By Sophia Blaha, LSW – April 2, 2019

For most parents, talking about boundaries begins with simple statements such as “No hitting,” “Don’t push,” and “Ask before taking things from someone else.”  

As a parent I know I say these statements often, but I also try to instill a deeper understanding of boundaries in my own children as well as the kids at the school where I work. I try to provide an understanding of why we have these boundaries and discuss how someone might feel if their boundaries have not been respected. This is an important step towards building empathetic individuals.  

For younger kids, a concept that may be difficult to grasp is physical boundaries or space. For example, my daughter recently met a new friend. After playing together my daughter ran up and gave her a tight, lovable hug (at least that is what she thought she was doing).  

I watched the girl’s expression and noticed she seemed a bit uncomfortable with that type of physical contact. On the way home I took the opportunity to have a casual conversation about that moment with my daughter. I mentioned that I noticed that she may have surprised her new friend when she gave her a hug. I made a reference to a time when another friend of hers hugged her when she did not want to.

We talked about what we could do next time, and together we were able come up with a solution to respect her new friend’s personal space and boundaries.

We also discussed paying attending to body language. This is a harder concept for smaller children to grasp but one that I feel it’s never too early to start to talk about. 

A simple way to do this: While watching a show or reading a book, point out a character and ask your child how the character is feeling. I like to then have my daughter match the feeling with her face by saying, “Can you show me what sad looks like on your face?”      

A common lesson that parents teach young children is, “Don’t talk to strangers,” but we often forget to continue the lesson as children grow older. What I’ve witnessed for school-aged children (and some adults) is a blurred line of relationship building from a stranger to a close peer. 

I’ve talked with several students who talk about a peer who turned out to be unhealthy and has used shared personal details against them. Unfortunately, when we have an unhealthy emotional boundary with other individuals, we may inadvertently share more than we should when getting to know someone. 

Simply put, it is unhealthy to share our life story and our secrets with someone we are just getting to know. As parents, it is important to discuss with our kids healthy conversation topics when getting to know someone. Explain that although we hope our new friends have the best intentions, it’s important to take time to get to know someone.

Teachable moments happen every day all around us.  I encourage you to take these opportunities to build boundaries and foster empathy. It is essential that adults and parents model healthy boundaries. Remember that children do as they see.  

By Kelsey Weber, LSW – March 26, 2019

Middle school students are faced with challenges each and every day.  Whether these challenges come from home, school, friends, or other environmental factors, stress can overwhelm kids.

Stress is an uncomfortable feeling someone develops when they’re scared, angry, worried, or frustrated, which affects their mood and body in many different ways. What’s important to remember is that children and adolescents experience stress the same way adults do.

Middle school students can be very susceptible to stress because of the immense changes they’re experiencing physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually during these years.

A middle school student may be experiencing stressors such as homework load, a busy schedule, peer pressure, test anxiety, grades, image concerns, lack of support, and changes in routine. This does not include any stressors occurring at home or other out-of-school environments.

So what should parents look for as warning signs that their child is experiencing stress? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, many students who are feeling overwhelmed and stressed may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Frequent stomach aches and/or headaches
  • Changes in appetite
  • Chronic worrying
  • Nail biting
  • Changes in mood/mood swings
  • Fatigue and increased desire to sleep
  • Sadness/depression
  • Retreating to bedroom/withdrawn
  • Self-harm
  • “Checking out” from responsibilities
  • Frequent absences
  • Physical aggression
  • Quick temper
  • Frequent crying
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Lying to teachers/parents
  • Failing grades
  • Substance abuse

Although many middle school students experience stress, there are healthy ways for parents and students to develop coping strategies to manage it. Parents can help their children by teaching them time management skills; ensuring they aren’t overscheduled; encouraging sleep, exercise, and healthy eating; monitoring parental pressure, encouraging outdoor play, and allowing the child to have fun.

Parents can also assist in identifying stressors their children may be experiencing by asking questions and beginning a conversation.  A parent could say, “I’ve noticed something has been bothering you” or “You mentioned you have a lot of homework lately; how are you feeling about that?” to get the conversation flowing. Just helping pinpoint the stressor will give your child a sense of relief.

