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.

By Abby Betz, LSW – January 28, 2020

With high profile acts of violence on the rise, particularly in schools, it is important that parents and caregivers talk with children about these types of incidents and teach them ways to protect themselves. 

Schools have been working to prevent violence and make schools safer places for our children.  Not only do staff and faculty play a vital role in promoting school safety, it is imperative that parents also help reassure children that schools are generally safe places. 

Creating a safe atmosphere for students helps establish a sense of normalcy and security. It is essential students feel comfortable talking about their fears, as mental health concerns also continue to be on the rise.

Schools can promote a safe school environment by providing support from social workers and counselors and fostering positive interventions and school-wide behavioral expectations. It is also important that children take part in maintaining a safe school climate by participating in safety planning and drills. 

Frequently reminding children of the importance of school rules and requesting that they report potentially hazardous situations to school personnel can help reduce the instances of violence. The presence of school resource officers, security guards, and/or local police partnerships also plays a large role in keeping schools safe. It is important for staff and faculty to remain a visible, welcoming presence at school by greeting students and visitors to the building.

At home, parents and caregivers can reassure their children they are in a safe place. It is important to validate feelings children have and explain it is normal to feel scared or worried when tragedies such as school violence occur. Letting children talk about their feelings helps in processing these fears, puts them into perspective, and assists them in expressing these feelings in an appropriate way.

Making the time to talk with children is extremely important. Look for clues they may want or need to talk. Also keep in mind that some children may be able to express themselves more freely while coloring, drawing, or engaging in other artistic activities.

It is important to keep conversations appropriate for the child’s developmental stage. Early elementary school-aged children need simple, concise explanations coupled with reassurance that their school is a safe place. Upper elementary and middle school-aged children can be more verbal in asking questions about school safety.

For high school students, it is important to emphasize their role in fostering a safe school environment by reporting threats and communicating safety concerns to school personnel. For children of all ages, it is essential for parents and caregivers to look for changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep. Providing assistance to help children separate real-life from fantasy is also very important.

Monitoring and limiting what children are viewing on the internet and television can help lessen their fears. Maintaining a normal routine is also crucial to the healthy development of all children and gives them a sense of safety and security.

If a parent or caregiver has any concerns for their child, they should reach out to their child’s school and also seek the assistance of mental health professionals.

By Leah Lottes , LSW – Jan. 21, 2020

For many, the recent holidays reminded us to be thankful no matter what our circumstances are, focusing on being thankful for what we have rather than what we don’t have. The holidays are a great time to express gratitude. However, expressing gratitude every day is even better!

Gratitude is beneficial for your mental and physical health, so why not express gratitude every day?

As listed by Amy Morin on the website psychologytoday.com, here are some of the ways gratitude can benefit you:

Gratitude can improve your physical health. People who express gratitude tend to experience fewer aches and pains. These individuals are also more likely to take care of their health by attending regular doctor visits and maintaining a healthy diet with exercise.

Gratitude can help you sleep better. If you express gratitude at the end of the day by writing down a few things you are thankful for, you increase your chances of having a better night of sleep.

Gratitude can help boost your self-esteem. When you are thankful, you are more likely to appreciate your positive life experiences rather than focus on the negative ones. You are also less likely to compare yourself to others which can help you appreciate the accomplishments of others. Gratitude is also likely to increase your overall happiness.

Gratitude can help foster resiliency. Expressing gratitude is a great way to cope with stress and trauma at any time in your life. 

One of the best things about gratitude is that you can express it at any age. Because gratitude has been proven to have so many benefits, the younger you teach children about it, the better.

According to Dr. Kevin Solomons’ website borntobeworthless.com, there are many ways you can express gratitude throughout the day. The easiest way is by simply saying thank you to people when they help you out. Thanking someone for their help not only makes that person feel good but also makes you feel good, which encourages you to keep saying thank you.

When adults say thank you to others, this encourages kids and adolescents to do the same. Parents and teachers can model this behavior every day to students at home and in the classroom.  

Another way to express gratitude is to send thank you notes. This is a very good way to encourage kids and adolescents to say thank you. When you instill the habit in them when they are younger they are more likely to continue the habit throughout their lives.

It’s also important to teach kids that writing thank you notes isn’t just for gifts. A nice hand-written note can be sent to show appreciation when someone does something special for them.

An additional way to express daily gratitude is by keeping a journal. This can be something as simple as writing one thing you’re thankful for each day. Getting into a routine of adding to your journal allows you to train your brain to be thankful every day.Teachers can incorporate gratitude into their days by taking having students write down what they are thankful for or allow them to share their gratitude out loud. Parents can also do this activity together with their kids to show what they are thankful for and how it is important to their lives.

Expressing gratitude has many benefits. It may seem like a small task, but it’s the little things that can make such a big difference. Gratitude positively affects your mindset and your lifestyle, and that in itself is a reason to be thankful.  

