By Youth First, Inc. – Aug. 3, 2020 –

Back-to-school shopping is underway, with face masks and hand sanitizer added to the list of supplies this year. Youth First wants to ensure that kids are also socially and emotionally ready to begin the school year. Here are our top 10 tips for mental health success.

  1. Model calmness. Children will take on stress and anxiety from adults around, them so make sure to work on your own feelings and fears about a return to school. Parents are the original co-regulators, the first teachers of how to manage emotions. Whether we are in school buildings or not, there are fears about returning. If the parent sets a positive tone the child will follow.
  2. Talk to your child about safety in a way they can understand. Keep it simple and appropriate for each child’s age. Let them know this isn’t going to last forever but for now there are rules we have to follow. As is often said, “This too shall pass.”
  3. Set a structured daily schedule, especially in the weeks leading up to school. Have a wake-up time and bedtime that are age appropriate for your child. (Most experts recommend 8-10 hours of sleep each night.) Part of the reason teens need more sleep is because of rapid development of body and brain.
  4. Limit screen time and social media exposure, especially in the weeks leading up to school. If screen time has been high, this may initially cause behavioral issues and withdrawal. Hang in there with the limits and your child will make the adjustment. Always have your child’s phone charging in your bedroom overnight to prevent late night access.
  5. Plan family meal time without any electronics, whether it’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch or a more formal meal for dinner.
  6. Stay up-to-date with your child’s school on changes and precautions they will be taking. Discuss those procedures with your child and help them practice if new rules are introduced. Let your child know that these changes are the school’s way of being proactive to keep everyone healthy.
  7. Discuss clear expectations you have for your child when they return to school (behavior, safety compliance, and academics).
  8. Model and discuss positive ways for your child to express his or her feelings. If they are younger, videos and books are a great way to explain complex feelings. Give your child life examples of when you have been scared, frustrated, or excited and how you dealt with those feelings.
  9. Practice calming techniques with your child in the weeks leading up to school (breathing techniques, mindfulness, taking a time out). Make sure they are helpful and age appropriate.  Check out bubble breathing, finger breathing and other techniques on Youth First’s website at youthfirstinc.org/selmaterial.  Repeated practice is helpful for younger kids.
  10. And last but not least, show enthusiasm for the first day of school! Remind students of the joy of learning and seeing friends and beloved teachers. Whether they are walking into a school building or walking to the kitchen table, they should be prepared and excited to start school.

It’s certainly normal that all parents and students have some apprehension about returning to school this year. However, being prepared and informed helps reduce stress and anxiety. Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open with your kids.

By Christine Weinzapfel-Hayden – July 22, 2020 –

We have heard so much about the “new normal” over the last few months, but what is that? How are we supposed to make plans for the future when we really don’t know what that looks like yet? And how are we supposed to prepare our kids for a school year filled with so many unknowns?

There are no perfect answers to any of these questions, because we’re still being met with more questions than answers. Instead of focusing on the unknown, the best way to move forward is preparing ourselves for the things we do know.

We know that as of right now schools are planning to open in the fall. This is great news for our kids who have been missing their friends and teachers. However, we also know that it won’t look exactly the same as they’re used to. The CDC guidelines are going to be intense—but they’re a great guide for good conversation with your kids.

You can initiate these conversations right now as you start your normal back to school preparations. Let kids pick out their backpacks and lunchboxes, pencils and glue sticks. If your family is choosing not to go into stores together, your kids will find it just as fun to help fill your digital cart with their school supply choices. This simple activity creates a great opportunity to sit with your kids individually and ask what things they are excited about and nervous about for the coming school year.

In addition to doing the “normal things” like buying school supplies, it’s also important to have frequent conversations about the things that will look dramatically different. One of these is the use of facemasks. It is important that you help your child practice wearing a facemask prior to the start of the school year. Give them time throughout the day where they can practice putting one on or completing a small task while wearing it to get comfortable with this as a new habit.

Talk to your children as well about the things they can do to help ensure they stay healthy during the coming school year. Talk to them about hand washing and objects they shouldn’t be sharing with their friends this year, like their supplies or snacks. If you have a child who likes to bite their nails or chew on their fingers or shirts when they’re anxious, this is a great time to help them start finding healthier coping skills. Explain how their hands have germs and the replacement coping skill is a healthier choice.

