By Diane Braun, June 16, 2020 –

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which has sold over 30 million copies in over 40 languages, is one of the most significant business books of all time.  Dr. Stephen Covey’s lifelong mission was to “unleash the human potential.”  The 7 Habits are the accumulated wisdom he blended into a comprehensive framework that allows one to be effective in their work and personal life.

The 7 Habits have the ability to introduce skills like goal setting, organization, time management, team work, conflict management, collaboration and communication. Those already familiar with the habits can also strengthen these skills.

There are steps to create habits that help you personally, and there are other steps that help you deal with and understand others. Ultimately the hope is that the participant will experience renewal – knowing that to be your best you need to feel your best mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The 7 Habits were developed to help people deal with issues that can hamper their productivity, creativity and personal health.  But can they also apply to dealing with the coronavirus? Let’s examine the second habit – BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND.  

Beginning with the end in mind reminds us that we should always have goals, whether they are personal or professional, short-term or long-term.  Goals are what guide us to the outcome we want.

Asking ourselves specific questions about what we want, expect, and hope for will help set our goals. A personal goal of making new friends, losing weight, eating healthier, or adding a spiritual aspect to our days can be achieved by looking ahead and thinking of the steps it will take to get there. 

The same goes for professional goals. Where do I want to be in six months or one year?  Does the job I’m looking for require me to get more education?  Should I enroll in classes or training?  Will I need to work on certain skills?

Covey recommends developing a personal mission statement. This can be a quote, song lyrics or a simple statement describing who you are right now. It can help define what’s important to you and get started on the steps toward a goal you envision.

Right now we find ourselves adjusting to schedules and situations unlike anything we’ve ever dealt with. This can be stressful and can cause us to forget this situation will eventually end and normalcy will return.

Beginning with the end in mind helps us think about life down the road. What happens when the pandemic is over? Was I kind to my neighbors? Did I have patience with the people I live with? Will our behavior now affect our relationships later? What is the goal for when this situation ends? Personally and professionally, where do I want to be? During this uncertain time, it’s helpful to have goals to guide us.

By Diane Braun – June 10, 2020 –

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which has sold over 30 million copies in over 40 languages, is one of the most significant business books of all time. Dr. Stephen Covey’s lifelong mission was to “unleash the human potential.”  The 7 Habits are the accumulated wisdom he blended into a comprehensive framework that allows one to be effective in their work and personal life.

The 7 Habits have the ability to introduce skills like goal setting, organization, time management, team work, conflict management, collaboration and communication. Those already familiar with the habits can also strengthen these skills.

There are steps to create habits that help you personally, and there are other steps that help you deal with and understand others. Ultimately the hope is that the participant will experience renewal – knowing that to be your best you need to feel your best mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The 7 Habits were developed to help people deal with issues that can hamper their productivity, creativity and personal health.  But can they also apply to dealing with the coronavirus? Let’s examine the first habit – BE PROACTIVE.  

Being proactive simply means being a “Can Do” person instead of a “No Can Do” person.  A “Can Do” person takes initiative to make things happen, thinking about options and solutions, and most importantly, acting.  The “No Can Do” person waits for something to happen to them, always thinking about the problems and barriers waiting to be acted upon.

In your mind visualize two bottles, one containing soda (reactive) and one containing water (proactive). If you shake them up, what happens?  The soda reacts by fizzing, bubbling, and if opened, showering everything in sight.  The water doesn’t change.  It remains the same with no threat if the lid is opened. 

Proactive people can brush things off without getting offended and take responsibility for their choices. They think before they act and bounce back if something bad happens. They always find a way to move forward. They focus on things they can do something about and don’t worry about things they can’t control. 

Part of this habit is recognizing the “Circle of No Control.” Simply put, we can’t control everything that happens to us. What we CAN control is how we respond.

Right now everyone is being forced to think ahead.  Do we have enough food, toilet paper, books and games to get through the next week or two and not keep running to the store?  Do we have our mask and hand sanitizer with us before we leave the house? We’re hearing stories of people sharing resources, planting gardens and raising chickens—all examples of thinking ahead and making a plan on how to keep going.

