By Abby Betz, LSW – October 1, 2021 –

The 2020-2021 school year was marked by adapting to quarantine procedures, social distancing, virtual learning, and masking. While not all fond memories, hopefully some of the aforementioned things will find themselves in our soon-to-be distant past as we move forward in the 2021-2022 school year. 

As virtual learning was widely used throughout 2020 for most students in our community, increased screen time has become mandatory, and in some cases, a necessary “evil” in order for students to learn and connect with other students, teachers, and staff. What we must focus on now is how we use technology to better our lives and promote its sustainability into the future.

“Screen time” has been known to carry a negative connotation among parents, educators, and mental health professionals who have spent years urging students to decrease and limit their screen time. However, following a year of e-learning and working from home, screen time has become a new way of life. 

In addition, more virtual support was provided to parents and caregivers to help alleviate the stress of the pandemic over the past year. Although some situations require an in-person consultation, the use of telehealth has emerged as an effective and beneficial way to provide services.

Our task for 2021 and moving forward will be to learn to integrate purposeful technology into our lives and to adjust our previous notions and attitudes that all screen time is unproductive and just for leisure. Perhaps engaging your family in an educational game or exploring a new place through virtual reality – accompanied by meaningful conversation, family fun, and human interaction – is a way to incorporate positive screen time into your everyday life.   

However, it is important to be mindful of how often screens are being used. To start a conversation about this, parents and/or educators can invite kids to track their activity for one 24-hour period. After this time has been tracked, have an open discussion about what screens or content are present in their lives, how each is being used and for what purpose, and how they feel during and after screen time.

In order to create an environment for purposeful technology, we have to let go of the idea that screen time is just for recreation or for “couch potatoes” who sit and stare at a screen for hours at a time. Of course children do need to be supervised and limits should be set. 

According to the Child Mind Institute, endless hours on social media platforms such as TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram, can lead to increased depression and anxiety in youth. In a technology-driven world, it is important to keep in mind that screen time is not going to go away. It is vital to have conversations with our children about setting appropriate boundaries and monitoring their own mental health.


Gift Supports the Mental Health Success of Students in Warrick County

The Alcoa Foundation has announced its 2021 grant recipients, and among those named is Youth First, Inc. The $30,000 grant award for Youth First will support school-based social work programs and services that strengthen the mental health success for thousands of Warrick County students.

Youth First partners with school districts across Indiana to embed social workers in school buildings, where they become specialized mentors for students and prevention coaches for parents and teachers. Youth First Social Workers build caring relationships, foster readiness for positive change, and boost resiliency along with equipping students with valuable life skills. Their presence also contributes to a healthier and safer school environment.

Youth First Social Workers are coaching kids to thrive. Research shows that when equipped early in life with the protective factors that combine to create resilience, young people can successfully navigate the increasingly complex world that awaits them as adults. Long term, communities will benefit from a healthier, happier, more employable workforce.

“Youth First, Inc. continues to be a valued partner for Alcoa Foundation and Alcoa Warrick Operations. I am excited to present the $30,000 grant on behalf of Alcoa Foundation, as this deserving organization provides essential services to children and families in the Warrick County school system,” says Alcoa Warrick Operations Communications Specialist Shannon Frazer. 

“Alcoa Foundation’s mission to prioritize local needs and address them in a sustainable manner parallels Youth First’s mission to strengthen youth and families. Together, Alcoa and Youth First are helping youth and families face life’s current challenges and emerge with resilient mindsets and real hope for the future. We are grateful to the Alcoa Foundation for this grant that allows Youth First to sustain critical mental health supports for Warrick County kids,” says Youth First Vice President of Philanthropy Julie Hoon.

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By Deena Bodine, LCSW – September 21, 2021 –

Research has shown that students are more successful academically when they have support from their parents. Many parents are eager to jump in to help ensure success in the classroom, but it’s important to allow your child to carry some of the responsibilities related to school independently.

A parent’s level of involvement will also vary based upon the age, ability, and personality of their child. Parents may need to be more involved with school for younger children, helping them learn healthy study habits, teaching children how to communicate about their academic needs, and following up with teachers as needed. 

It can be beneficial to open the lines of communication with the teacher early, before your child is in need or feeling overwhelmed. Many schools offer parent-teacher conferences, scheduled once or twice a year, where progress and concerns can be discussed between parents and teachers.

These conferences may look different in the time of COVID. Whether you are participating in a face-to-face meeting with your child’s teacher or planning to reach out via a phone call or email, there are steps you can take to make the most of this conversation. 

Before reaching out or meeting with your child’s teacher, check in with your student about how they are doing in each subject. Take a moment to review their homework assignments, quizzes, tests, and progress reports to determine their strengths and weaknesses.

Discuss any areas of concern with your child and address questions they may have for their teacher. Create a list of questions or concerns that you have to use as a prompt during the meeting, phone call, or as you draft an email. 

