* Taking Care of Child’s Physical, Emotional Needs is Essential

By Katherine Baker, LCSW, Courier & Press, Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017 –

Unfortunately, all too often we hear stories in the media about children and teens being neglected.  Neglect can take many forms, including lack of housing, food  and medical care, failure to teach basic personal care, and withholding love and affection.  In neglect situations, the child’s basic needs are not being met by the parent.

For many families there seems to be a “disconnect” between meeting a child’s needs and strengthening the bonds of love, affection, care and support.  Parents can neglect their children for multiple reasons – loss of a job causing financial strain, loss of public utilities, depression, parent inattention due to involvement with a love interest, addiction to cell phones, or abuse of alcohol and other substances.

 As a school social worker, I see the effects of neglect every day.  In this writer’s opinion, emotional neglect may do the most damage.

Neglect can leave a permanent scar on a child’s self-esteem and well-being.  Self-esteem is defined as confidence in one’s own worth or abilities and tends to fluctuate depending on what is going on in your life.

Children that are left alone, unsupervised, and don’t have regular one-on-one time with a parent frequently have unmet emotional needs.  They are not taught the importance of values, morals, and respect for self and others.

Spending quality time with your children should be a priority.  However, many children and teens do not get this much-needed attention from parents.  They are alone, unsupervised, and left to their own defenses.

On the other hand, children that have actively involved parents tend to have better self-esteem, make better decisions, are better able to respond to the stress of day-to-day living, and are able to verbalize their needs in a healthy manner.  The time you spend with your children in elementary school, middle school and high school will promote healthy and responsible relationships.

A big part of parenting is being the parent and not your child’s friend.  In addition to spending quality time with children, parents should make rules and enforce them, give advice, show love, care, and respect, role model positive and encouraging behaviors and discipline when needed.  If a parent is absent these skills are lost, as the child must meet his own needs and function as a mini-adult rather than a child.

Some children who are emotionally neglected become angry and sullen. Others become depressed, develop unhealthy dating relationships, demonstrate poor academic performance, and may show little respect for others or themselves. Showing your child you love them even when their behavior is troubling can go a long way toward building a healthy relationship.

If you are a parent, guardian, or caregiver, make time in your busy schedule – or better yet – eliminate some of the commitments you have and start nurturing and loving your children.  Put down the cell phone and talk to your kids.  Teach your children how to communicate face-to-face versus the push of a button.  Give your children the love and attention we all need and make sure their basic needs are met.  Their future – and their ability to relate to others in our world – depends on it.

* Red Ribbon Week Activities Coming to Local Schools

By Katie Omohundro, LCSW, and Jenna Bowman, Courier & Press, October 24, 2017 –

Every fall communities and schools around the country honor a week known as Red Ribbon Week, sponsored by the National Family Partnership.

Red Ribbon Week began in 1985 to raise awareness of drug abuse and drug-related violence.  Although Red Ribbon Week is now a popular time for theme days and assemblies in schools, it started due to a tragic event.

Enrique “Kiki” Camarena joined the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) because he wanted to make a positive impact in the fight against drug abuse.  Unfortunately, in 1985 Agent Camarena was taken and brutally murdered by drug traffickers.

In response to Agent Camarena’s death, people in his community began to wear red ribbons to honor his memory.  Because of anger and concern about what drug involvement was doing to their community, groups gathered to raise awareness, and from these groups Red Ribbon Week was born.

Not only does Red Ribbon Week honor the memory of Agent Kiki Camarena, it continues the battle against illegal drugs and helps educate communities about the associated dangers.

Red Ribbon Week is the oldest and largest drug prevention and awareness program in the United States.  Raising awareness on this topic is increasingly important, because studies now show that 10.6 percent of youths 12-17 years old are currently using some form of illicit drugs.

This year Red Ribbon Week will be celebrated from October 23-31.  The theme for this year is “Your future is key, so stay drug free.”  The theme encourages youths to think about where they want to be in life and how staying drug free will help achieve their goals.

The purpose of the week is to educate and get the conversation started on how to say no to drugs.  Participating in Red Ribbon Week activities provides the opportunity for students to join together and take a stand against illegal substances.

A dedicated group of students at Evansville’s Thompkins Middle School has worked hard to plan a great Red Ribbon Week.  They will be sharing statistics during the morning announcements to educate their schoolmates on the dangers of drug abuse.  This group helped find the information and statistics for this article. They did an amazing job planning the week!

Thompkins Middle School will look slightly different during this week because the students will be dressing up for theme days to actively demonstrate that they are saying no to drugs.  Thompkins will kick off the week with a “We are Head- to-Toe Drug Free” theme.  Later in the week, students will be dressing up in Hawaiian-themed clothing for “Lei off Drugs” day!

Thompkins Middle School will not be the only school getting into the spirit for Red Ribbon Week, so be on the lookout for activities at a school near you!

* The Challenges of Parenting Tweens

By Heather Miller, LCSW, Courier & Press, Oct. 17, 2017 –

“Why did Jack score two goals and I didn’t score any?”  “I’m terrible at soccer.  I should just quit.”  “Everyone else in my class knows how to do this math problem but me.  I’m awful at it.”  “You just don’t understand.”

