How to have a better Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is a day that comes with a lot of expectations! It’s easy to think that everyone is having an exciting, romantic day (or everyone except you) with what we’re used to seeing on TV and in the movies.

And Valentine’s Day can be a great day. A bit of communication goes a long way to help make that happen!

If you’re in a relationship, talk with your significant other about what you’re both hoping for. Is your vision of Valentine’s Day a romantic dinner out? Are you hoping for flowers or a certain kind of gift? Would you prefer to stay in and have a relaxing night at home?

It’s entirely possible that your significant other will want the same thing as you do, but more often than not, he or she has a different idea of what would make for a great Valentine’s Day. And that’s okay! But it’s important to talk about what expectations you both have, because unmet expectations often lead to disappointment and frustration.

By talking about your expectations, you can learn what is important to each other and find a plan for Valentine’s Day that gives both of you the most important parts of what you were hoping for.

But good communication isn’t just for couples on Valentine’s Day! Whether you’re in a relationship or not, you can probably think of some people you know who will be having a difficult Valentine’s Day this year.

Do you have a friend who was recently divorced or separated? A parent or family friend who recently became a widow or widower? A friend who has been single for a long time, even though they would love to be coupled up?

Find ways to make Valentine’s Day better for the people you know who are struggling with it. Send a bouquet or a note. Give them a call and really listen. Invite them to get coffee or drinks with you.

Good communication with all the important people in your life can help make Valentine’s Day a day that really is a celebration of the people you love.

Recognizing and reporting child abuse

Maybe you’ve had this experience: you’re watching or reading the news, and you come across a story of a child who has been abused. Perhaps it was by a family member, a coach, or someone from church.

You feel for the child, but at the same time you wonder, how did nobody know about this until now? Surely their mom, their teacher, or some other adult in this child’s life noticed something was wrong?

That’s a pretty common reaction to news of child abuse. One of the things we do in the Oklahoma City community is teach parents and teachers how to recognize the signs of child abuse so they are able to notice when something is wrong, and they’ll know how to react.

Here, I’ll share a bit of what these trusted adults learn in our Recognizing & Reporting Child Abuse training.

Signs and symptoms

Signs of physical abuse include burns or bruises that don’t match up with normal childhood play, injuries after a child has been out of school or daycare for a few days, and frequent injuries that are either unexplained or where the child and parent’s stories don’t line up.

Signs of sexual abuse can include a significant change in either mood or behavior, knowledge of sex acts beyond what’s age-appropriate, and fear of being alone with adults (particularly if they’re afraid of adults of one gender).

Signs of neglect include lack of adequate medical care, often being late or absent from school, and frequently being hungry or asking for extra food. Signs of emotional abuse include destructive or antisocial behavior, physical or developmental delays, and habit disorders.

Children who face abuse at home may be reluctant to go home over school breaks. They might act out or, depending on the child, aim for perfect behavior. What you should look for is a significant change of behavior compared to what’s normal for that child.

What you can do

We often speak with parents and teachers who aren’t aware of this, but any adult who suspects child abuse is legally obligated to report that abuse. We’re all mandatory reporters in Oklahoma.

If a child opens up to you about abuse, believe them. Children very, very rarely make this up. They may open up to you with a partial disclosure, so it’s important to let them know that you are safe to talk to.

Ask open-ended questions so the child can tell you in his or her own words what has been going on. When you call the Child Abuse Hotline, be ready to give as much information as you can: the child’s name, age, address, school, and what you’ve noticed that makes you concerned about abuse. If you suspect that a parent is the perpetrator of the abuse, do not let them know you are calling the hotline. They may coach the child in what to say to minimize or hide the abuse.

The Oklahoma Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-522-3511. But definitely call 911 if you believe the child is in immediate danger.

Because of the new “Erin’s Law” that was recently passed, all school personnel are required to receive training to prevent child abuse. Our Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse training helps schools fulfill this requirement, and we are proud to offer it free of charge to area schools.

If you have questions or would like to bring our Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse training to your school, call our office at 405-232-8226.

Lashay gains strength for her children

mom-and-kids

Can people really change? We believe so, and stories about how people have grown and changed are some of the best ways to see that. Lashay was one of our recent clients, and we are so fortunate that she is willing to share her story.

Lashay graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2012, and her work experience includes working at DHS for three years as a case worker in the Child Welfare Division. She has two sons.

In 2015, one of her sons received a severe spanking from Lashay’s boyfriend. It was a spanking that went beyond the bounds of acceptable punishment.

Although Lashay was not the main culprit, she allowed it to happen. When her son told someone about it, DHS began to investigate the situation.

