* The Wonderful Truth About Cats and Dogs

By Lori Powell, LCSW, Courier & Press, September 26, 2017 –

I have always loved animals, especially cats.  Throughout my professional life I have noticed that sharing photos of my cats and keeping small stuffed animals in my office has helped initiate and continue conversations with children and adults, helping me build trusting relationships.

As a result, when I began my employment at Vogel Elementary School as a Youth First Social Worker, I began to carry a stuffed animal with me to help children transition into school in the mornings.  If I’m not at the door when children enter the area, some will ask, “Where is the lady with the cat?”

Some children smile and ask to pet the stuffed animal I’m carrying with me, which is usually a cat of various colors.  As a result, I am not surprised by the following statement from Rose M. Barlow, of the Department of Psychology at Boise State University in Idaho: “Animals, (real or toys,) can help children and adults to experience and express emotions, a feeling of unconditional support, and grounding.”

According to the Academy of Anxiety and Depression, anxiety disorders affect 1 in 8 children.  Rose Barlow also states that animals can help reduce anxiety, stress, and sadness that adults or children might be experiencing.  There are many people that need help meeting their emotional needs to feel safe, loved, and appreciated.

I’ve listed five essential needs that pets can provide to adults and children:

  • A constant companionship can be formed that teaches the individual how to provide unconditional love and affection appropriately.
  • A structured schedule for waking up in the mornings, bedtimes, and meal times can be developed.
  • A positive coping skill can be developed, because it is very difficult to play with a dog or cat without smiling or laughing.
  • Self-esteem can be increased by allowing the child to feel comfortable in building friendships.
  • Physical comfort can be obtained by touching, holding, and petting your animal.

When choosing a pet, please make sure they are friendly and want the extra attention a child will give.  Otherwise, the essential needs of the individual and the pet will not be met. Also, it’s important to be thoughtful about the care and responsibility that any animal requires, including obtaining appropriate vaccinations for all pets in the home.

If you are unable to afford care for the animal and must return it to the original owner, this could create additional trauma for children and adults who have become attached to their new pet.  But don’t give up on the possibility of animal-assisted therapy.  There is always the option to use toy stuffed animals or visit the animals at the zoo to help children and adults reduce or alleviate feelings of stress, anxiety, and sadness.

* Reducing Meltdowns

By Laura Keys, LCSW, Courier & Press, Sept. 19, 2017 –

If you are the parent or caregiver of a young child, you have most likely experienced the dreaded meltdown or temper tantrum.  You also know it is  not  a  delightful experience  for you or your child.

Children do not like to feel out of control or unsafe, which is often what is occurring during a meltdown.  If you are new to the game of parenting or caregiving, these meltdowns or tantrums do not magically end when kids leave the “terrible twos” and turn three.  In some cases, they can continue through a child’s early elementary years.

However, for most kids and their parents or caregivers there is relief.  There are a few things you can do to help speed or at least ease the process and build your child’s self-esteem at the same time.

One of my favorite books to recommend to parents is  “No More Meltdowns,”  by Jed Baker, Ph.D.   I like this book because he uses examples where he, as both a therapist and parent, has sometimes struggled or had to try different approaches before finding the right one for his client or his own child.   In both cases, he keeps trying until he finds success.

 This is a reminder that no one is perfect.  Each child is different, and what works for one child may not work for the next child.  He also gives practical, common-sense advice.

For example, see if there is a time pattern or specific trigger before a meltdown occurs.  Is your child hungry or tired because of a missed snack or nap?  Are they off their normal routine for some reason?  Does your child always have a tantrum when you buy a birthday present for another child?

Once you identify the problem you can avoid the trigger in the future.  As your child becomes older and more communicative these will become teachable moments.  Not only will you be trying to avoid uncomfortable tantrums for you and your child, you will be teaching them the beginning steps of self-problem solving.

If a slightly older child has issues with homework such as math, always start with a few problems they can work successfully.  This will give them confidence before moving on to problems they are struggling with.  Always praise their efforts.

Yes, you want them to develop their skills, but if they feel they are mentally or emotionally defeated before they even get started on a task, it increases the likelihood they will get frustrated, give up, shut down or turn the situation into a power struggle.  Power struggles can cause a meltdown for both you and your child.

Trying to reason with a child during a meltdown does not usually work.  The child’s reasoning capabilities are most likely not engaged at this point.  The goal at this point is to soothe and comfort.   This does not mean giving in; it means keeping the child from hurting himself or others.  Remember that children with certain conditions will be more difficult to help through tantrums than others.

In emergency situations, Dr. Baker recommends distraction.  However, he cautions not to use this all the time as the child will learn this as their primary coping skill.  As they get older they may learn that distraction is a way to avoid doing what they don’t want to do, (i.e. math problems).

Hopefully, this article is a reminder to parents that you are not alone; there are resources available if you are interested or feel you need assistance.  Dr. Baker’s book is just the tip of the iceberg.

Also, remember, throwing a good tantrum is part of a toddler’s job and a parent’s rite-of-passage.  And yes, despite everyone’s best efforts, sometimes you buy the toy and leave the store or exit the restaurant as quickly as possible.

