By: Dr. Tami Silverman     

It is an understatement to say that things have been different this year. For our children and youth, everything from school schedules and rules, to sports and activities, to interactions with friends have changed.

Because we are still enduring the worst pandemic in a century, Thanksgiving will most likely be different this year as well. How can we stay safe and yet retain our cherished family rituals? How can we help prepare our kids for these changes? And, can we really focus on gratitude despite so many stressors and changes?

Family rituals, such as Thanksgiving dinner, football games and holiday shopping, provide children a sense of social connectedness. And this connectedness can be a protective factor against youth anxiety and depression.

Health experts know that the decisions people make about Thanksgiving may not be easy, but they can be made safer by planning ahead and communicating. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published guidelines and recommendations for keeping this year’s Thanksgiving gatherings safe (CDC advice on celebrating Thanksgiving safely).

Recommendations include considering connecting in smaller groups, outdoors, or virtually. And if there is someone in the family who disagrees with your approach to or concern about Covid-19, perhaps this is the year to have that discussion by phone, instead of in person.

Although many gatherings will be different this year, there are plenty of ways we can make the holiday meaningful for our children.

Preparing for the holiday:
  1. Help those at high risk. Prepare and deliver traditional family recipes for relatives and neighbors that are at high risk.
  2. Create a shared experience. Let your children make the invitation for a virtual event or develop a playlist.
  3. Share the meal prep. You can build connections by sharing recipes of treasured family favorites. You may be apart from family members, but you can all make the same items and compare notes. Talk about the origins of the recipes, why its special to your family, and who taught you to make it.
On Thanksgiving:
  1. Let the kids take the lead. Whether are home or on a virtual platform, they can start the celebration with a prayer, a song, a joke, or even their own Tik Tok dance.
  2. Prep some conversation starters. The Family Dinner Project has developed a virtual dinner party guide that is filled with activities and discussion starters (Virtual Dinner Party Guide.pdf).
  3. Watch together. You can still enjoy sports, parades, and movies from different locations.
  4. Endure the cold. You never know about Indiana weather, but it is likely to be chilly on Thanksgiving. If you are gathering outside, wear layers, have blankets available, and gather around a fire or heater, if possible.
After the holiday:
  1. Volunteer in your community. Activities like donating food or outgrown clothing help children understand the experiences and needs of others. Kids involved in community service grow into adults that typically have a stronger work ethic, continue to volunteer, and have higher voting rates.
  2. Shop online rather than in person on the day after Thanksgiving or the following Monday.
  3. Continue the connections. Puzzles, neighborhood walks, board games – look for ways to keep the children in your life engaged with each other and caring adults.

Whatever your Thanksgiving looks like this year, it is important we help our children and youth focus on gratitude.  According to Harvard Health Publishing, gratitude is thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, children acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, they can learn that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside them. And gratitude has been shown to help kids and adults be resilient through tough times, from experiencing more positive emotions, to reducing stress, to sleeping better.

Youth First, Inc. published an article earlier this fall, Finding Gratitude Amidst a Pandemic, that  challenges us to focus on the pandemic benefits of slowing down and practicing gratitude. This year more than ever, we are grateful for the educators, afterschool providers, coaches, youth group leaders, and youth workers that teach, support, and care for our children. Ask your children to talk about the things they appreciate about some of the important adults in their lives.

It is not easy to skip or amend our favorite holiday traditions. At the same time, this may be the perfect year to shake things up and create new fun. By being flexible and focusing on gratitude, holiday gatherings can be a way to show our kids that building connections with them is what matters most.

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(Dr. Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or 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.)   

 

By: Dr. Tami Silverman     

The pandemic has heightened tensions over this year’s elections, and our kids are paying attention. They listen as negative political ads blare from our TV screens and radios. They see the political rants swirling on social mediaShould we shield our children from the frequently fiery arguments? Should we engage them in discussions and debates? What happens when their friends or family members declare differing political beliefs? How we approach politics with our children is important not only in this heated election cycle, but also in shaping their understanding of democratic civic engagement for years to come. 

A March 2020 study published in Child Psychiatry and Human Development found that children and teens worry about politics and political issues, regardless of their family’s political affiliation. This research and many child development experts suggest that talking to kids about the political process, issues, elections and related media can help. Children as young as preschool can discuss and be engaged in our political process. The challenge is to adjust the approach to their developmental stage. It is important to scaffold our responses, increasing and building the complexity of the information as kids get older.  

