Many of us, as parents and caregivers, find ourselves now at home, juggling our children’s school requirements, our own work obligations, and the added stress of trying to stay healthy and safe during a pandemic. We want to be supportive and encouraging, but simultaneously we struggle with how best to address the dangerous realities of this virus. Now, perhaps more than ever, our kids are looking to us for guidance and reassurance. And our interactions with our kids, how we talk about and respond to the current conditions, make a tremendous difference in how they address these challenging times.

There are mountains of articles and reports to sift through offering advice. What follows are highlights of three helpful resources – one from the National Association of School Psychologists and National Association of School Nurses, one from Psychology Today, and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control. These, like many resources and experts, stress the importance of offering an age-appropriate response.

For young children it is important to keep your discussions of COVID-19 brief and simple. It is helpful to let young children know that adults – including their family members, teachers, and community leaders – are working to keep them safe and healthy. Within this age group, stress and anxiety may show up as loss of appetite, clinging to parents/caregivers, thumb sucking, or regression in developmental milestones.

We should anticipate more questions from later elementary and early middle schoolers. They may ask questions about COVID-19 cases in their area or school, the chances that they will get sick, and what is going to happen when they return to school. Given the uncertainty that exists around many of these questions, we can help these children by giving them the facts that we do know. Talk about how the disease is spread and what everyone can do to reduce their risk. Practice handwashing and putting on face masks. Discuss what national, state, and community leaders are doing, such as issuing stay-at-home orders, to manage the spread of the disease. Irritability, poor concentration, nightmares, and clinginess are all common signs of stress with kids in this age group.

COVID-19 issues and concerns can be discussed in greater detail with older students, such as those in grades 8-12. Again, it is important to steer them to factual information and credible sources. This group is likely to be getting information form a variety of sources, such as friends and social media. We can play an important role in helping them sort out facts from rumor, speculation, or opinion.  Sleep disruptions, loss of appetite, increased conflicts and aggression, and physical complaints are common among teens under stress.

Limiting access to screens, including television, internet, phone, and social media, is advised for all age groups. Yet, this has become increasingly challenging with stay-at-home orders, e-learning, reduced alternate activities, and time demands of parent work schedules. We can all monitor how much time our children spend watching COVID-19 updates, as too much information can increase fears, confusion, and anxiety.

We can help children and youth stay active by encouraging them to play outside, take a walk, or go for a bike ride. Even a small amount of outdoor time can significantly help mental and physical wellbeing. Taking breaks from schoolwork can increase focus and reduce fatigue. Let your child lead their movement breaks – jumping jacks, dance moves, and stretching are all easy options. We have seen countless creative ways children and families are playing together during this pandemic.

Above all, we want all children to feel supported and cared for during these unusual and uncertain times. We want them to feel safe and comfortable sharing their frustrations, fears and concerns. Lost time with friends, sports seasons, musical performances and graduations are understandable reasons for our kids to be angry, disappointed, and sad. We need to hear and validate these emotions. At the same time, we can also use this time to model flexibility, patience, creative engagement strategies, problem solving, resilience, and compassion. All caring adults have the opportunity to help our children through this crisis – and our kids are counting on us to do just that.

Sources and Resources

We all know STEM is important, but do we know how important it will be moving forward?

Children must be able to grow, learn, adapt and thrive in a quickly evolving world. STEM is not only about economic prosperity, but also establishing good quality of life for our children.

Our STEM Spotlight, produced in collaboration with the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana, is a quick and easy way to digest STEM in relation to Hoosier youth.

Read the Spotlight here! 

 

Three girls smile while standing outside in the snow.

What are your goals for 2020? For adults, the most popular resolutions include exercise more, quit smoking, learn a new skill, and manage money better. What about for kids? Should they also be making New Year’s resolutions? Studies show child goal-setting can build their resilience, confidence and motivation. Yet it is important that we understand how goal setting is different for children. With the right approach and tools, building our children’s ability to set appropriate goals can put them on a path to long-term success.

As caring adults, we can set the conditions for our children to learn the benefits of goal setting. In fact, experts agree that most children learn how to set goals by continually watching their parents and mentors. Teaching children how to set and achieve goals helps them learn the values of reflection and self-improvement. And reflective self-improvement, also called a growth mindset, has been found to be a better predictor of future success than IQ.

