“Our family is facing financial issues at home, discipline issues with our middle child at school, and an overwhelming schedule. It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. What can I do?”*
SCAN’s Parent Education team hears a lot of questions from local parents in our classes, support groups and workshops. They send a great monthly email to parents to respond to those concerns, and now we’re sharing them here on the blog, too!
Every family goes through hard times; resilient families are able to bounce back after those hard times. Resilience is defined as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.” It’s about how you handle negative feelings and move forward in a healthy, positive manner.
It is important to remember that resilience is something that is developed over time through thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Some steps families can take to become more resilient: create a strengths family tree, practice optimist, and rejuvenate regularly. For more concrete steps to take as a family to increase your resiliency, click here (English) or click here (Spanish).
(Learn more about SCAN’s Parent Education Program here.)
Did you know that SCAN offers a free mobile app that allows parents on-the-go access to all of the information on our online Parent Resource Center? Now we also have a short, 1-minute video you can share with parents that explains how simple it is to download and use the app:
Our goal is to make it easy for parents to learn more about child development, parenting challenges and other family topics. Using the app, they can download fact sheets in English and Spanish, listen to our Parenting Today radio shows produced with iHeart Radio, and search dozens of parenting topics for more resources.
You can download the app for free on the AppStore and GooglePlay. (Or access direct links via our online Parent Resource Center here.) Do you already use the app? Please rate us so that more people learn about SCAN and more parents find this free resource!
Last month, SCAN hosted an Allies in Prevention Coalition meeting to discuss the crisis—and our response as child welfare professionals—in Northern Virginia, where in 2016 we experienced 248 drug related deaths, 80% of which were opioid related .
Professor Valerie Cuffee, LCSW, MSW, CPM from George Mason Univerisity (and a SCAN board member) led a presentation entitled Helping Parents with Heroin and Opioid Addiction Using SBIRT(Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment).
Those in attendance learned how to:
Recognize heroin/opioid addiction as a health epidemic
Emphasize the impact of heroin/opioid use or addiction on parenting
Introduce & practice SBIRT tools to address use and addiction
Emphasize the importance of assertive & collaborative referral to treatment
Opioid use, including prescription oxycodone and fentanyl as well as illicit heroin, is widespread in the United States, cutting across virtually all health, racial, socioeconomic, and geographic boundaries. Experts estimate that more than 2.5 million people abused or were dependent on opioids in 2015. As the nation’s opioid use has skyrocketed, more individuals are being impacted by opioids’ adverse effects, including Northern Virginia residents.
This means an increasing number of children are born into families and environments that revolve around an addiction to these drugs. ChildTrends reports that at least 2 million children annually have a parent who uses illicit drugs, including opioids. Parents who abuse drugs often place their children in danger. This danger may result in neglect, physical abuse, or domestic violence. Nearly 1/3 of children entering foster care do so in part because of parental drug abuse. Even with early intervention, many children of opioid-dependent parents are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder later in life, in part due to the diminished care and unpredictability associated with opioid use.
Opioid use is also impacting adolescents with greater frequency. Among youth, prescription opioid use is often intentional and for recreational use. Many youth need to go no further than a medicine cabinet to find opioids. Adolescents may be at an increased risk due to the common misbelief that prescription opioids are safer than heroin, and that noninjecting routes of administration are associated with less risk of overdose. Adolescents may be more likely to overdose from prescription opioids because they underestimate the strength of the drug they are using and they see their use as very different from that from what they consider to be “street users”.
Adults and adolescents also utilize opioids as a coping mechanism for childhood trauma and/or mental illness. In working together to stem opioid use it is important for communities to reduce the stigma associated with seeking assistance. Innovative programs are growing in places like Massachusetts and Ohio, as well as in Family Drug Treatment Courts like those we have in some of our own local communities.
We need to help abused, neglected and otherwise traumatized children by providing tools that are tailored to their specific issues before they turn to drugs for self-medication. And for those already dependent, the message needs to be clear: it is not too late. Opioid use is not just an individual crisis; it is a community health crisis affecting our children and families. To reduce opioid dependence, the community needs to be educated and involved.
– Today’s blog post was written by SCAN MSW Intern Chamone Marshall
For many parents, talking about race with children is a difficult concept. Adults often question how much children already know and how much information is appropriate to share, while balancing a need to protect children from the United States’ complicated (and often violent) racial history.