Start the discussion by sharing a few details about your child, maybe an interest or a strength. Next, discuss your greatest concerns, keeping in mind that your child’s teacher is an instrumental team member in supporting your student and their education. By beginning with your areas of greatest concern, you ensure that if time becomes an issue, you will have addressed the most pressing needs first.

Continue discussing any other areas of need including academic progress, how your child may compare to their peers, interactions with other students both inside and out of the classroom, or other supports that may help your child be successful at school. 

At the end of the conference, discuss a plan for follow up with the teacher to check on progress and any goals established during your conference. If you find that you have additional questions after the conference, follow up with an email to your child’s teacher requesting clarification. 

At the end of the day, remember that you are your child’s strongest advocate, but your child’s teacher is also an important partner in ensuring your student achieves academic success. 

By Chelsea Pfister, MSW – September 15, 2021 –

For the past year and a half, families across the country have been working to settle into an ever-changing sense of what’s being referred to as “the new normal.” While simultaneously juggling workload, home life, and family relationships, parents and families are constantly being presented with new stressors.

These stressors can include changes in routines, changes in economic structure and societal functioning, online schooling demands, and fear of the unknown. As a result, many parents are reporting strains in family relationships, a decrease in tolerance, and an increase in mental health-related concerns in both parents and children.

Below are six helpful tips to consider when fostering positive family connection and communication during challenging times. 

  1. Connect with your loved ones. Focus on what’s important and create a sense of support and connection among family. Taking the time to connect with your child can help establish a stronger relationship and foster more cooperation. Setting aside specified time for a special activity, or even using simple, everyday routines built around dinnertime or bedtime can be helpful in establishing strong family connections.
  2. Let go of pre-pandemic expectations. Recognize that your “best” parenting might look different now than it did prior to the pandemic. That’s okay. Try to avoid setting unrealistic goals for yourself or your children. Don’t think about your parenting as what the media tells you it “should” be; instead, think about what you would like it to be and what steps you can take to get there. 
  3. Listen to your children. Get down to your child’s level and be fully present. Ask open-ended questions to gain further understanding such as, “What is the hardest part about this for you?” Ask permission before sharing your own thoughts. This can instill a sense of empowerment in your child, which can combat the sense of powerlessness they might be struggling with.
  4. Respond to your child’s needs rather than their behaviors. Parents might experience children acting out during these times, particularly when they are experiencing constantly changing schedules. Attempt to look beyond what you’re hearing and/or seeing, and consider what feelings are underlying the behaviors. Work to acknowledge those feelings and support their needs.
  5. Reach out for help. If you or your child is struggling, realize it’s okay to ask for help. Remember you cannot help your child if your own tank is empty. Stressors pile up and it’s normal to become overwhelmed. Reach out to other family members, therapists/counselors, teachers, and/or friends for support.
  6. Practice compassion. Strive to show grace not only to yourself and your own family, but also to other individuals within your community. Everyone has experienced their own losses, changes, and challenges as a result of the pandemic.

Modeling compassion for others and having open conversations with your children and family is a great way to build connections and spread even the smallest amounts of positivity during these trying times. It is now more important than ever for us to support and lean on one another as we continue to acclimate to the changes in the world around us.  

By Haley Droste, LCSW – September 10, 2021 –

Life is busy. Most parents feel stretched by stressors related to work demands, organizing family schedules, managing household functions like grocery shopping, planning meals, cleaning, and laundry.

When we’re stressed as adults, those feelings have a way of spreading through the home, creating an atmosphere where attitudes and short tempers can seem to come out of nowhere.

Stress is part of life; at times it is even good for us. But how can we manage the stressors of parenthood and be the positive parent we always thought we would be?

Managing and coping with our feelings is so important because our children are looking to us for guidance on how to handle similar situations. Teaching a child to regulate their emotions begins with us.

So how can we model positive self-regulation? Become familiar with using an intentional pause when feeling overwhelmed so that you respond to situations with intention. Often times we are reacting versus responding.

Reactions usually come from a place of frustration and anger. Taking a moment to pause and reflect will foster an intentional response, one rooted in patience and understanding. Once we’ve regulated ourselves, we can then parent in a productive, meaningful, and respectful way.

Below are some tips and ideas for implementing positive parenting strategies into your routine.