The challenge of teaching our kids about civic engagement is not new, and Indiana law requires that the election process be taught in schoolsOver 25 years ago, the Indiana Bar Association created the Indiana Kids’ Election. Using volunteer attorneys, this program aims to help students gain a deeper understanding of, and appreciation for, the many ways we may participate in our representative democracy, including voting, poll books, and “I Voted” stickersThe program’s goal is to educate and empower children with knowledge of the actual process. Most kids would think if 100 people vote for candidate X and 99 people vote for candidate Y, then candidate X wins. With the electoral college, that is not how our Presidential electoral process works, and it is very confusing.   

Not only is our system of government complicated, but public discussion of government,policy and candidates frequently focuses on divides in opinions and perspectives. This means children will inevitably encounter family, friends, teachers, coaches, and others holdingdiffering political beliefs. Experts agree about the importance of teaching kids how to respectdifferences, and of learning how to weigh the evidence supporting political positions and claimsFor many, this may be the most difficult aspect of encouraging a child’s sense of civic responsibility. By focusing in part on the positive attributes of your selected candidates, rather than the negatives of the alternatives, adults have the opportunity and responsibility to model respectful discourse.   

Now is the perfect time for children to get involved in civic societyVote, and take your children with you. Let them volunteer for issues or candidates they support. Share with your children your political views, while also encouraging them to develop their own. Reinforce that people may hold differing opinions about important issues, and that we can challenge claims and disagree while at the same time recognizing and respecting one another’s human dignity. By focusing on the importance of voting and civic engagement, rather than on mudslinging, we can support the healthy growth of our kids and our democracy  

Websites with kid- and teen- friendly news 

Political books and games for kids  

  • Bad Kitty for President by Nick Bruel 
  • Duck for President by Doreen Cronin 
  • Election Connection by Susan Ring 
  • Election Night! board game 
  • Everyone Gets a Say by Jill Twiss 
  • Grace Goes to Washington by Kelly S. DiPucchio 
  • Grace for President by Kelly S. DiPucchio 
  • If I Were President by Catherine Stier 
  • If You Go with Your Goat to Vote by Jan Zauzmer 
  • A Kids Book About Voting by Next Up 
  • Monopoly: House Divided board game  
  • The Next President by Kate Messner 
  • Vote!by Eileen Christelow 
  • One Vote, Two Votes, I Vote, You Vote by Bonnie Worth 
  • A Vote Is a Powerful Thing by Catherine Stier 
  • V Is for Voting by Kate Farrell 

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(Dr. Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or 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.)   

 

 

By: Dr. Tami Silverman    

One of the COVID-19 pandemic’s many negative consequences is a drastic rise in the number of children and families suffering food insecurity. September is National Hunger Awareness Month. More than ever, we must work to find solutions and support existing ways to meet this critical, foundational need.

The lack of a nutritious, consistent food supply has significant implications for child development and well-being. Children from food-insecure households are more likely to have social and behavioral problems and developmental challenges. Past research, including a study from the National Institutes of Health, found that food insecurity affects the academic performance, body weight, and social skills of school-age children. Elementary-aged children from food-insecure families were found more likely to have lower math scores and to repeat a grade. Teenagers in food-insecure homes were more likely to have mental health issues. Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that children in food-insecure household had increased rates of lifetime asthma diagnosis, depressive symptoms, foregone medical care, and emergency department use.

Before Covid-19, the number of hungry children in Indiana and across the country had been declining for years. Prior to the pandemic 1 in 6 Hoosier children were food insecure. Hoosiers living in rural areas tend to have the highest rates of food insecurity, with urban areas a close second. Pre-pandemic child food insecurity rates ranged from 21.0% in Grant County to 11.9% in Hamilton County.

The pandemic has brought an abrupt halt to this progress. Food insecurity rates are, not surprisingly, linked with unemployment rates and income. Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap study predicts how changes in employment will affect food insecurity. Their study projects that a significant rise in unemployment over the year (+7.6 percentage points), and a corresponding rise in child poverty (+5.0 percentage points), would result in 1 in 4 children experiencing food insecurity. Feeding America’s concerns are reinforced by a new report from Save the Children and research from Northwestern University that both estimate that the current percentage of food insecure families is higher than during the Great Recession.