The last step to ensuring a positive start to a very different school year is making sure that you are talking about school opening in a positive way. Adults have a hard time with the unknown. We tend to question decisions made by others and express ourselves openly when we disagree. This can be detrimental to your child’s mental health in the start of a new year. If you think schools are doing too much or not enough, have these conversations away from your children.

Your children need to buy in to the changes happening at their school in order to have a successful and fun year. So when you discuss this year’s “new normal” in going back to school, be excited for them, talk positively about the changes, and support the decisions of the administration.

By Youth First, Inc. – July 14, 2020 –

Technology can be a great thing. It helps us communicate with loved ones who live far away. It helps parents have peace of mind when their child is going somewhere without them. It is a great resource to help educate our children.

There are many advantages to having technology, but there are also many concerns when it comes to safety.

Right now, during the pandemic, many children and teens have more time and more access to technology than ever. They have unlimited access to apps, web pages, and social media. The older the child is, the less likely it is they have restrictions on what they can do on their phones and computers. But it is important for parents to monitor their child’s usage, no matter the age of the child.

According to parentology.com there are 10 reasons parents should be monitoring their child’s phone or computers:

  1. Online harassment or bullying
  2. Distracted driving
  3. Addictions
  4. How they spend money
  5. Online predators
  6. Oversharing
  7. Sexting
  8. Inappropriate content
  9. Dangerous apps
  10. Your child’s safety

There are an increased number of children saying they are being bullied online. While it is important to make sure that your child is not the victim, it is equally important to make sure your child is not the one bullying or harassing others. Teens, especially, seem to have no fear of what they say online and can lack an understanding of the consequences their words can have. 

Driving while using electronics is not a good idea for anyone. It’s especially important to counsel your teen on the dangers associated with distracted driving. There are apps that can monitor a teen driver’s speed to give parents a little peace of mind.

Addictions can come in many forms – drugs, alcohol, cell phone or game usage to name a few. It is important to set healthy limits when it comes to the amount of time children spend playing video games. Monitor how much money they are spending online and make sure they are not spending money on games without permission.

With apps such as Snapchat, Tik Tok, Whisper, After School, Discord, Ask.fm or other social media apps, it is easy for teens and children to come into contact with strangers. This could lead them into a dangerous situation if they befriend a child predator. It is important for our child’s safety for them to know that they should never friend someone they do not know personally. They should never give out personal information or send inappropriate content of themselves or others.

There are helpful ways to monitor your child’s phone:

  • Have a conversation with your child and explain what your expectations are regarding the phone – what is okay and what is not.
  • Explain the dangers of talking to strangers.
  • Check devices daily to ensure kids are acting safely.
  • Download parental control apps on your phone to help monitor usage and notify you when your child is on unsafe websites.

As parents it is our job to ensure that our children are being safe when they are using their phones or computers. While it is important to grant your child more freedom as they age, it is still important to track or check your child’s phone and electronics uses to ensure they are being safe in their online interactions with others. Remember, until children are 18, parents are responsible for anything they do on their phones or computers.

For more information, go to https://parentology.com/should-i-track-my-childs-phone/ or www.youthfirstinc.org.

Image by Mircea Iancu from Pixabay

As students and staff return to school, child abuse disclosures and reports will likely increase. Click here to read about student concerns and information for teachers and staff.

By Diane Braun – July 7, 2020 –

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which has sold over 30 million copies in over 40 languages, is one of the most significant business books of all time.  Dr. Stephen Covey’s lifelong mission was to “unleash the human potential.”  The 7 Habits are the accumulated wisdom he blended into a comprehensive framework that allows one to be effective in their work and personal life.

The 7 habits have the ability to not only introduce skills like goal setting, organization, time management, team work, conflict management, collaboration and communication, but those already familiar with the habits can also strengthen these skills.

There are steps to help create habits that help you personally, and there are other steps that help you deal with and understand others. Ultimately the hope is that the participant will experience renewal – knowing that to be your best you need to feel your best mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.   

The 7 habits were developed to help people deal with issues that can hamper their productivity, creativity and personal health.  But can they also apply to dealing with the coronavirus? Let’s examine the 4th habit—THINK WIN-WIN.

Before we can truly have a win-win attitude, we need to have mastered the first three habits, known collectively as the “Private Victory.”  If we’re insecure and feel threatened by other people’s success, it will be hard for us to ever feel happiness for someone else or share recognition and praise.

