By Sarah Elrod, LMHC – February 28, 2024

If you are a working parent, whether it’s full or part time, this article is for you. Have you ever just felt so overwhelmed that you couldn’t breathe? Is it difficult to find a minute for yourself each day after taking care of others? Are there days you get off work and just don’t want to talk to anyone or even take care of your kids? Or maybe you’ve had a day where you just want to sit on the couch and binge your favorite Netflix show without being bothered.

If you answered yes to any of these, you are not alone, and I am here to validate you. You are doing an amazing job. For most parents, there are days where we push ourselves to the limit and feel like we have nothing left to give.

In addition to working and taking care of a family, many parents choose to take time for hobbies, workouts or coaching their child’s sports team. Then, when you finally convince yourself to do something you enjoy, you might feel guilty for not spending the spare time you have with your family.

I want you to know is that it is okay to take a break. It is okay to not get everything done in one day. That’s what tomorrow is for. Personally, I am not immune to feeling guilty when I believe I haven’t done enough. It’s a completely normal feeling.

Working as a mental health professional for the past 6 years has taught me that we are all fighting our own battles, no matter how big or small we may think they are. We all have our own ways of adjusting or getting through the hard times. I have come up with some steps to follow during those times to help focus on you.

  1. Acknowledge how you feel. Take at least 30 seconds each day to check in with yourself. Assess how your body is feeling. Pay attention to the thoughts you’re having. Once you have taken the time to focus on yourself for just a moment, move on to the next step. 
  2. Validate yourself. Validate feelings of guilt, anger, sadness, satisfaction or happiness. Per, the definition of validation is, “recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile.”  Give yourself some credit for all that you’re able to accomplish and give yourself grace. 
  3. Identify what soothes you or how you can cope effectively with the stress you are experiencing. A coping skill is a behavior or activity that one might use to decrease stress or manage difficult emotions. So when you’re trying to cook dinner after a long and stressful day, the kids are fighting for your attention and you feel stressed out, a coping skill is your best friend. Some examples of coping skills include listening to music, exercising, smelling a candle, interacting with your pet, hanging out with friends, or deep breathing and meditation. A great resource is, where there’s a long list of coping skills. See what works best for you. The goal is to get to a level of functioning where you don’t feel like you’re going to self-implode. 
  4. Remember that you are capable and strong. If you feel as though taking steps on your own is not working, I highly recommend seeking out a mental health professional so you can talk in a comfortable and supportive environment. Additionally, most employers offer an Employee Assistance Program, where they collaborate with a local mental health facility and offer a designated number of therapy sessions free of charge.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, know that you are not alone. Your feelings are valid and you have the right to take care of yourself along with everyone else. Give yourself permission to focus on you and be the best version of yourself you can be!

By Jordan Nonte, MSW, LSW – February 21, 2024

There are many factors impacting sports and athletes today, including social media, cost to participate, time commitment, and hyper competitiveness. I think anyone could make the argument that sports help kids develop many skills that can benefit them in adulthood. However, since sports culture has been evolving, are the benefits outweighing the costs?

According to the Aspen Project, in 2018, 38 percent of children participated in an organized sport, down from 45 percent in 2008. According to the MedPage Today, research has found that early or overspecialization in sports, or playing the same sport for 8 months or more per year, has increased injuries and burnout.

Meanwhile, parents are paying big money for their child to participate in some programs, on top of gear and travel. These high costs may cause parents to put more pressure on teams to succeed. Some parents may be expecting their children to obtain athletic scholarships for college, also increasing an athlete’s pressure to compete.

Demanding schedules can cause overuse injuries, resulting in medical bills and worried parents, causing further stress and anxiety on young athletes. These stressors may pressure kids to play through the pain or return to a sport before their injury has fully healed.

When kids try out for a sport, their main goal is usually to “have fun.” They are expecting to make new friends, develop skills in a sport, and get some mentorship from a coach. As time goes on and the stakes get higher, this may evolve into burnout from a packed schedule, guilt from parents’ financial contributions and time commitment, stress from an injury, anxiety to earn a scholarship, and ultimately, pressure to win. Many times, older athletes are completely basing their value as a person on their ability to compete in a sport.