To be effective, children must drive the goal-setting process. To ensure that the goals are truly those of the child and not a reflection of adult overreach, caring adults must play a supporting role, allowing the child to identify their unique goals. One approach, the ABCs of Goal Setting, from Psychology Today, highlights that goals should be achievable and believable, while involving personal commitment. EdWeek proposes a simple “noun plus verb” structure, such as “read every night” or “attend homework groups.” With any approach, it’s important to review plans regularly and to anticipate that setbacks may occur and adjustments will be needed.

While goal setting can be started with children as young as 3 or 4, it is important to adjust the approach based on the child’s age. At any age, start the conversation by simply asking children what they would like to do this year. Michelle Borba, parenting expert and author of the book “UnSelfie,” suggests then using this formula: “I will” plus “what,” “when” and “how.” For younger kids, the formula simplifies to “I will” plus “what.” Goals such as learning to tie shoes or memorize simple addition facts are realistic for little ones and can later grow to be more complex.

Psychology Today says a key in goal setting is to listen to the child and focus on the process of improvement rather than the product. We also can help by ensuring that our kids don’t set too many goals or select goals that are too complex or too simplistic. Many experts suggest that by selecting goals that are just out of reach we can teach children to try new things.

At the same time, kids need to see and understand that self-improvement takes time and that setbacks are normal. Show them the struggles you’ve encountered to reach your own goals. There are many great biographies, such as those of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and many Olympic athletes, that highlight the essential connection between goals, failure and success.

Goal setting holds the promise of helping kids in many parts of their lives, and experts recommend looking beyond academics. When youth are overscheduled and stressed, they may need to identify goals and action steps that foster relaxation and fun as part of their lives. Borba recommends we promote this balance by helping children set and achieve character goals. Character goals aim at cultivating “we-thinkers” instead of “me-thinkers,” helping kids become better individuals and community members through building traits such as caring, courtesy, respect, patience, generosity and truthfulness. Another way to reinforce the importance of these character goals is for the entire family to identify and work towards a shared goal, such as listening more or reaching out to elderly relatives.

In 2020, instead of just telling your child they are smart, you can teach them that they are capable of taking on challenges that can result in growth. Listen to their goals, help them define the larger strategy and necessary daily actions, then provide lots of cheering, encouragement in the face of setbacks, and unconditional support. As we aim to grow and nurture our future leaders, goal setting may be the key to building motivated, resilient and hopeful kids. And it’s a goal we can all share.

 Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI.

During the holiday season, we may find many settings where both food and conversation are plentiful. Gathering for meals and interactions with family members, especially those with differing opinions, can be wonderful opportunities to teach our kids the value of connectedness.

Family meals, be they weekday dinners or large holiday gatherings, offer tremendous benefits for children. Mealtimes provide a chance for family members to catch up on events of the day, provide support, discuss news, tell stories, solve problems, have fun, and plan.

  • Family mealtime is associated with strengthening families, improving nutrition, and facilitating child development.
  • For young children, dinnertime conversation boosts vocabulary even more than being read to aloud. One study showed that young kids learned 1,000 rare words at the dinner table, compared to only 143 from parents reading storybooks aloud. Kids with a larger vocabulary read earlier and more easily.
  • For school-age youngsters, regular mealtime is an even more powerful predictor of high achievement scores than time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports, or doing art.
  • Teens who ate family meals five to seven times a week were twice as likely to get As in school as those who ate dinner with their families fewer than two times a week.
  • Regular family dinners are also linked to lowering the risks of a host of teenage behaviors parents fear: suicide, smoking, binge drinking, marijuana use, violence, school problems, eating disorders, and sexual activity.

Family rituals, such as a Thanksgiving dinner followed by football games, facilitate an increase in a child’s and a family’s sense of social connectedness, and such connectedness may serve to protect kids and teens from the development of anxiety or depression.

Comforting and emotionally stable adult relationships have a significant impact on a child’s overall mental health outcomes. At the same time, holidays can add stress to already hectic schedules and family routines. While stressful days and moments are normal, high levels of stress that continue for long periods of time can negatively affect a child.

Indiana families often effectively work through stressful situations, talking and connecting with one another. According to the National Survey of Children’s Health,

  • 65.6% of Hoosier parents report handling the day-to-day demands of raising children “very well.”
  • 47.8% of Hoosier families talk together when facing problems.
  • 86.0% of Hoosier families are more likely to work together to solve family problems “all of the time” (46.5%) and “most of the time (40.4%).
  • 65.3% of Hispanic families in Indiana are more likely to stay hopeful even in difficult times “all of time” compared to their peers: Black 61.3%, all other kids 56.8%, and white 47.9%.

