* 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.

* 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.

* 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.

Help Children Manage Time, Lower Stress

Time management

By Alissa Eastham, LCSW, Courier & Press, August 23, 2016 –

Whether your child had a leisurely summer or the past few months have been filled with activities, it is often an adjustment for students and their parents when the first day of school arrives.

Some parents may be relieved that school is back in session, others are concerned or worried. Students may feel excited or anxious about seeing friends, meeting teachers, receiving homework and starting new activities.

Although stress can be beneficial (such as when it motivates us to complete tasks), it warrants our attention most when left unchecked. We can experience stress in a variety of ways, and stress may manifest itself differently in children and teens.

Physical symptoms of stress can include fatigue, difficulty sleeping, stomach ache, chest pain, muscle tension and pain, headaches, indigestion, nausea, increased sweating, weakened immune system and back and neck pain.

Emotional symptoms can include decreased motivation, increased irritability and anger, anxiety, depression or sadness, restlessness and inability to focus.

You may also notice behavioral changes as a result of stress, such as constant thoughts about stressors, eating too much or too little, social withdrawal, nail biting and drug or alcohol use.

The return of the school year can be an exciting and stressful time, and as it kicks into full gear, it can be helpful for both parents and students to manage their time in order to manage stress. The following tips can help.

Use a planner. This can be a hard copy or digital version on your phone or computer. Having a way to organize tasks and activities can help you remember what you need to get done. Most schools offer planners to students at a low cost.

Prioritize tasks. Using a planner will also help prioritize time, tasks and activities. Writing things down helps your child remember them. It also gives you and your child a list to help determine what is most important and what can be done quickest.

Break larger tasks into smaller ones. If students become overwhelmed with several assignments, it can be helpful to break down the homework into smaller, more manageable parts. This can reduce anxiety and give your child a starting point.

Limit distractions such as electronic devices. This will help your child focus on the task at hand. It is also helpful for students to have a dedicated study space where distractions are limited.

Schedule more time in between tasks.  Avoid rushing from point A to point B. By purposefully scheduling more time between tasks, you can reduce your stress when a meeting runs long or you find yourself stuck in traffic. Plan to arrive 15 minutes early.

Create boundaries. Students can be involved in too many activities, adding stress. Are they only getting involved because others expect it? Encourage them to decide what’s most important and consider cutting out unneeded tasks and activities.

Stress can be positive when it motivates students to study for tests or complete homework assignments, but we often don’t notice it until it’s caused a problem in our lives. Consider how you use your time and what can change so that your family will reap the benefits and have a less stressful school year.