online classrooms, parents and educators must be mindful of when students aren’t benefitting from the technological tools in front of them.

Learning begins at home with caregivers. I suggest that we supply children with physical books, library cards, educational material, limit screen time, and utilize tutoring services at your school.

Lastly, provide encouragement and build up your child’s self-esteem. Ever heard that “girls are bad at math?” Make sure your daughter knows this isn’t true. Does your child become embarrassed reading in front of the class? Practice reading with your child so he can build the confidence he needs. If your children can believe in themselves, it will only push them to learn more, try harder, and value their education as they grow up.