One of the best things we can do to help our kids navigate stressful situations, whether in extended family gatherings or daily interactions, is to teach them effective civil discourse skills. The goal should be to help our children have calm, balanced conversations about controversial issues, something many adults struggle to do, let alone model.

The ability to study a problem, understand the opinions and arguments on all sides, and discuss it with others to see what agreements or solutions are available, is a highly valuable skill to learn. Some of the suggested key steps of teaching and modeling civil discourse include:

  • Listen with patience – hearing another person’s position, in their own terms, takes patience and focus. Yet this critical first step is crucial to building empathy. The information gained also can help determine if there is common ground to be found or if continuing the conversation may be a waste of time.
  • Be willing to be wrong – be open to new arguments and ideas. Check facts on both sides. This step can mean acceptance of new facts and/or letting go of your own incorrect facts or assumptions. It means letting go of invalid information, a self-acknowledgement that is difficult for many.
  • Respect opposing views – the ability to show respect for the right to hold differing positions is crucial. You can disagree with an individual’s perspective while still consistently showing respect for the person holding those views.

In a world with an abundance of finger-pointing and heated discussions, your holiday gatherings can be a way to show your kids a different, more productive path. Shared meals and traditions, enhanced with positive civil discourse, may be the best gift we can give our children.

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we are highlighting the growing number of Hispanic children in our state while sharing with youth workers – teachers, after-school providers, coaches, mentors and families – how they can join in the celebration.  

History of Hispanic Heritage month: 

  • Takes place every year from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15  
  • Started in 1968 as a time to recognize and celebrate the many contributions, diverse cultures and extensive histories of Americans who came from — or whose ancestors came from — Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. 
  • Started during President Lyndon Johnson’s term as a 1-week celebration and was extended to a month during President Ronald Reagan’s term in 1988. 

Indiana’s Hispanic youth population and national trends: 

  • Indiana’s child population has increased in racial and ethnic diversity over the past 10 years and is more diverse than the adult population (children = 27.3% race or ethnicity other than white, non-Hispanic vs 18% of adults race or ethnicity other than white, non-Hispanic). 
  • The Hispanic population has seen the largest demographic increase over the past 10 years (+2.5%).  
  • The Indiana Hispanic youth population has increased to 11.3% (2018), up from 8.8% in 2008.  
  • Between 2014 and 2018, the population of Indiana Hispanic youth ages 0-17 increased from 165,610 to 176,634. The Hispanic youth population has increased between 2,000 to 3,000 each year since 2014.  
  • Indiana’s Hispanic youth population (176,634) is third largest among neighboring states and 21st largest nationally. Among Indiana’s neighboring states, Illinois boasts the largest Hispanic youth population (710,873), followed by Michigan (182,786).   

According to research conducted by Pew Research Center, by 2035, one-third of American children and youth will be Latino. U.S.-born people, rather than immigrants, are driving the Latino population shift.

The U.S. Department of Education, Smithsonian Education and the National Education Association have easy to use lessons, student activities, quizzes and media/videos that can be used to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage month. Resources are organized by grade level and cover topics such as:   

  • Hispanic history and leaders – help students learn about famous Hispanic Americans, from early settlers to scientists, athletes, musicians and civic leaders.    
  • Comparing cultural holidays  students in grades K-4 compare Halloween and El Día de los Muertos by looking at traditions, music and visual art.  
  • Journal of Time  Students in grades 5-8 use photographs as inspiration to write journal entries from the point of view of someone living during the Great Depression in California.
  • Common Visions, Common Voices  students in grades 9-12 analyze similarities and differences between cultures by investigating themes and motifs found in literature or visual arts.  

Local and state organizations, such as the Indiana Latino Institute, the Indiana Commission on Hispanic and Latino Affairs, La Plaza Indianapolis and Girl Scouts, provide programs, events and materials that celebrate this month and Indiana’s Hispanic children and families.     

National Hispanic Heritage month is a great reminder that there is more we can learn about American history while also reminding us that we can do more to engage this growing student population. Some recommended actions for youth-serving professionals include:  

  • Tell students that they can succeed, and reinforce with new English speakers that they can overcome language barriers. 
  • Recognize that seemingly little things, like making positive comments or taking the time to discuss a student’s work, can go a long way toward building connections and confidence. 
  • Help kids start thinking about and preparing for college very early. Do not be dismissive by assuming students do not want to go to college or graduate. Far too many Latino students have heard that they are not ready for college. 
  • Continue and expand the work many school districts are already doing to increase their cultural awareness, including both training and ongoing professional education. 
  • Expand engagement strategies involving Latino parents and extended family members as partners in their child’s development and success.  