So what do we do to prevent this? An athlete’s enjoyment in a sport largely contributes to whether or not they will stick with it. So how can we make sports fun again for athletes?

What about if we check in with our athletes as parents and coaches? We might ask questions like, “What are you hoping to get out of this season?”  “What would you like to see happen?” “How can I support you?”

It might mean, as a parent, leaving the coaching to the coaches and not coaching from the stands or coaching on the way to and from games, or cutting out the travel season and just competing during the school season. As a coach it might mean cutting back on the two-a-day practices, having a team bonding day or outing, incorporating fun games into practice, or giving a day off.

And for both parties, it might mean prioritizing fun and skill building over winning. Overall, having positive and encouraging conversations with athletes and checking in is a must.

Unfortunately, there is no black and white answer. What works for one athlete may not work for all. Every athlete is an individual, trying to thrive with different dynamics of parents, coaches, and teammates. How they are doing and feeling about a sport depends on many factors.

Therefore, I’ll leave you with this. Check in with your athletes whether you are a parent or coach. Take time to talk with them one-on-one and really listen to their hopes as well as their burdens. From there, assist them in coming up with some options to find relief, address an issue, or maybe sign up for another sport. We won’t know the answer until we have these conversations and show our athletes that we are there to listen, support, and help them make the best decisions for their mind, body, and spirit. Maybe then, we will see more kids joining sports again, and more importantly, having fun!

By Hailey Hagan, MSW – February 14, 2024

Anxious teens are vulnerable to experiencing panic attacks, which can be a frightening experience for both the child and the parent/caregiver. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, panic attacks are characterized by a sudden wave of fear or discomfort or a sense of losing control when there is no clear threat of danger.

Panic attacks are often accompanied by physical symptoms such as racing heart, dizziness, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Oftentimes these symptoms develop without warning, so what can you do to help your anxious teen cope with a panic attack at home?

  1. Stay Calm and Reassuring. Even though teens won’t show it, they look to their parents and other adults for stability and reassurance that everything is okay. If a parent reacts with great concern, it can unintentionally send a message that the panic attack is serious and potentially dangerous. So, when your teen is in the midst of a panic attack, stay calm, speak in a soothing tone and remind them you are there for them. Your relaxed demeanor can act as a guiding light in their storm of anxiety.
  1. Validate Their Feelings. Let your teen know that what they’re feeling is valid and okay. Avoid judgment or dismissive remarks. Reassure them that it’s a temporary situation and that you are there to support them unconditionally.
  1. Create a Safe Space. Find a quiet, comfortable place where your teen can sit or lie down. Eliminate any triggers, if possible, and offer them a comforting item, such as a soft blanket or a favorite stuffed animal.
  1. Help Distract Them. There are many tools and techniques to help distract an individual during a panic attack. Exercising, playing a game, eating a snack, using ice packs to cool down the body, breathing techniques, a shower or a bath, or watching a favorite show are all techniques that can be used to distract your teen during a panic attack.
  1. Help Them Avoid the Panic Attack Trap. Once a teenager has a panic attack, they may become fearful of having another one and may avoid activities and situations they feel could trigger another attack. As a result, your teen may try to avoid school, social activities, family events, or sports. While understandable, this avoidance only worsens anxiety and increases the chance for more panic attacks. It is important to encourage your teen to face these situations, while at the same time empathizing with how challenging it is to face a scary situation.

In these moments, your understanding, patience, and support can make a significant difference. By being a source of strength, you can help your teenager manage panic attacks and, in the process, strengthen your parent-child relationship.

By Hannah Gill, MSW, LSW – February 7, 2024

These days it seems like a surprising number of children and teens are under significant stress, and this is likely true for many others in our communities. Research shows that the COVID-19 pandemic heightened anxiety and depression for many kids, and we are now seeing the effects. It can feel overwhelming to consider the impact these events, although out of our control, have had or will have on our children. It can be even more overwhelming to think about healing and moving on from these stressors.

When we think about recovery from intense stress, our brains will go right to traditional one-on-one outpatient therapy. While this is undoubtedly an essential part of healing for some children and teens, it is also important to consider how small therapeutic moments in a child’s day can immensely impact their life.

