* Reconnecting Youth Helps Students Make Positive Changes

By Tiffany Harper, Courier & Press, January 30, 2018 –

My favorite program to facilitate as a Youth First Social Worker is Reconnecting Youth (RY). This program is taught in a high school classroom setting and is co-facilitated by Youth First Social Workers and trained teachers. It hones in on three major components in a student’s life:  school achievement, mood management, and drug and alcohol control.

To improve school achievement students are taught strategies to raise grades, improve attendance, and demonstrate a better attitude in the classroom.

To assist with mood management students are taught coping strategies and encouraged to share their struggles with one another in order to combat issues such as depression and anxiety.

To reduce drug and alcohol involvement, they are encouraged to place themselves in sober environments, use refusal skills, and set goals to reduce or abstain from substance use.

In the RY classroom an atmosphere is created so students can feel welcome, bond with others who may or may not have similar life experiences, and learn major life lessons that can be applied in their everyday lives.

Students are encouraged to set goals on a daily basis in an effort to improve life success. It is an incredibly rewarding experience to be involved with this evidence-based program.

Students express the most appreciation for the portion of the class called “shared agenda,” during which students share struggles and successes with each other and offer support and encouragement.

A student from class this year made some heartfelt statements during the class graduation ceremony that illustrate its direct impact on student growth and functioning:

“Sophomore year I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety after making a second suicide attempt. I felt ashamed to be depressed and I felt so different from everyone else, but in reality I wasn’t. To me RY was a safe haven, a place I finally felt like I belonged. I learned I wasn’t so different. I remember walking in on the first day thinking ‘I don’t think I belong here,’ but boy was I wrong! My classmates taught me that being sad was okay and that there is no shame in asking for help. I learned how different our lives are and even how similar. I gained friends I thought I’d never have and even some self confidence! I finally realized how precious life was, especially mine…I know that going forth in life I will be a much stronger person thanks to this program. RY taught me to love and appreciate myself and every little thing in life and that is something I will never forget.”

As teens navigate through challenges in their lives, Reconnecting Youth can provide support, bonding, and encouragement to make healthy lifestyle choices and good decisions. You can find more information on Reconnecting Youth and Youth First’s other programs at youthfirstinc.org.

* Life Lessons Learned From Organized Sports

By Ashley Hale, January 23, 2018 –

I am a big believer that taking part in organized activities can instill principles and life lessons that kids will utilize in their teen years and beyond.

Most of my childhood memories revolve around sports.  From ages 5-18 sports were such a huge part of my life.  I loved competing.

At age 15 a huge curveball was thrown, curtailing my sports career.  I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and was told I had to stop participating in everything but basketball.

I pushed through basketball for another 2 years until I had to stop because my body was giving out.  Saying I was devastated is an understatement.  I knew playing sports was very important to me, but I never realized just how important until the opportunity to play was taken away.

It took two whole weeks to gather myself enough to sit down with my coaches and deliver the news.  I was sure I would walk out of the room totally devastated, but to my surprise I didn’t.

I still remember the exact words my coach said:  “Ashley I’ve watched you give 150 percent since all of this started.  It kills me that you can’t play anymore, but you know the game so well and we’d love for you to stay with us to be another eye and help with coaching and stats.”  I was speechless.

That changed my perspective completely.  I immediately realized that just because things don’t exactly go our way doesn’t mean we can’t make the best of it.  There are so many valuable lessons I learned about life and about myself that I gained from participating in organized activities.

  • The value of hard work – I had to work hard to achieve my goals and reach my potential. You can’t snap your fingers and be the person you want to be.  You have to set goals, put in effort, and be consistent.
  • Teamwork – For a team to be successful we had to work together. If a piece of the puzzle was missing, things were out of whack.  We had to figure out how to make them fit together to reach our common goals.  What may be out of reach for one individual can often be accomplished through teamwork.
  • Discipline equals success – It’s a lesson you learn quickly in organized sports; you get out what you put in. If you want the joy of victory you must put in what it takes to improve and excel.
  • Overcoming adversity – Life sometimes isn’t fair and obstacles arise. Through organized sports I learned to sit back, review a situation, make appropriate changes and try again.  The feeling of accomplishment after a setback provides the same high as the adrenaline rush right before a jump ball in a basketball game.