Indiana and American classrooms, afterschool programs, teams and clubs are becoming increasingly diverse. National Hispanic Heritage month is a great way to celebrate Indiana’s fastest growing group of children and youth. Hopefully, the events and actions taken this month will increase our ability to learn and build on the rich array of cultural and community norms of students and their families. After all, the better we understand our students, the better we can support and champion their success.  

Tami Silverman is the president & CEO of Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI.

Students laugh and talk.

For the thousands of Hoosier children in foster care, educational success is essential to reach their full potential. But research tells us that our foster youth face educational disparities from early education to postsecondary.

We can all help Indiana’s foster students thrive by working together, addressing systemic issues and providing equitable opportunities.

Our latest spotlight, developed in partnership with Foster Success, aims to support you in making a difference in the experiences and outcomes of our foster youth.

Read the spotlight to get the latest insights on this growing population of students.

Read the spotlight!

By Tami Silverman, President & CEO, Indiana Youth Institute

Back to school means back to sports for many Hoosier students. Playing sports is one of the best ways for students to stay active and help them maintain a healthier weight. Organized youth sports provide a wide range of benefits, many beyond physical fitness, and yet it is important to understand the pros, cons and realities of youth sports.

An ESPN study reports that 30% of girls and 37% of boys play on high school teams. While overall levels of school sports participation have remained fairly constant, more girls have been playing sports in recent years, according to Child Trends.

Students living in suburban areas are the most likely to be involved in sports followed by students living in rural areas. Hispanic students are less likely than black or non-Hispanic white students to participate in school athletics. Students attending the poorest schools, often in urban areas, are the least likely to play school sports. A growing number of these schools are cutting funding for sports, leaving their students without access to the many benefits associated with school sports.

In addition to the health benefits of participating in school sports, there are also clear academic benefits. In most cases, student athletes have higher grade point averages, higher standardized test scores, better attendance, lower dropout rates, and a better chance of going to college than students who do not participate. The skills learned through many sports, such as memorization, repetition, and group-learning, are also helpful in classroom learning. And skills such as leadership, teamwork and effective communication are valuable not only on the field and in the classroom, they are also highly attractive to future employers.

Playing sports can also generate social and emotional benefits for our kids. Sports participation can increase self-esteem and self-confidence. Regular exercise releases many beneficial chemicals in the brain, and student athletes often report reduced levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. The sense of belonging and community associated with being part of a team is also a plus. Sportsmanship, often thought of as the ability to cheer on others and acknowledge the accomplishments of your teammates and opponents, is an invaluable life skill. Student athletes are challenged to learn self-discipline and how to control emotions associated with big wins and losses. And simply having fun is a great reason to play sports.

At the same time, playing school sports is not right for every student. Family members need to understand the potential risks associated with sports participation. Too often parents, coaches, teams, and the students themselves, push too hard for wins, creating unhealthy performance pressure. If a student already has a packed schedule, perhaps with tough classes and part-time work, adding sports can increase rather than alleviate the child’s stress.

A good number of the cons associated with youth sports are related to the behaviors of the parents and family members. Experts suggest avoiding these three big pitfalls. Stop connecting your child’s performance with your ability to coach or parent them. Stop using the sports sidelines as your social circle or a place to recapture your glory days. And stop thinking that the goal of playing school sports is to get a college athletic scholarship. According to the NCAA, only about two-percent of high school athletes are awarded athletic scholarships to compete in college. Sports are intended to be enjoyable, with students citing “I wasn’t having fun” as the top reason both males and females quit playing sports. If it stops being fun, or if the cons begin to outweigh the pros for your child, it is time to reevaluate.

Sports can be an outstanding way for students to remain active, build self-esteem, and have a great time. The attitudes, mindsets, and skills taught through sports translate into positive adult behaviors. Yet far too many well-intentioned adults fail to support their child’s decisions when it comes to sports. It is up to us, as caring adults, to ensure we distinguish between the goals of playing sports and score of the game.

 

By Tami Silverman, President & CEO, Indiana Youth Institute 

Indiana Youth Institute’s legislative summary is a review of child-and youth-centered legislation passed and proposed during the State’s most recent legislative session. Because this was a budget year for the Indiana Legislature, we also highlight significant funding decisions affecting Indiana kids. 