Clinician and researcher Bruce Perry has studied trauma in young children and developed an understanding of how it affects them and how communities can help them overcome trauma and adversity. While many situations that Bruce Perry researches and discusses are extreme, one important takeaway is the power of therapeutic moments and interactions.

These interactions may be with parents, teachers, administrators, counselors, and social workers in our schools and communities. In his book The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Perry explains that a therapeutic moment can significantly influence a child’s life. He writes, “It merely requires being present in social settings and being, well, basically, kind… The more we can provide each other these moments of simple, human connection – even a brief nod or a moment of eye contact – the more we’ll be able to heal those who have suffered traumatic experience.” 

This gives me hope when I think about our communities and the children in our schools. It illustrates that any moment can be therapeutic if we are attentive and engaged with a child and their actions. This might mean interacting with a child getting ready for school in the morning, after they get home, or in the hallway as students go from class to class.

It may seem like a challenge to help a child recover from stressors or move on from a situation that felt hard for them. Yet this view of recovery and therapeutic moments gives adults the space and permission to engage authentically with the children and teens in their lives. It shows the power that nurturing adults can genuinely have.

This lens gives us, as the adults in a child’s life, permission to show up authentically and gives us evidence that if we do so consistently, that alone may be enough to help a child overcome stress and heal from traumatic events they might have experienced. The Youth First Social Worker or Youth First Mental Health Professional in your child’s school building can help parents and teachers consider ways in which they can bolster and provide therapeutic moments and create moments for co-regulation in a day.

By Natasha Goodge, MSW, LSW – February 1, 2024

“I’m bored,” 5-year old Julian often says.  

As a mother, social worker, and let’s face it, a people pleaser, my initial reaction to this and other complaints is to try to fix them. I offer suggestions, provide distractions, or simply hand over my smart phone.  

For some children and adults, boredom can feel uncomfortable and result in feeling anxious. Boredom is disengagement, and disengagement from your environment feels vulnerable and dysregulating. Chronic boredom can even lead to depression and anxiety.  

Chronic boredom, however, is very different from the initial, superficial level of boredom experienced when standing in line or waiting for the next episode of our new favorite show. These days, this initial dip into monotony is easily avoided by checking our email or with a quick scroll through our favorite social media pages. This avoidance of boredom, however, may mean a loss of opportunity for connection, innovation, and creativity. 

Boredom can make children feel restless and frustrated, but it can also lead to the discovery of new interests and meaningful activities. When children engage in play that is undirected and unmanufactured, the creative part of their brain is stimulated. They can develop creative skills that stay with them for life.

For example, a child may start playing keys on the piano and then picking out a tune, which may spark an interest in taking piano lessons. They may observe grandma working on a knitted hat and ask to learn to knit. Younger children may search the house for sheets and blankets to build a fort to play in.  

Being bored can be especially good for children by helping them develop planning strategies, problem-solving skills, flexibility, and creativity. It also helps kids build tolerance for the inevitable, not-so-fun experiences, such as long car rides and adult dinner conversations. Being bored together offers opportunities for your child to observe their surroundings more closely, practice mindfulness, self-reflect, or to develop and practice interpersonal communication skills and share about themselves. Once, in an especially long line for pizza, my son explained in detail his complicated feelings about his classmates.  

“You can’t teach creativity,” writes psychologist Peter Gray, “All you can do is let it blossom.”  Now when my son tells me he is bored, I say, “That’s great honey!”

By Krista Kirk, MSW, LSW – January 24, 2024

Navigating friendships in high school can be a daunting task for many teens. As we grow older, our brains become more complex, and with that, our friendships become more complex as well. It is no longer as simple as relying on our parents to help us make friends through playdates with the children of their friends.

High school students must learn how to navigate peer relationships on their own, which can be a challenging process. However, with the right guidance and support, it is possible to build strong and healthy friendships that can last a lifetime.

It is vital to remember friendships do not form at the snap of a finger. They take time to develop and mature. School is a prime place to make friends; however, this is not easy for every student. Remind your teen that if they notice someone without a friend or friend group, they could encourage that student to join them at lunch or get involved in a club, sport, hobby, or outside organization they are interested in.