We can all strive to be proactive for those around us, using language that is positive.  I’ll do it, I can do better, let’s look at all the options, there’s got to be a way, I’m going to keep trying.

Being proactive and setting a positive example can truly help get people through any situation, including a worldwide pandemic.

By Salita Brown – June 2, 2020 –

Has your family enjoyed more time together, including family meals, during the pandemic? Before the worldwide health crisis, many families had seen the demands of everyday life cause a decline in traditional sit-down family dinners. Many families run from activity to activity, and it seems as though this family tradition from the past no longer seems relevant.

So, before some of us remove this ritual from our lives completely, let’s stop and discuss the true importance of family dinners.

For many years family dinners were a part of daily life in the household. These dinners represented much more than a time of sustenance. They were a time to unwind and reconnect as a family over a good meal. They took place at the family dinner table with face-to-face communication and no technology. They reminded families what was really important – EACH OTHER!

In recent years, researchers have found that family dinners promote healthy development in youth. They provide a connection to important family and cultural rituals, which can be beneficial to a youth’s mental health.

These face-to-face interactions between parents and their children facilitate communication, which in turn helps parents guide their children’s behavior. According to the website stanfordchildrens.org, youth in families that regularly engage in family meals are about half as likely to need treatment for depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems compared to their peers.

Additionally, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) reported findings for children that had frequent family dinners compared to peers that did not. Benefits for youth that had frequent family dinners included:

  • less likely to smoke, drink, or use illicit drugs
  • less likely to have friends who use illegal drugs
  • better school performance
  • less likely to report tension among family members
  • greater communication among family members

Of course every family is different, and the process of gathering the whole family every night over a meal may not be possible. For these families I would recommend finding at least one day a week that can be devoted to having a family meal, and that meal does not have to be dinner. Family meals can occur over breakfast, lunch or even at a restaurant or the park during an outing to the store. Choose whatever works best for your family.

So, what if a family is not good at initiating positive communication during family dinners? For those families I would recommend creating a conversation jar. A conversation jar can include a variety of questions and topics that can be discussed during the meal. Each time you eat, have a family member select and read a question and give everyone a chance to answer.

To encourage youth to feel more buy-in for this activity, begin with easy and silly questions. As the weeks go by, add in more serious, thought-provoking questions. Just take steps to ensure the dinner never turns into a blame game and no one ever leaves feeling down and defeated.

Now you know the importance of family dinners as a positive tool for your children’s development. As we slowly return to our normal routines, let’s try to find time to continue traditional family dinners, gathering our families together and engaging in positive communication over a good meal. Bon Appétit!

By Holly Branam, LCSW – May 26, 2020 –

We are living in a unique time in history. Schools have been closed, events are cancelled and businesses are just now beginning to reopen their doors. We have experienced the loss of so many familiar things. Routines have changed and aspects of our lives are delayed indefinitely.

Although we are going through this pandemic together, our individual experiences are vastly different. Some of us are working outside the home, some are working inside the home and some have lost their jobs.

We may be overwhelmed juggling work and educating/entertaining our children or isolated, living alone, and desperate for human contact. There are some individuals who have directly experienced the loss of a loved one or reside in areas where the virus has spread quickly, while others are living in areas that have barely been affected.

As we begin the process of returning to a new normal, each person is going to have an opinion on the right way to move forward. There will be varying levels of comfort based on our individual experiences and location. My sister lives in a large city that has been greatly affected and plans to shelter in place for months, possibly. However, I live in a small town with less than a handful of cases and feel more comfortable venturing out.

As we begin to make plans for the future, my sister and I have started talking about what we are individually comfortable doing and have agreed to respect each other’s opinions no matter how different they may be. We love each other and value our relationship. That connection and support is more important than our individual opinions.

As humans, we were created to be in community with each other, and supportive relationships help us cope. Social media and a variety of other online options have made connecting possible during this difficult situation, and I feel blessed that we live in a time where this is possible.

