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3 Simple Strategies to Protect Kids from Abuse

October 6, 2020

The first step to preventing child abuse? Talking to children about it. An expert shares 3 tips that will help you start the conversation in ways that even very young children will understand.

mom and child


By Becca Wilbershide
Child Abuse Prevention Specialist
Willow Tree Cornerstone Child Advocacy Center


Child abuse is a topic most parents don’t want to think about discussing with their kids. Unfortunately, it is a conversation that must be had. If you haven’t talked to your child about abuse, it may be because you doubt your own perceptions of what abuse is and how it happens. You might be afraid that you or your child will accuse someone falsely. Or, you may be putting off the conversation out of fear that your child will reveal something that is painful to hear.

Talking to your child about abuse doesn’t have to be scary. Below you will find 3 simple strategies to help you have this conversation, as well as some tips on why talking about abuse is important:

Call Private Body Parts by Anatomically Correct Names

According to Psychology Today, when kids are comfortable using the standard terms for their private body parts, they have more protection against sexual abuse. If your child feels awkward talking about their body parts, or if they feel embarrassed about asking questions, they will be less likely to tell you if someone is touching them inappropriately.

Start using anatomically correct names from an early age. You can begin by referring to them during diaper changes, bath time, when the child is getting dressed and/or when it is time to potty train.  If you are already using nicknames for private body parts, it’s okay to start using the correct names now. Make it clear that although your family has its own nicknames for private body parts, the correct names are what a doctor calls them.  If you are concerned about your child getting in trouble with other adults by using the names, then let the child know that these are PRIVATE and they should not use the names in public places, like at school.


Make Household Touching Rules

Have your family all sit down at the table or maybe in the living room and work together to decide which touches you deem safe and unsafe. Display these rules in way that anyone in the family can see the rules at any time. While making the list, talk about touches that are safe and okay to do: hugs, high-fives, knuckles etc., and unsafe: hitting, slapping, kicking etc. Make it clear that the rules apply to everyone inside and outside your home.

While making your list of Touching Rules, be sure to include the “Clean and Healthy Rule.”  This rule states that no one is allowed to look at or touch another person’s private body parts unless they are keeping them clean and healthy. For children, this typically means only doctors and parents. Touching or looking at private body parts under any other circumstance should be listed under unsafe touch. Having this rule will make it easier for your child to know the difference between good touches and bad touches.


Let Them Know They Can Talk to You

Let your child know that no matter what they tell you, that you will always have their best interest at heart.  Tell that that you will always believe them and will always listen to them.  Repeat, repeat, repeat. This lets the child know that you are someone they can trust and talk to if something bad is happening to them, without fear of getting in trouble for what is going on.

When it comes to child abuse there are some easy steps to help prevent it.  Teach your children the correct names for their private body parts, make touching rules, and let them know you will always be a person that they can trust.

If you need help with any of these things or have questions please call Willow Tree Cornerstone Child Advocacy Center at 920-436-8881 and ask for Becca Wilbershide, Prevention Education Specialist. Prevention education is a free service provided by Willow Tree that is available to schools, parents, organizations, and more.

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8 Ways to Strengthen a Parent-Child Relationship

July 28, 2020

What parents can do now to build a strong and healthy bond with their child.

By Paige Dorn, LCSW
Therapist/Clinical Lead
Day Treatment

The most important relationship to a child is the one they develop with their parent or caregiver. Children learn about the world around them through a positive parent-child relationship. As they are growing and changing, children look to their parents to determine whether or not they are safe, secure, and loved. It is also the foundation from which they will build their future relationships.

You can build a positive parent-child relationship by being in the moment with your child, spending quality time together, and creating an environment where they feel comfortable to explore. There is no secret handbook or guaranteed approach to get this relationship right, and you’ll likely find hardships along the way. However, if you keep working on improving your relationship, your child will surely blossom.

Continue reading for eight positive-parenting techniques that can help you strengthen the relationship between you and your child:

Show Your Love
Human touch and loving affection is needed at every stage of our lives for healthy emotional and neurobiological development. It is important that your child receive gentle, loving touch (i.e., hugs) from you several times throughout the day. Treat every interaction as an opportunity to connect with your child. Greet them with warm expressions, give eye contact, smile, and encourage honest interaction.