Parents also want to watch for signs of unhealthy friendships; here are some red flags:

● Your child isolates from other friends, peers, or family

● The friend shames them for spending time with others

● Your child has a significant age gap with their friend(s)

● The friend strives to “one-up” them after they share good/bad news

● The friend blames them for their own problems or disciplinary actions

● The friend encourages them to keep secrets from everyone but the friend

● You notice shifts in behavior or engaging in behavior that is more reckless

● Feeling drained or not feeling like themselves after spending time with friends

If you or your child see some of these red flags in a friendship, it is important for them to let the friend know how they feel. Encourage them to use “I” statements such as, “I don’t like when you get mad when I want to spend time with my family.” Another tip is to stick with the facts. Stating facts comes off as less aggressive and can help if the friend becomes defensive.

It is also important for your child to establish boundaries in a friendship and hold firm to the boundaries. If the friend continues to cross their boundaries, they will need to consider establishing stronger boundaries.

You can also advise your child to take a break from unhealthy friendships to help them process how to communicate more effectively and establish healthy boundaries.

Additionally, here are some tips to help your teen build positive friendships:

● Model healthy friendships yourself

● Have a discussion with your teen on what qualities they look for in a friend

● Highlight good qualities you see in their friends

● Help them realize quality friendships are better than quantity

● Be supportive and lend a listening ear

● Be realistic about friendships having ups and downs

When reflecting on friendships at the high school level, it is important to remember that our friendships play a part in how others view us and how we are remembered. It is important to seek characteristics and values in a friend that reflect our own.

For example, if they would like others to remember them as a welcoming person, they should surround themselves with peers who will let others join their circle and make them feel welcome. Encourage them to remember who they are and who they want to be. We all have control over who we choose as friends. As humans grow and change, so do friendships.

By Kandace Troxell, Intern – January 17, 2024

When you have a baby, your world changes. Your entire focus on life shifts from yourself to keeping your newborn safe and happy. You are constantly holding them, cradling their head, and watching their every move to ensure their safety.

As they grow into a toddler, you put safety locks and guards throughout the house to ensure that they do not bump their head or seriously injure themself. When they become a young child, you insist they wear a helmet when riding a bike and you keep a diligent eye on them in and around swimming pools.

As they reach the teenage years, you make sure they wear their seat belts when they drive in their first car. As parents, protecting your child’s physical health is completely natural…but have you considered how you are protecting your child’s mental health?

Children’s bodies develop and change as they grow, and their brains are developing and changing as well. According to Melissa Ford, senior strategist and writer for the Center for Parent and Teen Communication, a child’s brain is growing and changing even as they move into the teenage and young adult years. In the same way that you protected their bodies, it is important to protect their minds.

One way of doing so, according to Ford, is to create a nurturing environment for the child to grow and develop. If a teenager is experiencing a stressful environment, they may not have the ability to process their emotions in a productive and healthy way because they are overwhelmed by the stress of the environment.

How can you create a low stress environment at home? Start with creating a solid foundation by making sure a child’s basic needs are met, including providing three meals a day, making sure they practice good hygiene, and ensuring that they get adequate sleep. Additionally, it is important to create an environment that does not focus on pressure, shame, or guilt, but instead, focuses on understanding, openness, and empathy.

Another way to protect your child’s brain is by helping them understand the importance of doing so. The Center for Parent and Teen Communication explains that one essential way to educate your child about their brain is to teach them about the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol on their brain and body. Young people may perceive drugs and alcohol as fun, recreational activities to enjoy with friends; however, there are serious consequences for their developing brains.

Additionally, you can teach children WHY it is important to protect and care for their mental health. Together as a family, you can practice self-care activities that lessen stress. These self-care practices could include eating a healthy diet, exercising, doing yoga, taking long walks, journaling, talking to others, and more.

We all want what is best for our children. The bottom line is that it is just as important as a parent to protect your child’s developing brain and their mental health as it is to protect their bodies from harm.

By Aaron Ledford, MSW, LSW – January 10, 2024

Emotions, defined as human reactions we experience in response to events or situations, are a mysterious thing and an abstract concept. Without living our emotions out, they are not “real” concrete things. You can’t draw happiness, but you can draw a picture of something that makes you happy. You can’t draw sadness, but you can draw a situation that makes you sad.

Unless we allow ourselves to live out the specific emotion, they do not and cannot exist. As adults, we can understand this concept to a certain degree, but a child may have a difficult time absorbing this.

