By Mary Haas, MSW – July 23, 2019

Change is hard for most of us. We typically don’t welcome change fearlessly with arms wide open. Transitions are sometimes our greatest fear and can provoke anxiety, even in adults.

When faced with changing schools, our child can share these same fears. Even though change is inevitably a part of our lives, it is rarely easy.

When transferring schools and changing educational environments, our children face not only new school buildings but also new faces, new routines, and many new adjustments. As parents, we need to do our best to combat their fears and anxieties to help make their transition as smooth as possible.

Make sure changing schools is the most appropriate option. If other options are available, weigh all of the choices and be sure this is the best thing to do for your child.  

Communication is important, because it is what connects us to our nervous child as they tackle this big life change. Talking to your child early and often throughout the transition will help make each step less scary and confusing.

As parents, it is important to remember that we are changing our child’s whole environment, disrupting their friendships and relationships, and taking away their familiar place of learning.

Because of these major life changes, it is crucial to include your child in the open discussion process. If possible, let your child be part of the decision-making process regarding which school they will attend or when the transition will take place. The more decisions they can be part of, the more they will feel in control of the situation.

Validate your child’s feelings about changing schools, including all of the things they are sad about leaving behind and all of the things they are anxious about going into. Show them that you are standing alongside them and support them the whole way. Communicating, validating, and nurturing this change can make all the difference in their emotional transition.

Making time to get to know the new teachers and staff ahead of the move to the new school can be an added support for both you and your child. This can be a chance for you to discuss any concerns or questions you may have regarding the school.

This is also the time to for them to get to know your child and to talk about your student’s needs to the people who will care for them throughout each day.

Another great way for your child to get involved in their new school is to join extracurricular activities. If your child is old enough they can try to join athletic teams such as soccer, basketball or perhaps other types of activities such as the debate or drama club.  

Getting involved will help your child connect with other peers that share the same interests. This can create friendships and help your child develop a sense of belonging to the school.

As a parent you can get involved by joining the PTA and attending school meetings. Become friends with other parents and plan play dates if your children are young.

Together with these tips and objectives, you can ease your child’s transition into a change of hope and a bright new beginning at a new school.

Yes, changing schools can be scary, but it can also be a wonderful new beginning in a child’s life.

By Aisha Givens, LCSW – July 16, 2019

Blended families or stepfamilies are more common than ever. These families form when two partners make a life together with children from previous relationships. When families blend, it is rarely a smooth or easy process.

These new families often form after a death, divorce, or separation of the birth parents. The transition to a new family unit can be very confusing and uncomfortable for children.

Children may feel they must choose between loving their original family or loving their new blended family. They may feel they will hurt someone’s feelings if they love someone new. They may be worried about how their relationships with their natural parents will change or how their relationships with their new parent and siblings will evolve.

Blending families creates a new dynamic, one where every person must find their role. Trying to replicate your first family can set you all up for confusion and disappointment. Instead, embrace your new family with the respect it deserves and allow for change and new growth.

The following are ways to build a stronger blended family and help children heal from the grief, disappointment, and resentment that can result from the loss or separation of their biological parents:

  • Positive Reinforcement – Give encouragement and praise to children often. Find ways to make them feel appreciated and valued.
  • Love – Give them positive attention and show them they are loved every day.
  • Safety and Security – The children may have had at least one family fall apart or one parent leave or die, so they need to feel very safe and secure in this new family.
  • Expectations and Boundaries – Talk to your new partner about parenting styles before your family blends. It’s best for the new parent to ease into a role of authority, but it is very important that both parents agree on how to parent all of the children before situations arise.
  • Patience – Children deal with a wide range of feelings during the transition into a new family. It is important to remember that any new bad behaviors may be a result of their confusing emotions. Love and patience are necessary.
  • Communication – Give children your undivided attention as often as possible. Prompt them to talk about their feelings and let them know they can be honest with you. Open communication with your children can be the best thing for all of you.
  • New Experiences – Create new memories as you experience new activities together. Take family trips, go on picnics, have game nights, paint together. Find things to do that you will all enjoy and make new, happy memories for the children. Take photos of your new blended family to hang in your home.
  • Family Meetings – As you are all adjusting to the new family unit, it is a great idea to hold regular family meetings and let each person speak their truth without being judged. This can be a time to talk about rules, feelings, events, or absolutely anything.
  • Respect – It is impossible to force all family members to like one another, but you can insist that everyone respect each other.
  • Limit Expectations – You may feel that you give a lot of time, energy, love, and attention to your partner’s children and get very little in return immediately. Think of it as an investment that will yield a great return one day.