We need to remember two things. First, competition can be healthy. It drives us to improve, to reach and stretch. Without it we might never know how far we can push ourselves. Competition becomes dark when you tie your self-worth to winning or use it to place yourself above others. Second, comparing ourselves to others is always a bad idea. We’re all on different levels—socially, emotionally, physically. 

The benefit of thinking win-win is that it creates a foundation for getting along with others. It begins with the belief that we are all equal, that no one is inferior or superior to anyone else.  Most of us can remember being in a win-lose situation where someone else got the glory and although we did our best, we didn’t get recognized for it with an award or praise. There may be a time where we know we can’t handle a situation and have a lose-lose attitude, which means that if I’m going down, I’m taking you with me.  Or knowing that we never seem to be the best at something, we may feel we’re definitely the loser so we allow others to go ahead and walk all over us.

You can feel the shift in thinking when ALL OF US can win in any situation.  Given the world’s current concerns, how can we have a win-win attitude?  If I just stocked up on toilet paper and my sister needs several rolls for her family, do I say no? Should I perhaps arrange a trade? How can I share and feel like I didn’t lose in this? How can I take care of myself and my family and still make sure others have that same security? 

A quote by author George Elliot sums up habit 4: “What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other?”

By Ashley Underwood – July 1, 2020 –

As the mother of a child who will start kindergarten this fall, I can say the question “Is he ready?” has come to mind often over the past few months. The academic, social, and emotional demands are much more intensive in kindergarten than what has likely been previously experienced. Because of this, however, kindergarten is an amazing opportunity for learning and growth for your child.

What are some indicators that your child is ready for kindergarten? The Mayo Clinic identifies some common developmental milestones that can be observed when a child is ready for this leap:

  • Demonstrating curiosity in learning new things
  • Exploring new things through their senses
  • Taking turns and cooperating with peers
  • Speaking with and listening to peers and adults
  • Following instructions
  • Communicating how they’re feeling
  • Empathizing with other children
  • Controlling impulses
  • Paying attention
  • Limiting disruptive behaviors

While many of these skills emerge naturally between ages 4 and 5, there is not a set age limit. Some parents even choose to wait until age 6 to send their child to kindergarten.

What you can do to help prepare your child for kindergarten?

The National Association for the Education of Young Children provides these tips:

  • Teach responsibility. Start transferring small responsibilities over to your child, if you haven’t already. They can set out silverware at meals, put new liners in trash cans, or fold pillowcases. Any task that is meaningful to the household and achievable for the child will teach responsibility.
  • Develop and follow routines. Set up morning routines that will transfer into a school setting. Getting up around the same time every day, getting dressed, and having an early breakfast together is a great way to transition to school.
  • Read aloud to your child. Read a variety of books, read the captions under pictures in the newspaper, even share the comics. Just read together!
  • Engage them in meaningful literacy activities. Encourage your child to help you with thank you cards, shopping lists, or notes. At the store, you can point to each item on the list and have your child check it off when it’s put in the cart. At home, you can ask your child to sign their name on cards and give them their own special notebook and pen.
  • Help them develop independence at home. Encourage your child to dress themselves, take their coat on and off and hang it up, use the bathroom without assistance, wash their hands without constant reminders, and put on their own shoes. 
  • Acknowledge their feelings. Your child may express being nervous, not wanting to go or, alternately, feel very excited to start school. Take time to appreciate these feelings. You can find specific strategies to do this at youthfirstinc.org/selmaterials.

Chances are you’re already practicing many of these skills your child will need for kindergarten. Remember to keep it fun and don’t make it stressful for you or your child!

If your child’s school will require them to wear a mask, practice this at home and when you go out in public. You can find helpful advice at https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/coronavirus-masks.html

Additional information about kindergarten readiness from the Indiana Department of Education can be found at: https://www.doe.in.gov/sites/default/files/earlylearning/k-readiness.pdf

By Diane Braun – June 23, 2020 –

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which has sold over 30 million copies in over 40 languages, is one of the most significant business books of all time.  Dr. Stephen Covey’s lifelong mission was to “unleash the human potential.”  The 7 Habits are the accumulated wisdom he blended into a comprehensive framework that allows one to be effective in their work and personal life.

The 7 Habits have the ability to introduce skills like goal setting, organization, time management, team work, conflict management, collaboration and communication. Those already familiar with the habits can also strengthen these skills.

