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We know parents struggle with how to monitor their children’s use of technology. Limit screen time? Require shared passwords? Make some apps and games off-limits?

Cropped man and woman using electronic device free imageAnd it’s about so much more than rules—how parents handle technology can affect everything from family communication to personal trust to physical safety. It’s a lot to think about!

We often recommend parents post this Family Tech Checklist at home, and then start the discussion by asking their kids these five questions:

  1. “What technology/tools/apps do you know how to use?”
    The amount of technology—and access it provides to your kids—is astounding. And it changes every day. Do a regular check-in of your kids’ phones and gaming devices. Have them “show off ” what they can do.
  2. “Let’s check in on our security settings and passwords, okay?”
    Model safe behavior and reinforce the importance of privacy. Agree as a family to share all passwords in one place (excluding, of course, financial or other parent-only sites and tools.)
  3. “Have you seen anything online that’s made you uncomfortable or hurt your feelings?”
    This is an opportunity to listen (not to judge or yell). Cyber bullying is more common than you might think, and your kids should feel safe talking to you about it.
  4. “Can we talk? I’m uncomfortable with ______________ because _______________.”
    Rather than ban their use of Facebook, for example (which might result in secrecy or lying) explain why a certain photo or post is upsetting (use of foul language, inappropriate image, sharing of a location, etc.). Kids should know they will be held accountable for behavior online just as they are at school and home.
  5. “I need a break from my phone/web/email. Will you go___________with me?”
    Take a walk together, eat a meal, get outside and spend quality time together as a family. Model how helpful it can be to take a break from screen time.

(One app we DO recommend is our free Parent Resource Center app! You can download it on iTunes and Google Play HERE.)

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SCAN is pleased to be partnering with Smart Beginnings Prince William County to offer valuable Workshops on Safe Sleep to the Greater Prince William community.  The first workshop will be offered on Tuesday, February 21st at 4 pm at the Hylton Education Center at Sentara Hospital.

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The FREE workshop is ideal for service providers, health care providers, parents, expecting parents, caregivers, childcare providers and anyone interested in helping spread awareness and information about safe sleep.

Tracy Leonard, SCAN’s Public Education Manager, will present the workshops using materials and information we have compiled through our Operation Safe Babies Program.  Those attending will:

  • Learn about the American Academy of Pediatrics New Safe Sleep Guidelines
  • Learn how to Reduce the Risk of SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Causes of Infant Death
  • Discuss barriers to safe sleep

If you’re interested in learning more about the trainings (or want to register), the following links will be helpful:

 

 

This week we once again welcome Gretchen E. Downey, Prevention Expert and Best-Selling Author, as she shares her expertise on preventing suicide in – and strengthening our communication with – the teenagers in our lives. This is the second post in a two-part series:

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.

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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):

  1. Deep purposeful breathing – Quiet the amygdala and open the pathways to the PFC.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. Practice mindful awareness techniques or MBSR (mindful based stress reduction) – Help calm the mind and build positive neuro patterns within the brain.
  5. 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.

Resources:

Learn more about guest auhthor Gretchen E. Downey here. Read Part 1 of 2 here.

 

This week we welcome Gretchen E. Downey, Prevention Expert and Best-Selling Author, as she shares her expertise on preventing suicide in – and strengthening our communication with – the teenagers in our lives. This is the first post in a two-part series:

Our hearts ache when the tragedy of teen suicide occurs in our community. Is it preventable?

The American Psychological Association states that, although it’s difficult to predict, there are warning signals to watch for – and one should always seek professional or medical help when a child is suspected of being in danger:

  • Talking about dying – any mention of dying, disappearing, jumping, shooting oneself, or other types of self harm
  • Recent loss – through death, divorce, separation, broken relationship, self-confidence, self-esteem, loss of interest in friends, hobbies, activities previously enjoyed
  • Change in personality – sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired, indecisive, apathetic
  • Change in behavior – can’t concentrate on school, work, routine tasks
  • Change in sleep patterns – insomnia, often with early waking or oversleeping, nightmares
  • Change in eating habits – loss of appetite and weight, or overeating
  • Fear of losing control – acting erratically, harming self or others
  • Low self esteem – feeling worthless, shame, overwhelming guilt, self-hatred, “everyone would be better off without me”
  • No hope for the future – believing things will never get better; that nothing will ever change

So the million dollar question… “What’s going on – why the low emotions and why are they so prevalent causing 1 in 5 US teens to seriously consider suicide and 8% of teens to attempt suicide annually? That’s nearly one tenth of our young people feeling helpless, hopeless and like life has no meaning.