We recently taped a Parenting Today segment on this topic with guest Natalie Bailey from the Department of Family Services in Fairfax County through out partnership with iHeartRadio. LISTEN HERE!
It is important to note that children are perceptive, and often pick up the nuances of race even without direct commentary. Adults need to realize there may be awkward moments, but by engaging children in conversations about race at an early age and continuing to do so throughout adolescence, parents have an opportunity to shape children’s self-esteem as well as perspectives in regards to race. Each moment is a learning opportunity to affirm children’s questions, challenge stereotypes, and teach children how to navigate an increasingly racially diverse community in positive, productive ways.
In the radio show linked above, Sonia and Natalie also mention three books that may be a good starting point for families:
There have been countless (and often conflicting) news stories in recent weeks about immigration in the United States. In our networks, the discussion–for years–has simply focused on how we can best care for and support these families. What is it like to be an immigrant and a parent? What are the unique fears, challenges, and needs faced by these families?
Please consider sharing our resources with the professionals and parents in your own networks:
We’ve come up with a fresh list of books to recommend for child welfare professionals, advocates and parents you know. What are you reading this winter? We’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below!
“The Resilient Parent” by Mantu Joshi is a collection of essays meant to provide emotional, spiritual and practical guidance for parents of differently-abled children. Using his own experience as a parent of children with special needs, Joshi offers short chapters that can be read in under 5 minutes, each ending with reflectiosn for parents to think about in their own life and family.
“Socially Strong, Emotionally Secure” by Nefertiti Bruce and Karen B. Cairone, was published in 2011 but is worth a permanent spot on your bookshelf! It provides 50 activities to help kids age 3-8 build resiliency, and is useful for professionals and parents alike.
“A Volcano in My Tummy” by Eliane Whitehouse and Warwick Pudney, offers excellent, easy-to-understand skills for adults when helping children (age 6-13) deal with anger management. From teaching them how to communicate their anger to addressing violent behaviors, it can help build awareness, creativity and hands-on tools for kids to manage anger issues.
“I Am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel explores the experience of Jazz Jennings, a real-life transgender child. We talk a lot at SCAN about books that build resiliency for children, and what a great tool this book can be for kids and adults a like, exploring a challenging subject in a way that builds understanding and connection.
Ruling out genetics and specific pathologies related to mental health and suicide, there still remains something incredibly wrong with the picture and we need to take a closer environmental and internal look at what might be the cause – because the two are closely linked.
The first thing we need to get familiar with is how the brain and mind operate. It’s hard to develop assets when we don’t know how our internal technologies or assets actually work. You can’t fly a plane if you don’t know how the equipment functions. You’ll crash and burn…and that’s what we’re seeing with our young people.
Education about how the brain and mind work shouldn’t be dreaded or feared. This is the very attitude that pushed us away from the golden key of our own empowerment. Our brain and mind belong to us and it’s high time we learn how to use it, regulate it and build it for our advantage… rather than letting our environment craft it for us.
The mind is one of our virtual technologies, so to speak. You can’t touch it, yet there’s something within you doing the thinking and imagining. It can be focused and directed, it can wander off, or it can work on autopilot i.e., think in a reactive and unregulated way. The brain is the organ that simply responds to what your mind is thinking. It computes the information and programs itself, the nervous system and the body according to the quality of the data it receives – good or bad.
If children learned at an early age some basics about how to regulate their own mind and how to build healthier neuro patterns in their brain, they’d develop greater abilities in self-regulation, reflection (instead of reactivity), healing, discernment and even…. emotional regulation. Shouldn’t this be part of our fundamental human education?
To gain a better understanding, here are some simple basics about how the brain works.
Amygdala One of its major functions is the flight or flight response, meaning it perceives threat. It protected us from lions, tigers and bears. However, we don’t have these primitive challenges anymore. So what did we do? We made a habit of inventing all sorts of harmful fear-based and stress-filled thoughts that cause a vicious cycle of unnecessary revving up and over stimulation of the amygdala! This part of our brain is very important and necessary when we have a true emergency. However, a majority of the time we aren’t in a life or death threat….and our amygdala doesn’t know the difference. You see, it can’t distinguish what is a real threat and what is not! It just fires regardless.