There are steps to create habits that help you personally, and there are other steps that help you deal with and understand others. Ultimately the hope is that the participant will experience renewal – knowing that to be your best you need to feel your best mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The 7 Habits were developed to help people deal with issues that can hamper their productivity, creativity and personal health.  But can they also apply to dealing with the coronavirus? Let’s examine the third habit – PUT FIRST THINGS FIRST.  

Put First Things First builds on Habit 2’s goal setting by teaching us to keep going, watch for obstacles and distractions and ignore them or find a way around them. We also find out how identifying priorities will help us reach our goals. 

Most people fall into one of four quadrants when it comes to getting things done:

  • The “Procrastinator” is addicted to urgency. They thrive under pressure and like to put things off until it becomes a crisis. Stress helps them think. They rarely plan ahead because they like the rush of doing everything at the last possible moment. The only problem is they create stress and anxiety for themselves and others as well as the very real possibility of burnout. Most of the time what they accomplish is mediocre at best.
  • The “Yes-Man” has a hard time saying NO to anything or anyone. He tries so hard to please others that he usually pleases no one.  A victim of FOMO—fear of missing out—he can’t handle everyone having fun without him.  The “Yes-Man” usually ends up always being a follower, never a leader. The lack of discipline leads to always feeling like a doormat.
  • The “Slacker” just wants to hang out and would rather do anything than concentrate on a task. Mindless pastimes are the best use of their time. They can forget appointments easily, distracted by what they’re doing at the moment or not wanting to stop. They can’t be counted on and are viewed as lacking responsibility. They could miss opportunities by simply being disconnected from what’s important.
  • The “Prioritizer” is where highly effective people spend their time. He looks at everything going on and decides what’s most important—the big rocks – what needs to be done first and done well. Once completed, he looks at the small rocks, the little things that are not so important but take up time. By planning use of time a sense of control is achieved, as well as balance between the big rocks and little rocks, and tasks are done well.

During this pandemic we should be thinking, “What’s the most important thing for me to do today? Am I prioritizing my time to benefit me, my family, and our health?” By learning to manage our priorities and recognize distractions, Habit 3 will become the best way to meet our goals.

By Diane Braun, June 16, 2020 –

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which has sold over 30 million copies in over 40 languages, is one of the most significant business books of all time.  Dr. Stephen Covey’s lifelong mission was to “unleash the human potential.”  The 7 Habits are the accumulated wisdom he blended into a comprehensive framework that allows one to be effective in their work and personal life.

The 7 Habits have the ability to introduce skills like goal setting, organization, time management, team work, conflict management, collaboration and communication. Those already familiar with the habits can also strengthen these skills.

There are steps to create habits that help you personally, and there are other steps that help you deal with and understand others. Ultimately the hope is that the participant will experience renewal – knowing that to be your best you need to feel your best mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The 7 Habits were developed to help people deal with issues that can hamper their productivity, creativity and personal health.  But can they also apply to dealing with the coronavirus? Let’s examine the second habit – BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND.  

Beginning with the end in mind reminds us that we should always have goals, whether they are personal or professional, short-term or long-term.  Goals are what guide us to the outcome we want.

Asking ourselves specific questions about what we want, expect, and hope for will help set our goals. A personal goal of making new friends, losing weight, eating healthier, or adding a spiritual aspect to our days can be achieved by looking ahead and thinking of the steps it will take to get there. 

The same goes for professional goals. Where do I want to be in six months or one year?  Does the job I’m looking for require me to get more education?  Should I enroll in classes or training?  Will I need to work on certain skills?

Covey recommends developing a personal mission statement. This can be a quote, song lyrics or a simple statement describing who you are right now. It can help define what’s important to you and get started on the steps toward a goal you envision.

Right now we find ourselves adjusting to schedules and situations unlike anything we’ve ever dealt with. This can be stressful and can cause us to forget this situation will eventually end and normalcy will return.

Beginning with the end in mind helps us think about life down the road. What happens when the pandemic is over? Was I kind to my neighbors? Did I have patience with the people I live with? Will our behavior now affect our relationships later? What is the goal for when this situation ends? Personally and professionally, where do I want to be? During this uncertain time, it’s helpful to have goals to guide us.

By Diane Braun – June 10, 2020 –

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which has sold over 30 million copies in over 40 languages, is one of the most significant business books of all time. Dr. Stephen Covey’s lifelong mission was to “unleash the human potential.”  The 7 Habits are the accumulated wisdom he blended into a comprehensive framework that allows one to be effective in their work and personal life.