The greatest thing I learned is that although sometimes we lose the things we love most, with support and determination we can make it through. Medical issues took me out of the game but they didn’t take me out of the amazing friendships, bonds, and lessons years of participating in organized activities gave me.

In fact, if it wasn’t for key influences from coaches, teammates, my parents and friends, I know I would have had a much larger mountain to climb.

* Promoting Better Sleep Habits With an Anxious Child

By Laura Arrick, LCSW, Courier & Press, January 16, 2018 –

Child:  “I can’t shut my brain off.”

Parent:  “But you have to get to sleep.  Quit stalling.  You have school tomorrow, so shut your eyes.”

In households with an anxious child this can be a common bedtime conversation.

There are many forms of anxiety, but one shared characteristic is overwhelming thoughts. These thoughts often start out as rational worries and fears but over time can become irrational and all-consuming.  An anxious brain has difficulty letting go and moving on from these thoughts, and nighttime can be one of the most challenging times.

To promote optimal health, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children ages 6 – 12 get 9 – 12 hours of sleep and teenagers ages 13 – 18 get 8 – 10 hours of sleep each night.  Following these guidelines on a regular basis leads to improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and improved mental and physical health.

The typical reasons children are not getting enough sleep include phone or computer usage, video games, homework, jobs, extra-curricular activities, etc.  These things can usually be managed with some parental guidelines.  Anxiety is less obvious and harder for a parent to help with, often leaving both the parent and the child at a loss.

Here are some strategies to think about to help your child manage their anxiety and still get the right amount of sleep each night.

  • Establish a “before bed” routine. Give your child at least 30 minutes before bedtime to wind down. This means turning off all electronics and phones and spending some time getting ready for sleep.  It could include reading a book in a quiet room, taking a bath or shower, listening to music in a dim space, or journaling.  Work with your child on what this might look like for them.  This is a proactive way to set them up for success before they hit the pillow.
  • Have white noise in the room. There are plenty of options that are quiet but effective at drowning out the thoughts in your brain, including a fan, music, sound machine, or an app on your phone.
  • As a general rule try and help children avoid caffeine and snacks before bed. Often the snacks chosen are high in sugar, which does not help the body and mind wind down. Snacks that promote sleep may include bananas, oatmeal, yogurt, cheese with whole grain crackers or bread, or a glass of milk. These all have natural components that promote sleepiness.
  • Have your child keep a journal. Encourage them to spend time reflecting on their day and writing down all the worries and fears they have bottled up. Getting it out of their head and on paper can relieve some of the tension they are carrying to bed.
  • Don’t be afraid to allow them to get up and do something different for a short period of time. If you find they are still struggling after tossing and turning for 30 minutes, let them get up and do something relaxing and calming. They may be swirling those overwhelming thoughts in their head and can’t break the cycle just lying there.

Anxious children can get a good night’s sleep; you just have to find what works for your child. Hopefully some of the suggestions above will help them leave their worries behind before their head hits the pillow.

*Parenting a Child with ADHD

By Whitney Eaton, LCSW, and Ashley Miller – Tuesday, Jan. 9th –

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can be a struggle for parents and children.  ADHD is characterized by impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity.

Although children with ADHD can be just as smart and resilient as any other child, their brain makes them more prone to impulsive behavior and a lack of focus.

Raising a child with ADHD can involve obstacles other parents may not have to face.  Even though parenting a child with this challenge may be frustrating at times, it is not impossible.  It does require a different approach and a bit more patience, however.  Here are a few tips to help.

First, it is important to not become overwhelmed and take out your frustrations on your child.  The key is to remember your child has a medical condition and to acknowledge this fact.

Just as we wouldn’t blame a child that had a nut allergy for having an allergic reaction to nuts, we cannot blame a child with ADHD for some of the behaviors or inattention that result from that condition.

I once had a child describe ADHD to me from their perspective.  They said that it was like being on a carousel and not being able to stop the ride.  Things would go in and out of their attention span whether they wanted them to or not.  Because of this, we need to be patient and model gentle and calm behavior.

