Family Dinner Time is Important

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By Davi Stein-Kiley, Courier & Press, Sept. 27, 2016 –

The beginning of the new school years marks the opportunity to set new goals for your family.

As a counselor, I have often encouraged parents to assess the needs of each young person in the family and help create environments and experiences that will help that child grow throughout that year. I’ve also encouraged parents to take stock of each season and look for new ideas that will build family together time, supporting family harmony.

There is value in reflecting and planning. Unfortunately, these steps often get overtaken by our hijacked family schedules due to heavy involvement in activities. I would encourage you to consider family experiences with fresh eyes.

If there was just one thing you could do to help your kids, would you do it? Truthfully, there is one important lifestyle habit that could be integrated every day to the benefit of everyone in the family, and it is easily within our grasp.

The answer is simple: Have family dinner time at least five times a week. Safeguard the time. Maintain it as a divine appointment.

During the last 22 years, thousands of American teens have been surveyed through the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA Columbia). The results are very compelling and readily overlooked by our manic interest in helping kids get ahead in whatever endeavor they undertake.

But consider these outcomes:Teens who have dinner three times a week or less with their families as compared with peers who have dinner five times or more with their families are:

  • Nearly three times likelier to say it is OK for a teen their age to use marijuana.
  • 3.5 times likelier to say it’s OK for teens their age to get drunk.

Favorable attitudes toward drug and alcohol use are a key risk factor for teens. Family meal time diminishes the risk greatly.

CASA Columbia reports that teens that have family dinners have stronger relationships with their parents and these relationships lead to greater trust. Put simply, teens that have high-quality relationships with mom and dad are less likely to use drugs, drink or smoke.

But what about mental health concerns? The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that young people who engage in family meals have better socialization, and meal time enhances their mental health. As young people experience better relationships, their stress is diminished.

Another study in JAMA reported that students who have regular family mealtimes bounce back better from the impact of cyberbullying.

Young children also build vocabulary and ability to discuss topics when the family meal is present.  Anne Fishel, the co-founder of the Family Dinner Project at Harvard, notes that young children learn as many as 1000 uncommon words at meal time compared to 143 from parents reading story books aloud.

The Journal of Marriage and Family additionally reports that children who spend more time in family meals (and getting adequate sleep) have better results academically.

Family mealtimes have vast importance in the life of our kids. Get started today with some food, fun and conversations that will have lasting impact.

Sept. 26 is National Eat Dinner with your Family Day, and Youth First, Inc. is proud to celebrate this event with our community.

For more information about family dinners see thefamilydinnerproject.org.

Preventing Suicide Takes Community’s Commitment

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By Davi Stein-Kiley, Courier & Press, Sept. 20, 2016 –

Suicide is a painful event in the life of a family, school  and  community.  It creates enormous heaviness in our hearts.

When emotions run high, we find safe harbor in the company of friends, caregivers and others who can provide support or who know what it’s like to walk in these shoes. Unfortunately, many have been touched by this loss.

According to one study, as many as 64 percent of the participants knew someone who had attempted suicide and 40 percent knew someone who died by suicide.  Almost 20 percent described themselves as a survivor of suicide.  Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among persons aged 15-24.

There are many steps in the walk through the grieving process: shock, anger, grief, sadness and pain. Death by suicide is complicated by feelings of guilt, shame  and trauma.  Lingering questions about the reason can leave difficult-to-heal wounds.

In the time following a loss, it is important to reach out and care for those who are close to the survivors.  It’s also important to prevent future suicides.

The American Federation for Suicide Prevention lists a number of signs and symptoms for us to observe and watch.  If friends, relatives, neighbors or acquaintances have these risk factors it is important to access care right away.

Listen to what they are saying.  If a person talks about any of these, they are at risk:

  • Being a burden to others
  • Feeling trapped
  • Experiencing unbearable pain
  • Having no reason to live
  • Killing themselves

Observe actions and behavior.  If a person engages in specific behaviors like these they are at risk:

  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means
  • Acting recklessly
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Aggression

Notice the mood.  People considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:

  • Depression
  • Loss of interest
  • Rage
  • Irritability
  • Humiliation
  • Anxiety

Sometimes people have other experiences in life that create greater risk for taking his/her own life.  These include personal health and well-being as well as environmental experiences.

  • Mental health conditions:
    • Depression
    • Bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder
    • Schizophrenia
    • Borderline or antisocial personality disorder
    • Conduct disorder
    • Psychotic disorders or psychotic symptoms in the context of any disorder
    • Anxiety disorders
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Serious or chronic health condition or pain
  • Stressful life events – death, divorce or job loss
  • Prolonged stress factors — may include harassment, bullying, relationship problems or unemployment
  • Access to lethal means including firearms and drugs
  • Exposure to another person’s suicide or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Family history of suicide

A key piece of prevention is to help people talk it out. We once believed sharing information about suicide could cause someone to be suicidal.  This is a myth. In reality, talking provides an outlet for people in distress and reinforces the idea that it is good to talk with others rather than act on destructive feelings.

