Monthly Archives: April 2013

The greatest joys in my life

Guest post by First Lady Ann Scott

First Lady Ann Scott reading to children at the Child Abuse Prevention kick off at the Governor's Mansion

First Lady Ann Scott reading to children at the Child Abuse Prevention Month kick off at the Governor’s Mansion.

Being a mother and a grandmother, with two more grandsons on the way, is the greatest joy in my life. When my children were growing up, I wanted them to feel safe, loved and cared for and know that we supported them as they worked to achieve their dreams.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful children around our state that have persevered through terrible family situations. Some of these kids have been neglected, abandoned and abused, yet they have smiles on their faces and love in their hearts. We can each make a difference in the lives of these children by getting more involved in our communities. I believe that strong communities help make strong families, so I encourage all Floridians to donate their time to children’s causes and participate in youth-focused organizations. You can volunteer as a youth mentor, help out at an afterschool program or a local literacy program. We can all make a difference in the life of a child by sharing our unique skills and abilities.

As Child Abuse Prevention Month comes to a close, my hope is that all Floridians become more involved in their communities so that all of Florida’s children experience the happy childhood and bright future they deserve.

Being Present in Fatherhood

Guest post by Brian Durr, Coach at Boot Camp for New Dads class in Seminole County.

Durr Family

The Durr Family

My name is Brian Durr. My wife Karena and I have an 11-month-old little boy, Riley. To me, being a responsible father does not mean I have to be perfect. It comes down to three things: protecting, providing and being present.

I would do anything to protect my boy from what the world will try to teach him. As a dad, if I don’t own up and instill the values that I believe are important for him, then he will get them from what he sees others do and say. I will take my chances with what I teach him. He will come to know that I will bend over backwards to provide for him.

To me providing is way more than just bringing home a paycheck. It means providing time out of my busy schedule to be there for him and to listen to him. It also means showing him how to love and respect a woman both in the home and out in public. There will be times he needs a male role model for guidance, and I will be there for him whether he wants to talk or just hang out.

Out of these three (protecting, providing and being present), the one that jumps out the most is being present. It is vital for a dad to be present in a child’s life. I work in an elementary school that has very low-income students. A good majority of our students grow up with no father and it is very evident. They tend to act out and lack the life skills vital to a successful life.

Since I began teaching the Boot Camp for New Dads class in Seminole County I always start the class with a question: What do you remember about your dad growing up? I always end the class with this question: What do you want your middle school kid to say about you as a dad when they get to your age? The reason I ask these two questions is because the answer almost always boils down to the fact that the men remember their dad being present or not present both physically and emotionally. They almost never mention all of the stuff they got as gifts.

For me, my dad was coaching or watching my games cheering me on. He was not perfect, but he modeled the life skills of integrity, honesty and staying true to my word that have stuck with me to this day. He cheered me on in whatever I chose for myself. If I made a mistake, he disciplined me instead of trying to be my best friend. That is what a good dad does for a child they love. For me as a father, I plan on instilling in my son the values and beliefs that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.

“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

The Sound of Her Breath

Guest post by a mother who’s daughter is suicidal. 

shutterstock_128576690_smallWhen she was a baby I would sneak in her room to listen to her breath. Although I tried not to obsessively worry about SIDS, I took comfort in the sound of her breath. Sixteen years later I am once again sneaking in her room, listening to her breathing and thanking God that she is still with us. The difference is that an hour later I will return, listen again and thank God again and I will repeat this throughout the night.

It sounds obsessive but we are struggling. Our daughter is suicidal. Even writing those words seems unreal. This cannot be happening. Not to us. Not her.

But it is real. Last year one of the most popular girls in her class committed suicide. She took her life in the room she shared with her younger sister who found her only minutes too late. When this happened we asked the inevitable, “How did her parents not know?”

Now we understand. They did know. They knew she was struggling. They knew she was in pain. And they had gotten her help. For a few years they shuttled her back and forth to inpatient treatment, day hospital care, therapists and psychiatrists. At each sign of trouble they were on top of it and still she died. Still, they lost their little girl.

Her story is not the only story like this. Hers is not even the only story in our community. Just last month there was another suicide in our own neighborhood, three months before that there was another one just down the road. I know we are not alone in our struggle but it doesn’t matter.

Being in this position, watching our child suffer is impossibly hard. We are doing everything we can to help. People keep telling us that. It is their way of comforting us, but what do I hear?

I hear, “If she does kill herself you need to remember, you have done everything you could.”

I hear that it is hopeless. I hear that I am powerless. And I sink. Isn’t that a horrible thing? I sink. Just when my daughter needs my strength and support I am finding myself falling into my own abyss. I am lost and I don’t know how to pull myself out. I want to help her and I can’t.

Since she was a baby I have been there for her. For every boo-boo, cold, fever and heartbreak I have comforted her. But right now I am not a comfort. Right now, nothing I do is helping and I find myself wondering how much of what I say and do is hurting.

I have no answers. So right now, tonight, the best I can do is sneak in her room. Stand beside her bed and listen to her breath. The best I can do is to be thankful that she is still with us.