Say “I love you” often
It is often implied that we love our children, but be sure to tell them every day, no matter what age they are. Even when your child is being difficult or does something you don’t like; this can be an excellent opportunity to remind them that you love them unconditionally. A simple “I love you” can have a major impact on your long-term relationship with your child.


Set boundaries, rules, and consequences
Children need structure and guidance as they grow and learn about the world around them. Talk to your children about what you expect of them and make sure they understand. When rules are broken, make sure to have age-appropriate consequences in place and be consistent with them. To learn more about age-appropriate consequences, visit


Listen and empathize
Connection starts with listening. Acknowledge your child’s feelings, show them you understand, and reassure them that you are there to help with whatever they need. Try to see things from your child’s perspective. By listening and empathizing with your child, you will begin to foster mutual respect.


Play Together
Play is so important to a child’s development. It is the tool through which children develop language skills, express emotions, foster creativity, and learn about social skills. Additionally, it is a fun way for you to strengthen your relationship with your child. It does not matter what you play. The key is to just enjoy each other and commit to giving your child your undivided attention.


Be available and distraction-free
Setting aside just 10 minutes a day to talk to to your child, without distractions, can make a big difference in establishing good communication habits. Turn off the TV, put away your electronic devices, and spend some quality time together. Your child needs to know that you believe they are a priority in your life despite the many distractions and stressors that come your way.


Eat meals together
Eating together as a family can often lead to great conversation and bonding time with your child. Encourage everyone to put their phones or other devices away and simply enjoy each other’s company. Meal time is also a great opportunity for you to teach your children the importance of a healthy and balanced diet, which also effects their overall mental health.


Create parent-child rituals
If you have more than one child, try to make a point of spending individual time with each of them. Quality, one-on-one time with your child can strengthen the parent-child bond, builds up your child’s self-esteem, and lets them know that they are special and valued. Some parents schedule in special “date nights” with their children to create that one-on-one opportunity (whether it’s a walk around the neighborhood, a trip to the playground, or just a movie at home – it’s important to celebrate each child individually).

Need Additional Support?

Family Services offers several programs to parents and youth throughout Northeast Wisconsin to support and guide parents in establishing a positive parent-child relationship. To learn more about our program offerings, click here. We also offer a number of parenting classes and workshops in the Fox Valley. You can view our current Parenting Class schedule here.




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Normal Childhood Emotions or Mental Health Symptoms?

July 14, 2020

How to tell the difference between normal emotions and more serious child mental health symptoms in children and teens.

Child Mental Health

Andrea Peltier, LCSW
Day Treatment

Parents often feel alone and not good enough with the tough jobs they have to do. Whether it is coping with the challenging times we are currently facing or dealing with past trauma, abuse, neglect, divorce, loss, or other hardships. Children and teens can also face significant struggles in their lives and sometimes have extreme difficulty coping with them. Just like adults, they may begin to suffer from mental health problems. These problems can begin to emerge even from a young age.

When a child is younger, their behaviors may seem more manageable. But as they age, things may become more out of control or difficult to manage. Their emotions and behaviors may begin to have a negative impact on their relationships with family and friends. They might have trouble functioning within the community or at school. Eventually, the issues they are struggling with may begin to affect their ability to gain independence and hold a job or participate in other social activities.

While child mental health treatment and counseling is becoming more accessible, it is still difficult for parents, caregivers, and teachers to know when to take the first steps and where to go for help. It is often helpful to hear some concrete ways to know whether your child or teen’s moods or behaviors could be more serious and are cause to get outside support.

Below are five examples and explanations that will help you know the difference between typical concerns and symptoms of a real mental health problem.

If your child becomes upset when things don’t go their way, cries easily, regularly gets down on themselves, displays negative thought patterns, or blames others for their problems you may worry that your child is depressed. These characteristics not accompanied by any other serious trauma and for a child under 10 are typically normal at times. However, if your child cries every day and they can’t resume back to typical functioning afterwards, this may be more of a concern.

