By Jordan Beach, LCSW – March 16, 2022 –

If you spend any time on social media, you have probably heard the term “gentle parenting.” The quick response to this concept is that it’s “soft” or that we’re not punishing our kids enough and creating a generation that doesn’t respect authority, etc.

A lot of times we hear the word gentle in terms of parenting and assume this means there are no consequences when children misbehave. I implore you to look deeper.  Just stick with me and we can navigate gentle parenting together.

First, the concept of gentle parenting is not new. In fact, a lot of you were probably raised this way, or you are raising your own children this way without knowing it had a name. At its core, gentle parenting is simply creating an environment of respect and empathy for your children to grow in. Gentle parenting is not allowing your child to misbehave with no consequences. It is trying to understand your child’s emotions and behaviors and help them work through them.

Children who grow up in calmer environments are better prepared to handle adverse emotions in adulthood. By meeting your child’s emotional needs with empathy instead of judgement, you are teaching them that their feelings are okay and they can trust you to help them navigate hardships.

This is crucial in helping your child develop healthy coping skills. A dysregulated child is not going to be able to take deep breaths on their own. They are going to need a calm adult to help them regulate, or co-regulate, with them.

If your child has a behavior that needs to be corrected, by all means, correct it! The gentle parenting method of correcting misbehavior would be to provide them with a redirection. Be specific and make sure your child knows what they can do instead.

Maybe you’re thinking, “My kid already knows what they can and can’t do, so if they do something wrong it’s because they choose to.” If this is the case, it is important to consider why your child is making an intentional choice to break an established boundary. Are they stressed out and don’t know how to tell you? Are they over- stimulated and don’t know how to regulate? The first question to them is, “What can I help you with?”

In a world where people insist that “kids should be kids,” sometimes we forget that our children’s brains are constantly developing. Children are not mini-adults. Even if we feel a child is overreacting, they’re not. They’re expressing themselves in the best way they know.

It is our job as the trusted adults in their lives to help kids navigate difficult feelings, learn and develop healthy coping skills, and provide them with boundaries and guidance. When we can do this with compassion starting at a young age, we are setting the groundwork for well-regulated teenagers and young adults.

Heidi Mikac, LSW, Youth First Social Worker at Paul Hadley Middle School in Morgan County

Q:What called you to become a social worker? 

A: The reason why I became a social worker was to learn more about suicide prevention.  I’ve had three important people in my life take their own life.  I wanted to learn about the signs and symptoms of depression so I could help prevent suicide.    

What is the most rewarding part of your job? 

The most rewarding part of my job is when a parent or a teacher tells me that they’ve noticed a positive change in the student I’m helping.  

Which mental health tools/strategies do you think are the most impactful or effective for students? 

I would say coping skills and the Tween Series presentations have had the most impact on students at my school.  I’ve had a few kids tell me that they were worried about a friend who was considering suicide and I was able to make mental health referrals. Teaching kids what to do when they notice signs and symptoms of depression in their friends is so important.  I’m forever grateful for Tween Series.    

In what ways has the Covid-19 pandemic affected youth mental health? 

Unfortunately, Covid-19 increased students’ anxiety and suicidal behaviors.

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Vicki Kirkman, LCSW, LCAC – Youth First Social Worker at Gibson Southern High School in Gibson County

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: A few of the most rewarding parts of my job are getting to meet so many students and being part of their high school career. I really enjoy working with families and teachers to help students recognize and achieve their goals. I love being a part of their support circle and experience “aha” moments with them. It is exciting when former students reach out and share how they are doing years later!

Q: Which mental health tools/strategies do you think are the most impactful or effective for students?

A: I think some mental health strategies that are most impactful and effective for students include stress and time management skills, being able to identify supportive people in their life, and mood management skills.  I also encourage students to practice gratitude and set goals to work toward, which can create a sense of purpose and direction. 

Q: How has social work influenced the way you view younger generations?

A: Social work has influenced how I look at the younger generation in a positive way.  Every day, I am amazed at how resilient and determined the students I work with are.  They have a way of looking at the world and challenges with a fresh set of eyes and come up with such creative ways to tackle those issues!

Nolan Miller, LSW – Youth First Social Worker at Elberfeld Elementary School and Lynnville Elementary School in Vanderburgh County

Q: What called you to become a social worker?

A: I have a passion to be the voice for people who are not being heard. I understand that me being a white, Christian, man makes it where I do not face discrimination. I have seen through this profession, as well as through friends and family, that we are not all treated equally. Joining this field and becoming a social worker meant that I could be the person who helps advocate for people who face such harsh realities.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: The most rewarding part of my job is that I get to help someone be themselves and find their voice. We all have those walls that we put up in certain aspects of our lives. I find it rewarding when I can see those walls come down and the person feels safe enough to tell me how they truly feel about what is going on around them.