Hoosiers living in rural areas tend to have the highest rates of food insecurity, with urban areas a close second. In addition, No Kid Hungry reports that African American households face hunger at twice the rate of the national average. The higher rates of food insecurity are directly related to the racial wealth gap. Households headed by a single parent also experience food insecurity at significantly higher rates, especially when the head is female, as do households where a child or parent is disabled.

Many organizations and communities have been working to stop the pandemic from perpetuating or deepening these inequities. Food banks, schools, churches, afterschool programs, and community organizations responded quickly last spring to create new channels for food distribution. Drive-thru centers, to-go meals, and drop-off food programs were often specifically designed to address child hunger when school buildings abruptly closed. Schools remain the nation’s second-largest nutrition assistance program, after only the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) Program. In 2019, 47.3% of Indiana students received free or reduced-price meals: 39.5% received free meals and 7.8% received reduced-price meals at school. In March, Congress created the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (or P-EBT program) for households with children who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch to receive the cash value of those meals on electronic benefits cards.

As school opening plans varied this fall, there was well-founded concern that our children could end up going hungry. In late August, Feeding Indiana’s Hungry, the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), Feeding America, the School Nutrition Association, Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, along with 70 national and state organizations, including Indiana Youth Institute, asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to extend critical nationwide child nutrition program waivers, allowing schools and community organizations to continue operating summer nutrition programs, through the 2020-2021 school year. Members of Congress from both parties supported the extension, which was eventually granted. There is on-going, bi-partisan support for child food security programs, centrally SNAP and Pandemic-EBT, to be strengthened and expanded in response to the pandemic.

We all can play a role in ensuring our children and our neighbor’s children have access to the basic nutritional building blocks needed to grow and succeed. We can and should donate funds and/or food to our local food banks. We also can support the policy solutions that will prevent children from going hungry. Call your elected officials and urge them to continue to support these critical food programs. By addressing the impacts of the pandemic and by working to ensure Hoosier kids have access to adequate, healthy food year-round, we can positively affect every child’s physical and mental well-being, academic achievement, and future economic productivity.

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

 

It is an understatement to say that back-to-school this year is unusual and filled with uncertainty. As youth serving professionals, community leaders, and families, our ability to model tolerance of today’s uncertainty will be crucial to helping our children and youth navigate this time. COVID-19 continues to challenge schedules and social interactions. Living with uncertainty while still enjoying learning, friendships, and interactions with supportive adults will be among the important lessons they receive.

School, at its best, is a great place to learn important skills and new ideas, develop friendships, explore new activities, and prepare for future careers. Schools can also expand a student’s world view through learning about world history, languages, cultures, and the arts. The value and skills that professional teachers bring to all of these experiences were spotlighted last spring, as many families faced supporting e-learning tasks at home.

We also know that positive social interactions are good for kids, with a large portion of peer interactions happening at and after school. Schools support students’ social-emotional development including teaching valuable long-term skills such as collaboration, self-regulation, and growth mindset. Research suggests that schools also often support a student’s sense of community and civic engagement.  School buildings provide gathering spaces for organizations, such as PTA meetings, that exist to support students and educators. Schools also provide a range of basic needs and social services, such as food distribution, nursing services, and behavioral health care, to thousands of students.

While the pandemic certainly challenged academic teaching, many educators and parents have identified student social-emotional needs and well-being as their main concerns. The pandemic, and the associated rapid move to remote school last spring, created a sense of isolation for countless children and youth. Many students are waiting for schools to reopen to receive essential counseling and mental health services. Child abuse and neglect are frequently first reported by educators, who are trained to look for warning signs. And in many homes, parents of school-aged children face sustained stress as they attempt to balance work and economic concerns with childcare and education changes.

Classrooms are not the only sources for student learning and development. Education outside of the classroom takes many forms – sports, camps, community centers, clubs, and more – and the caring adults leading these programs have adapted their services, creating innovations to connect students with mentors, quality programming, and support services.

Local afterschool programs are a crucial part of every communities’ youth services, providing hands-on learning, leadership opportunities, creative expression and enrichment programs, peer interactions, and workforce support, while also offering families safe and reliable student oversight beyond school hours. In a recent survey, 70% of afterschool programs reported that they continued to serve students in some capacity through the pandemic. Afterschool programs also serve many communities of color, immigrant populations, and low-income families, addressing inequities that have increased as a result of COVID-19.

While school has been a source of positive support and growth for some students, significant opportunity gaps existed across our school systems long before this coronavirus. Risks associated with in-person school include bullying, racism, group exclusion, anxiety, stress, and increased risks of suicide.