If in addition to a sad or depressed mood your child is also irritable more often than not, is overeating or has no appetite, or if they have insomnia or are over sleeping — this may be a sign of a more significant issue. If your child also displays low to no energy, has difficulty concentrating or with making decisions, and expresses feelings of hopelessness, your child may be suffering from depression.

Some other things to watch for are more significant behavior change, such as: lack of interest in things they used to enjoy, isolation, and lack of interest in playing with friends or socializing as they once did and especially talk of wanting to be dead or threats of killing themselves. If your child has only had these symptoms within the context of the loss of a loved one, they may only need help working through the grieving process. Loss of a loved one does not only occur when someone dies but may occur as a result of a move, loss of a pet, or while parents are going through a separation or divorce. If the symptoms above have gradually increased over time or are causing your child behavioral changes, withdrawal and talk of suicide, you must take it seriously and seek out help immediately.

If your child argues with you, talks back, is often snippy and doesn’t always listen to you, try and take comfort in knowing that these are normal kid behaviors. Children are constantly testing our limits to see what they can get away with. However, if your child’s outbursts are extreme overreactions for the situation, or turn into physical aggression or destruction of property after the age of 7, you may need to seek additional help. If these verbal or physical outbursts occur more days than not and have persisted for one year, this may be a sign of a more serious problem.

If your child only displays these behaviors at home and never anywhere else, you may benefit from seeking support for yourself and considering new or different strategies for discipline, rewards, incentives, etc. All children are different and what works for one child, doesn’t necessarily work for another. Parents should also remember the importance of taking care of their own mental well-being and stress levels. This will serve as a health model for your child. You’ll also have more energy and creative solutions to deal with your child’s most challenging of behaviors.

If your child becomes stressed before returning back to school in the fall, before a sleepover or a test, or when meeting someone new, your child is likely experiencing normal worry and anxiety. These are emotions that we all experience throughout life. But if your child’s regular daily functioning is impacted negatively by their worrying more days than not throughout a week, this may be cause for more concern.

If a child is having difficulty sleeping, seems on-edge, is tense or uneasy and becoming irritable more often, they may be dealing with more serious anxious symptoms. With that, therapy has proven to be very effective in helping children deal with anxiety. This intense worry would usually be present for more than six months and not within the context of a recent traumatic experience or loss.

Many parents and caregivers have concerns about a child’s arguing and defiance. It would be so much easier if their child would respond when called upon and do what is asked of them, without getting into an argument and yelling for 10 minutes over a simple task. Unfortunately, not listening is often a typical part of a child’s natural development.

Consider yourself lucky if your child rarely argues and usually listens! There is a difference, though, if your child’s argument or defiance also includes being vindictive, spiteful, and blaming of others regularly. A negative, irritable mood usually also accompanies these behaviors. Additionally, this would typically not be present until 5 years of age or older.

Keep in mind that at times children who are depressed may present with irritability as well. However, they may not necessarily present with aggression or to these extremes. It isn’t uncommon that the symptoms only present at home, however, would be considered more severe if they are displayed in other settings, such as daycare, school, or in social or job settings.

If your child seems to not hear you when you are talking, your child is not alone. However, not listening or responding back to you sometimes does not mean that your child has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. It likely means that your child is engaged in an activity and is sort of tuned out while in the activity. Be open with your child that you expect them to at least acknowledge you and how soon you expect them to do what is asked. Parents and caregivers should also keep in mind that kids don’t have the same priorities or timeline as adults, so picking up those dirty socks may not be as high on their priority list as it may be on yours.

However, if a child displays inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive symptoms prior to the age of 12 years old and these symptoms have persisted for more than 6 months, your child may be dealing with ADHD. If your child’s lack of listening, problems with organization, and/or hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity is negatively impacting their functioning at home and their grades in school, they may have characteristics of ADHD. If your child often makes careless mistakes with work, lacks attention to details, has difficulty with sustained attention to tasks, or seems to be bouncing off the walls more often than not, your child may be struggling with more severe symptoms that need attention.

