By Emily Bernhardt, LSW

Divorce impacts both parents and children within a family. Depending on a child’s age when divorce occurs, it can affect a child’s behavior in different ways. Learning the most common effects of divorce can guide parents through difficult interactions and can also help lessen the stress your child may be feeling.

While infants and toddlers may not fully understand what is happening when it comes to divorce, they can sense when there is tension between their parents. This can cause irritability and could cause your child to become clingy and insecure. This can also lead to regression that may look like a developmental delay.  

When it comes to the infant and toddler age range, it is best to provide as much consistency as possible so your child can feel familiarity and stability. Your child may also need extra attention and reassurance. If your child is a toddler, it is a good idea to explain the divorce to them using words they can easily understand.

Preschoolers and kindergarteners will often feel confused about their parents’ divorce and may even feel responsible. It is important to explain the divorce in simple, concrete ways, such as where the child will stay, how often they will see each parent, etc.  

Parents should be prepared for their child to ask plenty of questions and should also make sure to answer each question as best as they can. Anger, anxiety, sadness, or even uncertainty of how to feel are all very common ways for children at this age to express themselves in this situation.

Children between the ages of 7 and 11 will be able to grasp the concept of divorce better at this age. Older children will also have a better understanding of their own emotions, which will likely cause them to be more affected by their parents’ separation. It is common for children to feel a sense of abandonment, causing them to attempt to stop the separation from happening.  

As older children age, it can be common for them to place blame on one parent or take sides. Therefore, it is important to make sure the parents are engaging in clear communication and avoiding placing blame on one another.

Preteens and teenagers are more likely than younger children to place blame on someone. They may place blame on one or both parents, or they may even blame themselves. Teens and preteens may also begin to question the authority of the parents, especially the parent they do not live with on a regular basis. Anxiety, anger, sadness, and even acting out are common responses to divorce. It is best to have open communication with your child and to try and connect with them even more than before.

It is so important to be aware of the common effects divorce can have on children, so you can do your best to lessen the stress your child is feeling. Be aware, communicate with your child regularly, and give them the space to express how they are feeling. Creating positive interactions with your child through this change can make all the difference. 

By Kelsey Weber, LCSW

The 2022-2023 school year is in session and many teachers are witnessing the effects the COVID-19 pandemic had on learning. With students returning to in-person learning, teachers are noticing a large learning gap.

According to the Horace Mann Educators Corporation, teachers are reporting significant learning loss for many students, both academically, socially, and emotionally. Data from the CDC is also showing that virtual learning presents more risks than in-person learning related to parent and child mental and emotional health. Teachers have estimated their students are behind by more than three months. 

A separate study by McKinsey & Company found similar results that revealed virtual learning was a poor substitute for in-person learning. Some teachers reported the overall effectiveness of virtual learning only slightly better than skipping school completely. Educators in schools with higher percentages of low-income families found that virtual learning was ineffective and students struggled more. This is particularly true among black and Hispanic students, as well as students with disabilities.

One of the biggest obstacles teachers faced when they returned to teaching in-person was the gap between high-performing students and those who struggle academically. So, where do we go from here? As teachers, what can we do to help our students succeed?

1.)   Listen to your students’ concerns. It is essential as educators to demonstrate understanding as well as empathy. Offer one-on-one conversations with your students to show you care, want to listen, and help.

2.)   Check in with your students often. Some may need more time to complete a task or to understand an assignment. When working in the classroom, provide students with opportunities to take breaks, move around, and talk with their peers.

3.)   Watch for changes in behaviors. If you notice changes, check in with that student and seek additional support from your school counselor or social worker. For example, if a student is coming to class each day crying, have a conversation about why they are upset. Providing extra support and watching for these signs can help bridge the gap.

4.)   Offer after school support for students. Offering an afterschool program or meeting time can be beneficial for students who are falling behind. This will allow one-on-one time with your student and time to ask questions, catch up on work, and work at their own pace.

5.)   Stay connected with your students and families. If you notice a student is struggling, reach out to the student and their family. More than likely, if they are showing signs of stress at school they are showing signs at home as well.

6.)   Take care of yourself. Working in education has its own challenges, but more so post-pandemic. Be sure to know your limits, maintain healthy eating and sleeping habits, rest, exercise, connect with friends and family, and seek support when you need it.

Only $5 per ticket! Mario has appeared on Sesame Street, Universal Kids, and even live on tour with David Blaine, who calls him “the best kids’ magician in the world!!”

By Katherine Baker, LCSW, LCAC

Most people are looking for ways to be more confident in their daily lives. But what exactly is self-confidence? According to Webster’s Dictionary, “Self-Confidence is defined as confidence in oneself and in one’s powers and abilities.”  

A lot of people do not realize that manners and self-confidence are closely related. Combine these qualities with self-esteem, and you have the building blocks to becoming a healthy and productive human being. Parents have the responsibility of role modeling good manners and self-confidence for their children. Children learn how to function as a human being by what they observe from the caregivers in their lives.

