By Diane Braun, Project Manager – March 10, 2021 –

Most children crave attention, not only from their peers, but also from the adults in their lives. They will search for ways to be in the spotlight, whether positive or negative, in order to get a reaction from those around them.

Parents should always strive to focus on the positive behaviors they see in their children and reward those behaviors.

How to reward them is often a matter of debate. Should it involve an allowance, a shopping spree, or another costly activity? Not necessarily. For most small children, simple and free gestures are exactly the kind of attention that will make them feel acknowledged and loved.

Personal rewards can involve hugs, winks, high fives, praise, and applause. Rewards involving fun activities could include a ride in a wagon, spending time popping balloons or paper bags, piggy-back rides, blowing bubbles together, or playing dress up in funny clothes.

Making an effort to spend quality time with children can make them feel special and acknowledged as well. Simple bonding experiences can include pushing a child in a swing, delaying bedtime by an extra 15 minutes, reading a book aloud, or allowing your child to help you make a meal or hold the TV remote. These action-based rewards involving time spent together can help cultivate positive feelings of belonging.  

Rewards that involve a small cost and can easily be purchased at a dollar store can be hair clips and ribbons, stickers, coloring books, marbles, comics, paints and brushes, chalk, markers and crayons, or balloons. Rewards like these are easy to keep hidden around the house so you can present a reward to your child when they exhibit positive behavior. 

The most important thing to remember is that good behavior should be reinforced right away. Make eye contact and tell the child exactly what you liked. “You did a great job putting the dishes away!” Be enthusiastic and genuine.

If working towards a behavior goal, be sure to acknowledge each step as it is accomplished. When the end goal is reached, that is the time for a more anticipated reward like 15 more minutes of screen time. 

Use of behavior charts is also a good way to show progress toward a goal. Incorporating a particularly enticing reward into the last step on the chart is a sure way to motivate your child to complete the chart. Anticipate inevitable setbacks and encourage your child to keep working towards their goal when they are feeling discouraged.

Once a behavior becomes a habit, rewards can be decreased and new goals can be set.  Parents can be more aware of their children’s attitudes and behaviors by asking them what rewards they’d look forward to and using them to encourage new positive behaviors. Learning to be conscious of when and why you give rewards is a wonderful and productive way to show your children the love and affection they deserve.

By Youth First Staff – March 3, 2021 –

Growing up can be challenging. Some stages in our lives are notoriously more difficult than others.

Most of us remember our various “awkward” phases that took place throughout our time in elementary and middle school. During those years, even the smallest failure could feel like defeat. 

Although all of us experience the struggles of discovering who we are as we grow up, the negative impacts of social pressure during adolescence are significantly higher in girls. Between the ages of 8 and 14, girls’ confidence levels fall by 30 percent.

At 14, when girls’ confidence is statistically at its lowest, boys’ confidence is 27 percent higher. How can we spot the signs of this confidence plunge in our daughters and what can we do to bolster their self-esteem?

This drop in self-esteem may look like fear of trying new things, reluctance to speak up in class or ask questions, people-pleasing, overthinking, or constant comparison. The good news is that confidence can be taught and encouraged if given the right atmosphere to grow during these tough years. 

The single most effective way to build confidence is by taking risks. Comfort zones inhibit growth. Bravery is like a muscle, the more you use it, the easier it is to be unafraid to express yourself.

Encourage your daughter to take risks and normalize failures. If girls start taking positive risks during adolescence, they will be better prepared to overcome failure and will have the ability to move on when things don’t go perfectly in adulthood.

Resist the urge to jump in and save your daughter from failure. It is essential for her to learn to move through tough times, bounce back, and become more resilient. Teach your daughter to become her own coach and learn from her mistakes. Positive affirmations like “I’ve got this” and “I’ve gotten through hard times like this before” are helpful. 

Rumination is the tendency to repetitively think and worry about all the details of a negative situation. Teaching your daughter to identify these toxic mindsets and create a new, more realistic and positive patterns of thinking can be helpful. For example, if she is thinking “Everyone hates me” because she didn’t get invited to a party, you can challenge that thought and create a new more realistic thought in its place.

Lastly, set an example. Let your daughter know when you are nervous about a new challenge. Talk about your past failures. Let your daughter know that messing up isn’t the end of the world. If we are obsessing about being perfect, our daughters will pick up on that unhealthy standard.

By Krissy Melhiser, LSW – February 24, 2021 –

What does it take to see our children grow to be strong and healthy? Is it everyone’s responsibility?

Parenting can be so difficult at times. It seems like an endless pursuit, and you wonder if the tireless chase will result in a positive outcome. As a school social worker, I hear countless stories of the hardships parents face with their kids. Through the ups and downs, I often wonder as each generation faces the same foundational issues, what does it take to produce a healthy generation?