We are often given the message that controlling our emotions is about pushing them aside, treating them as if they don’t exist, and “getting over it” so the task at hand can be accomplished. While this is one way of coping, it may not be the best method for everyone, especially a child who is struggling with overwhelming sadness or anxiety. A better method of coping is redirecting our perceived negative emotions into something positive and powerful.

There is a proverb that reads, “If you cannot control yourself, you are like a city without walls, easily conquered.” Self-control is an important thing for anyone to learn and develop. Without learning this concept, we would just give into our intrusive thoughts and suffer the consequences of those actions.

I would like to define self-control as a catch and release of our negative emotions. What I mean by this is understanding what we are feeling, evaluating whether this emotion is valid in the situation, accepting that it is okay and normal to feel this way, and then releasing the hold that emotion might have on us.

We all go through life experiencing negative thoughts and emotions. As adults, we have become so used to the idea that it has become a normal everyday occurrence and we can process our emotions easier. For young people this is a new and foreign thing to experience, especially in a school setting. Helping students identify, evaluate, accept, and release negative emotions can be paramount in the development of a new and emotionally intelligent generation.

Redirection is another possible method of handling one’s emotions. Redirection is taking the negative emotions and thoughts and turning them into something productive and flourishing. For instance, if you are dealing with a lot of stress from a job and coping with unhealthy habits or lifestyle choices, redirection would be going to the gym to release those emotions.

Redirection allows the individual to make better choices when it comes to their emotional state and self-care. Learning how to properly take care of one’s needs after a stressful day is essential for a healthy lifestyle and developing smart coping skills in the future. This method also allows young people to pursue positive passions in their lives. Many people play sports or play an instrument and develop their creative arts talents to help redirect their negative emotions into positive activities. This method also helps by releasing emotions in small doses instead of bottling them up to be expelled later.

As with everything, there are also downsides to this method. One of the downsides includes not fully processing the emotions one is feeling. Just piling on different activities to cope with the negativity may result in covering up an underlying issue and never addressing the concern. This method would make it easier to ignore the root issue causing the negative emotions or thoughts, so this should be carefully and thoughtfully considered.

By Shannon Loehrlein, MSW, LCSW

I love to travel. My parents instilled a love of travel in me from a young age. My mother was a history teacher, and we would spend some vacations visiting historic sites (not my favorite as a middle school student). Other times we would visit Disney World or take a cruise. I know many children do not have this opportunity, and I have always considered myself fortunate.

This summer I had the experience of a lifetime taking my kids to Europe, Alaska, and Disney World. My busy summer made me think about the importance of travel for children.  

My kids are currently 9 and 4 and have both traveled since they were only a few months old. When they were very little, I would hear comments from other people about how I was crazy for traveling with them. Sure, we had our share of fits, meltdowns, and embarrassing moments, but the benefits have definitely outweighed the inconveniences. Here are some examples:

Exposure to Different Cultures. Our children visited Europe for the first time this summer. We traveled to Italy, Ireland, Greece, France, and Canada, along with some domestic stops along the way. Each country has its own culture, norms, food, and customs. 

Our children first learned, for example, that not all countries have free refills and ice. We had to remind them of this several times when they ordered a soft drink and wanted a refill. They also learned that in Europe it is not customary for hotels, homes, or businesses to be air-conditioned, teaching them adaptability.

Our children have visited some islands in the Caribbean, where most families have a different standard of living than average Americans. They observed kids expressing appreciation and thankfulness for what little they have, and this was an important reminder to them. During our visit to Alaska this year we came across a homeless shelter, and our children had some questions about it. It is important for children to have a basic understanding and compassion for families living in poverty.

Our kids also learned that in most countries around the world, eating out is a several-hour event and not a quick drive through. As Americans, we are used to having quick and efficient service and had to adopt a slower pace. In many cultures, fast meal service is considered rude and makes the customer feel like they are being rushed. 

Different Languages. Traveling to unique places exposes you to different languages and dialects, other elements of culture. Although many countries in the world speak English (such as Ireland), the accent and words can mean different things.