Unfortunately, as I scroll through social media I am saddened and discouraged by the unkind posts I see. We need each other, and unkind words only work to separate us.  Our energy is wasted on panic, blame, regret or anger. So instead, let’s focus our energy on kindness, caring, giving, and sharing.

These feelings of uncertainty won’t last forever, but the words we speak to others can have a lasting impact. As we move forward there is so much to be done. People are in need and we can put our compassion into action. We can spread kindness, listen to others, offer support, provide comfort and encourage one another.

We need to come out on the other side of this mentally healthy as well as physically healthy. We can’t control the choices others make, and trying to do so only creates frustration and distance.  So let’s let go of what we can’t control and give each other a little more grace.

I was playing a game with my daughter the other day. She wasn’t sure if the number she was looking at was a 6 or a 9, and I realized that perspective is everything. Frequently we see things differently depending on how we are oriented to the world around us. Beyond our current situation, we have a lifetime of experiences and beliefs that have shaped us.

We will all have different ways to process and handle stress and change. Let’s begin to be aware of how our words and actions affect others and try to understand their perspective. We can find peace by reminding ourselves that people are imperfect and are doing the best they can with what they know.

Someday we may look back on this time and have all the answers, but right now we are just trying to make our way through. We are in uncharted waters, so let’s be kind. Together we can make a difference.

By Valorie Dassel, LCSW, LCAC – May 19, 2020 –

All of our lives have changed with the pandemic, guidelines for social distancing and stay-at-home orders. We have been challenged to find new routines and a new normal during these unprecedented times.

While many of us have met the challenge with positive adjustments, some have also been challenged with bad habits easing their way into our routines.   

Drinking alcohol is definitely one activity that has increased during the stay-at-home order. According to the University of Southern California News, alcohol sales have increased by 55 percent in late March 2020 in comparison to sales for the same time period in 2019.

The challenges of staying at home during the pandemic include heightened fear of illness, increased stress and boredom. Some people may cope by drinking more alcohol. When we look on social media it is evident that many have turned occasional social drinking into an “every day is Saturday” mentality.

Recognizing why we are drinking more and becoming aware of our increased use of alcohol will prompt many people to pull back to a healthier normal. Unfortunately, this realization is not the case for all. Individuals in recovery from alcoholism must meet each day as a new challenge.

Dr. Stephen Wyatt, Medical Director of Addiction Medicine at Atrium Health, shares an analogy of how the disease of alcoholism causes neurobiological changes in the brain. He relates the normal brain’s need for oxygen as something an individual doesn’t process and think about, but rather just automatically fights for air to breathe.

In a similar manner, the individual whose brain structure has been changed due to alcoholism fights for the alcohol automatically to provide what it senses the body needs. With therapy and medication, just as in many other diseases, this brain response can be changed to allow the person to move into recovery from alcoholism. 

We must all be sensitive to the challenges that face each person in recovery. In addition, their families have also suffered through the process or, in fact, are dealing with a family member in the middle of active alcoholism.

For many of us not personally affected by alcoholism, someone who is drunk (or something they did while drinking) may be something to joke about. Unfortunately, alcohol use is never funny to the family members of the alcoholic; rather, it is often embarrassing or shameful. To the recovered alcoholic who nearly lost family or may have actually lost a relationship due to their alcoholism, an incident such as this may bring them back to those feelings of shame and embarrassment.

Additionally, someone in recovery makes a choice every day to stay sober. A comment or social media post mean to poke fun at ourselves – making light of drinking excessively, day drinking, or any normalizing of alcohol use during the pandemic – may potentially be a trigger to someone in recovery.

This is a time for us to support our families and community. Most of us know someone who has been affected by alcoholism, and we definitely celebrate those who have conquered and found themselves in recovery. Be mindful of how we can support them, and empathize with just how difficult it may be to be exposed to unintentional comments that may trigger old habits.