  1. Utilize everyday moments to build connection. This can be accomplished in many ways, but one simple way is to own our mistakes when we make them. This illustrates to our children that even adults make mistakes and we all have growing and learning to do. Having these honest conversations with our children builds connection but also helps them learn to problem solve in the future.
  2. Be loving but firm. So much of positive parenting is in our tone and the way in which we speak to our children. We can speak in a loving and respectful way while still being firm in our expectations. A calm, firm “no” is more effective than shouting “NO” in frustration. Set boundaries. Decide what rules are important to you, clearly communicate them to your child, and be consistent with enforcing those rules. Being a positive parent doesn’t mean letting your child walk all over you. It does mean trying to maintain a calm tone when your child needs reminders about the rules.
  3. Change the lens through which you see your child’s behavior. All behavior is communication and under that communication is a need. Often the underlying need is a bid for connection. Take a moment to practice that intentional pause and think about why your child may be exhibiting certain behaviors. If we start seeing behavior problems as stress behavior versus misbehavior, we can help our children communicate their needs and feelings in a more productive way.
  4. Give yourself grace. Step away and take a breath if you need to. Doing this will allow you to come back and respond in the way your child needs you to.

Positive parenting takes practice, awareness, and patience. Don’t expect perfection. It starts with the simple step of making a commitment to show up every day with the intent to parent with understanding, empathy, and respect.

By Lori Powell, LCSW – September 1, 2021 –

Not many people can say they’ve read a story to a cat. Surprisingly, our furry feline friends can prove to be avid listeners, like my cat Jazzy! Jazzy and I have been registered through Pet Partners as an Animal Assisted Therapy Team since 2018. The Paws and Tales Program allows children to read books to cats, which is an awesome way to encourage children to read even just one page.

Prior to the pandemic, Jazzy and I would spend time at two libraries in Evansville to promote the importance of childhood literacy. When libraries began to re-open after pandemic closures, I was contacted about Jazzy returning to the libraries to continue these programs. My first thought was, “Of course we want to return!” But then I thought, “Is this really safe?”

At that time, I knew that I had to make an informed decision about whether or not we should continue to participate in this program. I began by reviewing information provided from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Although Jazzy is a healthy cat, I wanted to ensure both Jazzy’s and the program participants’ safety.

According to the CDC, there is currently no evidence of animals spreading COVID-19 to people, but there have been some reported cases of people spreading the virus to animals who have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

There are multiple ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to animals, including COVID-19 vaccinations for pet owners, staying 6 feet away from other people, avoiding places where someone has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or where social distancing cannot be maintained, asking individuals who may be sick to wear a mask when around the animal, and cleaning the animal’s harnesses and supplies on a regular basis.

Since it has been longer than a year since Jazzy and I were able to participate in the Paws for Tales Program, I also reviewed Pet Partners’ safety precautions, which require all individuals to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before and after petting the animal. 

With this information, I made the decision to take Jazzy for her first library appearance since March of 2020. At first she wanted to explore, but she was easily able to refocus once she remembered that this is an opportunity to earn treats and be petted.

There were only a few participants, which was ideal for reintroducing Jazzy to the library environment. The children were able to read to Jazzy, give her a treat, pet her, and brush her. The children seemed to have a wonderful time interacting with Jazzy and her return proved to be a great success!

Jazzy loves listening to children and adults read to her. Remember, Jazzy is always willing to listen regardless of the storyteller’s reading ability! Jazzy and I are scheduled to return to Red Bank Library in Evansville, IN on Thursday, September 16th from 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm CST. The plan is to begin offering this program monthly.

If you’re looking for a way to encourage your child to read aloud, bring them out to read to Jazzy!

By Staci Chambers, LSW – August 25, 2021 –

The last year and a half has certainly provided its fair share of uncertainties and changes. From school and business closures to stay-at-home orders, we have all had to adjust. Those adjustments inevitably lead to spending extended periods of time at home.

For some, this provided a silver lining among all the stress the pandemic generated:  more time with family. That time allowed for more flexible schedules and challenged us to find new ways to connect and comfort our family members. As time has progressed, it seems that our planners are beginning to fill up once again.

It is easy to get caught back up in our busy schedules like before as we return to school and work. The family time that was so precious during the prime of the pandemic is now more limited. The following are simple and inexpensive ways to incorporate family time into our schedules as we become busy again.

1. Prioritize mealtimes. Whether it is breakfast or dinner, at the table or on the couch, mealtimes are great opportunities to reconnect and update each other on recent experiences. Cooking a meal together may even be a fun task to complete together.

2. Plan a family night. At least once a month, plan a family night in. This may include takeout night, movie night, or game night. The kids will love to help plan this.

3. Go on regular evening walks with your family. When the weather permits, going on a walk with the family is a simple way to get some fresh air, chat, and exercise.

4. Be a part of the kids’ bedtime routine. This applies more to families with younger children. Make it part of the nightly bedtime routine to tuck them into bed and read them a book. This is a great way to wind down from the day with your child.

5. Create a group chat for texting. This applies more to families with older children. Creating a group chat for the entire family is a convenient way to share stories, pictures, and day-to-day experiences with one another. 

Time is a worthy investment to make when it comes to your family. Small strides to keep your family members connected can make all the difference. Consider implementing just one of these ideas into your family’s routine as the bustle of returning to school and work unfolds.