You could do all of the right things and the children may still reject the new parents and resent your new family, but if you are consistent and genuine it will allow the children to know you are sincere.

By Jenna Kruse, MSW – July 9, 2019

Technology has become a large part of our society; we depend on it to learn, inform, and connect with others daily. However, it can have negative effects as well.         

Most of us probably know a young child who watches YouTube regularly. How often do we stop to watch and closely monitor what is on the screen?

A growing trend with children on YouTube is the fascination of watching other children play with toys. There is a countless supply of these videos, such as, “Surprise Eggs” and “Finger Family” which each have hundreds of thousands of views.

YouTube also added an auto play feature which allows similar videos to stream one after the other, continuously. Kids are then exposed far beyond their initial search and are soon plagued by this technology.

Parents across the country can attest to the fighting and tantrums thrown when the tablets, phones, or iPads are taken away from the children because they are so entranced by the videos.

Social media is another black hole, typically for older children. Teens can be subjected to cyber bullying, stranger danger, identity theft, phishing, and sexual exploitation.

Apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, Whisper, Twitter, and YouTube can all be dangerous for teens if used incorrectly. Many teens have several accounts, some of which include “ghost accounts” which are used to hide from their parents.

Children are being sexualized by photos of celebrities and are taught that appearance is what matters most. Pressure is put on both girls and boys to look a certain way and “likes” and “follows” become addictive for young teen brains. Children can feel they need to post sexy photos and say extreme things just for more attention.

Now that we know some of the problems with technology, let’s try to avoid them. We need to help and support our children by closely monitoring what they are doing online.

This can include having clear rules for children regarding social media, checking the web browser regularly, activating privacy settings and parental controls on devices, and installing anti-virus hardware on your computer.

Talking openly to your children is the best way to ensure that they know the harms of the internet and social media. These may be uncomfortable topics, but they are very important for their safety. It is much better to have these conversations before a situation occurs rather than after.

There are many safety apps which help parents monitor and control their children’s online usage. These apps include but are not limited to, Netnanny, Mammabear, SafeKidsPro, Social Shield, WebWatcher, MyMobileWatchDog, Teensafe, and Phonesheriff. Each app is unique in what it helps control, so find the one that will work best for your family.

By Tyler Patchin, LSW – July 2, 2019

Being a male in a female-dominated field such as social work has its pros and cons, but in my opinion, the pros drastically outweigh the cons.

It was easy for me to choose such a demanding profession, but the lack of males in the social work program in college was truly shocking. I assumed, just like many other fields, that there would be some sort of balance between males and females. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In the undergraduate program males weren’t prevalent, and there were even fewer once I got to the graduate program.

So why is there such a shortage of males in the social work field?

I think the answer is simple. Males are conditioned from a very young age to “act like a man” or told things like, “Suck it up. Don’t cry.”

These little phrases have more impact than people sometimes realize. Phrases like “man up” tell young boys that they have to act a certain way to obtain the things they want most in their lives. Boys look up to their parents, especially their father, and many of the fathers they look up to are the ones telling them who they should or should not be.

Unfortunately, there is a stigma against males who talk about their feelings or show emotion. Guys who show their emotions are sometimes viewed as weak or lesser, all because they are in touch with their feelings.

Yes, older generations had it worse. But the fact that it is 2019 and there is still an issue with males showing their feelings is concerning. I think being a male in such a female-led field shows young men that it is okay to talk about their feelings, it’s okay to feel sad sometimes, it’s okay to know how to express feelings to others. Not only does it positively impact the males on my caseload, but I also believe it leaves a lasting impression on the females as well.

Since there are more girls on my caseload, I would like to think having a male’s perspective helps them just as much as it does the boys. Many of them want to understand why a certain situation would happen the way it did and enjoy hearing a male’s point of view on the topic. It also shows young women that males can, in fact, be trusted people in their lives. Luckily I have had few, if any, students reluctant to talk to a male about their feelings, but that may not always be the case.

Unfortunately today, so many children are raised without a father figure in their lives, and that leaves a sour taste for many I have had the privilege of working with. Continuing to be a support person for the students in need and letting them know that I will be there unconditionally is something I take great pride in. I wholeheartedly believe that if there were more males in the school social work field, we could continue to break down the stigma against guys being open about their feelings.

By Niki Walls, LSW – June 25, 2019

Death is a part of life, and grief comes along with it. Helping a child grieve and understand death can be very difficult.