 

* Live a Little and Laugh a Lot

 

By Emily Sommers, MSW, Courier & Press, Sept. 12, 2017 –

A few weeks ago Dan, my significant other, came home and was in an upbeat mood and chiming, “Hee, Hee, Hee, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ho, Ho, Ho.”  The whole family ended up joining in at some point, and this activity created a lot of fun for us all to engage in.

Dan had been to his weekly Optimist meeting, and they had a guest speaker, Dr. Amodio, who taught laughter yoga.  Thank you for filling our home with another skill to use when we fall too seriously into daily life and demands, Dr. Amodio!

Dan described the activity they engaged in, all pretending to be on their cell phones and having a conversation with someone on the other end, walking in a circle around the room chiming, “Hee, Hee, Hee, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ho, Ho, Ho,” while embellishing the facial expression of each sound.  He really enjoyed it and was glad to share what he had learned!

 Laughter is being called the “new meditation” by a recent article in Times magazine.  Laughter has many emotional, mental and physical health benefits.

Time Health indicated studies that have shown laughter can act as an antidepressant, reduce the risk of heart disease and help reduce the body’s inflammatory response.  Sounds exactly like what the doctor might order!

Here is a list of some ways to use and apply laughter.  See if you might be inspired to add to the list…

  • Engage and play with your pet.  Animals can make us laugh and are usually loyally waiting if we let them!
  • Follow a comic strip daily, and better yet, picture that character when you make a mistake in an effort to not take yourself so seriously.  My favorite is “Blondie.”
  • Come up with a “Joke of the Day” theme in your home.
  • There are some great apps to download on your phone that can provide funny motivation, inspiration and daily chuckles.  These should be parent approved, of course.
  • If you usually watch a drama or suspense movie, treat yourself to a great comedy that can provide some laughs.
  • We all have that great friend who can bring us up when we are down or remind us to not take life too seriously.  Pick up the phone and give them a call…it will brighten and lighten the day for both of you.
  • Parents, play with your kids.  Kids, play with your parents.
  • Try karaoke.  We enjoyed this on a recent family vacation and it taps into the fun and creative sides of everyone involved.

Hopefully, this short list has gotten your wheels turning and inspired ways you can find more opportunities for laughter in your individual and family lives.  Have fun with it and, remember, practice makes permanent.

German American Title Sponsor for Heart of Youth First Luncheon in Washington, IN

 

German American Bank was the title sponsor for the Heart of Youth First luncheon held on Thursday, Sept. 7th, 2017, at Washington Junior High. At the luncheon, Youth First paid tribute to corporations, foundations and individuals in Daviess County who have supported Youth First’s work in the Washington community in the past year. 

Youth First Celebrates

By Lindsay Owens, Washington Times Herald, Sept. 9, 2017 –

Supporters of Youth First, a local nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families, gathered at Washington Junior High School on Thursday to hear more about the nonprofit’s efforts to protect and heal the hearts of children and families in Washington.

Parri Black, president and CEO of Youth First, said much of the work Youth First social workers like Ashley Hale, who works with students at Washington Community Schools, involves children who’ve encountered struggles.

“A lot of our work involves kids who’ve been bruised,” said Black. “We don’t always see those bruises. Some are internal. We’re working with kids who need a little extra support.”

 During the event, which was sponsored by German American, local financial center manager David Stowers spoke.

Stowers said Daviess County is fortunate to have a group of leaders with a vision and a heart for giving.

“We’re fortunate to be in a community where leadership steps up,” said Stowers, adding the community’s support for the program also ties in with the Character Council of Daviess County’s Character Matters program. “We see the Character Matters banners all over town. One of the words was gratitude. We need to have a heart of gratitude to look at the bigger picture.”

Senator Eric Bassler, one of Youth First’s supporters from the beginning, also spoke.

“We have to be concerned about our children,” said Bassler, adding that many youth face obstacles at home. “By intervening at a young age, we have a greater opportunity to help get kids on the right track.”

Focusing on three R’s, resiliency, relationships and readiness, Davi Stein-Kiley, Youth First vice president of social work and programs, said it’s no secret youth can have a lot of challenges, but the nonprofit hopes to help youth navigate through the tough stuff and enjoy milestones and celebrations.

Washington Junior High Principal Mark Arnold said the school is thankful to have someone like Hale there to help students.

“No one benefits more than the kids,” said Arnold, adding that without the generosity of Youth First supporters, having Hale would not be possible. “You helped bring us Ashley.”

Ellie Meade, regional development officer with Youth First and Washington native, said she always knew people here were kind and generous but since starting with Youth First earlier this year, she’s found out just how generous.

“All of our donors are the heart of Youth First,” said Meade.

Supporters of Youth First include not only corporate entities, but also local businesses and individuals as well. For more information on how you can support Youth First call 812-421-8336 or visit www.youthfirstinc.org.

* Help for Stressed Out Kids

By Vicki Kirkman, Courier & Press, Sept. 5, 2017 –

Stress is a natural part of life and something that 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 and experiences 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 the signs and symptoms of stress in their children and help them manage it in a healthy manner.  Young children that are stressed may complain of stomach aches, headaches or say they just don’t feel well.

They may try to avoid attending school or visit the school nurse frequently.  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 or tantrums.

Teenagers can experience many physical reactions to stress, including digestive problems, headaches, tense muscles, racing heart, frequent colds and fatigue.  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.  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 to tackle alone.  Don’t hesitate to speak to a Youth First Social Worker in your child’s school, counselor 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.