For over 50 years the internationally acclaimed Search Institute has conducted research on what kids and teens need to thrive and succeed in life. They report that well over 50 million of our young people are feeling helpless, hopeless and not connected to their inner “spark,” or what gives their life meaning, connection and fulfillment. According to the Search Institute the more developmental assets a person builds, the more likely they are to succeed in school and become happy, healthy and contributing members of their community and society.

Next week, we’ll explore the teenage brain and tangible steps adults can take to help the teenagers in our lives.

– Gretchen E. Downey, Prevention Expert and Best-Selling Author

[PLEASE NOTE: It’s not uncommon for a large life event, such as the election of a new national leader, to force those who have had traumatic experiences to relive them all at once, said John Draper, Program Director with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. (Read more of John’s interview in the Washington Post article, At Suicide Hotlines, the First 24 Hours of Trump’s America Have Been Full of Fear,” November 10, 2016, here.)

Now more than ever, we need to make sure that the teens in our lives feel supported and heard. Fear of the unknown and no hope for the future, as Gretchen points out, can lead teens to suicide. We must help them find their “spark” even during a time when we struggle ourselves. Intervening is important, but modeling self care and emotional regulation are also important. –  Tracy Leonard, SCAN Public Education Coordinator]

It’s a new school year and we’re excited to launch a new menu of workshops for the community! We encourage ALL groups of people to consider a workshop — from nonprofits, schools and government agencies to parenting groups, employers and faith groups. Our workshops are based on SCAN’s existing child abuse prevention and advocacy programs as well as the expertise of SCAN staff. We can often customize workshops for the specific needs of a group, and most topics are available in English and Spanish, too!

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So, how does your group want to be empowered this year?

We want to prevent CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE PREVENTION:

  • Darkness to Light, Stewards of Children2 hours, $25 per person (minimum 10, maximum 25 people)
  • Talking with Children about Safety from Sexual Abuse, 45 minutes, $150
  • Healthy Touch for Children & Youth, 45 minutes, $150
  • Bystanders Protecting Children from Boundary Violations & Sexual Abuse, 45 minutes, $150
  • Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, 1 hour, $200
  • Child Sexual Abuse for Parents, 1 hour, $150

We want to support PARENT EDUCATION:

  • Have You Filled a Bucket Today, 1 hour, $200
  • How to Connect with Your Child and Build a Resilient Family (Managing Family Stress), 1 hour, $200
  • Wait, My Kid Has a Date?, 1 hour, $200
  • Positive Discipline: Raising Children with Self Control, 1 hour, $200
  • Tech Savvy Parenting/Internet Seguro, 1 hour, $200
  • Families Reunite (Immigrant Family Reunification, 4 weeks, 1.5 hours per night), $1500
  • Made in America: Padres Hispanos Criando Hijos Americanos (Immigrant parents raising children in the US, 4 weeks, 1.5 hours per night), $1500

We want to engage our community in prevention through PUBLIC EDUCATION:

We want to GET TO KNOW SCAN:

  • All About SCAN, @ SCAN
  • How YOU Can Help Prevent Child Abuse in Your Community
  • SCAN Volunteer Orientation, monthly – click link for more information and upcoming dates

We want to host a BROWN BAG SERIES for our employees:

  • Strategies for the Working Parent: Customize a parenting topic to compliment your human resource efforts in your office and offer support to your employees.

Don’t see a topic here you would like? SCAN can customize and deliver a 1-hour workshop for $400. In most cases we can add concurrent children’s programming for an additional fee. (Download the full SCAN Workshop Menu here.)

How can we support your organization in its work this year to build stronger families, support parents and protect children? Contact us and let’s get something on the calendar!

 

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:

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  • 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.

OperationSafeBabies_PledgeCardIt has only been 20 years since the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) began recommending U.S. babies always be placed on their backs for sleeping to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

Many have caught on to the NICHD’s “Back to Sleep” campaign, but there is so much more to safe sleep than simply putting a baby on their back.  We have to truly think about a safe sleep environment. As those who work closely with families, we must make sure every family member understands what a safe sleep environment is (and isn’t.)  This conversation is a critical part of providing support to parents of newborns who want what is best for their babies, but might not know the best way to advocate for safe sleep environments or how to have intergenerational conversations about what is best for baby today.

What does a safe sleep environment look like?

