* Supporting and Facilitating Stress Management in Children & Teens *

By Vicki Kirkman, LCSW, LCAC – February 21, 2017 – Courier & Press –

Stress is a natural part of life and something everyone experiences.  It can be positive or negative and affect your daily life greatly if not managed appropriately.

In some situations, stress can motivate us to do better or work toward hard-to-reach goals.  Other circumstances can leave someone feeling overwhelmed, anxious and out of control.

Children and teens are affected by stress in several ways.  Parents need to remember that all children respond to situations differently.  What causes stress for one child or teen might not affect another one.

However, some stressors are common for children and teens.  These stressors include pressure at school, being involved in too many after-school activities, or conflict with friends and family.

Other big and complicated issues like divorce, death of a loved one, drug use, and financial problems at home contribute to stress.  Medical illnesses and world events like natural disasters or war can also be sources of stress.

It’s important for parents to recognize signs of stress in their children and help them manage it in a healthy manner.  Young children who are stressed out may complain of stomach aches, headaches or say they don’t feel well.  At school, they may visit the school nurse frequently or try to avoid attending school.  They may also be more tearful than normal, have trouble sleeping, wet the bed or not eat as much at meals.  Some children experience nightmares or have acting-out behavior such as outbursts and tantrums.

Teenagers can experience many physical reactions to stress.  Digestive problems and headaches, tense muscles, racing heart, frequent colds and feeling fatigued are all signs of stress.  Teens might also feel overly emotional, irritable, depressed and experience mood swings.

Mentally, teens with stress overload may feel forgetful, lack concentration and have a negative attitude.  Both children and teens often withdraw from activities they enjoy and isolate themselves from friends if they experience too much stress.

Parents can play a key role in helping their children and teens manage stress.  Most importantly, parents can model good coping skills and stress management in their own lives.  If children see their parents deal with stress in a healthy and positive manner, they are more likely to apply that to their own life.

Other ways parents can help their children are listed below.

  • Teach your kids how to identify their body’s cues for stress overload.  Pay attention to headaches, upset stomach, tearfulness or tense muscles.
  • Limit extra-curricular activities. Too many evenings participating in sports, extra lessons or just running errands can cause kids and teens to become tired and pressed for time to do homework or just relax.
  • Prepare ahead of time to avoid extra hassles. Lay out the next day’s clothes, pack lunches, put homework and bags in an easy place to grab, etc.
  • Monitor and limit exposure to television, social media and cell phone use. Phones should be put away at night so kids can sleep and not be tempted to text friends or surf the internet.
  • Encourage relaxation and leisurely activities with friends and family.
  • Get plenty of rest and eat a healthy diet.
  • Teach communication skills like problem-solving, good decision making and sharing feelings and thoughts with others.
  • Recognize when stress is too big of an issue to tackle alone. Don’t hesitate to speak to a counselor, social worker or doctor for extra support and help.

Stress management is crucial in life and best handled with the guidance of parents and supportive adults. By helping children and teens manage stress, they can be better prepared for life’s challenges.

* Loving Kids With Food Allergies *

By Nicky Devonshire, LCSW, Courier & Press, Feb. 14, 2017 –

Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate those we love.  If you are a parent like me, however, romantic dinners have been replaced with frantic nights of creating the perfect Valentine’s treats for your children and their classmates.

Sweet treats make for an extra special day for most kids.  For children with food allergies, however, this day can lead to anxiety and fear.

As a parent of a child with food allergies, I understand how these celebrations can lead to additional worries and concerns.  With the support of others, I can plan ahead to keep my child safe, which helps alleviate some of the anxiety my child may be feeling.

Currently, one out of 13 children has a food allergy.  Some studies have shown that children with food allergies are more likely to experience anxiety when separated from their parents.

You may be a grandparent, teacher, coach or friend of a child with a food allergy.  You can help relieve some of the anxiety by making children with food allergies feel safer in their environment.  Here are some helpful hints:

Learn to read ingredient labels or save labels for the parent to read.

Many foods may not contain the actual allergen as an ingredient but could be manufactured in close proximity to other foods that do contain the allergen.  As a food allergy parent, I read every label.  I’m the lady standing in the grocery aisle blocking your way because I’m reading all 89 ingredients in the crackers that I have bought 100 times before.  Yes, I read it every time because ingredients change.

Know the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, repetitive coughing, wheezing, nasal congestion, itching, swelling, hives and tingling of the mouth and throat.  Be aware that sometimes only one or two symptoms will occur.

Learn how to use epinephrine injections.

If a child has an allergic reaction, it is important to act quickly.  Epinephrine is a medication that can help reverse symptoms and possibly save a life.  The most common injection is the EpiPen.  Learn how to use the EpiPen before a reaction occurs.  A video of instructions can be found on epipen.com. Directions can also be found on the label.  After you inject, call 911 and get immediate medical attention.

Understand that an allergic reaction can be induced by a very small amount.

According to “The Peanut Allergy Answer Book” by Michael C. Young, an individual could have a reaction to 1 mg, or 1/1000 of a gram.  The average peanut weighs 500 to 800 mg.  This makes my heart race a little.  Let’s face it, kids bite their nails, pick their noses, and well, eat.  So if my kiddo happens to put his ham and cheese down where your kiddo had his PB&J, the results can be scary.  This is why parents often request that classrooms be free of food or certain allergens.

Go the extra mile.

I’ll use this category to give some examples of incredible people who “go the extra mile.”  My friend thoroughly cleaned her car (just to be safe) before driving my toddler to the movies.  A teacher stopped her first grade class to call the 1-800 number on the box of cookies so she could assure my son they were safe for him. We have friends who still invite us over for dinner even though we can be complicated to feed.  I’m thankful for the people who allow me to educate them on food allergies and listen sympathetically to my concerns.