Any time you build neural pathways in the brain you are “imprinting,” which is like programming or hardwiring the brain to think, react and believe in a certain way. The brain then directs the body to react, feel, and heal or breakdown according to the input. And worst of all, when over-stimulated and unregulated the amygdala (in a metaphorical sense) hijacks the electrical activity of the rest of the brain which keeps you from more effectively accessing the highest “thinking centers” of the brain (prefrontal cortex) responsible for reflection, integration and…. higher happier emotions. When a person is chronically thinking and feeling fear, powerlessness, self-hate and despair, these trigger the amygdala.
Hippocampus The hippocampus is located deep in the center of the brain near the amygdala. It’s the part of the brain that is responsible for holding and storing long-term information. You don’t relearn how to walk and talk each day, or ride a bike or drive a car. It’s “automatic” and the hippocampus is responsible for this programming function and storage. Think of it as the region of the brain that turns everything on “auto pilot.” If you had to relearn everything every day, life would be impossible. You can also think of it like the hard drive on your computer. It simply stores information and waits for commands from YOU to perform a specific function or task without thinking about it. Sometimes this is beneficial and sometimes not. In regards to our less desirable or fear-based stress-filled behavior patterns and programmed thoughts, it is not.
Most people are unaware of stored familial or other learning patterns that they were taught. Have you ever noticed how some families are really happy, forgiving or funny and others are pessimistic, stubborn or easily angered? More often than not, these patterns were shown to them between 0-7 years and then stored in the hippocampus as automatic “reactions.”
When a person is chronically thinking about and feeling fear, powerlessness, self-hate and/or despair, the brain builds the neuro circuitry to match the input…and these become the automatic “auto pilot” behaviors and emotions. The more you think it, the more you build it.
The good news is, our brain has “neuroplasticity”, meaning we can reshape it’s neuro-programming at any time.
Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) The PFC, located in the top forehead region of the brain, is the highest thinking center of the brain responsible for some of the highest human emotions and abilities such as inspiration, compassion, joy, love and play. This is the area of the brain that you want to activate, stimulate (light-up the electrical flow) and build up neuroplasticity in as much as possible! This brain center is responsible for creativity, problem solving, discernment and inspiration. When the amygdala is over stimulated, electrical flow to this area is impeded – which is the exact opposite of what you need to calmly create solutions and regulate your emotional responses. Teen PFCs are most electrically stimulated when they are engaged in meaningful, inspiring work…or when they are feeling gratitude and compassion.
We all have a responsibility to use this information to correct the way we parent, educate our kids in schools and choose the things we give our attention to within our environments. Whether it’s domestic violence within the home or the aggression, fear and violence we see on drama/reality shows, movies, TV, video games and the evening news, each of these are over stimulating the reactivity of the human amygdala in unhelpful ways, while at the same time shutting off access to the PFC.
Many children do not have a stable home environment, but if caregivers and teachers readily taught this information, kids would be greater equipped with tools and the ability to regulate their own emotions and outcomes to a greater degree than what is currently happening.
Things you can do to promote daily stability, feelings of happiness and well-being and PFC access (while quieting the amygdala):
Deep purposeful breathing – Quiet the amygdala and open the pathways to the PFC.
Nourishing your physical body – Engage in regular physical activity and healthy eating; stimulants, sugar, refined products, alcohol, preservatives and artificial colors can affect emotional and behavioural stability.
Understand the basics about your own brain – How does it work? How can you train and build it to perform the functions that you want?
Practice mindful awareness techniques or MBSR (mindful based stress reduction) – Help calm the mind and build positive neuro patterns within the brain.
Practice saying, feeling and expressing love and gratitude to yourself and the world around you – Science has proven that expressing gratitude lights up the PFC to a high degree, while building positive neuro patterns within the brain.
We can be successful at building our brain to express habitual joy, gratitude, optimism and love, just as certain as we can build it to be successful at fear, powerlessness and unworthiness.
Since launching our Operation Safe Babies program last year, we’ve provided safe, portable cribs to more than 325 parents across Northern Virginia. We’ve also answered hundreds of their questions about how to make sleep safe for their babies.
October is Safe Sleep Awareness Month, the perfect time to share some of the most common questions we receive and some of the best answers we’ve found in our work:
Q: Why should I put my baby on her back to sleep?