When you know the proper way to act, you show respect for yourself and others.  People are always watching each other. Adults should be a positive role model for those around them. As adults, you are teaching young people how to respond to daily situations. I would encourage you to do your best and always try to do the right thing. Show love, support, and encouragement to build others up versus tearing them down with negative words and actions.  

What are basic good manners?  This basic list includes the following:

1.  Be thoughtful.

2.  Be cheerful.

3.  Be generous. 

4.  Be cooperative. 

5.  Be helpful.

6.  Don’t be bossy. 

7.  Don’t put people down or say rude things. 

8.  Respect the privacy of others. 

9.  Be on time for appointments.

10.  Be honest.

Implementing and practicing these 10 positive manners can lead one to feel more in control, feel better about yourself (self-respect), reduce stress, and allow for a general sense of peace.

Keep in mind that all of these factors are intertwined, and some days are easier than others. Give yourself grace if you do the wrong thing. Apologize genuinely and say you are sorry for your behavior if you do something to negatively impact others. Make it a priority not to repeat harmful actions.

It is important that you practice being a good human being, as well as role modeling for others the good and not the bad. Remember that your kind words may be that person’s only “pick-me up” or encouragement received that day. It costs nothing to say “hello” and smile at others as you walk by them.

Life is difficult. You do not know what trials in daily living others are going through.   To say the least, these past two years have been stressful for everyone. Be nice and support your fellow human beings.

By Amanda Haney, LSW

According to the CDC, electronic cigarettes or vapes have been the most used tobacco product by youths since 2014. Many teens believe that partaking in e-cigarettes or vapes is “no big deal.” Due to this perception, the use of e-cigarettes or vapes amongst teens is rising.

Vape products work by heating a liquid until it becomes a vapor, which is then inhaled. The liquid that is being inhaled can contain oils, marijuana, and most commonly, nicotine. In 2021, the CDC reported that one out of 35 middle school students and one out of every nine high school students reported using an e-cigarette or vape in the past 30 days.

According to, addiction is different for teens. This is due to the way a teenage brain develops, which makes teens more susceptible to addiction and poor decision making. Nicotine found in vape products can harm the developing adolescent brain.

Many e-cigarette smokers and vape users believe the use of vaping products is a safer alternative to other forms of tobacco use and will help them quit using tobacco. However, the use of e-cigarettes or vaping products is highly addictive, and some studies have shown they can be more difficult to quit than traditional cigarettes. This is due to the increased amount of nicotine in the e-cigarette or vape.

There are many factors that can lead to a teen’s decision to use an e-cigarette or vape. They may see loved ones or friends using. Companies tend to design packaging to enhance the appeal of vaping for teens with different flavors and varieties. Additionally, vaping products are cheaper and easier to acquire than traditional tobacco products. Vaping is also easier to hide from authority figures than traditional cigarettes.

There are several health risks that have been attributed to the use of e-cigarettes or vapes. Some of these are addiction, anxiety and depression, acid reflux, sleep problems, increase in thirst due to dehydration of the mouth and throat, chronic cough, nosebleeds, exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, chronic bronchitis, and lung damage that can be life threatening.

Additionally, the use of e-cigarettes and vaping products is known to increase heart rate and blood pressure, leading to increased circulatory problems. The long-term effects of e-cigarettes and vapes are still being studied.

The main action parents can take to prevent nicotine addiction is to communicate with teens about why e-cigarettes and vapes are dangerous. Provide a safe space for your child to discuss their feelings when it comes to their use of these products. Give them language to combat peer pressure and help them say, “No thank you” when offered.

Help your child understand their triggers when it comes to vape use and talk about alternative coping skills your teen can use when they are feeling stressed or having cravings. Provide them with the support and help they may need to prevent or overcome nicotine dependence and address other mental health needs.

By Angel Wagner, LSW

Whether we remember them fondly or not, many of us would agree that our teenage years had their share of challenging moments. While teenagers are going through the adventure of figuring out who they are and who they want to become, their bodies are going through physical changes that can be overwhelming for some teens. 

Teenagers regularly compare themselves to others to try to fit in. Therefore, they are often social media’s best “customers.” Constant comparison to their peers and social media influencers can create insecurities as teens try to attain the “perfect” body or the “perfect” lifestyle. This lowers a teen’s self-esteem exponentially and can lead to drastic habits like extreme diets and overexercising. You can help your teen practice body positivity to help them realize the “perfect body” is the body they live in now.

As stated before, teenagers practically live on social media. One of the more popular platforms for this age group is Instagram, which consists of individuals posting pictures and sharing their life online. Many of these photos can be photoshopped and tagged with lines such as #beachbody, #skinnylegend, or #thinspiration.

There are dark sides to many social media websites where eating disorders such as anorexia are depicted as something to strive for. However, many social media platforms have lighter sides too. There are many influencers who don’t photoshop themselves to fit the mold of what an influencer is supposed to look like. They proudly show who they are with tags such as #bodypositivity, #beautifullife, and #anti-diet. These influencers strive to show others there is much more to life than a perfect beach body.

