* Recharge Your Brain with Downtime *

By Deena Bodine, LCSW, Courier & Press, January 17, 2017 –

As a Youth First Social Worker, I’m fortunate each year to facilitate the Reconnecting Youth program with a small group of high school students.  This year, the group selected some “pay it forward” activities to complete.

One of the activities involved writing encouraging messages on post-it notes that were then placed anonymously on student lockers.  One of the students penned, “Think smarter, not harder” as her words of encouragement.  Her message got me thinking.

Our kids are often faced with high expectations at school, fewer opportunities to unwind through recess and the arts and a busy extracurricular and social calendar.  The same can be said about our adult calendars.

This non-stop agenda doesn’t allow for much downtime.  Downtime allows our brains the opportunity to refresh, recharge and make sense of what we have recently learned or experienced.

Downtime can be characterized in three forms:

Good, quality sleep.  There is a great deal of information about the importance of sleep.  I have witnessed the effects of inadequate or interrupted sleep firsthand in myself and my children.  I’m guilty of sacrificing sleep for the sake of more urgent tasks. It’s important to remember the important role of sleep and its impact on our health and brain function.

Idleness or time spent awake doing nothing.  Examples of this include lying awake at night before falling asleep or meditation.  Meditation allows us to refresh our ability to concentrate and to attend to tasks more efficiently.

Time spent on mundane tasks.  Mundane tasks are also essential for learning.  These tasks, such as feeding a pet, putting toys away or cleaning a room give learners a much needed break from sustained brain activity.

Even closing your eyes, taking one deep breath, and exhaling can help refresh the brain and takes practically no time.  Carving out some time at the end of the day or the end of the week to engage in meditation or mindfulness is good practice.

Other great opportunities for downtime include vacations and holiday breaks.  Unintentionally, our family created a great deal of down time over winter break.  Illness hampered our travel plans, and we had two weeks free of athletic practices and games.

I now recognize just how re-energizing “doing nothing” was for our spirits.  I think I’ll make more time for just that.

In the wise words of a high schooler, we need to “think smarter, not harder” and allow our brains more downtime.  Fitting downtime into busy schedules is easier said than done, but it is well worth the effort.

* Bullying Prevention – Climate Change From the Inside Out *

By Emily Sommers, Courier & Press, Jan. 10, 2017 –

At the beginning of a new school year, bullying prevention initiatives kick off to help students get the year off to a good start.

Bullying is defined as repeated, harmful behavior against someone. Schools have different ways of communicating the message of “no tolerance” for bullying and the school being a “bully-free zone.” This may include a guest speaker at a large school presentation or in-class/small group presentations involving the school counselor, home school advisor or Youth First school social worker.

As a Youth First social worker, I have been a part of both types of presentations as we seek to educate and refresh students on having a safe school. The goal is for students to take away information about the different types of bullying — physical, verbal  and relational.

We also discuss cyberbullying with our middle and high school students, as the use of technology and social media sites is on the rise and starting at an earlier age. According to cyberbullying.org, cyberbullying is “when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.”

We discuss why bullying occurs and how it feels. We want students to know what is really behind the mask of a bully — a hurting person who is trying to gain power in a negative and hurtful way through their actions. We do this to foster compassion.

In the words of Lisa Seif, local private outpatient therapist and community advocate for our youth, bullies are “hurting people who hurt other people with their words and actions.” Bullies are experiencing their own inner conflict, and that is what is referred to as “behind the mask.”

We don’t typically have to spend a lot of time discussing how it feels to be bullied. A show of hands almost always reveals students present have either experienced bullying or witnessed it happening to someone else. Common reactions include fear, embarrassment, sadness, and anger.

 We talk about the “bystander,” who sits back and watches, versus the “upstander,” who takes appropriate action against what is happening to them or a fellow student.  We suggest ways students can take a stand, including confident action/attitude, nonthreatening communication, feelings statements, and simply walking away and not engaging.

Conclusion of bullying prevention presentations will typically include every school having a united front or a no-tolerance zone for bullying.

How can this be achieved? It is important to continue the conversation with students. Give them resources and talk about safe people inside and outside the school including parents, principals, vice-principals, teachers, counselors, home school advisors, Youth First school social workers, and friends who are making good decisions.

Youth and students are listening! They demonstrate insight every time we have this necessary conversation with them.

Parents, please help keep this conversation going throughout the school year.  Your child may need a refresher now that the year is half over. We need your help, as bullying is not isolated to the school community and often takes place outside of school.

Most importantly, bullying prevention is about being a friend to yourself first and establishing the necessary climate change “inside” so it transmits “outside” in the home, school, community  and in friendships and relationships. That means maintaining a healthy balance with the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual parts of ourselves.

* Getting Your New Year Off to a Great Start *

By Whitney Eaton, LCSW, Courier & Press, Jan. 3, 2017 –

As the New Year arrives, I often find myself in a time of reflection. It’s the time of year for beginnings and endings, looking forward and back.

What were my greatest achievements? What were some of my biggest challenges? How did I handle those challenges? What did I learn?

Looking back can help me plan what I want to accomplish going forward. What do I want to continue? What do I want to try? What should I avoid? Contemplating these things helps me with the ritual of setting a New Year’s resolution.

Setting a New Year’s resolution is usually an attempt at self-improvement. However, many New Year’s resolutions are hard to maintain and end in failure. It is really difficult to turn our good intentions into long-term success.

If you find yourself having trouble setting and maintaining your resolutions, here are some steps to help:

Try a “New You” challenge. Think of a different habit you could track each month. At the end of the year you will have twelve new habits. For example, in January you could resolve to eat more vegetables. In February you could get more organized by cleaning out closets.