If your child (or you, or a family member or friend) is experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for help. Their phone number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They will connect you to help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

How to talk to kids about tragedies

Children can start showing signs of trauma right away or months after a disastrous event. Just hearing about an event on the news or seeing a reaction from parents is enough to have an effect on kids.

Jennifer Evans, a licensed mental health counselor and traumatologist at DCF who specializes in compassion fatigue, offers some ways you can be available for your child during this time:

Be Clear: Talking about tragedy, injury and death can be very difficult for anyone. Being clear and only answering what the child is asking will help them to understand without getting into too much graphic detail. Try using dialogue like, “When people die, their bodies stop working.”

Be Available: Let your kids ask the questions. Start by asking them, “What do you think happened?” Allow them to guide the conversation where they need to go to help them cope.

Stay Calm: Children learn emotional reactions and coping through adults. The way adults react to events is often the way the child perceives and reacts to the event. It is okay to cry and show concern and emotion, and then to show appropriate ways to cope and heal. Try using dialogue like, “It is okay to feel confused and hurt. Sometimes people cry to show how sad they are. This allows their body to feel better.”

Normalize Their Feelings: When a tragedy happens it can be confusing and often kids are uncertain of the emotions they are feeling. Use this opportunity to discuss emotions and the way kids are feeling and explain how you can cope. Try using dialogue like, “Often people feel sad when something like this happens. It is hard to understand why someone would do something like this.”

Understand How Children Cope: You may see your child try to act out the traumatic event through their dolls or other toys. This can be scary for a parent to see, but kids will often replay the event as a way to cope. You can use this opportunity to discuss their play and their memory of the event. This is a great time to clarify and normalize their reaction again. Try doing an activity to help provide closure for your child.

Notice Changes in Behavior: Often the effect of trauma on your body does not happen until weeks after the event. This is a normal process of coping. If your child’s behavior dramatically changes for an extended amount of time, consult a professional. Common symptoms of trauma include sleeplessness, over/under eating, extended sadness for no immediate explanation, extended traumatic play, lack of focus/concentration, and nightmares.

We are all keeping the victims in our thoughts and prayers. The national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides more information about coping strategies and how children and adults are affected by and react to tragedy. We encourage you to visit www.samhsa.gov/trauma for resources about how to help your friends and family during this time.

Fatherhood: Option or Obligation?

Guest post by Bryan Nelson, a father of two, foster parent, and Program Coordinator for Boot Camp for New Dads in Orlando. The boot camp is a part of Healthy Start Coalition of Orange County’s initiative to create and reinforce strong families.

Bryan and his son

Bryan and his son

In a Presidential Fatherhood Roundtable event in Orlando last February, I had the opportunity to ask Miami Heat All Star Dwayne Wade a simple question, “What would you say to a young dad who feels he has the option instead of an obligation to father his child?”

His answer was simple:  “Once you create a child, your options are gone. It’s your job to step up and be the parents they need. Kids don’t ask to be here and we’re not going to have all of the answers every time. There are gonna be tough days … but so what, there’s tough days on the court, I don’t quit. If I’m missing shots, I don’t quit. I go to the gym and figure it out! So why would I quit on what’s most important in the world? I’m building future leaders!  Why would I quit on someone who looks just like me, someone who acts just like me? Why would I quit on that? I brought them into this world and it’s my job to make sure I’m there every step of the way.”

It’s a refreshing breath of air to hear someone with influence, popularity and fame to tell it how it is.

One expecting father at the Boot Camp for New Dads workshop I teach said, “Chivalry isn’t dead, fathers have simply stopped teaching it!”

He couldn’t be more right. Our children depend on the standards and expectations we set for them to guide them through the tough teen and young adult years.

When a child’s father is not in the picture and not a positive role model, mom is left to pick up both roles. Moms can do it, but it would really help her to have two adults to parent the kids. Two people to walk the floor at night with an infant – and switch off when the baby’s crying becomes unbearable. Two people to alternate picking up the kids from school. Two people to clean up the house. The potential for two incomes or, if the mom is able to stay at home, another option for child care.

Orlando is ranked #58 out of the top 101 U.S. cities with single-mother run households at 46.7 percent. This is a growing problem in our society. FATHERHOOD IS NOT AN OPTION! Far too many males feel they have a choice.

I am proud of the 962 fathers who took our Boot Camp for New Dads workshop in the past two years. These men join many other great guys in Florida who stepped up and took on the father role. But I always wonder – why aren’t the other fathers stepping up? Are they scared? Do they just not care?

Some people say the men who don’t have any interest in sticking around probably won’t be good dads anyway. The popular idea in society these days is that dads are dumb, don’t want to be involved and if they are, will only screw up, so why force them? The facts however couldn’t be more opposite.

Father absence spurs significant increases in high school drop-out rates, poor school performance, abuse/neglect, teen pregnancy and even overall health.  The facts are clear; children with involved fathers are healthier and do better in school as well as socially.

For the children who are not able to be with their fathers due to death, abuse or neglect, I encourage males in the community to help these kids grow by becoming strong, positive role models. I also encourage the entire community to emotionally support the mothers who are navigating parenthood alone. It is true that it takes a village to raise a child, but fathers play a crucial role in the future of Florida’s children.