By Dawn Tedrow, LCSW – January 14, 2020

Many teens struggle with forgetting daily assignments and losing their homework, or they become overwhelmed thinking about the amount of work that needs to be completed. Being unorganized creates tremendous stress for people. 

It is important to teach our students good organizational skills to not only reduce stress at school but to help them continue to be successful throughout life.  I have some useful tips for helping your teen become more organized.

First and foremost, get them in the habit of using an agenda book. Most school bookstores sell them to students for a small fee. If they aren’t already in the habit of using an agenda book, I recommend reminding them daily and rewarding them with praise until they have gotten used to carrying it to every class and filling it out. 

I also recommend that students write in the book even if they don’t have an assignment due, by simply noting, “No homework.”  This will help them get into the habit of using the book during every class. If they forget to use it, simply remind them to start again. 

You can easily see if it is being used by sitting down with your teen at a designated time to review what homework needs to be completed each day.  Using positive and encouraging statements will help them view this as a pleasant task rather than you “nagging” at them.

Try to find ways to make the agenda book more interesting by purchasing different color ink pens or stickers.  I use different colors of sticky notes to put extra notes in my planner.  I find most agenda books to be too small for all of my tasks. If your teen runs into this problem, you might consider purchasing a planner with larger spaces for notes. 

One of my favorite planners is the Panda Planner, which can be purchased at www.pandaplanner.com.  The spaces are larger, allowing for more room to write necessary details about assignments to be completed.  They also break down according to the week and help teach the individual how to plan their month, week, and day. I easily plan my week and identify the top priority for each day.

Another simple tool for teens is what I refer to as a “homework folder.”  This is such a simple tool to keep homework assignments in a place that is easy to find so they don’t get lost.  I get a red folder with 3 clasps and place sheet protectors inside. 

There should be a sheet protector for each class (even gym) and then an extra one for documents that are sent home for parents, such as picture day or emergency contact forms to be completed.  I use colorful labels to identify each class. The folder is carried to every class. Students are instructed to place homework to be completed inside the appropriately labeled sheet protector. 

Once they have completed the assignment, they place it back in the sheet protector until they turn it in to their teacher. Graded assignments do not go back into the homework folder. They are placed in separate folders for the class. This is a quick and easy way to avoid lost homework.

Supplying your teenager with these simple tools will help them to stay organized and reduce school-related stress and anxiety.

By Valorie Dassel, LCSW – January 7, 2020

Parenting in this era can be overwhelming. There are many opinions and parenting styles that can be argued. 

However, when we are facing drug and alcohol use among our teenagers, there must be an “all hands on deck” approach. It is a community issue that requires parents and adult mentors to communicate clearly with our teens while understanding both sides of the coin.

There are clearly reasons why our teens engage in risky behaviors, and it is important to acknowledge this while at the same time educating them on the severity of the risks. Visit websites such as drugfree.org and youthfirstinc.org to educate yourself on how to talk to your teen about drug and alcohol use. 

The following are some tips to guide substance use conversations with your teen:

  1. Ask your teen open-ended questions about the dangers of vaping, drinking and drug use. Use this conversation to guide discussion around the consequences about the things they care about in the “here and now.” Points to bring up include how substance use may affect their relationships and reputation. These are things they do not feel invincible about. They may do something that is embarrassing and have to deal with the social consequences at school on Monday morning. They may do something that they regret and consequently hurt a relationship or friendship. It is also helpful to aid in connecting their athletics and academics to substance abuse. If they are tired and hungover on the weekends, they will not feel like studying or practicing. 
  2. Be open with them about substance abuse issues in their family. According to the Genetics Science Learning Center of Utah, scientists estimate that a person’s genetics account for 40-60% of their risk of developing an addiction. Sharing family history and stories aids in the development of decision-making based on risks specific to them.
  3. In addition to genetics, individuals who suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, etc. are at a higher risk to abuse substances. The website dualdiagnosis.com is a good resource to help teens connect their emotional struggles to how they may self medicate with substance use.
  4. Clearly share your expectations and the consequences they will receive at home if they are found to be drinking, vaping, smoking or using drugs. It is important to create a relationship that allows the teen to share their struggles or experiences while also being aware of the consequences if caught using.

Get to know the parents of your teen’s friends. Share with them your values and that you do not approve of them drinking, smoking/vaping or using drugs. There are parents who mistakenly feel they are protecting teens by allowing them to drink or use substances under their supervision, as they feel it is a safer alternative.

Developmentally, teens are beginning to individuate from their parents, which gives them the sense that they can make their own decisions and act independently. Educate yourself and others that this concept inadvertently gives them permission to drink/vape/drug on their own.

Remember that we as parents can educate and guide, but our teens will be the ones who make the decisions. It is our responsibility to keep them as safe and as educated as possible.  Most importantly, be there when they fall and help them back up.