Quality Time With Your Kids is Worth the Effort

Mother and child in snow

By Kate Scheuer, Courier & Press, January 26, 2016 – When I was growing up, my parents both worked full-time. Despite her busy schedule, however, my mother did a wonderful job making time to spend with us.

One of my favorite childhood memories is when Mom would spontaneously say, “Let’s go for an ice cream run!” We would all jump in the car and head out for a treat. More than the delicious vanilla ice cream cones, I remember enjoying the time I spent talking and laughing with my mom.

Spending quality time with your child is priceless. As they grow older it may seem harder and harder to have those precious moments together. Start today by figuring out when you can carve out a few minutes together on a regular basis.

Here are some suggestions for spending quality time with your children:

Schedule time during the day. Eat breakfast together or schedule a sit-down or phone call after school.

While driving in the car from place to place, use the time to discuss their day, current successes, struggles, hopes and dreams.

At bedtime, set aside a few minutes of quiet time to help them unwind.

Try to have a few sit-down dinners together each week.

Include your kids in your workout routine. Push them in the stroller while you walk or run, or if they’re older, they can walk/run alongside. Go hiking or bowling together. Have a dance party or put on an exercise video you can all enjoy at home.

Try one of your child’s hobbies. Seeing your child enjoy what they love will be fun for you, too!

Also, remember to listen intently when your child talks. It is easy to become distracted and misunderstand what he or she is trying to communicate. Try putting away your cellphone or turning off the television. Children are seeking your attention, and they will find a way to get it in a negative manner if you are not listening.

Spending time with your children does not mean you have to plan something special or go somewhere; it can be as simple as reading a book or playing outside. Find what works best for your family. Remember that quality time is more important than quantity.

Youth First, Inc. offers the Strengthening Families program. This program is designed for all families. In today’s society raising children can be difficult and the demands on our time are always increasing. Finding quality time to spend together can be challenging.

Strengthening Families gives you the opportunity to share your parenting successes and struggles with other families experiencing the same joys and obstacles. You will also be given new tools and strategies to take home and put into practice. Parents are also encouraged to build on what is already working well for your family.

By attending Strengthening Families, you are also guaranteed some good quality family time. Please call Youth First at 812-421-8336 to register or get more information.

Kids Have Stress, Too!

crying boy

By Callie Sanders, Courier & Press, January 19, 2016 –

Stress is a normal part of our everyday lives. It can sometimes be a very good thing such as when it motivates a person to try harder at work or school or encourages someone to be more alert.

But when does stress become too much?

Physical symptoms are usually a key indicator that stress levels are maxed out. Some common symptoms are headaches, elevated blood pressure, insomnia and stomach issues.

When the human body is screaming, “I’m stressed out,” what can be done to change that? Stress management skills are vital tools no matter what age. It’s good to introduce these techniques early. Let’s face it, kids are stressed too.

Below are some tips I use as a school social worker to help students de-stress:

Take a mental vacation. In this exercise, students are asked to close their eyes and visualize a place in their mind that would combat stress and negative thoughts. This place can be real or make believe. Students are encouraged to write the place down and then draw it. This teaches students to be mindful and gives them the ability to detach from negativity and use mental visuals to regain a calm state.

Just breathe. Deep breathing exercises help lower heart rate and muscle tension. To breathe deeply, begin by putting your hand on your abdomen. I ask students to visualize their belly as a balloon. Inhale slowly through your nose and watch your hand move out as your belly (balloon) expands. Hold the breath and exhale slowly through your mouth as the balloon deflates. Repeat several times. Blowing bubbles is also a great way to practice deep breathing exercises.

Say cheese. I have a sign on my door that reads, “You had the courage to stay, now go give a smile away.” Smiling is a win-win mechanism. We smile when we are relaxed and happy. Smiling at someone else can help them feel relaxed and happy too. Everyone wins.

Write it out. I use an activity called “Control vs. Non Control,” where students are asked to draw a large donut or tire on a piece of paper (one small circle inside a larger circle). In the small circle, they are asked to list stressors they may be able to change/control. In the larger circle, they list stressors that can’t be changed. I ask them to focus on the small circle of stressors, changing what they can. They can then practice letting go or coping with the stressors in the larger circle that can’t be controlled.

Be a fighter. Feeling like a victim can increase feelings of stress and helplessness. I teach students how to be proactive, using a water bottle as a visual analogy. When water is shaken up in the bottle (no matter how many times it is shaken), it doesn’t explode. Being proactive is just like that. When life is at its toughest, I ask them to remember the water bottle and use techniques that will keep them from exploding.

No matter what life stage we’re in, we all deal with some form of stress. Take control before it turns into distress.

I encourage you to use the tips provided. Just breathe. Keep fighting. Give a smile away in the process. It’s a win-win situation!

Support For Grieving Children

Grieving child

By Davi Stein-Kiley, Courier & Press, January 11, 2016 –

It’s not a secret. Children who lose a loved one often struggle to process the loss, understand death and comprehend the changes that take place in their families as others mourn. While support groups for parents often take the form of monthly meetings, kids need some different formats and activities.

