* It Takes a Village to Raise a Child

By Heather Miller, LCSW, Courier & Press, August 15, 2017 –

“It takes a village to raise a child.” This African proverb seems to be even more relevant in 2017, with working parents and single parents (and the accompanying family “busyness” that has become the norm) trying to raise a family.

And yet, even though it seems that the support of a “village” is so desperately needed, it often seems like this concept has somewhat disappeared from our society.

Raising children is a difficult task for which no one is ever completely prepared.  There are situations where support from others is not only warranted but also desired by the parent.

Often in our individualistic society, offering support to a fellow parent is considered improper and viewed as “stepping on toes.”  However, this mindset can lead to lonely, stressed parents, which then leads to stressed children.

Often risk factors are examined to explain why some children are more likely than others to “be successful” and overcome challenges.  Coupled with risk factors are protective factors, which can help the child take steps toward success.

According to the National Center for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention, protective factors “are conditions in families and communities that, when present, increase the health and well-being of children and families.”  Examples of protective factors include social connections for parents as well as concrete supports for parents.

Offering support to a fellow parent does not have to be time-consuming or overly personal.  Following are simple ways in which support can be given:

  • Invite the family to a social function you are planning to attend such as a church event or neighborhood picnic.  Such events give adults the ability to connect with one another and form friendships that can lead to additional support.
  • Offer a kind word and a smile to a parent that has a child having a meltdown at the store, park or other place.  An empathetic response and assurance that every parent has experienced a public meltdown by a child is likely to be appreciated.
  • Focus on the big picture by recognizing that people parent in different ways but the ultimate goal is to raise happy, healthy children.  Getting hung up on differences such as appropriate consequences can lead to additional division rather than support.  No two parents will likely agree about how to handle every situation involving a child, but accepting that there are numerous ways to parent is important.
  • If you know the family and feel comfortable, offer to set up a carpool system or swap babysitting services.  Thirty minutes of child-free house cleaning can be a huge support to a parent and not overly burdensome for you.

* What’s Going on Inside Your Teen’s Head?

By Heather Miller, LCSW, Courier & Press, April 11, 2017 –

If you are the parent of a teen, you have most likely thought, “You’re seriously worried about that?” a few dozen times.

The issues that worry adults are often completely different than the issues that worry teens.  Adults may often be confused about why a teen would be worried about a particular issue and may also wonder how to best give support.

It may be difficult to not trivialize a teen’s worries at times, but validating your child’s emotions is crucial to the adult-teen relationship.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, immaturity of the brain plays a large role in why teens worry.  A study utilizing MRI found that when attempting to distinguish between safety and threat, teens use the part of the brain responsible for basic fear responses.

When given the same scenario, findings indicate that adults utilize a more mature part of the brain responsible for reasoned judgments.  This suggests that teens may be more fearful in general due to their physical inability to adequately distinguish between safety and threat.

What do teens worry about the most? An article found on familyeducation.com notes that teens worry about the following:

  • What others think of them
  • Grades
  • Lack of time
  • Family difficulties
  • The future

Parents and caregivers can help teens get through worrisome situations.  This assistance will strengthen the parent-child relationship and teach the teen coping skills to use independently in the future.

Here are three ideas for supporting your worried teen:

  • Validate that your teen is worried and, without judgment, allow them to tell you what is leading to the worry.
  • Assist your teen in narrowing down the actual issue as well as brainstorming possible solutions.  Allow your teen to think of possible solutions rather than telling them what to do to solve the issue.
  • Remain focused on how your teen is feeling rather than trying to “cheerlead” them out of a worry.  Being positive and supportive is very important; however, comments such as “Oh, it will be just fine – don’t worry,” often feel generic and uncaring.

While some amount of worrying is a normal part of every teen’s experience, excessive worry that interferes with functioning or quality of life may require professional intervention. If you feel your teen is consumed with worry and this is affecting their daily activities, contact the Youth First Social Worker at your child’s school, a guidance counselor, an outpatient therapist, or your teen’s pediatrician to discuss these concerns.

Additionally, if communicating with your teen is difficult, Youth First programs such as Strengthening Families can help develop communication skills for families with children of all ages. Please call 812-421-8336 or visit youthfirstinc.org for more information about Strengthening Families or other Youth First programs.

The Importance of the Pause – Teaching Your Kids Impulse Control

Girl texting

By Heather Miller, MSW, Courier & Press, June 21, 2016 –

“I didn’t think about it.” As a Youth First Social Worker in a middle school, this is a statement I hear multiple times per week.

Impulse control and the ability to predict future consequences for present decisions are difficult concepts for the adolescent brain to process. Couple this with a fast-paced society that expects immediate feedback and gratification, and the challenge to think before acting becomes understandably difficult.

Students today are navigating life and relationships in a world primarily composed of red and green — stop and go — with no time for yellow, the pause.

Fifteen years ago, before the advent of social media, the pause allowed students to rethink their actions and tear up a hate-filled note they wrote to a peer the night before.

The pause often prevented the negative consequences that accompany intense emotions. Now, without the pause, students type a hate-filled text and press send. A text cannot be torn up, and the ramifications are often immediate.

The pause has been hijacked by social media, texting and email. Thus, when students tell me, “I didn’t think about it,” I know they did not think through the situation and possible consequences. Furthermore, many kids have not been taught how to do this.

The following tips will help teach kids how to pause before acting.

  • For younger children, use the visuals of a stoplight to guide the child in thinking through a real situation or made-up scenario. This will help instill the concept of thinking through possible consequences before acting. Begin at red, or stopping, to describe the situation; move to yellow, thinking through what may have been the reason for the situation as well as possible outcomes for different consequences; finally, move to green, choosing the action that will yield the best results.
  • To capture an adolescent’s attention, use famous athletes or movie stars to demonstrate how quickly lives can change by one action. Similar to the stoplight illustration, discuss the situation, the action taken, the consequences of the action, and how a different action may have created a different consequence.
  • If children are using texting, email and/or social media, discuss waiting a set amount of time before sending a message about a volatile issue. This is an important part of demonstrating the maturity needed to have a social media account or phone. Make it a nonnegotiable expectation.
  • For children of all ages, explain how the brain works and processes emotions as well as the areas of the brain responsible for impulse control. This gives kids an understanding of how their brains are equipped to deal with intense emotions. For more information please review the article, “Teaching Students: A Brain Owner’s Manual,” by Dr. Judy Willis.

If you have a child that would benefit from additional skills training in impulse control, please contact your school’s Youth First School Social Worker or a licensed mental health professional.