When and Where to Get Help


There are several factors to consider when determining whether a child or adolescent is truly suffering from a mental health disorder. Some of these factors are: age, culture, gender, history, trauma, genetics, and even societal influences. Many people have faced challenges with mental illness for many years and were unaware of what was happening to them. Many have felt alone, embarrassed or in disbelief that counseling or other outside interventions would help. Some are nervous to talk about their struggles, while others are concerned about the financial implications.

There is good news, though! Whether you or your child have ever received an actual mental health diagnosis or not, you can always seek out counseling. Therapists get into the field because they care about people and they have significant empathy for the challenging situations that occur in life. They are specifically available to give anyone an outlet to cope, talk, heal and process difficult times that have caused increased stress. Many insurance companies have eased restrictions and are allowing much better coverage for counseling services. With that, much of the stigma surrounding mental health is also decreasing, especially surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. Individuals, businesses and insurance companies alike are recognizing the toll that these difficult times are taking on us all.

It is important for parents to allow their child to tell them how they feel and do their best to empathize with them, even if they don’t feel the same way. The more that a parent can provide their child a listening ear without criticizing, the more likely their child will open up about what feelings they may be experiencing. If you are concerned that your child’s symptoms may be more severe, let your child know you are worried about them and want to do what you can to help them, because the situations that have been occurring seem to be unpleasant for the child but also for you and others around.


Resources Through Family Services


In Brown County the Crisis Center is available 24/7 to help support you and your child in a time of crisis and you can reach them at (920) 436-8888. There are other crisis lines available throughout the state and in your own local counties. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also always available at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741.

Family Services’ Counseling Clinic is always available and has immediate openings for therapy. Call (920) 436-6800 to schedule an appointment with a therapist.

If you have already had your child in counseling but intense disruption still continues, Family Services’ Day Treatment may be the right next step for your child. Call us at (920) 433-3372 ext. 100 for more information or to enroll.

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Internet Safety in the Age of Virtual Learning

June 23, 2020

What parents and caregivers can do to help children stay safe online. Plus, what internet safety resources are available to keep you informed of potentially dangerous sites and apps.

Internet Safety
Photo By Christiaan Colen under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr


By Shelby Mitchell
Sexual Assault Center Advocate

With so much happening in the country and the world right now, teaching our children how to stay safe on the internet might not feel like a priority. But knowing how to keep your kids safe online is as critical as ever. Nearly all school-aged children have spent months adjusting to online learning and finished the school year in this way. Many summer schools and summer camps are also making the move to online learning. And next school year, many students can expect to continue learning online at least part-time. Our children are being presented with more technology and devices, for a greater part of the day, than ever before.

With technology playing such an important role in our lives right now, it important to be aware of the dangers your child’s devices and the internet may pose. Predators often use social media and other social networking sites and apps to gain access to vulnerable people – especially children.

The following resources can help you stay up to date on the dangers that exist to create a safer online environment for your child:

Protect Young Eyes: The website, can give you up-to-date information on the safety features and risks of a variety of different sites. This website is a great tool to help empower parents and caregivers about the apps that are out there and what they are used for. Being armed with this information will help you to have educated conversations with your children about their boundaries on the internet.

Family Share Accounts: Agent Carl Waterstreet of the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigations works on internet-based crimes and states, “Some of the major things parents can do right now is set up a family share account on their phones.  This allows parents to control and monitor screen time, apps to download, and offer a backdoor way to turn their phones on and off.  It’s simple to set up, just go to settings on either your Apple or Android device and find the right tab to set it up.”

For instructions on how to set up a Family Share Account on iPhone or Android, click here.


Protect Kids Online: With all of this unexpected time at home, another great resource is the podcast Protect Kids Online. If you are not the podcast type, simply go to and you can get the same content through your web browser.

The Protect Kids Online (PKO) Podcast is brought to you by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force.  This podcast is designed as a resource for parents, grandparents, guardians, or caregivers of children. It is an excellent resource to learn about trends and updates on the latest apps, websites, and online activity of children age 17 and younger.  Topics on the podcast include: activities of the Wisconsin ICAC Task Force; App of the Week; tips & methods for combating online child exploitation and sextortion; Internet safety laws; cyberbullying; healthy online habits; protecting your child from strangers online; safe sharing tips; and responses to listener questions.