Psychiatrist Gail Saltz explains, “Children understand that death is bad, and they don’t like separation, but the concept of “forever” is just not present.” Children often have a hard time wrapping their brains around the concept of death and do not always have the coping skills they need to handle it.

 If you are helping a child through the grieving process, here are some important tips to remember:

When breaking the news about death, be clear.  Do not use terms that a child may take literally, as a child may then become fearful of “going to sleep” if that is what they think happened to their loved one who passed. Do not volunteer too much information or go into details that could cause confusion or fear in the child. However, do be honest and answer their questions the best you can.

Each child grieves differently, just like adults.  The child’s moods may fluctuate and be inconsistent. This does not mean the child is grieving inappropriately; it just means they are processing in different ways. Sometimes the child’s action could reflect a defense mechanism they are tapping into as a way of coping. The child may feel many different emotions (such as anger or guilt) toward the person that has died, depending on their understanding of the situation.

Allow your child to express a variety of emotions.  It is good practice for everyone to be able to express the emotions they are feeling, especially grieving kids. Help your child understand their emotions and utilize a safe way of expressing these emotions. It may not be easy for your child to express them in an appropriate manner. If that is the case, encourage them to do things like writing, drawing, or role playing a memory of the person they have lost.

Understand your own grief.  Aside from helping your child grieve, you will likely be grieving yourself. Your child’s grief will likely reflect your own. It is important to allow your child to see safe emotion expression. Please do not project your grief onto the child. Do not make the child feel as though they need to be the caretaker in the situation or escalate it so it is emotionally harder for them.

Be consistent.  Kids crave consistency. They want a routine and a sense of normalcy. This is true in the calm of their lives and also in the chaos.

Practice coping skills.  Children can often struggle with self-regulation and managing their emotions. By practicing coping skills with the child, they will likely have an easier time containing extreme emotional outbursts. Coping skills can include a variety of things like listening to music, making a memory collage, journaling, etc.

Preparation.  It is important to prepare your child for what to expect from a funeral, burial, or any other death ritual that might take place so it does not come as a shock when they are in the moment. Your child may have questions about life after death, so it is important that your beliefs and others’ beliefs are discussed with them. While all of these practices are helpful to a child during the time of a loss, it important to monitor that the child is able to cope with grief and recover from loss in a healthy manner. If your child does not seem to be doing so, it is important to talk to a doctor or seek out a therapist.

By Brandy Terrell, LCSW – June 18, 2019

It is the strength and originality in a person’s nature that defines their character, according to Google Dictionary. Character is also made up of the mental or moral qualities that are distinctive to each of us.

I often wonder how my role as a mother contributes to the character development of my children.  Most days I feel like I’m still trying to build my own character. There may be no real end to such an endeavor.

To me, character building is about understanding the “why” in every teachable moment and creating the ability to think critically about the “why” in every situation. It’s more than the “Do as I say, not as I do” adage.

Maybe it’s about turning the “why” around and looking inward in hopes of figuring out what type of person we all want to be; maybe it’s leading by example. It’s most likely leading without the realization that you are the example and your behaviors are being absorbed by others.

As parents, we get wrapped up in the everyday struggle to meet the material demands of raising children. We worry about providing a safe home, the latest technology or gaming system, joining sports teams, the drama club or any other social activity.

Sometimes we get lost in the rush of it all. We should strive to give our children as many opportunities as possible, within reason of course. Sometimes we equate “things,” activities and the latest trends as our way of developing character.

Maybe we expect our children to “act right” simply because they had a stable outward foundation and have “no real problems to worry about.”  When our children fall short in behavior, pick on another child, disrespect an adult or act entitled, we are left wondering what went wrong. Why did my child not “know better?”  

While we continue to provide on a material level, we also need to provide on an emotional level with the same or more gusto. We need to teach our children that all the material things we have are sort of like “extras” and what makes the character of a person is how we treat other people, not all the material things that we have.

We must teach a child that our outward behavior is a representation of the type of person that we really are deep inside. Each of us needs to decide what type of person we want to become. Character building starts with parent/child emotional interactions and conversations from a very young age. Perhaps we should also talk about privilege/entitlement each time we bestow some form of material object or privilege on our children.

So, what have I learned 25 years and three children later? Often I can see my explanations of the “why” and the character talks come to life in my children.

Each moment of kindness, humility and respect they display to others is a small emotional win for me. Each time another adult tells me how thoughtful and well-mannered my children are I’m filled with pride. (I’m usually also thinking that at least they have enough sense to act right in public!)  So my advice to parents or others trying to build character in a child is, “Hang in there and don’t give up!” Most importantly, take time to focus on the “why” as much as possible, because kids are watching, listening and absorbing.