By identifying the stressor(s), students can avoid the situations that cause them stress. Examples would be avoiding people who might be a bad influence, staying away from places where they’re likely to get in trouble, and avoiding things that may upset them. When they know their stressors, students can choose to not be around those people, places, and things.

Lastly, taking care of your body plays a very important role in managing stress. As mentioned above, exercise, active relaxation, eating healthy and sleep are vital for lowering stress levels in middle schoolers.  

Exercise is the most important part of a stress management plan. Many people do not see the need for exercise nor have the time for it, but when you are stressed you need exercise the most. After you exercise and use up stress hormones, you think better and are able to focus and learn more.

Active relaxation is important because your body can only use the relaxed OR emergency nervous system, not both. This 4-8 deep breathing technique helps aid in relaxation:

  • Sit or lie down and place your hands on your belly. Take a deep breath, trying to expand your belly pulling your hands apart. Take a full breath counting to 4, hold your breath counting to 8, and then slowly let out counting to 8. Try this technique 10 times, focusing on your breathing and giving your full concentration.

Eating healthy will help keep students alert throughout the day and their mood steady. People who eat mainly junk food often have highs and lows in their energy levels, which create more stress on their bodies. Eating a healthy, well balanced diet will aid in stress management.

Sleep aids in thinking clearly and mood management. When students are tired, they can’t learn as well and will often be impatient and irritable. Students can improve their sleep by going to sleep at the same time each night, taking a hot shower one hour before bedtime to relax, putting away all electronics one hour before bed, and allowing some wind-down time before lying in bed. 

Creating and following a stress management plan will help students lower their stress levels and deal with the daily challenges they are faced with. One of the best ways to be happy and successful is to manage stress well.

By Kristen Melhiser, MSW, March 19, 2019 –

While living in Colorado for 11 years, I had access to vast beautiful landscapes and often found myself at great peace and wholeness when in nature.

What is it about nature that is so alluring and healing to the mind, body, and soul? Is it the beautiful landscapes and life in the flowers, plants, and trees? Is it the sounds of waves crashing, birds singing, and crickets chirping? Is it the smells of fresh cut grass, summer rain, and fall leaves?

There is a great deal of research to prove that exercise is extremely beneficial for a person’s mental health. Participating in outdoor activities often involves some level of exercise, but choosing to take a walk outside instead of inside on a treadmill also does so much more for the soul.

Wilderness Therapy (WT) is a fairly new concept in psychotherapy, but it is a term rarely heard in the Midwest. WT uses traditional therapeutic interventions, but it is not confined to a therapist’s office.

As the name explains, WT takes place in the wilderness where nature provides its own holistic healing. Being in the wilderness naturally brings out our survival instincts; it breaks down barriers, removes us from everyday norms, and creates an environment that doesn’t allow us to avoid certain problems.

With very few WT programs in the Midwest how can we approach this concept? It’s as simple as you think…just go outside!

In a world where teens are spending an average of six hours a day consuming social media, time away from electronics is necessary. Mental health issues are on the rise in adolescents because they are not able to cope with the pressures of social media or process the level of information they receive online.

I suggest you plan quiet time, slow life down a little, and stop to smell the roses (literally). Being out in nature has a way of slowing us down and removing our daily norms. It provides the break we all need, especially adolescents who are learning how to cope with the world.

Nature offers us the opportunity to reconnect our families and our relationships. More importantly, it provides a much needed mental break for all of us.

Whether you go walking, swimming, camping, hiking, or kayaking, go outside together. Spend that time reconnecting by teaching your children how to fish, change a tire, or plant flowers.

The point is to get outside and enjoy what nature has to offer. One of the best parts of nature is that it’s free; you don’t have to pay, you simply walk out your door.

I leave you with this challenge: Take at least one hour this week to go outside with your family. Increase the amount of time you spend outside each week and create new adventures.

Instead of pushing activities on your kids, give them several options so they feel less like they are being forced to do something and more like they are making the choice of what to do.

Now go outside and have some fun!