Write your resolution down and post it somewhere that is often visible to you.  This will serve as a reminder of your goal and help you stay on track.  Also, writing down your goals makes it more likely for you to achieve them.

Make a plan. Sit down and write up a step-by-step plan to achieve your goal. Write down baby steps you can take each month.

Write down the barriers to maintaining your resolution. Next, find solutions to your barriers. If your resolution is to save more and have an emergency fund, a barrier might be that all of your paycheck goes to pay bills. A solution could be to sell some of the old toys your children are not playing with anymore to establish the emergency fund.

Have an accountability partner. Share your resolution with someone who will help you keep it. This could be a spouse, parent, co-worker or friend, someone who is going to remind you kindly that you don’t really need that $7.00 coffee.

Celebrate success. If you have achieved some of the small steps toward reaching your larger goal, celebrate!

Having trouble thinking of a resolution?  Use some of these prompts to find yours:

I’m going to do better at…
A new book I want to read is…
A bad habit I would like to break is…
A place I would like to visit is…
A good deed I would like to do is…
Something I want to do differently is…

Breaking habits or trying to form new ones can be difficult.  Practicing a few of these steps can help you stay on track with your goals and get the New Year off to a great start!

* Teaching Tolerance to Children is Vital *

By Jordan Beach, MSW, Courier & Press, December 27, 2016 –

Now, more than ever, we live in a world where global interaction is normal, and even expected, in many fields of work. This trend will continue to grow, so it is important to raise children to be accepting and tolerant of cultures and norms different than their own.

Children are taught about other cultures in school, but as far as molding a child into a tolerant human being, most of the responsibility falls on the parents or caregivers.

The primary way for a parent to teach this is by example. Your children are going to model your behavior. If you show respect for people of all races, genders and religions, your child will learn to do that too.

It is very difficult to teach your child to respect others if you are not doing it yourself. The way you speak to (and about) a person from another culture does not go unnoticed by your child. Make sure you always treat others with respect and dignity so your children learn to do the same.

Don’t be afraid to talk about differences with your children. At times it seems as though people get embarrassed when their children point out different physical characteristics, races or ethnicities. The truth is, there are a lot of races, cultures and ethnicities in the world. Your child is simply learning through observation and pointing this out.

It is a positive thing to have conversations with your child about these differences and encourage them to be accepting of everyone — no matter what they look like. Diversity makes our world a great place, and introducing this to your child will help them become a better-rounded individual.

Helping your child build their own confidence is also a tremendous help. People who are comfortable in their own skin and confident about their own lives are more likely to be tolerant of the lives others choose to live.

 This is true of children too. If you celebrate your child’s uniqueness and happiness, they will radiate joy to those around them. They will be less consumed with the differences of others because they are comfortable being themselves.

Allow your child to have experiences in diverse settings. Sign them up for camps or clubs that will support your goal of raising a tolerant child. When possible, travel together. Seeing different ways people live will help your child be more aware that everyone’s lives don’t look like theirs.

Children grow up so fast. As parents, it is our job to prepare them for their futures to the best of our abilities. Raising your child to be tolerant of others is a huge step in raising a successful child.

Besides preparing them for success in an ever-changing global economy, having this strength will allow your child to build positive relationships throughout life.

* Raising Your Child with Good Coping Skills *

mother-and-daughter

Our innocent children are born not knowing how stressful and judgmental the world can be. As they grow, they often look to us for guidance on how to react to certain people and situations.

How do you personally cope when you are feeling angry, overwhelmed or sad? Your reactions are cues tucked away in the deepest recesses of your child’s brain, and they retrieve this information to determine how to treat people and cope with certain situations. They observe our behavior and in turn future presidents, teachers, fathers, mothers, mentors (and bullies) are created.

It is no secret that our kids make us angry from time to time. We are human. We all have our triggers and have learned to react in a certain way to each one.

But it might be time to take stock of how you react to your triggers. What are we teaching them when we shame our kids by yelling, hitting or calling them names?

Shameful behavior leads to low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. The child then may begin acting out in ways that are unhealthy — drinking alcohol, experimenting with drugs, fighting or engaging in self-harm.

It is every parent’s goal to raise their child to be an upstanding member of the community. As parents, however, we don’t always realize how our words or actions come across during a heated argument.

If you are seeing the same bad behavior in your child over and over again, then it is time to realize what you are doing is not working.

One of the skills I teach students in my Coping and Skills training group is STEPS. It is an acronym that stands for Stop, Think, Evaluate, Perform and Self-Praise. Utilizing STEPS is a quick and easy when used consistently.

For example, I tell my son to take out the trash, and he responds, “Just a minute.” But it never gets taken out. I get angry. I have learned that when he says, “Just a minute,” it means the trash is not going to be taken out. So I yell at him, “Not just a minute; right now!” We end up yelling at each other until he goes into his room and slams the door. We stay mad at one another for the rest of the night.

STOP. The trigger in this situation is when the son responds, “Just a minute.”

THINK. How can you respond in a way that will set a good example for your child and encourage them to do what you ask?

EVALUATE each option. Are your choices helping mold your child to make good decisions in the future and to treat others with respect?

PERFORM the option you have decided to use.

SELF-PRAISE. Praise yourself for taking the opportunity to evaluate how you will respond to your child appropriately.

The goal is to use STEPS without yelling or saying hurtful things to your child. This will help manage your mood so you can be a positive role model for your child. Teach your child how to use STEPS so they can choose more appropriate ways of handling stressful situations.