For information about Alcoholics Anonymous and to locate a meeting near you, please visit www.aa.org.

By Jordan Beach, LSW – May 12, 2020 –

It’s not pleasant to think about, but unfortunately many children are abused or neglected every day, sometimes by their parents or guardians.

In most states teachers are mandated reporters of child abuse or neglect. In some states, including Indiana, every single person is considered a mandated reporter. That means any person who has reason to believe a child is a victim of abuse or neglect must report it to the proper authorities.

With school buildings closed, Youth First wants to remind all adults that if you see something, it’s important to say something. We can all help care for kids.

With school letting out suddenly in March, many things needed to happen quickly to ensure the success of our students. People came together to make sure students had materials necessary to complete work and meal service was coordinated for students who needed it.

One thing that has gotten far less attention, however, is the safety of students now that they don’t have a safe haven in their schools. This brings up a huge concern regarding increased incidents of abuse and neglect going undetected and therefore not being reported to the appropriate authorities.

During the school day students come in contact with teachers, nurses, counselors, social workers and other key school personnel who have been trained to identify warning signs of abuse and neglect. When students are out of school these warning signs can go unseen or be overlooked. Now it is time to call on the community to help us ensure the safety and well-being of our children.

Per the Department of Child Services (DCS) website, in the months of March and April 2019, there were 42,067 child abuse or neglect reports made to DCS in Indiana. Fast forward to 2020, and during those same months only 30,860 reports were made. That is a difference of 11,207 reports. In a perfect world we could imagine there are just far less reports to be made, but the reality is that without the supervision of school personnel, a lot of these incidents are going unnoticed.

As a reminder, Indiana is a mandated reporting state. This means that any adult who knows of or suspects child abuse or neglect is mandated by the state to report this information to DCS. I understand that the thought of making a report can be unnerving. However, these children are waiting on a caring adult to step in and make the call to help them.

Typically, reports are called in by people who support students daily at school; with school buildings closed right now, these same students are waiting for their community to support them. If you suspect abuse or neglect, it is your responsibility to make the call. It is DCS’s responsibility to decide if the child is in fact in danger.

To make a child abuse or neglect report you will need to call the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-800-5556. You will be connected with a person from the statewide call center. You will give them the information you have and answer a series of questions. You may not know all of the answers to these questions, and that is fine. At the end of the call they will let you know if they are going to screen this call out or pass the information on to the county office in which the child resides.

In an ideal world, DCS calls wouldn’t be necessary. Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in. Kids are vulnerable. We are asking everyone to work together to ensure the safety of our children. If you see something, please say something. Report it to the proper authorities.

Click here to watch Jordan’s video on this topic.

By Grace Wilson – May 12, 2020 –

Have you talked with your kids about the dangers of underage drinking? It can certainly be a difficult topic to navigate.

You may ask yourself all sorts of questions: When is the right time to have the conversation? How will it go? Will they think I’m accusing them of drinking alcohol? And here’s the big question: Will they even listen?

The truth is, our kids are hearing us whether they show us active listening skills or not.

Right now many of us are staying home and spending more time with our families during the pandemic. Parents have more opportunities to have a conversation about underage drinking with their kids. 

“Talk. They Hear You.” is an underage drinking prevention campaign developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).  Approximately 88,000 Americans die from an alcohol-attributed cause each year. This makes alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

The goal of this campaign is to provide parents and caregivers with the resources to discuss the hard topics such as underage drinking and substance misuse. As parents, we play a very significant role in whether or not our children will experiment with drugs and alcohol. If we are equipped with the resources to tackle these tough conversations, we are helping set our children up to be drug and alcohol free.

Even if you have young children, it is never too early to start the conversation around alcohol and other substances. Simple, short conversations, not one that is long and drawn out, can be very helpful in keeping your child engaged and not tuning you out.

Remember, a conversation goes both ways, so make sure to give your child a chance to talk as well. These little talks can happen in the car, while watching TV, or at dinner. You should keep these conversations going as your child moves through the stages of adolescence and adapt the conversation to your child’s age. A conversation at the age of 8 will and should be different than when they are 16. It is also important to clearly state your rules and expectations around alcohol and other substances during these talks.