Q: What does mental health mean to you?

A: To me, mental health means that you feel comfortable in your own skin. Meaning that when you are struggling or facing hardship, it takes us out of the life we want to live. Anxiety, depression, grief, etc. are things many of us deal with on different levels. When we are facing those difficulties and not feeling like ourselves, reaching out for help can be so beneficial. I think being mentally healthy is understanding that we do not have to face challenges alone and can find the strength to reach out for help. Most of the people that meet with a therapist are just taking that first step, which shows how resilient they really are.

Q: How has social work influenced the way you view younger generations?

A: Always come at any situation with an open mind. The way I would react to something is not the way a younger or even older person would react. That is perfectly fine, we are all going through life with different lenses. My way is not always the right way and being able to understand that someone sees a situation differently can bring more people together.

Q: Which mental health tools/strategies do you think are the most impactful or effective for students?

A: My number one rule for many situations in life is to take a break from it. You’re never going to solve a problem if you are stressing out and stewing on the situation. Taking a mindfulness walk or doing a breathing exercise then coming back to the problem can help with solving it. Many difficulties that my students face are caused by racing thoughts or feeling the weight of passing a test or quiz on top of what they might be dealing with outside of school. Understanding that this is not forever and that they are more resilient than they give themselves credit for can be very effective.

Q: In what ways has the Covid-19 pandemic affected youth mental health?

A: I think the biggest impact is the uncertainty. They have not had a normal year in a while and with many of us facing hardship from grief to financial burdens our youth see the struggle. They struggle with how to deal with the anxiety of the new world we are living in. It also can be very confusing to them when things go back and forth so much. They don’t know if they should feel safe or unsafe regarding the pandemic. I think that is why as social workers, teachers, and parents, it’s important to show them we can be resilient through the struggle. It  gives them the reassurance that they can get through what they are going through.

Laura Arrick, LCSW – Youth First Social Worker at Evansville Day School and Signature School in Vanderburgh County

Q: What called you to become a social worker?

A: I always knew I had the essential skills (good listener, empathetic, people-person, adaptable, genuinely caring, etc.), but I didn’t really feel called to the profession until my internships in college. Seeing social work in action and how I could use those skills to help people grow and heal was when I knew this was what I was passionate about. I haven’t looked back since. 

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: By far the most rewarding part of my job is the connections I am able to make with the students. Being in their buildings and alongside them as they navigate their journey is so awe-inspiring. We have time to cultivate these trusting and safe relationships with one another and those bonds really make this work meaningful.

Q: What does mental health mean to you?

A: For me, mental health centers around a person’s emotional and psychological well-being. It is incredibly complex and ever-evolving. I am often challenged by the fact that no one technique works for everyone and figuring out how to tailor effective tools/strategies to each individual constantly keeps me learning and growing as well.

Q: How has social work influenced the way you view younger generations?

A: My work with students has definitely challenged my viewpoints in a lot of ways. They are so much more complex and complicated than we sometimes give them credit for. It’s easy to dismiss them or think they can’t possibly understand or think clearly and rationally about situations. When in fact they have a lot to offer and are often so much more open and non-judgemental. 

Q: Which mental health tools/strategies do you think are the most impactful or effective for students?

A: I think it is important for young people to be able to understand and process their belief systems and automatic thoughts. Once they gain that awareness, they can then problem-solve and think about their behaviors in a different light.

Leah Lottes, LSW – Youth First Social Worker at Barr-Reeve Community Schools in Daviess County 

Q: What called you to become a social worker? 

A: Youth First was actually my reason for becoming a social worker! I was studying psychology in undergrad, and I had no idea what to do with a psych degree. I interned with Youth First my senior year, and I loved everything about the internship. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a social worker and work in a school. So I went on to get my Master’s in Social Work and somehow I lucked out and ended up working at Youth First at such an incredible school! 

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job? 

A: The most rewarding part of my job is being able to meet with so many students. I love building connections with students and being able to see them overcome the challenges they face. 

Q: Which mental health tools/strategies do you think are the most impactful or effective for students? 

A: I think just ensuring students have a support system in place where they have at least one trusted adult for them to talk to makes a world of difference. It’s the greatest tool to help students feel heard, and they then have the opportunity to talk about how they’re feeling and know they are not alone in the struggles they are going through.  

Q: In what ways has the Covid-19 pandemic affected youth mental health? 

A: The pandemic has created increased anxiety with students of all ages. The loss of loved ones, fear of the unknown, and social distancing from family and friends definitely has taken a toll on students, but the pandemic has also shown how resilient kids are.

By Lori Powell, LCSW – March 9, 2022 –

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I always had good intentions about exercising, but I just could never find the time to select the program that would work best for me. I used excuses such as, “I’m too tired!” or, “I don’t have enough time to exercise.”