By Kaitlyn Meredith, MSW, Youth First, Inc. – March 12, 2019

Healthy Friendships
By Kaitlyn Meredith, Youth First, Inc.

When you think of friendship, what comes to mind? Is it someone that you do homework with? Is it someone that is there for you when the going gets tough? Maybe it’s that person who cheers you up and can joke around but also be serious when it’s time to be.

Friendship can come in a variety of forms. You could have a large close group of friends or a small group. You could see them every day, once a week, live close to each other or on opposite sides of the country. With today’s technology, keeping in touch is easy and distance doesn’t matter so much.   

But how do you tell if the friendship is healthy?

Here are some ingredients to a healthy friendship:

  • Trust is one of the vital parts of any relationship. You need to be able to trust that a friend will not cause any physical or emotional harm. This includes trusting that they will not try to poison other friendships. Another level of trust is that we can trust them to keep their word and to keep our secrets.
  • Talking and listening are very important. Everyone needs someone they can talk to, whether it is a casual conversation or more serious. When you talk with a good friend, you are able to talk about whatever is on your mind, no matter how deep or shallow it may be. They will give advice if that’s what is needed, or they will listen to you rant and let you cry.
  • Supporting each other in all ways possible makes for strong friendships. When you are younger it is easy to think that everyone is heading in the same direction. But as life progresses, each person has their own course; if the course heads in a different direction, the parties in a healthy friendship will continue to support each other.
  • Understanding and supporting each other’s goals adds a lot of strength to a friendship. As a friend, you should encourage each other to continue towards your individual goals.
  • Having mutual understanding, respect, and appreciation for each other is crucial in a healthy friendship. There must be equal give and take. Friendship should not be one-sided.

If you feel that you may be in an unhealthy friendship, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I feel good about myself when I am with them?
  • Do we do things that we both want to do?
  • Can I trust them with my secrets or to give me solid advice?

If you are answering no or questioning the friendship, it may be time to create some distance. Ending any relationship is never easy, but by putting some space between you and your friend it will allow you to see if the friendship is truly right for you.

By Beth Greene, MSW, LSW – March 5, 2019

Technology is the norm in our society today. One in three children learns to use an electronic device before they learn to talk.

Does your child get angry when you mention that an electronic device could be taken away as a punishment? Technology addiction is not yet an official diagnosis; however, studies are publishing more and more research about the real effects of excessive time spent on electronic devices.

Studies show that not all technology has negative impacts. Kids and adults can often be in denial of their addiction and say things like, “I need this for school” or “It’s just a game.”  

There are signs of technology addiction and ways to prevent the addiction from causing behavioral issues at home and at school.

It is normal in today’s society to use electronic devices, video games, and social media. However, excessive use of electronics can create addiction-like behaviors that we must be aware of in an effort to prevent unhealthy dependence.

Some researchers have compared social media today to a modern-day playground for children. It is normal for a child to become upset when their playground is taken away and they are not permitted to use their electronics.

When electronic devices begin to cause extreme behavioral issues you may need to start making changes regarding the electronic use in your home.

These are few signs you can look for in determining if your child has developed an unhealthy dependence to technology:

  • Your child has decreased interest in other activities they previously enjoyed.
  • Your child has increased mood swings and argumentative behavior regarding their use of electronic devices.
  • Your child becomes angry over small things but quickly calms when they return to their device.
  • Your child has difficulty unwinding to go to sleep after utilizing electronics.
  • Your child has increased lying or devious behavior, such as hiding their devices and/or using them in bed without permission.
  • Your child hides in isolated places with their devices to avoid confrontation.

There are ways to control the use of electronics. The first thing to remember as a parent is that our children learn from our actions more than our words.

Take in to consideration how much time you are spending on your electronic devices. Are you showing your child ways to stimulate their minds away from electronics?

Some researchers recommend a 72-hour digital detox if you are concerned with your child or family’s excessive use of electronics. You can expect your children to be more irritable during this detox; however, they will transition if you provide consistency.

After the digital detox you can start implementing and enforcing more structured rules about the use of devices in your home. For example, you may choose to implement no electronic use until homework is finished, no devices during meals, no devices one hour before bed, and devices must be in parental possession when the kids are in bed for the night.