Children definitely mimic behaviors they see. Therefore, if your demeanor is calm your child may learn to be calm too.

Furthermore, praise your child for having good behavior so they will know when they are doing well and feel rewarded.

Second, create structure for your child so they can have success in school and at home.  This is done by creating a daily routine for your child and sticking to it.  Examples include having a set time to begin homework, eat dinner, get ready for bed, go to sleep, etc.

A regular bedtime that allows for eight hours of sleep is important for all children but especially for those who have ADHD.  Lack of sleep will worsen their hyperactivity and focus.

In addition, think about setting a specific time for your child’s tasks or chores.  This makes it is easier for both the parent and child instead making a list of chores and expecting the child to complete them on their own.

Third, have your child do a form of exercise.  This can involve your child joining a sports team, playing at a park with friends, or just walking/running in the neighborhood. Exercise will burn excess energy, improve concentration, decrease depression and anxiety, and stimulate the brain.

The fourth tip is to consider treatment for your child. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends “…for elementary school–aged children (6–11 years of age), the primary care clinician should prescribe US Food and Drug Administration–approved medications for ADHD and/or evidence-based parent and/or teacher-administered behavior therapy as treatment for ADHD, although preferably both medication and behavior therapy should be used together.”

Medication can help get ADHD symptoms such as impulsivity, lack of attention, and hyperactivity under control.  Counseling can help with developing organizational and social skills, dealing with stress, and increasing self-esteem.  Talk with your doctor about these treatments to determine the best one for your child.

Practicing these tips may make managing ADHD a little easier and allow your child to be more successful at school and home.  When a child feels as though he or she is doing well, they are more likely to try to please adults and strive for positive behavior.

* Talking to Your Child About Scary News

By Sarah Laury, LCSW, Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017 –

If you find it difficult to talk to your children about the scary things happening in our world today, you are not alone.  What is the best way to address tragic events they may see and hear about on the news?

Start by asking your child questions.  Find out what they already know.

As parents it’s natural to want to shield your child from scary stories on the news, but this is not always possible.  In addition to radio and television, they may overhear conversations at restaurants or doctor’s offices or even hear about things from other kids at school.

It’s important to find out what they already know so you can help them process it and answer any questions they may have.  Your child may ask you why something such as an act of violence happened.

As parents, it’s natural to want to be able to answer all of our children’s questions.  But remember that we don’t have all the answers either.  It’s okay to be honest and tell our children if we don’t know the answer.

Don’t promise your child that they will be safe or that nothing bad will ever happen to them.  Instead, tell them what is being done to help those affected by the tragedy.  As Fred Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.’”

Point out emergency personnel and how they are assisting the victims.  Help your child understand what steps are being put into place to help the victims of a tragedy and to avoid future tragedies.

Avoid graphic details or images if possible.  Start by turning off the TV.  When a disaster or tragedy strikes, the news tends to play the same graphic footage over and over again.

Dr. David Schonfeld, MD, FAAP, Director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, recommends that if you decide to watch the news with an older child, it is helpful to record it and watch it by yourself first.  This way you can screen the content first, and recording it will also give you an opportunity later to pause and talk with your child about what you’re seeing.

Children process their feelings in different ways than adults.  Simply asking your child about their feelings about a traumatic event might not be enough.  Children do not always know how to put their feelings into words.  Sitting with your child and drawing a picture or playing with toys might allow another outlet for exploration of feelings.

Validate their feelings by letting them know it’s okay to feel sad, scared or angry.  Resist the urge to argue with your child about his or her feelings.  Instead of saying, “Don’t be scared,” try asking your child what their specific fears are.  If you are scared, be honest and let your child know that you are scared too.  Explain what you are doing to cope with the fear.  Assure your child you are doing everything you can to keep them safe.  Let your child know the ways in which you and other entities such as the government, police, etc. are taking steps to ensure their safety.

Some signs that your child may not coping well with a disaster/tragedy:  Change in sleeping patterns; change in appetite; physical complaints such as stomachache, headache, or irritability; changes in behavior such as suddenly becoming more demanding or clingy; suddenly becoming anxious when separated from parents.

If you have any concerns about how your child is coping, talk to their pediatrician or school social worker about your concerns.