The 7 Habits have the ability to introduce skills like goal setting, organization, time management, team work, conflict management, collaboration and communication. Those already familiar with the habits can also strengthen these skills.

There are steps to create habits that help you personally, and there are other steps that help you deal with and understand others. Ultimately the hope is that the participant will experience renewal – knowing that to be your best you need to feel your best mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The 7 Habits were developed to help people deal with issues that can hamper their productivity, creativity and personal health.  But can they also apply to dealing with the coronavirus? Let’s examine the first habit – BE PROACTIVE.  

Being proactive simply means being a “Can Do” person instead of a “No Can Do” person.  A “Can Do” person takes initiative to make things happen, thinking about options and solutions, and most importantly, acting.  The “No Can Do” person waits for something to happen to them, always thinking about the problems and barriers waiting to be acted upon.

In your mind visualize two bottles, one containing soda (reactive) and one containing water (proactive). If you shake them up, what happens?  The soda reacts by fizzing, bubbling, and if opened, showering everything in sight.  The water doesn’t change.  It remains the same with no threat if the lid is opened. 

Proactive people can brush things off without getting offended and take responsibility for their choices. They think before they act and bounce back if something bad happens. They always find a way to move forward. They focus on things they can do something about and don’t worry about things they can’t control. 

Part of this habit is recognizing the “Circle of No Control.” Simply put, we can’t control everything that happens to us. What we CAN control is how we respond.

Right now everyone is being forced to think ahead.  Do we have enough food, toilet paper, books and games to get through the next week or two and not keep running to the store?  Do we have our mask and hand sanitizer with us before we leave the house? We’re hearing stories of people sharing resources, planting gardens and raising chickens—all examples of thinking ahead and making a plan on how to keep going.

We can all strive to be proactive for those around us, using language that is positive.  I’ll do it, I can do better, let’s look at all the options, there’s got to be a way, I’m going to keep trying.

Being proactive and setting a positive example can truly help get people through any situation, including a worldwide pandemic.

By Salita Brown – June 2, 2020 –

Has your family enjoyed more time together, including family meals, during the pandemic? Before the worldwide health crisis, many families had seen the demands of everyday life cause a decline in traditional sit-down family dinners. Many families run from activity to activity, and it seems as though this family tradition from the past no longer seems relevant.

So, before some of us remove this ritual from our lives completely, let’s stop and discuss the true importance of family dinners.

For many years family dinners were a part of daily life in the household. These dinners represented much more than a time of sustenance. They were a time to unwind and reconnect as a family over a good meal. They took place at the family dinner table with face-to-face communication and no technology. They reminded families what was really important – EACH OTHER!

In recent years, researchers have found that family dinners promote healthy development in youth. They provide a connection to important family and cultural rituals, which can be beneficial to a youth’s mental health.

These face-to-face interactions between parents and their children facilitate communication, which in turn helps parents guide their children’s behavior. According to the website stanfordchildrens.org, youth in families that regularly engage in family meals are about half as likely to need treatment for depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems compared to their peers.

Additionally, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) reported findings for children that had frequent family dinners compared to peers that did not. Benefits for youth that had frequent family dinners included:

  • less likely to smoke, drink, or use illicit drugs
  • less likely to have friends who use illegal drugs
  • better school performance
  • less likely to report tension among family members
  • greater communication among family members

Of course every family is different, and the process of gathering the whole family every night over a meal may not be possible. For these families I would recommend finding at least one day a week that can be devoted to having a family meal, and that meal does not have to be dinner. Family meals can occur over breakfast, lunch or even at a restaurant or the park during an outing to the store. Choose whatever works best for your family.

So, what if a family is not good at initiating positive communication during family dinners? For those families I would recommend creating a conversation jar. A conversation jar can include a variety of questions and topics that can be discussed during the meal. Each time you eat, have a family member select and read a question and give everyone a chance to answer.

To encourage youth to feel more buy-in for this activity, begin with easy and silly questions. As the weeks go by, add in more serious, thought-provoking questions. Just take steps to ensure the dinner never turns into a blame game and no one ever leaves feeling down and defeated.

Now you know the importance of family dinners as a positive tool for your children’s development. As we slowly return to our normal routines, let’s try to find time to continue traditional family dinners, gathering our families together and engaging in positive communication over a good meal. Bon Appétit!