The rules in each home may vary, but creating guidelines and being consistent with those restrictions may be vital to your child’s sleep hygiene, mood, and well-being.

By Lisa Cossey, LCSW, February 26, 2019 –

Most of us have heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” Recent research into food and the effects it has on the body and mind now have us saying, “Change your food, change your mood.”

Our brains are made of many neural pathways, transmitters, and chemicals that make up and regulate our thoughts and moods. Serotonin, the ‘feel good neurotransmitter’, makes us feel happy. When serotonin levels drop, it can make us feel sad or depressed.

Serotonin is directly linked with tryptophan, an amino acid found in many foods. Diets consisting of foods with low tryptophan levels lead to depleting serotonin in the brain, which in turn then leads to irritability, aggression, lowered mood, and impaired memory.

Diets including foods with high levels of tryptophan can provide the opposite effect and raise serotonin levels naturally. Turkey is high in tryptophan, so don’t relegate it only to Thanksgiving. Ground turkey can easily be used as a substitute for ground beef in most recipes.

Cottage cheese is also high in tryptophan and could easily be included in daily meals. Skip the chips at lunch and have some cottage cheese instead.

Another way to lower risk for depression, especially in women, is to drink coffee regularly. A National Institute of Health study tracked women over a ten year period (1996-2006) and found that women who drank coffee regularly throughout the week had lower reported depressive episodes than non-coffee drinking women.

How about a sweet treat to go with that coffee? Dark chocolate has been found to increase serotonin levels naturally as well, leading to improved mood. Bananas can also be included on a list of foods that will decrease negative mood-related symptoms.

Other amino acids, such as L-theanine and Omega-3, a fatty acid, as well antioxidants and minerals such as magnesium and zinc can all help reduce anxiety symptoms. Salmon is a great source of Omega-3 and can also alter dopamine and serotonin levels, packing a double advantage to reduce anxiety and improve mood.

Dark leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, contain magnesium. Other foods found to reduce anxiety symptoms include, Oysters, green tea, and blueberries. Flavonoids, an antioxidant found in blueberries, assist in regulating mood, in addition to many other health benefits eating fresh fruit provides.

The foods listed above are not a complete list. If you are considering a major change to your diet, or if you have food allergies or other monitored health issues, please consult a physician and/or nutritionist. Changing what you eat, even small changes, such as eating a banana for a snack or swapping out the iceberg lettuce in a salad with dark, leafy greens, can impact overall health and mood for the better.


By Brooke Skipper, LCSW, February 19, 2019 –

The word feminism is often criticized by society. There are many who may not even read an article with the word feminism in the title.

In all actuality, feminism is defined as equality of the sexes. At its core, feminism just means believing we are all equal and should, therefore, have equal opportunities.

A powerful quote by Gloria Steinem states, “Though we have the courage to raise our daughters more like our sons, we’ve rarely had the courage to raise our sons like our daughters.”

We want our daughters to be assertive, bold, to understand they can aspire to whatever path in life they choose. We’ve changed our clothing lines for girls to include items with the word “strong” instead of the standard “pretty.” We encourage our girls to explore science, sports, and business, which are typically viewed by society as “male.”

But what about the boys? How often do we let our boys know pink is not a representation of a sex, that they can take dance lessons, that crying is not just okay but natural, that they can be beautiful, kind, and sensitive? Instilling acceptance and equality in our sons can help avoid the toxic masculinity that can debilitate them in the future.