Since being in high school myself, I have seen an increase in anxiety and depression in young people. A world that is constantly transforming provides a multitude of reasons for this increase in mental health challenges. How can we ensure the next generation isn’t forced to grapple with more issues than the previous generation?

So what is needed? Change! A word like “change” can be so simple to understand, yet it may be one of the most difficult to put into action.

Change requires looking beyond our circumstances to find the root of the issues younger generations face. Most of us would find it is easy to change our laundry detergent or perhaps make small changes in our routine, but deep-rooted change takes more time and commitment.

So what can we do as parents, guardians, and youth advocates who have an influence on younger generations?

First we must turn inward, observe, and recognize what we need to own up to. As parents, we are not given an instruction manual. Much of what we know is learned from our own parents. Recognize that not everything we are taught is good or healthy. Therefore, it’s important for all of us to be introspective and make changes where they are necessary.

The definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” If we do the same things over and over, how can we expect change to occur for ourselves and those around us? Lead by example! Envision yourself looking into a mirror, but on the other side is not your reflection; it’s your child’s reflection instead. With every movement, word, attitude, and deed they mirror you. Are you okay with the reflection you see?

To create change, sometimes generational bonds of negative unhealthy habits need to be broken. As human beings we have proven that we can and have evolved. Therefore, we know that change can happen if we commit to seeing it through.

My challenge is this: Ask yourself what you need to own up to. You and your kids will be better for it. The negative generational cycle can and needs to be broken, not only for your own mental health and well-being, but also for the benefit of your family, community, and society as a whole.

It’s our responsibility to produce a generation that can take on the future without unnecessary hurdles. Our actions have a ripple effect on so much more than we realize. May the ripples you produce be healthy and good ones.

By Alyssa Sieg, Program Coordinator

Preparing for the birth of a new baby is a wonderful time filled with anticipation, excitement, and joy. For first-time parents, the preparation can also be a time for anxiety and uncertainty.

There are so many unknowns for parents when bringing a new baby into the world. The thought of sleep deprivation, financial concerns, and finding the right childcare for the baby can definitely be a source of major stress. This stress can most definitely affect the parents’ relationship and their mental health, and it can often lead to more arguments.

It is essential for partners to work together and be on the same page when it comes to raising a child. Studies show that conflict between parents can negatively impact children. However, when children witness parents come together for a resolution to arguments, they will feel less threatened. In other words, children will see that despite the conflict, the parents are still there for their needs.

When conflict becomes hostile, children may feel distressed and threatened, leading them to “act out” or become aggressive toward others. Understanding how to manage conflict before the baby is born will help parents feel better equipped when they have a disagreement.

When we’re upset with our partner it’s easy to become emotional and make accusations. Instead of focusing on a specific problem, we tend to generalize. For example, we may say things like “You’re careless, You’re never helpful, You’re lazy, etc.” Research on relationships has found that making a point to address specific behaviors that upset you (rather than generalizing) can be highly beneficial to mental health and overall happiness within the relationship.

Replacing the negative thoughts with helpful thoughts is a great first approach. For example, instead of saying, “My partner is selfish,” replace that with, “She has to take care of herself first, but she cares about me too.” These positive replacement thoughts should be true and believable.

Write down these constructive messages and thoughts and strategically place them on the refrigerator, next to the light switch in the bedroom, or on the bathroom mirror so you will see them daily. By practicing and making an effort to use them now, it will be easier to use this technique once the baby arrives.

While it is impossible to truly prepare for all of the challenges parenthood can bring, using these techniques to help strengthen communication will be a tremendous help. Parenthood is exhausting, challenging, and can take a toll on relationships. Being on the same page as your partner when it comes to conflict and communication can help lighten challenges and stress once the baby arrives. Happy parents will lead to a happy child, which we can all agree is the most important factor in parenthood. 

If you are expecting a child, Youth First invites you to participate in Family First Foundations. This free virtual program is designed to help parents maintain strong family bonds, reduce stress, and raise healthy, well-adjusted children. There is a session starting soon. Groups meet once a week for 4 prenatal sessions and 4 postnatal sessions. For more information and to register, email Grace Wilson at gwilson@youthfirstinc.org.

By Kelsey Weber, LSW – February 10, 2021-

Many people gauge levels of student academic success based on teacher status, academic grades, or socioeconomic status. However, the real key to student success is none of these. The best indicator for student academic success depends on how involved families are with learning at home and in their child’s school.

Families involved in their child’s education at home and at school have higher academic achievements than those who do not. Many staff members such as social workers, teachers, counselors, and administrators play a vital role in connecting families with their school by encouraging family engagement. Family engagement is not only parent interest in their child’s learning; it is a shared responsibility with staff and teachers to meet educational goals and encourage a student’s growth.

When families are engaged in their child’s school life, kids develop a love of learning that will expand their knowledge base and sense of wonder. When teachers focus on family relationships, they often see change with those children in their classroom. The more teachers involve parents, the more motivation, positive behaviors, and good grades increase.