Only 5 percent of adults residing in the United States exercise 30 minutes per day, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When the world shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, I was working from home and feeling multiple emotions about all the changes that were happening in the world. As a social worker, I knew that I needed to identify and begin using positive coping skills to stay mentally and physically healthy.

First, I began thinking about exercise options. There are so many different types of physical exercise: walking, running, aerobics, YOGA, playing a sport, dancing, swimming, biking, gardening, or even cleaning! One day, I decided to pull out an aerobic exercise program that I had used in the past. I decided to attempt the exercises again by setting a goal to exercise for one week using this program.  

After the first day I was exhausted. My muscles were sore and I could not keep up with the trainer, but I reminded myself that this is a positive way to help myself be healthier, both physically and mentally. I knew that exercise would boost my self-confidence, help me relax, and decrease my high stress levels due to the pandemic.  

The instructor used humor, which made the exercises more enjoyable. Finding a program that I enjoyed made it easier for me to make the commitment to exercise regularly.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise on a weekly basis for most healthy adults. According to the American Heart Association, “Physical exercise is linked to better sleep, memory, and cognitive ability and results in less risk of weight gain, chronic disease, dementia, and depression.  Exercise is one of the best things that you can do for your health and wellbeing.” 

If you determine exercise is the positive coping skill that works best for you, I recommend that you select an exercise that you enjoy, set a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goal, and give yourself a positive reward when you achieve each goal. For example, if you enjoy walking, set an achievable goal of walking for 30 minutes three times weekly for four weeks. 

Schedule this goal on your calendar to remind yourself to keep working towards it. Share your fitness goals with friends or family members who will encourage you. When you reach your goals, reward yourself with something special. Continue to set SMART goals to help maintain your physical activities in the future, and reap the mental and physical benefits associated with using exercise as a coping skill.

Alliyah Patton, LSW – Youth First Social Worker at North High School in Vanderburgh County

Q: What called you to become a social worker?

A: I think some of the best social workers have been through quite a bit themselves. I wished I had someone to talk to about the anxiety I felt through high school. I didn’t know what exactly social anxiety was at the time, which caused me to feel isolated from everyone else. When I took classes in college, it was enlightening and validating to know there was a name for what I felt. After a few more courses, I realized I didn’t want anyone else to feel that lonely either.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: I could write a list of the amazing interactions I have with students each day. One of the most rewarding aspects of the job is seeing the resiliency and strength of our students. They have every reason in the world to quit and give up, but everyday they keep working and trying. I can never not be inspired and humbled by them. From there, it’s amazing to see their growth once they develop the skills to maneuver through each of their situations.

Q: In what ways has the Covid-19 pandemic affected youth mental health?

A: I see a lot more anxiety within high school students now and definitely an increase in avoidant behaviors (skipping, poor attendance, lack of motivation). Their school schedule has been disrupted and they’ve been isolated from one another. Now, we are expecting them to come back and continue, like nothing really happened. It’s been a hard and difficult transition, for sure.

Emily Bernhardt, LSW – Youth First Social Worker at Holy Cross Catholic School, St. James Catholic School, St. Joseph Catholic School, and Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic School in Gibson County

Q: What called you to become a social worker?

A: I met with my Youth First Social Worker when I was in high school and she had such a strong impact on me. I knew I wanted to be able to have that same impact and be able to help people in the same ways she helped me.  

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: When a student shares the ways they feel I have helped them to grow.

Q: Which mental health tools/strategies do you think are the most impactful or effective for students?

A: Having healthy coping skills and a strong support system.

Ashley Manship, LSW – Youth First Social Worker at Paoli Jr./Sr. High School and Throop Elementary in Orange County

Q: What called you to become a social worker?

A: I’ve always had the strong desire to help and advocate for others. 

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: Working with children and hearing/seeing positive outcomes and praises they give to me. 

Q:  What does mental health mean to you?

A:  Mental health means all of you. How is all of you doing? How are you handling your life, your relationships, your school/career life, your physical health? 

Q: Which mental health tools/strategies do you think are the most impactful or effective for students?

A: Building a trusting relationship through engagement, empathy, reflective listening, and guidance.  

Q: In what ways has the Covid-19 pandemic affected youth mental health?

A: Covid-19 has slowed the world down for them. It has taken away opportunities for them to grow, learn, and have essential social experiences. Some students have been in school for 2 years and have never eaten their breakfast in a cafeteria or been on a field trip.

Q: How has social work influenced the way you view younger generations?

A: Social work is all about meeting the client where they are. When working with the younger generations you are constantly viewing the world through their eyes. It keeps me in the realization that they have real and heavy conflicts/problems that have major impacts on them.