Some of the major budget changes include:

1.) School funding increases of 2.5% for each of the next two years were passed, with an additional $539 million in base funding for K-12 education

2.) An additional $74 million for other education programs, like the Teacher Appreciation Grant program and the Secured School Safety Grant program 

3.) $20 million per year of new funding for the Next Level Jobs Employer Training Program, and 

4.) Department of Child Services receiving a $256 million budget increase in 2020 and $246 million in 2021. 

Some new laws aim to address family and community conditions. Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 464, Homeless Youth, facilitates homeless youth access to government identification and education services through a designated representative other than a parent or guardian. House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1432, Parental Incarceration, stipulates that Department of Child Services case plans must consider incarcerated parents who have maintained a meaningful role in the child’s life, including but not limited to visitation.  

As noted above, education issues garnered significant attention, as lawmakers funded K-12 public education at the highest levels in over a decade. At the same time, many were disappointed that more was not done to close the State’s comparative gap in teacher compensation. Numerous education bills were passed including HEA 1628 which expands pre-K eligibility, while maintaining prior funding levels, to every Indiana county. Not surprisingly, several education bills, including but not limited to HEA 1004, HEA 1224, HEA 1398, HEA 1629, and SEA 002, addressed school safety issues. New this year, SEA 132, requires every high school to administer the naturalization exam for citizenship to students as part of the U.S. government course requirement. The bill also requires increased study of the Holocaust in a U.S history course.  

The State’s Department of Child Services (DCS) came under heavy scrutiny this session. In addition to the budget bill, SEA 1 and HEA 1006 cover several activities aimed at improving DCS operations including but not limited to setting new standards for timely responses, availability of telephone contacts, caseload limits, response requirements, and maximum age for collaborative care. The new legislation also includes a requirement that DCS report their progress to the general assembly before July 1, 2020.  

In juvenile justice legislation, proposed Senate Bill 279 would have allowed children as young as 12 to be waived into adult court after being charged with attempted murder. The bill met significant opposition, as the proposal runs contrary both to national trends and youth offender rehabilitation research.     

Two notable misses of this legislative session concerned addressing state smoking rates. With nearly 9 out of 10 smokers starting before age 18, and Indiana having one of the highest percentage of residents who smoke in the nation, nicotine use in all forms is a critical youth health issue that must be addressed by our state. This year, the Indiana Legislature failed to pass two bills – one to increase the state smoking age to 21, another to raise the Midwest’s lowest cigarette tax – which research shows would have had a significant impact on youth smoking rates. In addition, parents and schools continue to express frustration with rising vaping rates, and little was done this session to address this emerging public health issue.   

As we look to the summer study committees, we are monitoring the interim study committee on courts and the judiciary, focusing on reforms to laws and policies on the adjudication and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.Education interim study committees will address the impact and funding of school counseling programs while also looking at teacher pay 

We were encouraged by the many bills that were introduced and passed which aimed to increase child well-being in our state. At the same time, much work remains to move our state beyond our 29th place national ranking. Indiana Youth Institute will continue to provide data and research, collaborative conversations, and community convenings in our efforts to ensure that all Indiana children are safe, healthy and well educated.     

(Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached atiyi@iyi.orgor on Twitter at@Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, andcommunities that are focused on kids and youth.) 

We want you to have access to great data.

This data and research source guide lists some of our favorite trusted and reliable sources that you can use in your work with Indiana’s kids.

In addition to links to each source, the guide indicates whether:

  • Data is available at national, state, county and/or more specific local levels.
  • Data is disaggregated by race, gender, place, income, and/or other related indicators.
  • Data is accessible through dashboards, interactive visualizations, downloadable reports and/or raw data.

Read the Issue!

Social-emotional learning is a foundational approach to educating the whole child

This issue brief focuses on social-emotional learning (SEL) and how you can make SEL foundational to your work with Indiana’s youth.

SEL helps ensure students have the social, emotional, behavioral, and academic competence necessary for success in school and lifelong well-being.  This essential work focuses on educating the whole child and requires a cultural and mindset shift as well as a collective approach.

In this brief, you’ll find an overview of the Indiana Department of Education’s new Indiana Social-Emotional Competencies and the latest SEL research. Plus, you’ll learn how you can effectively implement SEL in your classroom, school and community.

Read the Brief!