A: (From the NIH Safe to Sleep Campaign) Research shows that the back sleep position is the safest for babies. The back sleep position carries the lowest risk of SIDS. Research also shows that babies who sleep on their backs are less likely to get fevers, stuffy noses, and ear infections. The back sleep position makes it easier for babies to look around the room and to move their arms and legs.
Remember: Babies sleep safest on their backs, and every sleep time counts!
Q: I’ve heard co-sleeping can be good for my fussy baby. Is it safe?
A:(From Cribs for Kids) The act of bringing an infant into a sleep environment with adults, other children, or pets puts the baby in danger of suffocating, either by being smothered in bedding; by positional asphyxia, which occurs when a baby’s position prevents them person from breathing adequately; or by being accidentally rolled over by a sleeping companion (overlay).
EXTRA TOOL: An opinion piece in the LA Times this September was met with powerful responses from the medical community, including this letter from the President of the AAP reposted online by Cribs for Kids:
To the editor: The risks of sharing your bed with your infant are not “imaginary,” contrary to the opinion expressed by Robert LeVine and Sarah LeVine.
An adult bed poses very real risks of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), unintentional suffocation, strangulation or entrapment to an infant. Sleep-related infant deaths claim more babies between 1 month and 1 year of age than any other cause.
The safest place for an infant to sleep is in a separate crib or bassinet with a tight-fitting sheet and nothing else, preferably in the parents’ bedroom for up to a year.
Benard Dreyer, MD, Elk Grove Village, Ill. The writer is president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Q: How can I make sure other caregivers are careful when putting my baby to sleep?
A: SCAN developed a “Pledge Card” in English and Spanish. We encourage parents to make copies for babysitters, family members and other caregivers to sign and hang up as a reminder for the children in their care.
Q: What does a “safe sleep” environment look like?
A: The National Institutes of Health has a great online visual tool that allows parents to see and interact with pictures of a bedroom as they learn how to create a safe sleep environment in their own home.
What questions have parents asked you about safe sleep? We’d love to help you answer more questions!
“The Partnership believes that, when parents share wisdom with one another, we all become better parents.”
The chats can be as simple as a one-time gathering to discuss a specific topic, or an ongoing group providing support and resources. The end goal is to help create communities of parents who are interested in helping a wider circle of children and parents grow up to be happy, healthy and competent.
How did APCYF develop tools for the program? With help from SCAN! APCYF is a member of SCAN’s Allies in Prevention Coalition (AIPC), where they learned about a Working Parent module that Public Education Manager Tracy Leonard had developed for SCAN’s new series of workshops. APCYF’s Michael Swisher adapted the module into conversation starters that help parents have intentional, supportive conversations.
Through our Public Education Program, we are able to create unique tools that allow our Allies in Prevention Coalition members the ability to adapt to the children and families with whom they work. APCYF is a perfect example of how SCAN builds capacity in our community and in our families.
p.s. Parents talk with one another naturally — and often find the greatest source of support from one another. If you know a group of parents who want to have a focused conversation on parenting challenges, share these online resources from our friends at APCYF. Download their tools for free to help spark the conversation!
Back-to-school season can be a time of changes and challenges for families with school-aged children. Sharing information and tools like these can be a great way to connect with parents when they need it most:
Advocating for Your Child in School: Help parents connect with teachers and school staff in constructive ways at the beginning of the school year, and learn how to communicate throughout the year by working with teachers to put the child’s needs first.
Bullying: Increase parents’ understanding of bullying, how it happens and what they can do to be aware of its impact on their own children.
The Importance of Routine: The beginning of the school year means new schedules and activities – how can parents establish healthy routines, and why does it matter?
Positive Communication with Children: How can parents keep kids talking to them about their experiences and feelings? (And how can they really listen and respond in the best way?) Positive communication is critical for parents who are working to connect with their kids in meaningful, lasting ways.
Unplug with your Child: What are the best ways to reconnect after spending the day apart at school and work? How can unplugging as a family help children and parents lower stress, grow closer and build resiliency?
And one more thing—perhaps “back-to-school” is the perfect time for parents to take a class, join a support group or attend a workshop to strengthen their parenting skills. Browse SCAN’s Parent Connection Resource Guide for a list of offerings for parents from dozens of organizations and agencies across Northern Virginia this fall.