By Heather Miller, LCSW – June 11, 2019

“Why do we have to read every day?  It’s summer!” protests my son.  Amidst moans and groans, the steadfast rule remains – 20 minutes of reading out loud daily.  I grow tired of giving my list of explanations and often want to just give in, but the importance of helping my children learn to read and do well is too important to negotiate. 

I like to equate reading time to brushing teeth, a preventative measure to help ensure issues later on in life (like cavities) are less likely to occur.  My oldest struggles to be at grade level in reading, making it much more important for me to continue encouraging – and at times insisting – that reading practice happens.

According to the National Institute for Direct Instruction, poor reading performance in children may lead to anxiety, depression, inattentiveness, frustration, anti-social behaviors, and even aggression.  Furthermore, by secondary grades, most children are aware of their difficulties in reading, thus adding low self-esteem and low motivation to the list of issues that may result from poor reading performance.

The following five ideas may assist parents or caregivers with helping their child improve reading skills:

  1. Make reading a scheduled part of your family’s day.  Placing the same level of importance on reading (to your child as well as having your child read to you) as eating dinner will help ensure reading time is completed daily.  After a few weeks, reading time will be simply part of your family’s day without thinking about it.
  • Many books are now movies.  Before watching the movie, have your child read the book if possible.  If your child wants to watch the Star Wars movies, check out the large selection of Star Wars books available at local libraries first.  Paddington is a great selection for younger children.  There are many books about Paddington that can be followed by the movie.
  • Check out Pinterest for ideas.  There are many activities and resources to assist with encouraging literacy during childhood.  Simple games such as Candyland can be adapted to teach sight words to school-aged children.
  • Make receiving a new book a treat.  For Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Easter, birthdays or as rewards, pick up a book to give as a gift.  There are many books at dollar stores that provide an economical way to promote reading.  Helping children associate books and reading with excitement will help engage them in the process of becoming a reader.
  • Be a good model.  In this case, it is important to “practice what you preach.”  Allow your children to visibly see you spending time reading.  Demonstrate the importance of reading over checking Facebook or watching TV.  This will provide legitimacy when you encourage your children to make similar choices.

If you believe your child is struggling to read, contact your child’s teacher to voice any concerns and get ideas on how to help.  If you are concerned that your child is having behavioral issues or low self-esteem due to reading concerns, your school’s Youth First Social Worker will be equipped to help you address these issues. 

By Amanda Jo Haney, MSW – June 4, 2019

In our modern society, social media is one of the most common ways we communicate with one another. This is true for adults and children.

With summer break starting, many children will find even more time than usual to spend on their phones, tablets, or computers. Often times they are communicating through social media apps. Do we know who they are talking to? Do they really know?

As parents, our main goal is to keep our children safe and healthy. This applies to both physical and emotional health.

One important way to help them stay safe while using social media is to monitor their usage. Just like when our children spend time with their friends in real life, we need to know what they are doing and who they are talking to through social media platforms.  

While it is important to give our children some freedom, we still need to know that they are being safe and following the social media rules we set for them. Giving them clear rules and consequences for their misuse will help them continue to use social media in a positive manner.

Teach them social media safety habits. While it is ideal to share this information with them before they get on social media for the first time, that might be difficult. These rules and safety measures will be valuable at any time.

According to www.connectsafely.org/social-web-tips-for-teens/, some of the things children (of any age) can do to stay safe online are as follows:

1. Be your own person. Never pretend to be someone that you are not. Be who you really are and you will attract the people who will become your real friends.

2. Be nice. Don’t say mean things just because you can hide behind a screen. Your words hurt the same as if you would say them to the person’s face.

3. Think about what you post. Remember that once it is out there it is out there for everyone!

4. Do not add people you don’t know on social media accounts. Having friends and followers is fun but can be dangerous when they are strangers.

5. Never send inappropriate pictures or engage in sexual conversations with peers or strangers. Never. Never. Never.

ALSO – NEVER GIVE OUT YOUR ADDRESS ON SOCIAL MEDIA! Don’t even tell anyone you don’t know what city you live in or what school you go to. Don’t post photos that show your school or give any information about where you live. Try to be as vague as possible about where you live.

If we stress the importance of these rules and safety habits and reinforce them with a consistent reward/consequence system, we can help our children stay safe online. This also will give us some peace of mind when trusting our kids with the responsibility and privilege of using social media.