With this new age of virtual connection and online learning, the American Academy of Pediatrics has also created a few tips for parents and caregivers of very young children that are tailored to these unique times. Here are those guidelines, categorized by children’s ages:

Age 2 and under: It is advised that children younger than 18 months avoid all screen media, except for video chats with close family and friends. Parents of children age 18 to 24 months who want to introduce digital media are advised to choose high-quality programming and watch it with their children. Talk to them and help them understand what they’re seeing.

Age 2-5 years old: Limit screen use to high-quality programs for 1 hour per day. Parents and caregivers should view all media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and help them apply it to the world around them.

Age 6 and older: Place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity or other behaviors that are essential to your child’s health.

Stay informed, stay healthy, and keep your children safe!


Mental Wellness and Parenting in a Pandemic

May 5, 2020

Four ways to protect your and your family’s mental wellness during the global COVID-19 outbreak.

By Tammy Ullmer
Family Support Specialist
Women’s Recovery Journey

It’s 10 o’clock in the morning and so far I have built a perfectly symmetrical castle with blocks, baked three-dozen cookies, played two games of Trouble plus a tie-breaker game, had a lengthy discussion about sportsmanship, washed two loads of laundry, unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher and made it around the block with my 3rd grader, my preschooler, my baby in the stroller, and our dog who thinks he needs to water every single yard we pass. Sound familiar?

Parenting during a pandemic is not for the faint of heart. COVID-19 has thrown us all into a world of uncertainty. We are not only parents but also teachers, friends, entertainment, and referees to our children. In times like these, we must turn to the golden rule of air travel: Put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping those around you. Translation: We must take the time to care for ourselves (without feeling guilty) before we can effectively care for our children. Below are 4 tips to help guide your parenting to promote your own mental wellness as well as your children’s mental wellness.

You Don’t Have to Be Perfect. Without childcare or babysitters offering you a break, self-care might mean taking an extra minute for yourself hiding in the bathroom. Or, a bubble bath after the kids are in bed. It could be picking up a practice like meditation, deep breathing, a new hobby, journaling, or simply allowing yourself additional screen time. Give yourself room to not be a perfect parent, because there really is no such thing. Having 16 hours a day to fill to keep our children happy, occupied, schooled and well fed does not allow time for perfection. If you are doing your best, you are doing enough! It is more crucial to set a good example for your children by being calm, emotionally healthy, and reliable. Kids will model how their parents behave and react. If you raise your voice, appear stressed, exhibit erratic behavior or appear panicked, your children will do the same.

Let Them Be Bored. Not keeping your children busy 100% of the day will not cause them permanent harm. You are not a cruise director. You do not need to plan out every single second. Remember that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to time with your children. Scheduling every single minute of their day will just exhaust all those involved. Try to find a balance, exhibit calmness and let them know that uncertainty is a part of normal life and should be taken one moment at a time. This is how our children will learn resiliency, which is one of the most important skills they will use throughout their lives! When they look back on this time in their childhoods, they will not remember which games you played with them or how many cookies you baked. Instead, they will look back and remember whether you were present for them, whether you were calm and gentle with them, the ways you reassured them and squashed their anxieties, and all the ways you rooted them in reality and mindfulness.

Be Open About What is Happening. Please talk to your children about the virus and why all our lives are so different right now. Children know their lives are different. They have heard about the pandemic from the news, social media, and their friends or perhaps through overhearing your conversations with other adults. If the topic is not discussed with them directly, your child may begin to believe that the virus is unbelievable or scary. Without the facts their imaginations can run wild. Speaking to them about the virus will be an opportunity to dispel myths and teach them about the importance of gathering information from reputable, reliable sources. This will not be through social media outlets or other people’s personal opinions.

Accept the Lack of Control. We need to teach our children there are things in life that they (and you) cannot control. In times like these, it is important to encourage your children to focus on what they can control rather than what they can’t. In this case, they can control their home routines, schedules, and personal hygiene. This is a great opportunity to teach them to wash their hands regularly, sneeze or cough into their elbow, and to use at least 2 tissues at a time to blow or wipe their noses. Explain to them what social distancing means and how practicing it can help them stay safe. You can also help your children learn to identify their own feelings about what is happening. Play a game of “Emotions Charades” by having each player act out an emotion and guessing what that emotion is. Explain why it’s okay to feel those emotions and suggest healthy ways of dealing with them.