Europe is a melting pot, and unlike Americans, most Europeans know multiple languages. It was amazing to see how easily Europeans would go back and forth between languages. Our children learned a few phrases in Italian, French, and Greek, which they thought was a lot of fun. 

Kids do not have to travel out of the country to experience different cultures. Most schools offer language instruction. Our home school district has an entire program for children who speak English as a second language. It is important for kids to be exposed to others who are different, which teaches tolerance.

Learning Patience. Travel teaches patience to both children and adults. I would often remind my children to pack their “patience pants” on airplanes, trains, and waiting in lines. Europe had a huge travel boom this summer, and the crowds certainly confirmed this.

Patience is an important life skill that our children learn in school daily. Children must raise their hand, wait their turn, sit quietly, and share with other children. Children are not born with these skills.

Adventure and Mental Well Being. A few years ago, I took a free class from Yale University on the Secret of Happiness from Dr. Laurie Santos, who has spent her life’s work studying the psychology of happiness. One of the lessons that affected me most was about how we spend our money in relation to happiness. Dr. Santos noted that capitalism has contributed to people thinking that buying the latest car, phone, house, clothes, etc. will make them happy. Many of us are chasing that American Dream of consumerism and left feeling empty.

Dr. Santos discovered that what makes us happiest are experiences. Experiences can be as simple as going to the movie, going to the playground, swimming at the pool, or taking a vacation. Her conclusion was that families should spend expendable income on life experiences. 

My family decided to prioritize travel in our budget several years ago. Most American families take one or two trips each year. Many enjoy the beach, visiting family out of town, taking road trips, cruises, or visiting amusement parks or large cities. Everyone has a different budget, and you can incorporate travel and experiences at any budget. Some low-cost ideas could be taking your child to the local playground, swimming pool, the zoo, or a splash pad. Families can find fun activities to enjoy together on any budget. 

By Lisa Cossey, MSW, LCSW

We’re in the midst of the holiday season. It is nice to look forward to time with family and friends and participate in ongoing family traditions.

A family tradition is something that is recreated year after year, enhancing family involvement and strengthening family bonds.

Each year at Halloween, my husband’s family will get together and spend an evening visiting haunted houses. It’s perhaps not a typical family tradition, but it’s one they’ve done for years and everyone looks forward to. A less frightful Halloween tradition observed by several of my friends and their families is camping Halloween weekend. My own family has planned fall camping trips two years in a row now; perhaps this will turn into a yearly tradition for us.

Another tradition in my own family that I look forward to every year is gathering in my mother’s kitchen to bake pies and other desserts for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. It’s always a good time with much laughter, and now that my own children are older they are officially part of the family baking team as well.

Sharing traditions provides a sense of comfort and security to a family, especially the children involved. Children love routine and consistency; a family tradition provides this year after year. It also helps the children manage the changes in the year and gives them something to look forward to.

In addition, family traditions enhance family and personal well- being and add to the family identity. Strong family bonds are created and reinforced with traditions that are upheld and maintained. As children grow and mature, traditions can be altered to accommodate each family’s needs. For example, perhaps a family with young children has a tradition of singing Christmas carols around their Christmas tree. As the children age, their tradition could evolve into caroling around their neighborhood.

In recent years, my own family has added time to video call with our relatives after Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. These are family members who may not have been able to travel in for the holidays or are stationed out of state or overseas due to military commitments. It gives us all a chance to stay connected as a family, even if we can’t physically be together for the holiday.

Family traditions don’t have to be formal, fancy or cost money. They don’t even have to revolve around the holidays. You can share in a family tradition any day or time of the year. My own family enjoys baking together to prepare for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays; perhaps your family opts to take a walk every Christmas morning or enjoys exchanging white elephant gifts during your celebrations. Traditions are what you want to make them.

Other ideas to create family traditions include:

  • Read a book, such as “The Night Before Christmas,” aloud prior to opening Christmas gifts
  • Weekly or monthly family movie night
  • Have a yearly family talent show
  • Create crafts together
  • Make candy or prepare meals together
  • Have an annual family camping trip
  • Have your own family sporting tournament with a traveling trophy to be awarded to the winning family each year

No matter what your family tradition is or what your family chooses to create, just having something for all family members to look forward to each year is important. Traditions help create warm, positive memories that can be recalled fondly and draw family members back to one another year after year.