The influence of media isn’t just in our phones. It’s everywhere. When in line at the grocery store there are magazines detailing how celebrities drop weight for a role in a movie, or how influencers use supplements to look “perfect” for the red carpet. Be conscious of what your teen is reading and encourage them to read body positive content.

Whether you realize it or not, you are your teen’s biggest influence. Growing up in a home filled with negative self-talk will have your teen looking at themselves in an unflattering light. Use body positivity yourself to model for your teen. Help them focus on the great qualities and talents they possess instead of dwelling on the negative messages of social media and Hollywood.

And finally, make a point to tell your teen how proud you are of them and the person they are becoming. Help them realize that extreme change isn’t needed. Who they already are is perfect.

Support Youth First by purchasing half pot raffle tickets now! The winner will be drawn on September 5, 2021. Raffle tickets can be purchased from Youth First staff and board members, at the Youth First office Monday through Friday 8am to 12pm, or by filling out the contact form here.

By Shannon Loehrlein, LCSW

Most parents are familiar with sleep-related issues in infants and toddlers. Developmentally, it is normal for babies to wake up every few hours. Toddlers can also struggle with sleep issues – especially while toilet training.

Overall, most sleep-related issues dissipate as children grow older. But what happens when a child who is normally an excellent sleeper begins having issues during elementary school?

Recently, we have been working through sleep issues with our 8-year-old. I first contacted our pediatrician for advice, who told us it is common for elementary school aged kids to have trouble sleeping. She explained that at this age kids start to understand more about the world around them and can become prone to anxieties and worries, which can play out prior to going to bed. 

Kids at this age may start to have more vivid nightmares. A recurring nightmare our daughter mentioned was someone breaking into the house. Fears such as these can be common, especially when they see frightening themes introduced on television. It’s important to monitor screen time to make sure your child is watching age-appropriate content.

One of the tips our pediatrician recommended was developing a behavior reward system. She recommended giving our daughter a “hall pass.” She was allowed to use this hall pass to get out of bed three times each night, but after that she would have a consequence.

Another tip for parents is to talk to your child about potential underlying issues. Ask your child if they are worried, scared, or having nightmares. In our case, we discovered that we had the most issues on Monday before school or before a big event our daughter was nervous about.

Talk to your children about ways to cope with their worries. We kept some Pop-It toys by her bed and taught her some breathing exercises to help her calm down when worried. It is also important to normalize your child’s feelings. I told my daughter it is normal to worry about unfamiliar situations and shared that I feel these emotions too. The point is to help your child feel less alone by explaining that even adults struggle with these things.  

The most important aspect of sleep training is to establish a consistent bedtime routine. Most parents will give their child a bath, read a book, and put their child to bed. It is also important to limit technology use. When our daughter watched television or played on her tablet before bed, she had more trouble sleeping. 

If you decide to initiate a consequence based on their behavior, make sure you follow through. I, like many parents, sometimes have trouble with this. When you are exhausted it can be hard to follow through with negative consequences, but your child will learn they can continue negative behaviors if you don’t follow through.

Lastly, know that this phase will pass, just like when you had an infant that only slept for an hour at a time at night. It may have felt like it would never end, but it did. This too shall pass.

By Audrey Bowlds, LSW

Going back to school can be stressful for children in many ways, especially as we continue to deal with the pandemic and its aftereffects.

A child diagnosed with a mental or physical illness may also struggle returning to school more than their peers. Whether your child is new to their school or returning, making new friends can be hard.

One way to make sure your child is ready for the many social interactions they will have throughout the school year is to model positive social behaviors. Children are constantly watching and observing what their parents/guardians do, say, and how they react to positive and negative situations.

These behaviors can shape children into the adults they will be in the future and helps them develop skills to handle their own situations. Using positive social behaviors in front of your children with friends, family, or even the cashier at the grocery store can help your child learn social skills.

According to Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., there are evidence-based strategies to help children make friends:

  1. Help children regulate their own negative emotions. When your child can regulate their own negative emotions by noticing and naming what they feel, they can better express their feelings with others in a healthy and calm way.
  1. Teach understanding. Emphasize the importance of listening to the emotions and perspectives of others. When your child understands these emotions and perspectives, they can learn to be empathetic towards others.
  1. Practice cooperation and acceptance. Knowing how to handle introductions and participating in conversations is a key component to your child starting a positive friendship. It is important that your child is capable of cooperation, negotiation, and compromise while interacting with peers, as well as accepting others’ mistakes, apologizing, and making amends.

Parents can also help their child learn positive social skills by showing them warmth and respect, and not controlling the child through fear, punishment, or manipulation of the child’s feelings. It is important to be your child’s emotional coach and nurture their ability to empathize.

Providing a secure social environment for your child is a great way to prevent social anxiety when they speak to peers. Host social activities that encourage cooperation with others while showing your children how to handle awkward social situations that might occur. Lastly, it is important to monitor your child’s social life without becoming too controlling, especially as they get older.

Sometimes children have trouble making friends even after following these tips. Reaching out or having your child reach out to other support systems such as their Youth First Social Worker, counselor, or teacher can be extra helpful in learning positive social skills and forming lasting friendships.

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.