This should be a time of building memories…happy ones, not memories of excessive stress over how to fit 20 things into each day and which 20 different things you are going to do tomorrow. Remember to take care of yourself first and be sure to watch your children for changes in their sleep patterns, changes in appetite, mood fluctuations or expressions of self-harm. If you notice any of these changes please know that there are crisis workers, therapists and support specialists available by phone or virtual visits to help. We can’t always be everything to our children. Knowing when to ask for outside help is crucial to keeping our children happy, healthy, safe, and mentally well.

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Toddler Tantrums: Inside the Mind of a Child

April 14, 2020

What parents are thinking vs. what toddlers are thinking during a tantrum. Plus, tips to help you keep your cool while helping your child calm down!

Toddler tantrum

By Elissa Kraynik
Supervisor/Family Support Specialist
Parent Connection

If you have a toddler in your household, you know how important routine can be. But right now, try as you may, your usual routine might not be happening. Sleep schedules, daycare, play dates, and trips to the playground are all things that helped you and your child stay on a familiar and comforting rhythm. Without them, you may be feeling stressed and your toddler might be, too.

How does a toddler show their frustration or confusion? Tantrums. And a tantrum is almost guaranteed to make an already stressful parenting situation even more stressful. Before you react, it’s important to take a step back and think through what is REALLY going on. Both in your mind, and in your child’s mind.

Say you’ve just told your toddler that they can’t do or have something that they want. After some back-and-forth, your toddler hits the ground crying and screaming. They may even yell, “I hate you!” In YOUR mind, you are likely thinking or feeling the following:


Parent/Caregiver Brain:

“My kid hates me”

“I am a horrible parent”

“I just need five minutes of quiet to myself!”

“I can’t wait until they go to bed!”

“I am going to LOSE it!”

“I just want to scream!”


Your feelings in these moments are extremely valid. Remember, your toddler does not hate you. In fact, they are acting this way because they feel safest and most secure with you.  Way to go! So, what exactly is going through your child’s mind during this tantrum? If they could explain it to you, this is probably what they would say.


Toddler Brain:

“That cookie is RIGHT in front of me and I’m hungry NOW! You are telling me that dinner is in my future.”

“I’m trying to find the words, but I don’t know enough words to get my emotions out.”

“I missed my nap or went to bed late last night. I am overtired physically and lack the emotional control to handle this.”

“I need Mommy or Daddy to make me feel better, because I am still learning ways to make MYSELF feel better.”

“I can’t even remember why I am crying, because this is taking a lot of energy out of me. This lack of control makes me even MORE upset!”

“I need help!”


Your toddler’s emotions have gotten in the way of their brain understanding what you are saying. They haven’t learned yet how to handle big feelings. A lot of this has to do with knowing how they feel, but not knowing enough words to get those feelings out.

Remind yourself of this: the way YOU handle this situation is modeling how your toddler should respond to THEIR big feelings. They are learning from you. Take a deep breath and count to ten. Get down at your child’s level so you are eye to eye. Validate your child’s feelings before explaining why they can’t have their way. For example, you could say to your child, “I bet you are really hungry. I’m so sorry. I bet that is upsetting. I get upset when I’m hungry, too.”

After validating your toddler’s feelings, try distracting them with new tasks. For example, you could tell your toddler, “I could REALLY use a special helper! I bet we can have dinner ready faster if you are able to be my special helper. Thank you SO much! Can I please have a hug?” After the new task is done, be sure to praise your child for what they accomplished. “I had a great time cooking with you! I’m so glad you are feeling better! I am, too!”

Remember, if you ever feel yourself getting too overwhelmed, it’s okay to take a “Mommy Time Out” or “Daddy Time Out.” Even 5 minutes of self-care can help you calm down and release some of the stress you are feeling. Take a warm bath, read that magazine article, take a walk, or call a friend. Keep in mind that it’s okay to ask for help. Reach out. There are resources and support available to you, and Family Services is here to help!