 Here are some ways we can raise our children to see each other as equal:

  • Teach them to feel their feelings. When our children cry, a knee-jerk reaction is to say, “Don’t cry.” This is detrimental on many levels, as we are teaching our children to suppress their emotions. When our sons cry, this detriment reaches another level if we say, “Be a big boy and stop crying.” Instead, let your son know that it is okay to feel upset and help them cope with their emotions.
  • Remember that household chores are for the entire household. Make sure your children know everyone is expected to help with all chores. Chores are about what is age appropriate, not male/female appropriate.
  • Expose children to strong female characters and teach them that women can be powerful. Encourage your children to be any character they want to be during imaginative play, regardless of if the sex aligns with theirs. If your son wants to pretend to be Wonder Woman, let him.
  • Don’t differentiate between toys or hobbies. Encourage your children to participate in activities and play with toys that appeal to them. Don’t stereotype an activity or toy as “for girls” or “for boys” only.
  • Encourage coed friendships. It’s great for kids to have friends who are the same gender, but it’s equally important for them to have friends of the opposite sex. Boys can learn that girls aren’t the weaker sex and can have great ideas of their own. 
  • Teach children that feminism is not male bashing, it is about equality. Being a feminist means you believe everyone should coexist equally. No one is less than or more than another. Defined in that way, why wouldn’t you want to be a feminist?

By Amy Steele, LCSW, LAC, RPT, February 12, 2019 –

Independence and self-reliance are valuable skills to equip children with as they grow. We want them to be able to take care of themselves and not have to rely on others meet their needs. 

To nurture and develop those skills we have to start early in childhood.  Starting as young as age 1 or 2, begin to give children small, simple tasks and encourage them in their efforts.  This takes consistency and day-to-day nurturing. It is not always easy and can sometimes be time consuming. 

Most parents can recall a time when doing something for their child was easier, quicker, or more peaceful than having the child do it.  Yet, each time we choose to do something for our child that they are capable of doing for themselves, we are taking away the chance for them to build confidence in their ability and learn important life skills on their way to independence and self-reliance.

Here are some tips for fostering independence in your child:

  • Consider opportunities. Identify tasks that are age-appropriate and safe (be sure to provide proper supervision when needed). Making a list of tasks can be helpful for you and your child.
  • Pre-plan to allow for extra time and the probability that there will be mistakes.  It’s easier for us to be calm and patient with the effort when we are not pressed for time.
  • Prioritize and go slow.  Pick one task at a time so your child isn’t overwhelmed.
  • Work together. Initially it may be good to share the task, especially if your child is resistant to the idea.
  • Give choices. Making choices is part of being independent. Allowing them to pick between two simple choices acceptable to you gives them pride and practice. (i.e. “Do you want to put the spoons or the forks out as we set the table?”)
  • Perfection is not the goal. Accept that it won’t be done as well as you could do it. If messes are made use it as another learning experience. Show your child how to clean it up with patience and understanding, assuring them that it happens to everyone.
  • Encourage problem solving. When questions come up, encourage them to come up with solutions to minor issues, even if they need to think about it a little, instead of rushing in and taking care of it for them.

Some appropriate tasks for children ages 2-3 include picking up toys and books, putting dirty laundry in the designated spot, throwing away trash, partially (working up to fully) dressing themselves, removing shoes and putting them away, and dusting with a sock on their hand. Kids ages 4-5 can make their bed, clean out things under their bed, feed pets, water plants, clear dishes from the table and wipe up their area.

At age 6-7 kids can sweep the floor, empty the dishwasher, gather trash from different rooms, fold clothes and towels and match socks.  By 8-9 years of age kids can walk the dog, bring empty garbage cans up from the curb, sweep the porch, put groceries away, and tackle simple cooking and baking with parental supervision. 

Encouraging independence at a young age, not doing for your child what they can do for themselves, will build confidence and self-reliance that they can build on as they grow.

By Katie Omohundro, LCSW – January 22, 2019 –

First popularized by psychiatrist Carl Jung, the terms “introversion” and “extroversion” have been used in a variety of ways. From “the shy one” to “the social butterfly,” there are a number of generalizations which are often mistakenly used regarding the introvert/extrovert spectrum. But once we know where we stand, what’s next?

Attention and energy are significant dividing points between introversion and extroversion, particularly where one puts their attention and how one gets their energy. Extroverts are more likely to focus on the outer world of people and things, while introverts are more focused on the inner world of ideas and images.

For introverts, understanding their strengths, as well as how to handle their challenges, is a multi-step process. The sooner we learn how to manage our differences from those around us, the more we can keep from draining our batteries.