Youth First, Inc. launched the first Camp Memories to support grieving children and families in the Evansville area. Camp Memories supports children who have lost parents, siblings, grandparents and other closely connected loved ones. Youth First, Inc. partnered with the YMCA of Southwestern Indiana to provide the camp. Children ages 7-12 were invited to share in a day of healing and hope.

The camp provides a safe place for kids to have fun with peers, talk about the emotions related to grief and participate in activities designed to create a safe place for experiencing strong emotions.

Research shows that one in nine Americans lose a parent before 20, and one in seven will lose a parent or sibling before 20. Seventy-two percent believe that life would have been “much better” if they had not lost a parent when they were so young.

Young people who have the opportunity to participate in a grief support program report the benefit of talking to other kids who have also lost a loved one is very helpful in their grieving process.

In a 2009 study published by Camp Comfort Zone of Richmond, Virginia, it was noted that memories of losses remain and color experiences in life well into adulthood. About seven of 10 adults who lost a parent growing up say they still think of their parent frequently — a sentiment that holds true regardless of how long ago the loss occurred.

For many, however, those memories are often insufficient and fading — about eight of 10 say they wish they had more memories of their parent. The desire to have one more moment with the lost one runs deep. More than half of adults bereaved as children say they would trade a year of their life for one more day with their lost parent.

Findings also included the idea that many kids feel different from their peers after losing a loved one, and many families seem to avoid dialogue about their loved one, primarily because it is uncomfortable and awkward.

Opportunities to talk about loss and grief are hard to find. Camp Memories was designed to create opportunities for young people to find language about their loss, to find support from peers and to learn some tools to manage the overwhelming feelings experienced in grieving. A parent’s group is included, providing support to them as well as information about how to support their kids.

At the close of the day, one parent commented, “This was such a help for my son. He has started to open up.”

Youth First plans to offer Camp Memories as a daylong grief workshop two times a year. The November camp helped all participants focus on holidays and anniversary dates. The June Camp will focus on summer, getting along with friends and ways to remember while also moving on in the grieving process.

For more information and resources about grief and children check outhellogrief.org ordougy.org/.

What You Need to Know About Self-Injury

Depressed teen

By Mark Luzader, LCSW, Courier & Press, Jan. 5, 2016 – Self-Injury, or “non-suicidal self-injury” (NSSI), is a behavior that has gained some increased awareness in recent years. Despite increased awareness, many still don’t know much about NSSI.

So what is NSSI? According to the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) Volume 5,” a person engaging in NSSI has engaged in at least five days of self-injury over the past year, with the anticipation that the injury will result in some bodily harm without suicidal intent. The acts are not socially acceptable and cause significant distress.

Behavior can include, but is not limited to, cutting, burning, scratching, punching hard objects, pulling hair or carving into the skin (usually in a superficial manner).

Why do children engage in self-harm? There is no definitive answer. Most children who engage in NSSI are ages 12-24. Of the adults who self-harm, nearly all started in their early adolescent years. There is a social factor; many children who experiment with self-harm have a friend or relative who has engaged in the behavior.

Similar to any modeled behavior, a child may try the behavior and continue, or they may not like the behavior and discontinue. If the child continues to self-harm, the behavior can develop into an addiction.

There are several risk factors that go along with self-harm. Being female is certainly No. 1. Most studies agree that females are much more likely than males to engage in self-harm as a way of coping.

Other risk factors include:

Age — Early teens and young adults are most frequent self-harmers

Peers — Friends or siblings who self-harm

Life issues — Those who were neglected, abused or have experienced other traumatic events (i.e. death); are in an unstable family environment or who may be questioning their personal identity or sexuality

Coping skills — Children who are impulsive, explosive, highly self-critical or poor problem-solvers

Mood — NSSI is commonly linked to depression and anxiety

Certain situations within families can lead to NSSI as well:

Parental difficulties dealing with normal human emotions or expressed needs (too distant, too reactive or too close)

Pressure for perfectionism or to “be strong”

Poor communication/problem-solving

Sexual, physical or emotional abuse

So what can parents do to reduce risk factors?

1. As children get older and friends become more of a priority, maintain good, open communication.

2. Spend time together doing things your child chooses. If you have a large family, taking one-on-one time with each child as they get older is critical. Even if it’s not every day or every week, “check-in time” is important.

3. Get to know your child’s friends. The stereotype of the “emo” or “goth” kid who cuts themselves is just that — a stereotype. Most children who engage in NSSI are middle to upper-middle class, clean-cut kids who know how to present well.

4. Be on the lookout for unseasonable dress. Wearing long sleeves and pants when the weather is hot is often something more than, “I’m cold.”

If you suspect your child is engaged in NSSI, finding a professional therapist is absolutely essential. Seeing one that specializes in self-harm is always the best course.

In therapy, your child will develop better ways of coping with problems before they become unmanageable. Family therapy will also be a part of this process so that change can be reinforced at home. Having a counselor or Youth First Social Worker to talk to for support at school is crucial too.