You can find more information about “Talk. They Hear You.” on the Youth First website at youthfirstinc.org. You will find information about the campaign, tips on having the conversation, different messages and ads about “Talk. They Hear You.”, and a link to the SAMSHA website for even more resources. It is important to take time and research the facts before you start talking with your child about substance use. In doing this, you will be better prepared for any questions they may ask.

Make the most of this time at home with your children and start the conversation about underage drinking.  

By Jordan Beach, LSW – May 5, 2020 –

As I am writing this I am following our state’s stay-at-home orders by practicing social distancing and working from home. For a lot of us this means working with children and spouses also in the home.

It’s not necessarily the most ideal work environment, but we make the best of what we have, and personally I feel blessed to have the opportunity to continue working. Even though I’m checking in with my gratitude, it can still take a toll on my mental health. It definitely creates new stress when trying to work and meet deadlines while also trying to meet the needs of our children.

With the goal of completing our own work and ensuring our children have enriching experiences at the same time, we’re going to look for activities you can set up for them at home. Obviously it is impossible to have activities that will keep all age groups busy, so if you have a home with differing abilities like my own, you might need to have a couple of different activities going for this to work.

Sensory play is a great way to keep your littles busy for extended periods of time. This can be something prepared before it is needed (like the night before) and used for multiple days. It doesn’t need to be more difficult than necessary. Use items or ingredients you have around your house that are safe for babies and toddlers. We like to use cooked noodles (you can dye them if you’d like). Other easy ideas that are baby safe are dried cereals, Kool-Aid playdough or do-it-yourself moon sand (2 cups of flour and ¼ cup oil). You could separate the dry cereal and moon sand for older children and hide small toys in them.

When sensory play gets old, and it will, I suggest scavenger hunts for older children. This does not need to be something extravagant. I write alphabet letters on paint samples and hide them around the house. If age-appropriate, your children can work together to find all of the letters. This activity keeps them busy because they not only need to find the letters; they have to keep track of what letters they’ve found and still need.

I also like swapping out toys. This one takes a little more forethought. Keep some toys put back so your children don’t have access to them all of the time. When you bring out the toys they haven’t had access to for a while they will think it is awesome. These “new toys” will keep them more occupied than the ones they have regular access to.

Even with distraction plans, working from home with your kids underfoot is not simple. Hopefully some of these small tips will help keep them busy just long enough for you to check some more things off your to-do list.

By Shannon Loehrlein, LCSW – April 21, 2020 –

COVID-19 has led us into uncharted territory. Never before have schools across the country closed because of a pandemic. 

As adults we may be worried about the future. How long will schools and businesses remain closed? We may also be worried about how closures will affect our monthly bills, paychecks, and childcare. 

Children are worried too, but they worry about different things. Children are concerned about missing school, completing virtual assignments, and missed play time with friends. My 5-year old has been asking when she can go back to school to be with friends.

As adults, we don’t know the answers to a lot of these questions, but there are some things we can do to help manage our children’s fears. Below are some tips for parents and caregivers.