By Jordan Beach, LSW – May 28, 2019

Summer vacation is here! If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to start planning summer activities for your children.

We perceive summer to be a laid back, more relaxed time, but parents know this is actually a time that requires a lot of forethought. With more hours of the day becoming your responsibility, the pressure to find fun, enriching activities is definitely on.

Have you resolved to limit your child’s screen time this summer? If so, great!  But now how will you fill their time? You don’t have to be a Pinterest-perfect parent to create a memorable summer for your children.

Summer camps are the obvious first option, but they can be pricey. There are summer camps and programs offered all over the area that range in price and provide children with ample opportunity to have new experiences.

Camps are also helpful for working parents. However, keep in mind that this option comes with a price tag that might not be reasonable for your family.

There are a lot of ways to have fun and create memories for your children at home without spending a lot of money. If you’re looking to have more of a “Do-it-Yourself” summer with your children, there are a lot of options to spark their creativity and nurture their imaginations in your own backyard.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Build a fort. A fort can be left up for days. All you need is chairs, blankets and a little imagination. This can be used as a reading nook or expanded into imaginative play for younger children.
  • Create a breakout session in your house. There are many ideas online that can help you design an escape room for your kids. This is a good way to mix in some academics with the fun. Topics range from math to conflict resolution. Your options are really limitless.
  • Put all of those Amazon boxes to good use. Cardboard boxes are gold in the world of imaginative play. You can create a living room “drive-in” where your kids sit in the cars they’ve designed while watching a movie or reading a book. You can make instruments using cardboard and rubber bands. Also, free drawing on boxes with markers or paint always seems to be a good time for little ones.
  • Help your kids expand their culinary skills. Let them pick out recipes and help you shop for the ingredients. This is a great activity to help your child become creative in the kitchen while also teaching them planning and budgeting.
  • Go for the classics – water balloon fights, running through the sprinkler, washing the car. It gets hot in Indiana during the summer months, so cool off in fun ways!

This is in no way an exhaustive list of summer activities. A little creativity and planning can really help you and your children stay busy while bonding this summer.

By Heather Hudson, LCSW – May 21, 2019

One of the things we can all count on in life is that it does not remain constant and change is inevitable.  Many of us struggle with change, either a little or a lot. Most of us have learned how to navigate life changes through our previous life experiences. 

As children we were often guided by our parents, and as we grew we also received guidance from friends and mentors. Sometimes we can get so preoccupied with the changes we are going through that we forget those around us are also experiencing change. As adults, this can include our children.

There are changes that happen to most children, like beginning a new school year, making new friends, growing up, and bodily changes like puberty. There are general ways to handle those common changes, but the emotions of each child should be taken into consideration.

There are some changes that not everyone experiences in childhood such as moving, the death of a loved one, the birth of a sibling, or parental divorce. These life changes need to be handled very personally with as much conversation and openness as possible.

While a life change may even be a positive one, it is still a change and requires adaptation. Transitional periods are often times when children and teenagers may experiment with risky behaviors to cope with their emotions. Recognizing and guiding our children through these life changes can help them successfully navigate these changes and adapt positively while avoiding risky behaviors. 

The following are some ways to help your child deal with changes:

  • Encourage open dialogue. Try to talk to your child about their feelings and validate them. Say things such as, “I know this must be a scary/hard/confusing/sad time for you. I would like to know how you feel.” Let your child know that you are there to listen. Recognize that some of their negative feelings may be directed toward you, but do not take this personally. Allow your child to express his or her feelings without judgment; this will help your child’s trust in you grow. 
  • Set aside one-on-one time to be with your child. Showing your child that you are interested in them as an individual and what is going on in their life makes your child feel important. It also shows your child that you are paying attention, regardless of what changes are happening. 
  • Allow your child to be involved with decisions about the change. Children often feel out of control over decisions in their life. Allowing them to be involved in some of the decision-making allows them to feel they have a sense of control. If you are moving, let your child decorate their rooms and pick out new things for the home. Ultimately, you as the parent have the final say in decision making, but listen to your child and involve them in the process. 
  • Care for yourself and model this for your child. Allow your child to see you taking care of yourself in times of change, whether it is eating well and exercising or reaching our for support.  

Your child takes cues on how to navigate the world around them from you. If you are honest about your feelings but express a positive attitude, your child is likely to adopt that attitude. It’s acceptable and appropriate for you to admit you are scared or sad or worried, but remind yourself and your child that this situation is temporary and there will be better days ahead. Make sure you are doing the necessary things to care for yourself to assure better days ahead.