The pandemic has raised awareness of the economic and racial disparities that prevent equal access to essential school services. The lack of educational resources and underfunding of schools and afterschool opportunities for communities of color and families with low incomes have left many students without access to all of the benefits school intends to offer. This underscores the need for responsive efforts that level the playing field for vulnerable children. Furthermore, major racial disparities in student discipline rates have been documented for years.

While some kids flourished in the pre-crisis school structure, others did not. Some kids were able to sustain peer relationships within all safety standards while others were isolated either physically, emotionally, or both. The pressures on our students, families, afterschool providers and educators are immense. We can and should be looking for ways to support and uplift all that are working to navigate these uncertain times.

According to a recent survey from USA Today, there appears to be agreement that: we are worried about our children, distance learning is difficult, teachers are working harder, and children will eventually be able to make up lost ground. Experts have developed recommendations for safely reopening schools under certain conditions, including reports from the Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Local schools around the state are exploring complex plans that look to manage the health risks of the virus and the risks of prolonged social isolation. But experts also point out that in-person schooling, if not executed safely, could lead to mental-health, as well as physical health, concerns.

There are many ways we can both protect our students and nourish their academic and social-emotional wellbeing. As we move forward, let’s be flexible in supporting all forms of learning. Let’s support the dauntless teachers and youth workers dedicating their professional lives to helping children. Let’s work to reduce the pressure of grades, tests, social expectations, and constant achievement that we routinely place on kids. At the same time, we can continue to innovate and reimagine education to effectively use and access technology. We must also adjust our efforts to acknowledge the differing impacts on our underserved kids. This is a challenge we will be working on throughout the fall, the school year, and the foreseeable future.

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

 

 

Our kids need a strong network of caring adults to serve as guides, coaches, caretakers, advisors, and mentors. These adults offer positive and productive guidance, often through afterschool programs and activities. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has negatively impacted many of the programs aimed at helping our children and youth. But a new statewide initiative will be able to offer support to many of these struggling organizations, helping them continue to serve their community’s children.

Young people that are supported by caring adults are more likely to be involved in school and report increased motivation to succeed academically. These students become leaders, stay in school, and enroll in college at higher rates than students without an adult support network. And depending on the study, between forty and fifty percent of students indicate they would like more adults in their lives to help them address issues with school, peers, decision-making, and future planning.

A child builds his or her network of caring adults through connections with a range of youth-serving organizations, including afterschool programs, faith-based programs, sports, performing arts groups, and youth-focused activities that are part of larger social service agencies. Many of these organizations were already operating with limited resources, and the COVID-19 pandemic has hit them and other nonprofits particularly hard.

A new report, Indiana Nonprofits and COVID-19: Impact on Services, Finances and Staffing, surveyed over 500 nonprofits from around the state as part of a joint effort of Indiana United Ways and the Indiana Nonprofit Sector Project. Some of the key findings of the report include:

  • Most Indiana nonprofits, 71 percent, reported lost revenues since March 1 due to the crisis,
  • More than half (60 percent) of nonprofits have curtailed or suspended programs,
  • 70 percent of organizations have been forced to operate other ongoing programs with limited or reduced capacity,
  • Almost as many programs (69 percent) shifted programs to online or phone platforms, and
  • Losses in donations, special events income, and fee-for-service revenues were reported as the most common and pervasive funding issues.

The report also found that many Indiana nonprofits have adapted and changed their programs and spaces in order to adjust to new safety standards. While the report classifies reported job losses as “modest,” concerns remain about possible future staff and volunteer losses. At the same time nonprofits are managing these issues, many are also reporting an increasing demand for their services.

This week, Lilly Endowment launched a new $20 million to help youth serving organizations in Indiana address some of the challenges they face because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Youth Program Resilience Fund (YPRF) is designed to offer support to a variety of organizations so they can better serve the needs of school-age children and youth (ages five to 18).

Indiana Youth Institute is providing a series of educational discussions aimed at helping youth-serving organizations apply for the YPRF. The workshops, which will draw upon experts from around the state, will help these youth-serving organizations tell their unique story of how COVID-19 has impacted their work, a crucial part of this Request for Information. To sign up for one, or all, of the workshops go to https://www.iyi.org/events/.

Our kids need caring adults, in addition to parents, caregivers, and family, in all aspects of their lives. The network of caring relies on a web of youth-serving organizations, which have been working tirelessly to continue to carry out their missions over these last trying months. While the pandemic has put tremendous strain on these organizations and connections, the YPRF fund is one way we can help their efforts. Please help promote the fund, and the free support workshops, throughout your community.