  • Baby is placed to sleep on their back
  • Baby is placed on a firm sleep surface, in a safety-approved crib that is covered by a fitted sheet
  • There are no toys, stuffed animals, bumpers, pillows or blankets in the sleep area
  • Nothing is covering baby’s head
  • A one-piece sleeper keeps baby warm, no blankets
  • Baby is sleeping in their own crib next to where a parent sleeps
  • Baby never sleeps on an adult bed, couch, chair, or other furniture
  • There is no smoking in the home or around the baby

Having this knowledge is empowering for parents of newborns, especially if they know it comes from a trusted resource like you.  It allows them to better articulate to all of those that care for their baby what a safe sleep environment looks like and that they will accept no less.

We’ve developed some great, downloadable resources for parents and service providers (like the Pledge Card above) through our Operation Safe Babies program. Please explore (and download) them here!

– Tracy Leonard, Public Education Manager
tleonard@scanva.org

We talk a lot about families and technology – how to deal with things like sexting, creating family tech rules and unplugging together to make time to connect with each other. But the reality today is that the average person spends about 8-10 hours a day consuming digital media and between 4-5 hours a day using their smartphone. Our goal is to meet parents where they are – and we KNOW they are on their phones!

Thanks to support from AT&T, SCAN recently launched its new Parent Resource Center App. The FREE app gives full access to the information, fact sheets and audio files from our online Parent Resource Center, with more than 75 parenting topics available for browsing.

Have you downloaded SCAN’s new app yet? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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hand-palm-babyParenting a new baby is not a perfect science, but we do know that parents who have positive support around them are better equipped to manage the stress, exhaustion and fear that often accompanies that first year with a new child.

Just in time for Mother’s Day, we’ve been gathering stories from our partners across the region working with moms and dads who have benefited from SCAN’s recently launched Operation Safe Babies Program:

One of the cribs went to a woman who had another baby pass away from SIDS at two months of age. When I met her she was on her own, supporting two children while on maternity leave from work. She thought having the baby sleep with her was a safer option, and shared that she needed to use what little money she had on food, not a crib. I spent time explaining safe sleep practices, showing her how to put the baby to sleep without blankets, and her baby now has a safe place to sleep beside her. – Service Provider, Fairfax County Health Department

We provided a crib and resources for a family in need—the father was out of work, and the mother was unable to work due to medical complications towards the end of her pregnancy. Their basic necessities were their priority and purchasing baby items was not an option. This family was overjoyed that we were able to provide a safe place for their newborn to sleep. – Service Provider, Arlington Department of Human Services

One of our playgroup moms, who had her fourth child in December, told us this was the first time she would have a (dedicated) place for her baby to sleep. She was so excited to receive the crib! – Service Provider, Center for Alexandria’s Children

We gave a crib to a woman who had left her husband because of domestic violence. She began her care at the Health Department with bruises and scars from past trauma. She was working 60 hours a week to save money for baby supplies, and lived in a converted sunroom of a very drafty house. I provided a crib for her when the baby came home from the hospital. The next week the mother fell ill with the flu, and when I visited, the baby slept soundly beside her in the crib. She was so thankful for a safe place to put her baby so she could rest and recuperate. – Service Provider, Fairfax County

p.s. Mother’s Day is this weekend, and many have asked us about making donations to SCAN in honor of someone they love. Today we suggest making a donation of $80, enough to provide a pack and play with bassinet as well as educational materials for new parents in economic need through our Operation Safe Babies Program.

 

 

 

SCAN’s work with immigrant families in our Parent Education Program often involves the issue of reunification — when children and parents are reunited after long periods of time living apart in different countries.

Jessica Gutierrez Foster, one of SCAN’s Parent Education facilitators,  was recently interviewed for a special report on Univision covering unaccompanied immigrant youth and the challenges they face when they reunite with their parents who immigrated years before. Jessica discusses the Families Reunite workshops she has conducted to help parents gain perspective on their youth’s experiences and perspectives, while another facilitator works with the youth on coping with those challenges. The workshops conclude bringing parents and youth together to facilitate communication and understanding, all with the goal of building family cohesion that protects against the youths’ attraction to gangs, which often serve as an alternative “family” structure when they don’t feel accepted and supported within their reunified family.

Watch the first Univision segment (en Español) here:

 

 

Watch the second Univision segment (en Español) here:

 

 

For more information (in English + en Español), we invite you to visit our Parent Resource Center page on Reunification here.

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SCAN works to build hope for children and families in Northern Virginia. This blog brings child welfare professionals the current trends and valuable resources that will support their work to prevent child abuse and strengthen families in Northern Virginia and beyond.

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