Teachers often encourage parent engagement and involvement by inviting parents to school meetings or events, asking them to volunteer at school or get involved with PTSA, or suggesting parents meet with their child’s teacher to set goals and objectives.

When parents and teachers commit to this learning atmosphere and work together to help students succeed, this is when we see success and growth. So, why is parent involvement so important? When school staff establishes relationships with families early on, families will feel more welcome and more willing to be involved in their child’s education. If those relationships are not established early on, parents may feel they are not supposed to be part of their child’s learning process.

Other factors can create a disconnect between parents and teachers, such as scheduling conflicts, transportation issues, and lack of cultural awareness for low-income or minority families. Working together to overcome these obstacles is an essential part of being an active participant in a child’s education.

Children with engaged parents are more likely to earn higher grades and test scores, graduate from high school and attend post-secondary education, develop self-confidence and motivation in the classroom, and have better social skills and classroom behavior. According to waterford.org, children with engaged families are also less likely to struggle with low self-esteem, develop behavioral issues, or need redirection from their teacher in the classroom.

So, how can parents become more involved with their child’s school life?

  1. Save contact information for your child’s teachers to be sure you can easily
    address any concerns or questions regarding your child’s progress.
  2. Connect with the school by attending school events, meetings, and parent-teacher committees.
  3. Discuss classroom goals with teachers.
  4. Be responsive to both positive and negative feedback from teachers about your
    child’s progress.

Teachers can encourage more family involvement in the following ways:

  1. Give parents your contact information to encourage parents to reach out when
    needed and establish a strong communication with the teacher.
  2. Invite parents to connect with the school by sharing school events, meetings, and parent-teacher committees.
  3. Discuss classroom goals with parents.
  4. Establish a connection with parents in person as much as possible. Communicate often with both positive and negative phone calls, upcoming events, and any classroom concerns you may have.

When parents and school staff work together, student academic success grows. By working together and establishing a relationship early on, this creates a positive school and working environment.

By Brooke Skipper, LCSW – February 3, 2021 –

We know our children mess up. They make bad choices, say unkind things, forget to do chores. We know they are not perfect.

However, when we hear about new trends in adolescent behavior, we foolishly think to ourselves, “Well, thankfully my kid would never do THAT.”

Adolescence is a time of exploration. Our children are trying to discover who they are, what group they belong to, what they like and don’t like. As they explore they are inundated with messages from their peers and social media about so many different types of experiences, many of them risky.

The areas of the brain that handle planning and impulse control don’t completely mature until about age 25. So while adults may see a behavior that is unsafe and say “no thanks”, teens cannot always recognize the risk.

Without that impulse control, teenagers are more likely to make quick decisions without thinking through the consequences. This is especially true when they see the behavior as something “everyone else is doing.”

How can we become more observant parents and keep our heads out of the sand? Staying connected with your child, knowing what they are involved in and who they are involved with, and keeping yourself up-to-date about new adolescent behavior trends will help you recognize signs that your child may be engaging in unsafe activities.

  1. Talk openly, talk often, and start now. Start having conversations with your child about topics like sex, substances, and personal safety at a young age. Your child will be more likely to know you are open to hearing what they have to say. Be careful that your words don’t come across as a lecture. Instead, use open ended questions to allow your child to talk freely. Remind your child it is safe for them to come to you about any topic.
  2. Have clear family values. What is important to you as a family? Does your child know what these values are? Make sure you are modeling family values and not just preaching them. Don’t drink and drive, practice a positive online presence, and treat others with kindness.
  3. Have clear rules and consequences. If you wait for a situation to arise to put rules and consequences in place, you are waiting too long. Clearly define rules and consequences for breaking them.  Take time to redefine these with your child as she matures and is ready for more responsibility.
  4. Monitor your child’s social interactions. This applies to interactions both in person and online. Know who your child is spending physical time with and who the parents are. Take time to monitor your child’s social media and texting interactions, as this is where some of the most risky behaviors can take place. There are so many apps available to help in both of these areas.
  5. Be a safety net when it comes to peer pressure. If your child feels peer pressure to do risky things or is placed in a risky situation, you could help him think of ways to opt out. Develop a code word your child can text you that lets you know he needs to be picked up immediately. Let her blame you for not being able to go somewhere she does not feel comfortable. Help her come up with creative ways to respond when pressured. “My mom drug tests me” can always work!
  6. Be a constant presence through the years. We are sometimes fooled into thinking our teenagers no longer need us, a message that can be reinforced by their behavior. However, teens often need us even more as they navigate the world and are faced with difficult choices. Continue to check in, stay involved, and stay available.

Following these tips can help you be more aware of your child’s behavior and increase your success as a parent. Turning a blind eye or refusing to reevaluate our parenting techniques doesn’t do any good. Remember, most parents probably thought their child would never eat a TIDE Pod.