One concept that is ever present in my mind these days is adjusting to the “new normal.” Among all of the other changes we have had to adopt, why not make prioritizing time with your family another “new normal?” This is one that all members of the family are sure to appreciate and benefit from.

Support Youth First by purchasing half pot raffle tickets now! The winner will be drawn on September 5, 2021. Raffle tickets can be purchased from Youth First staff and board members, at the Youth First office Monday through Friday 8am to 12pm, or by filling out the contact form here.

By Kelli Chambers, LCSW – August 18, 2021 –

When we talk to fellow parents about how hard our jobs can be, we often hear responses like, “Oh yeah, I’ve experienced that too. That’s just part of being a mom/dad.” Sometimes it feels as if your child’s needs are endless and seem impossible to manage. Of course our child’s happiness is what we as parents strive for, but sometimes we need more.

We often hear about how people feel burnt out in their jobs or even in their relationships, but rarely do we hear about feeling burnt out on parenting. It almost feels taboo because parents have been taught that being tired, stressed, and overwhelmed is just part of it.

Social media plays a big role with the expectation of being the “perfect” family who has it all together. These expectations are unrealistic and untrue. There will inevitably be times of stress, chaos, and unhappy emotions in every family.

So what does parental burnout look like? Burnt out parents are exhausted from the never-ending demands of parenting. They can feel as if they are on autopilot or in survival mode. Your sleep can be negatively affected – both the amount and quality. Going to work can serve as a relief. There, you might feel calm, focused, and successful, where you might not feel that at home.

Parental burnout can be broken down into three categories: exhaustion, detachment, and inefficacy. Just as it sounds, exhaustion is never getting to fully recharge. Detachment is being less able to take pleasure in day-to-day activities with your children. Lastly, inefficacy shows through when parents feel they are ineffective in their parenting.

We can’t give what we don’t have. It is our responsibility as parents to identify when we are struggling and to make a decision about what to do about it. Our kids ultimately feel the consequences of our lack of self-awareness or self-care.

One of the biggest effects on our kids is when we are not able to attune to them. We can’t be our most patient, loving, and nurturing selves if we are disconnected from our own needs.

Parents often struggle with taking time to do something for themselves when they could be doing something for their child instead. By taking care of ourselves, our kids are reaping a bigger benefit. They get a parent who is fully present and engaged. Here are a few ways to alleviate some of your burnout symptoms:

  1. Reach out to your doctor or therapist to discuss any concerns.
  2. Ask your partner to take something off of your plate or utilize daycare to give yourself time to rest or do something that makes you happy.
  3. Give yourself permission to say no to demands that will stretch you too thin.
  4. Communicate your needs to your partner/loved ones.
  5. Prioritize your sleep.
  6. Take care of your body through exercise, healthy eating, etc.

Another good way to do a self-check is to use Dr. Oscar Serrallach’s acronym SPAN. Identify what your true needs are and determine what you need to do to fulfill them.

S- Sleep

P- Purpose

A- Activity

N- Nutrition

Parenthood, at times, can be a difficult and thankless job, but it is a job many of us would not trade for anything. Being mindful of your needs allows for a better version of yourself, and your kids will directly benefit.

By Diane Braun, Project Manager – August 12, 2021 –

Many parents struggle with getting their young child’s attention and teaching them to follow simple directions such as picking up toys, throwing away a napkin, or going to bed. What’s the secret to getting them to listen?

It starts with making the direction as simple as possible. There might be a long list of things to do before bedtime, but most children aged three to five have trouble devoting attention to more than one task at a time.

Saying something like, “Please pick up your toys, brush your teeth, and get your pajamas on,” will probably result in no action by the child at all. These are called “chain directions,” which are usually more appropriate for older children. Breaking the chain down to one link or task at a time will result in better understanding.

Vague directions can also be a problem. Saying “Behave yourself!” or “Be careful!” are not specific directions. Instead, explain how you expect your child to behave. Telling them directly what you expect helps them understand your expectations. Phrases like, “I expect you to sit quietly while we watch the movie” are much more effective.

Notice that directions should not be presented as a question. “Would you like to pick up your toys now?” is a question that most children would say no to. “It’s time to pick up your toys” is a direct statement of expectation. Keeping the direction short and to the point makes the task seem more doable to a child.

Tone of voice is also important when giving directions. Many parents have “THAT VOICE” they use when they want to get a child’s attention. Most children recognize when they are being told to do something with no room for negotiation.

When a small child begins learning to follow directions, you may have to say it a few times before they comply. Once they start listening and following through, remember to recognize that they’ve listened and done what was asked.

Rewards for good behavior don’t have to cost money—a high five, happy dance, or an extra ten minutes of television before bedtime are all exciting for small children. Use these incentives to encourage positive behavior in the future.