When is the right time to talk to children about racism? Are you concerned about not having enough or the right information? Are your kids and teens asking questions about history and race that make you uncomfortable? How do you start anti-racist conversations with children and how do you sustain them over time?

It can be hard to talk with children and students about racism. Conversations about race, the history of discrimination, both interpersonal and systemic, in our country and state, and current protests will likely be different for each family, school, and community. There is no one “best” or “right” way to talk with children about this important issue. At the same time, the research is clear that we can and should start teaching children about kindness, fairness and human rights at a young age.

In August 2019, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy brief outlining the health effects of racism on children, adolescents, emerging adults, and their families. Racism negatively affects the environments in which people live, learn, play, and work. For the person who experiences racism, its impact has been linked to differences in such health indicators as infant and maternal mortality, birth weight, and child and adolescent mental health. Prolonged exposure to stress associated with racism leads the bodies of those affected to produce increased stress hormones, which in turn can result in their development of chronic diseases. Systemic racism has impacted access to jobs, education, healthcare, and overall upward mobility. Creating antiracist environments and systems for our children can have lasting health and economic benefits for all people.

When discussing racism with children, it is important to first, increase our personal understanding of this critical issue from a lens of equity and fairness and secondly, to understand and adjust our engagement based on the stages of child development. What follows are some age-appropriate ways and resources, many from UNICEF and the Child Mind Institute, to address racism with children and youth.

Little ones, under age 5:

  1. Be open to all questions. Babies as young as 6 months old begin noticing physical differences including skin color, and by age 5 children can show signs of inclusion or racial bias. Children in this age group commonly ask many questions, and will likely ask about people who look different from them. Encourage their curiosity, recognizing and discussing differences in appearance in positive, prosocial ways.
  2. Celebrate diversity. Introduce diverse cultures and people from different races and ethnicities to children. Early positive interactions help decrease prejudice and encourages more cross-racial group friendships.
  3. Use relatable experts. CNN and “Sesame Street” recently partnered for a special town hall special, “Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism,” where Big Bird, Elmo, Abby Cadabby and others, discussed and explained concepts of protesting and racism. Kids’ direct and heartfelt questions were answered in clear and simple terms that all can understand.

 

Elementary students and pre-teens:

  1. Encourage this age group to share their feelings about race and racism. Check in, listen, and ask questions. Children are likely to have concerns or questions that they do not know how to express. They may be ambivalent or uncertain, afraid of riots, of being hurt by the police, or worry that something bad could happen to loved ones.
  2. Discuss the media. Ask what they are seeing on TV and social media. Elementary students and pre-teens are becoming more exposed to information and can easily be confused by what they are seeing and hearing. Ask broad questions such as: “How did you feel about what we saw on the news? What did it make you think about?”
  3. Bring diversity into your home and schools. Explore food, stories, and films from other cultures and ethnic backgrounds, discussing the uniqueness and similarities. Advocate for curricula that are multicultural, multilingual, and reflective of diverse communities.

 

Teenagers:

  1. Be ready for strong emotions. This age group is likely to know more than you may think and can also have strong emotional responses. Try to stay calm without hiding your feelings. Let them know that you are also sad and angry, validating that it is good to have a strong reaction to social injustice.
  2. Talk openly about historical racism and the challenges of addressing remaining inequities. This group is beginning to understand complicated and abstract concepts such as fairness, bias, and justice. Ask what they think and introduce them to different perspectives and worldviews to help expand their understanding toward global thinking and local impact.
  3. Encourage action. Many teens are looking for ways to be active in their community and on social media. Help them to act in ways that reflect a dedication to inclusion, unity and personal development.

Do your best to meet each child where they are, developmentally and emotionally. It is important to hear and validate their questions, fears, and emotions. Do not worry if you do not have all the answers. Our children are looking to us as role models and guides. Honest, open, and fact-based conversations about racism, diversity, and inclusion builds lasting trust. Take every opportunity to challenge racist behaviors, practices and policies, demonstrate kindness, and stand up for every person’s right to be treated with dignity and respect.

In the words of my esteemed colleague, Dr. Karlin Tichenor, “Our minority children deserve a world where they can run, walk, protest, and achieve without fear or limits. We all deserve this world.”

A few supporting and additional resources include:

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

 

 

 

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

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.