Here are four things that conscious introverts have done to help them be more successful:

  • Reframing: Being an introvert is an asset.
    • Negative stereotypes about introverts are easy to come up with: unfriendly, withdrawn, shy, lacking social skills.
    • The gifts of introversion are many – but less understood. Introverts may just be processing all the information in ways that are much different from extroverts.
    • Introvert and extrovert brains are wired differently! What an asset it would be to have the best of both worlds and have a super team of both introverts AND extroverts!
  • Make re-energizing a high priority.
    • Introverts get re-energized from the inside – from their ideas, impressions, and feelings.
    • Introverts need considerable ‘down time’ for that re-energizing to happen.
  • Create ‘introvert’ ways of doing things.
    • “Normal” in our culture is extroverted.
    • Research shows that up to 75% of people are extroverts. That’s 3 in 4 people!
    • Getting good at being an introvert on purpose makes life a lot easier.
  • Develop “extroverting” skills.
    • Sometimes it’s smart or essential to act like an extrovert.
    • It is important for introverts to recharge those batteries and be ready to take on that draining task of talking in front of peers.
    • When introverts are prepared and use their skills and preventative measures to keep that energy-level up they will be more successful.

It is believed that everyone has both an introverted and an extroverted side, but typically one side is more dominant than the other.  Understanding where we are on this spectrum is half the battle of learning how to manage our energy and learning ways that work for us so we can truly thrive.

Author and Marriage and Family Therapist Marti Olsen Laney writes in her book “The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World,” “Our culture values and rewards the qualities of extroverts.

America was built on rugged individualism and the importance of citizens speaking their minds. We value action, speed, competition, and drive. It’s no wonder people are on the defensive about introversion.”

For those that identify more as an introvert, the world may make them feel isolated, weird, or misunderstood. When an introvert first learns they are an “innie” and then learns how to tap into their skills and ways to recharge, they can be unstoppable!

By Katherine S. Baker, LCSW, January 29, 2019 –

It appears to me that good manners seem to be lacking these days.  Many of us were taught from childhood how to be polite.  We learn to say please and thank you, how to be respectful to our elders, how to be nice to other children and animals.

However, as our society has become more mobile, fast paced, and “I want it now!” the use of manners seems to have decreased.  With the rise in divorce rates, a prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse, and increasing world violence; many families are struggling to survive and thrive.  Manners are tossed aside.

Take notice, adults having temper tantrums in the fast food drive through, young and old not saying please and thank you but demanding and expecting others to treat them as a King or Queen.

Being rude and insensitive seems to be pretty common these days.  Without good manners people get offended and hurt.  Communication breaks down.

As human beings; we make mistakes, get in a hurry, and sometimes forget how to be nice in the daily rat race.  It can be easy to slip up and accidentally cut off another driver or rush through the door without noticing someone else waiting to go through.

Being able to say you are sorry and mean it can heal many a wrong.  The importance of good manners seems obvious to me but not to others who want to bully, demand, and want entitlement for things not earned.

It is important to acknowledge and appreciate good manners from others.  Give positive feedback when you see someone doing the right thing.

Be a role model for good behavior.  Remember young and old are watching how you respond and manage situations.  Manners create expectations for how people will act.

Would you give yourself a thumbs up or thumbs down to these statements?

  1. I try to be polite and considerate all the time.
  2. I say please and thank you.
  3. I use the Golden Rule (treat others like you would like to be treated).
  4. I keep my word.
  5. I turn off my cell phone in meetings, banks, doctor’s office, etc.

Tips for adults interested in improving children’s social behavior include the following:

  • Stress to children the importance of treating others the same way they like to be treated.
  • Help children understand the harm caused by thoughtless, unkind words and actions.
  • Role-play difficult situations for children in order to demonstrate appropriate responses.
  • Establish a politeness policy for basic manners.
  • Teach children the importance of thinking of others, like writing thank you notes.

Manners have changed a lot through the years and are still changing.  They are more relaxed than they were 100 years ago.   Our society needs manners to function in a healthy and productive manner.

The lack of manners and self-respect does not seem to be working.  Use your good manners- teach your children and let’s strive for a healthier community, city, state, and world.