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Talking to kids about COVID-19

April 10, 2020

How to start a conversation with the children in your life about the pandemic and how it’s affecting them.

Talking to Kids


By Chelsea McGuire, MAC, LPC
Counseling Clinic Therapist

We are living in an uncertain time. All of us have been affected by significant stress and change. This especially applies to children who do not necessarily have the language or tools to describe how they are feeling.

If you’re a parent – caregiver – or teacher, you might be wondering how best to help children cope during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve put together four tips to help you put their minds at ease:

Be honest. Share age-appropriate facts about what is going on. Children tend to worry more when they don’t understand something. They will often fill in the blanks with false information to try and make sense of what is happening. Start a conversation with your child by asking how they feel about the changes to their normal routine. Invite them to ask you any questions that they might have. Let your child know that it’s okay to feel what they are feeling and help them figure out ways to handle these emotions in a healthy way.

Set the emotional tone for your child. While adults are certainly dealing with their own stressors and challenges right now, it’s important to be calm and reassuring when interacting with children. They will be observing your behavior and it is up to parents and caregivers to provide as much stability as possible. Make sure that you are taking care of your own emotions, and don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health provider if needed.

Focus on what your family is doing to stay safe. Teach and model appropriate hand washing procedures and practice social distancing. Engage in virtual visits with family and friends to provide your child with the connections that they are missing. Challenge them to spread positivity by making cards for healthcare workers or nursing homes residents.

Lastly, work to maintain a sense of normalcy. While your children may not be going to school or able to see their friends, they are still able to learn, be active, use their imagination, and help out around the house. Stick to their regular routine as much as possible.

All of us are figuring out how to navigate this new way of life. The same goes for our children. If you find that your child is struggling with anxiety, depression, or behavioral concerns during this time, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional therapist for help.

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How to Turn Parenting Stress into Success

April 7, 2020

Tips to help you keep your cool and respond, rather than react, when your child’s behavior pushes you to the edge.

Parenting Stress

By Heather Goetsch
Family Support Specialist
Early Head Start

Take a moment to think about how you manage stress and conflict with your children. Do you yell? Do you behave in ways you later regret? Rather than yelling or shouting when a child isn’t listening, you can make a commitment to using a new skill – one that is proven to benefit your child as well.

Picture this: Your child has not been listening to your requests throughout the day. This has led you to raise your voice. You may even punish your child by sending them to their room. In turn, your child is now responding with a full-blown, tear-filled tantrum. Nobody is feeling good about this situation. You’re upset and your child is upset.

Now imagine trying this: After a full day of struggling with your child’s behavior, you feel your fuse shortening. Instead of losing your cool, you choose to follow the strategies of what is known as Conscious Discipline:

Control Yourself First

Remind yourself that the only person you can change is yourself. This is a powerful way of thinking. You cannot control how others around you may respond, but you can choose to control yourself. This is self-control.


Just Breathe

Breathing is something we all know how to do, but are we choosing to do it? That is what Conscious Discipline is all about, about committing to the skill. In moments when you feel overwhelmed by your children, try practicing this breathing technique from Conscious Discipline, called STAR.

S– Stop. Commit to pausing here. Pause your response. This pause gives you the chance to think about how to respond rather than react.

T- Take a deep breath. Your inhale should push your stomach out and last about four seconds. Your exhale should bring your stomach in and last about eight seconds.

A – And…

R– Relax. Allow your deep breaths to calm you. Remind yourself, “I am safe,” “I can handle this,” and “keep breathing.”

When you actively choose to use Conscious Discipline, you are not only choosing to regain your composure and self-control, but you are also downloading calm onto your child. You are giving them the skills that they will one day need to self-regulate themselves.

Remember, chaos invites chaos. But calmness, love and composure are also contagious. By choosing self-control and by choosing to breathe, to actively and consciously breathe, you are allowing yourself to find your calm and to share it with your family. Life isn’t always easy, and parenting is challenging. Remember to be kind to yourself and just breathe. For more information about Conscious Discipline and the skills it offers for parents and children, check out the Conscious Discipline website at