Young people may also believe it’s a betrayal to tell an adult about a friend who is contemplating suicide.  The truth is that not telling is an even greater disloyalty.  It’s important to help young people see the bigger picture and trust the adults around them to respond.

Our greatest asset in the fight against suicide is each other.  As a community, we have the ability to join together and learn how to stop suicide.  It is the most preventable form of death in our nation.

Southwestern Indiana has many resources we can access.

1. For immediate assistance call:

  • Southwestern Healthcare Suicide Hotline – 812-422-1100
  • Deaconess Crosspointe – 812-476-7200 or 800-947-6789
  • Brentwood Meadows – 812-858-7200
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 800-473-TALK (8255)
  • Crisis Text Line- Text “GO” to 741741- Response by trained volunteers, not professional

2.  To access Youth First Social Workers in your school see youthfirstinc.org.

3. Other resources include:

  • SOS support groups: Care for Survivors of Suicide (SOS) offered at 6:30 p,m. the first and third Mondays of each month at Methodist Temple, 2109 Lincoln Ave.
  • Support groups through Mental Health America — go to mhavanderburgh.org/support-groups.html

4. Additional training is available in our community for those interested:

  •  Youth Mental Health First Aid– A one day workshop designed for participants to learn how to recognize the differences between normal youth development and emerging mental health concerns. Participants learn an action plan to support youth in both crisis and non-crisis situations.
  • Question Persuade Refer (QPR) offered for Teens and Adults in our community – a one-hour training designed to help people recognize signs and symptoms of suicide and support a friend or family member who may be having suicidal thinking.
  • ASIST- Applied Suicide Skills Training – A two-day workshop provided to help participants learn how to talk with a person who might be suicidal.

The Southwestern Indiana Suicide Prevention Coalition is a group of dedicated agencies and individuals whose goal is to look for ways to reduce suicide in our region. The HOPE Team (Helping Other People Every day) is a collective outreach of survivors of suicide and professionals who provide early crisis response to families and friends who have experienced the loss of suicide. For more information about the Southwestern Indiana Suicide Prevention Coalition and the HOPE team, contact Janie Chappell at 812-471-4521.

Encourage Good Study Habits

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By Valorie Dassel, LCSW, Courier & Press, Sept. 6, 2016 –

With school back in session, many families are struggling to transition into a new routine. This is the perfect time to evaluate your child’s strengths and build on them for maximum academic success.

If your child feels ownership in the plan, they are much more likely to do well. Allow your child to help develop their academic plan while you remain firm on the most important aspects. Below are some strategies that many families find helpful.

1. Designate study time. Along with your student, decide on an appropriate amount of time to devote to studying outside of school. Students who require medication to stay focused will likely benefit from studying during the hours right after school. You may also have an unmedicated child who has an abundant amount of energy and needs to have some down time before they focus on homework.  Spending at least an hour on studies each night will help foster good study skills down the road.

2. Have a set day of the week you will check online grades together. If your student struggles to turn in assignments on time, ask them what they feel appropriate consequences should be for late work. As parents you can ultimately decide on more strict consequences if necessary. Consequences that many families find effective are taking the phone/iPod away for a day for each missing assignment, grounding for the following weekend, taking away video game time, or giving a chore for each missing assignment. Be creative! You know what motivates your child. Be careful to give appropriate time for groundings. If the punishment is too long, you risk your child giving up. Consequences should be set together ahead of time and written out so kids know what to expect and parents respond with rational thinking.

3. Encourage consistent use of an agenda book.  For better organization and less stress, encourage kids to develop the habit of writing assignments down when given and reviewing the homework written down before leaving school.

4. Encourage your child to communicate with teachers. If kids are struggling in a particular class, conversations with the teacher about what to study can prove very helpful.

5. Encourage your child to review notes and chapters every evening if they do not use all of their study time for homework. This will reinforce what has been taught and give them a jump on preparing for tests.

6. Look for improvement and brag on good grades. Positive feedback motivates kids. Help them set a small goal for improvement each week.

If the family can establish written study guidelines and have them handy for reference, the parent- child relationship should be less stressful. Many arguments are centered on grades. The key is remaining consistent and staying calm while enforcing guidelines. These steps should give your child more academic success, increased self-esteem and better self-discipline, leading to happier and healthier children and families.