  • First, manage your own anxiety about the situation.  As parents we are naturally anxious about this situation. This is a good opportunity to help our child co-regulate.  If we can manage our own emotions, then our children will see positive coping skills in action.
  • Let your child know it’s okay to talk through their emotions.   Allow them to ask questions, but don’t feel like you must have an answer to all of their questions.  Listening is powerful. Sometimes all we can do is say, “I can understand why you feel that way.” Children need to feel heard and validated.
  • Limit your child’s exposure to news. This is also helpful for adults.  In the 24-hour news cycle it can be tempting to watch the news all day. It is important to stay informed but not oversaturated. Watching too much news can instill fear and anxiety in children. 
  • Keep a schedule. Many parents are being forced to either work from home or find emergency daycare placement with family or friends during this time. Kids thrive on a schedule, and their usual routine has been disrupted. Kids of all ages – and even adults – do not do as well when they are off of their normal schedule. So create a new schedule, and try to organize your child’s day during typical school hours. You can find free examples of schedules online. 
  • Make sure you limit digital time.  Although students have virtual learning built into their day, make sure you weave in play time and non-digital time throughout the day.  Excessive use of electronics can increase anxiety, so make sure your child takes breaks from electronics during the day. 
  • Encourage outdoor play. Kids are used to outdoor recess. Even if the weather forecast is not ideal, encourage kids to go outdoors in between the rain showers. They need to be able to run around and play to release energy and stress.
  • Teach your kids coping skills. Exercise, belly breathing, and talking about their feelings are going to be really important during this time.  Also encourage your children (especially teenagers) to reach out to their friends by phone and text.  For teenagers, relationships with peers are very important. 
  • Lastly, use this time to reconnect as a family. Normally our busy schedules leave us little quality time with family. Use this time to play board games, have family meals, and connect.

By Laura Keys, LCSW – April 15, 2020 –

I have been a parent for more than a couple of decades. I’ve scolded, hugged, corrected, and loved two wonderful boys.

When they were very young their father died from cancer, which left me to sail the ship on my own. In all those years of being a single mom I learned a few lessons that I would like to impart to parents trying to raise their children in the midst of the current pandemic.

If being cooped up in a house or apartment while managing a child’s education, living with the anxiety of a health scare, conducting Zoom meetings while working from home or heading to work under uncertain conditions so you have a paycheck to cover the grocery bill all seems a bit overwhelming…that’s because it is.

I’ve listened to, cried with, and given advice to a lot of very stressed-out parents in the past few weeks. If you are one of them, you are not alone. Despite what your Facebook or Instagram feed may tell you, everyone is struggling.

Positive self-talk and advice from elders got me through parenting two very wonderful, yet imperfect humans in the midst of what some would call hardship. I hope these words of wisdom help you the way they’ve helped me.

  1. TV moms June Cleaver, Carol Brady and Clair Huxtable are fictional parents. So is Peggy Bundy. Scrolling through others’ filtered social media posts can make you feel inadequate as a parent. Remember, the “social media highlight reel” is not exactly a fair representation of a person’s life. Some days you may be Carol Brady and others you’re Peggy Bundy. No one is perfect, so why should you expect to be?
  2. EVERY parent has lost patience with their child. These days I think we are all more aware of how trauma can affect a child. It speaks to the evolving knowledge we have about the developing brain and what we’ve learned about raising our children. I also think, however, that it puts a lot of pressure on parents to do everything perfectly. We can’t raise our children in a bubble. We can’t always be fair or democratic. That certainly doesn’t raise a prepared human. If you mute yourself and snap at your child because they have been whining for 30 minutes while you are trying to finish a phone conference, you have not damaged your child. Beating yourself up over small parenting “fails” only brings your self-worth down; it doesn’t lift your child up. Give yourself a break.
  3. If you don’t get everything done it’s not the end of the world. Ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that will happen if I don’t get this done?” If the answer is, “It just won’t get done,” then give yourself permission to let it go. The expectations we put on ourselves are often much higher than the expectations of others. Be honest with yourself about what you are capable of and stick to that. Parents are told they can have it all. While I certainly think we can have careers and families and do both well, it’s okay to acknowledge that we need help sometimes – especially when you’re trying to “have it all” under one roof during a pandemic. 
  4. Lastly, give yourself and your child a little grace. Now is not the time to expect more from them – or from yourself. It’s ok to just get through the day sometimes. If you put your kids in front of a movie so you can get some work done, it’s okay. Watching Disney every day is not going to stop them from getting into a good college.

We mustn’t judge our parenting abilities by what we do to get by during a pandemic. As long as you can laugh with your kids and make them feel loved, the rest will be forgiven, I promise. Take it from a mom who made plenty of mistakes with her children. They are resilient and capable, and as long as they feel loved at the end of the day they will turn out just fine.