When a food-allergic child knows they are in the care of someone who understands their allergy and takes extra time to make them feel safe, they will likely feel less anxious.  These individuals and their efforts do not go unnoticed. On this Valentine’s Day, I would like to thank them for their continuous understanding, kindness and love!

* Encourage Youth to Participate in IPRC Survey – A Resource for Our Community *

By Davi Stein-Kiley, Courier & Press, Jan. 31, 2017 –

The domains of influence on our youth are many – school, community, friends, family, peers, and of course individual perspectives, differences and choice.

Perhaps you are already aware that in the 2014 Indiana Youth Survey conducted by the Indiana Prevention Resource Center, Southwestern Indiana students reported the following:

  • 25.8% of 12th graders reported binge drinking within the last month
  • 11.3% of 10th graders reported smoking cigarettes within the last month
  • 5.8% of 12th graders reported using prescription drugs within the last month
  • 21.5% of 8th graders reported feeling sad or hopeless within the last year
  • 15.4% of 8th graders reported considering suicide within the last year
  • 11.4% of 8th graders reported that had planned suicide within the last year

To view complete results go to youthfirstinc.org.

Why are these results so important to track?

Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs are serious threats to the health, safety, and futures of our youth, families, and communities. Alcohol and other drug use are also the leading causes of crime among youth and major risk factors for teenage suicide and teenage pregnancy.

Study after study shows alcohol and other drug use interferes with school and life success. Students who are regular users are less likely to do well in school and less likely to graduate.

Youth who start using alcohol before the age of 15 are five times more likely to have alcohol dependency problems as adults than someone who begins drinking at the legal age of 21. Studies also show alcohol and other drug abuse is harmful to brain development in teens. The brain is not fully developed until age 24, so preventing, reducing, and delaying drug use is essential in helping our young people reach their full potential.

The Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC) was established in 1987 to help Indiana based alcohol, tobacco and other drug (ATOD) prevention providers enhance services in their respective communities.

A visit to the IPRC website http://www.drugs.indiana.edu/ helps Hoosiers recognize the amount of data that is collected to assist professionals in examining the course of potentially addictive behaviours and how they impact health outcomes in Indiana. There are also survey questions about mental health.

IPRC developed the Youth Survey in 1991, and schools have the opportunity to use the survey to gain greater detail about the lives, beliefs and perceptions of our young people. Participating in the survey provides everyone with working knowledge of risk factors that influence the use of drugs and alcohol as well as mental health concerns.

Among the risk factors measured are the perception of drug availability, community norms/favourable attitudes toward drug use, lack of commitment to school, rebelliousness, peer and problem behaviour, early initiation into problem behaviours, family management and conflict, friends who engage in problem behaviours, and school rewards for prosocial involvement.

According to the U.S. Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (2013) it is important to look for clusters of risk and protective factors that have a cumulative effect on the overall outcomes for a community and for our state.

Youth First has supported looking at the data in Southwestern Indiana to gain perspective on our regional needs for service and intervention.  Participation in the survey by 8th, 10th and 12th graders helps everyone have a better sense of how to help young people secure a healthier future.

Knowing the risk factors is also a way of understanding our weaknesses and building on strengths. We can assess and measure, inform and educate, plan, monitor and evaluate our health risks.

The survey will occur again this spring in area schools. Please encourage your teen to take part, and watch for Youth First’s report of outcomes that will help guide our work in assisting youth and families in our community.

* Believe It or Not, Birth Order Does Matter *

By Diane Braun, Courier & Press, January 24, 2017 –

My husband and I have three children who are now all adults: two sons born 2 ½ years apart and a daughter born three years later.

As our children were growing up, I noticed our sons were very different even though they have the same parents and grew up in the same house.

It was fascinating to me that our oldest son was always the thinker — looking at every situation from all angles before making a decision or answering a question.  My mother said he was “born old,” demonstrating more patience and maturity than others his age.

My second son has always been impulsive and never hesitated to try a new sport or activity.  He was described by his older brother as the true example of the Nike logo “Just Do It.”  A gifted athlete, he could step into any sport and do well. We had our share of trips to the emergency room, however, when his impulses outweighed caution.

According to Meri Wallace, author of Birth Order Blues, “Some of it has to do with the way the parent relates to the child in his spot, and some of it actually happens because of the spot itself.  Each spot has unique challenges,” she explains.

Simply by virtue of being a couple’s first child, a firstborn will naturally be a sort of experiment for the new parents.  Going “by the book,” new parents will be extremely attentive to the firstborn, strict with rules and overly cautious about the little things.  This in turn may cause the child to become a perfectionist, always striving to please the parents.

Firstborns tend to be reliable, conscientious, structured, cautious, controlling and achievers.  Firstborns are diligent and want to be the best at everything they do.

In contrast, if the couple has a second child, they might raise the second born with less stringency due to their experiences with the firstborn.  They might also be less attentive to the second since there’s another child competing for attention, and they probably will be less inclined to call the doctor’s office for every little scratch and bruise.

In our family, my youngest son was also the middle child.  Middle children tend to be people-pleasers and peacemakers, thriving on friendships and having a large social circle.  Their daring nature is often a ploy for getting attention and can be described as rebelliousness.

Even more important than birth order is creating an environment that is positive, safe, healthy and stimulating.  Though peers, siblings, genes and circumstances all play into how a child’s temperament develops, Wallace states that “parents still are the major influencing factors because, truthfully, the first year of life is the bonding with the primary caretaker that impacts upon self-confidence, trust and the ability to interact with another person.”

Birth order, along with other factors, does play a role in the traits of each child. Focus on each child’s personality and adapt your expectations to their individuality to produce confident, productive people.