And so it begins… I have a tween.  With this new label comes a noticeable change in my once easy-going, happy, confident child.  New emotions have set in as well as constant comparisons between my tween and classmates, teammates, and friends.

Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines a tween as a boy or girl who is 11 or 12 years old.  The tween years serve as the transitional years between being a child and becoming a teenager.

With this transition comes uncertainty as to what defines the tween.  This uncertainty manifests in various ways such as tears, angry outbursts, and more seriously, depression and anxiety.

Parents and caregivers are often caught off-guard as to how to help their tween navigate this stage of life.  Following are some tips for helping parents and tweens not only survive these years, but to use them to strengthen relationships.

 First, remember to validate and acknowledge the tween’s feelings.  Give permission for your tween to be sad or angry.

This will assist the tween in feeling comfortable with sharing various emotions with adults.  Additionally, this simple acknowledgement will help the tween trust the adult by knowing their feelings will not be laughed at or dismissed.

During this stage, tweens are attempting to define themselves.  Often this is done by ranking their abilities compared to others.  No matter what the tween is comparing, he or she will always find someone who is better than them.

Adults can help by directing praise and compliments toward character traits rather than abilities or accomplishments.  Praising a tween for getting a B in math will likely be followed by the response, “but so and so got an A.”

Focusing on the traits that resulted in the tween earning the B will assist the tween with recognizing the positive traits he or she possesses.  In this situation, stating, “You showed a lot of patience when learning the new material in math.  It would have been easy to give up, but you continually gave it your all,” will bring the focus to the traits of patience and perseverance rather than a letter grade, which serves as a ranking system.

The most important factor in helping your tween is to be available.  According to World of Psychology, it is imperative to give your tween options to communicate their feelings to you.  Allowing your child to choose whether to talk face-to-face, by text, or by calling you about emotions and situations will increase the likelihood of your tween coming to you with concerns and for support.

If you find that your tween is experiencing more serious emotional outbursts or is becoming increasingly withdrawn and isolated, additional assistance may be needed.

Contacting your school’s Youth First Social Worker with these concerns can result in early intervention.   Early intervention by a professional is beneficial to help tweens learn coping skills before the emotions become too intense and overwhelming.

* Dealing With Anxiety

By Amber Russell, Courier & Press, Oct. 3, 2017 –

Thump, Thump, Thump.  Everything feels like it’s going in slow motion.  All I can hear is my heart beating, which feels like it is going to beat right out of my chest.

I can’t breathe.  I can’t think. I’m starting to sweat.  Thoughts begin swirling in my head.  “It is so crowded.”  “Everyone is looking at me.”  “I am in the way.”  “I am taking too long.”  Tears start to well up in my eyes as I think, “Please don’t let me see anyone I know.”

Sound familiar?  This is how I feel sometimes in a crowd or even at the grocery store.  Forty million adults (18 percent of the population) in the U.S. suffer from some form of anxiety disorder.

I am very familiar with anxiety and what helps me cope.  What works for me, however, might not work for someone else experiencing similar symptoms.

There isn’t one single coping mechanism that will magically make your symptoms go away, but there are lots of things aside from medication and therapy you can try.  To get started you may want to try talking with someone you trust, focusing on things you can control, finding a place you feel comfortable and safe, and doing something physical such as going for a walk.

Here are a few other suggestions to try when symptoms surface:

1. Know what triggers your anxiety.  Is it work, school, crowded places, a specific person? Do you feel overwhelmed or something else more specific?  What are your symptoms?  They may include racing heart, sweating, trembling, nervousness, rapid breathing, constant worrying, restless sleep, inability to focus, intense fear or embarrassment.

Keep a journal to track when you have panic attacks or strong symptoms.  Note the date, time, what was going on at the time of the attack, what you were thinking about beforehand, how long the symptoms lasted, and what made them go away.  Once you have more information about symptoms and causes, the anxiety is easier to control.  I get very anxious in crowds, especially while shopping.  From tracking triggers and symptoms I know that while I obviously can’t avoid shopping altogether, I should not shop on super busy Sunday afternoons.

2. Try deep breathing.  When we are stressed, our breathing becomes shallow.  We feel like we can’t breathe, so we try to breathe fast by taking in quick short breaths through the mouth.  This can actually cause hyperventilation.  Try the 4-7-8 method instead:

  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4.
  • Hold breath for a mental count of 7.
  • Exhale completely and slowly through your mouth, making a swoosh sound to a mental count of

Repeat these three steps at least 2 times.  It may seem awkward at first, but it really helps to focus on breathing.  Slow it down, breathe in through the nose, hold the breath, and slowly exhale through your mouth.

3. Try grounding techniques, which help put your mind in the “here and now” instead of focusing on how stressed and anxious you are.  The more you focus on how stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed you are, the more stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed you become.  Try the 5-4-3-2-1 game.  Look around the room and mentally describe 5 things (poster, clock, lamp, etc).  Name 4 things you can feel (hair touching your shoulders, the breeze of a fan).  Name 3 things you can hear (the air conditioning unit, the click of a pen).  Name 2 things you can smell or smells that you like.  Name 1 good quality about yourself. Repeat with different items if needed.

If you or your child suffers from an anxiety disorder, take steps to manage it.  Start with the coping techniques mentioned above, and seek professional help if anxiety is interfering with daily life.