Part of what made this turn of events so difficult for Lashay was that she was used to being on the other side of this situation. As a DHS case worker, she dealt with these kinds of issues all the time, and she was great at it! It was surreal when it was her family being investigated.

When Lashay’s children were removed from her home, she realized it was time for things to improve. DHS referred her to Family Builders so that she could learn the parenting skills required to get her children back home. She began taking accountability for her actions, as well as the inaction that had brought DHS into the picture in the first place. She decided to stop blaming others-or her circumstances-and just fix it.

Lashay knew she couldn’t change the past, but she could learn from it. She decided to learn the skills required to be a better mother.

She now describes the parenting classes as cathartic. In those classes, she could see that other parents had made mistakes as well. But like her, they were also trying to fix those mistakes. That community of parents made it more bearable on the days that Lashay couldn’t see her kids.

The tools Lashay gained at Family Builders have empowered her to be a better mom. The experience gave her hope for her family. Without taking the parenting class, Lashay believes she would never have changed her perspective on parenting.

Lashay believes that the strength she found also helps her sons in two ways: they now know what to look for in their future wives, and she can teach them how to be better adults than they would have been otherwise.

In her own words: “I have the power to raise children-men-who won’t be the ones who are snapping off and hitting somebody. And that’s hope. That is hope for the future generations.”

To hear Lashay’s story in her own words, watch her video. You can find Lashay’s story and other success stories from our clients on our YouTube channel.

If you’d like to support the work that Family Builders does to help parents like Lashay find hope and strength to change, would you consider making a tax-deductible donation to Family Builders? You can do so on our Donate page.

From conversations with families to 40 years of service

social-workerFamily Builders turns 40 years old this year! As we celebrate the end of our fourth decade of serving Oklahoma families, we want to take a moment to honor our founder, Ann Hardy.

Ann Hardy founded Parent’s Assistance Center (now Family Builders) in 1976. A social worker in Oklahoma City, she worked with families and saw that often, abusive behavior didn’t simply appear out of left field.

For many of the families she worked with, abuse and neglect had become a cycle reaching back for generations. People tend to parent the way they were parented, and many of the parents Ann worked with had been abused or neglected during childhood and were simply parenting the way they knew how.

There was a gap in services for these families. Parents who were motivated to make the behavioral changes necessary to reunite their family had little guidance on how to do that. That meant that many of the same families were repeatedly going through the DHS process with a problem they didn’t know how to solve.

Ann realized that in order to break the cycle of abuse, abusive parents had to learn better, healthier patterns of parenting that they could pass on to their own children. So in 1975, Ann started meeting with families, listening to their experiences and guiding them toward healthier parenting behaviors.

In 1976, Parent’s Assistance Center was founded, based on the needs Ann saw in those conversations. Parent’s Assistance Center grew into an organization that helps parents unlearn problematic parenting behaviors, and empowers them to learn parenting skills that can change their families for generations to come.

Now, 40 years later, we are celebrating our anniversary with a family reunion luncheon. Ann Hardy passed away recently, but her impact is still felt among the families we serve. Along with members of her own family, we will honor her at our celebration luncheon this Thursday, November 3rd, on behalf of all the families whose lives were changed because of her vision.

5 safety tips for family trick-or-treating

trick-or-treatHalloween can be a fun time for family and friends to get together, enjoy the cooler fall weather, and come home with some candy too! To make sure that trick-or-treating stays a fun, safe activity, here are five safety tips to talk about with your children.

1. Practice traffic safety

Halloween is a great time to teach children about street and sidewalk safety. Help them remember to walk on sidewalks as much as possible. If there aren’t any sidewalks, show children how to walk facing traffic, close to the curb, so they can see oncoming traffic.

Don’t forget to leave phones and other electronic devices in your pocket so you’re able to keep an eye out for cars and other people!

2. Stick with a group

As a parent, it’s best to trick-or-treat with your child unless you’re sure they’re mature enough to be out (with friends, not on their own). If they go trick-or-treating with friends, make sure they’re friends you know and trust, and you know where they plan on trick-or-treating.

3. Plan for separation

Let your child know that you don’t intend on getting separated, but you want to make sure they know what to do just in case that happens.

Go over your cell phone and home phone numbers, as well as your address, with your child before heading out for the night. Remind them that they can call 911 if they forget any of those numbers or they feel unsafe.

4. Talk about the unexpected

Family safety rules should include rules about how to respond if an adult (known or unknown) makes your child feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Run through those safety rules together with your child: if someone makes your child feel not-okay, tries to take them somewhere, or hurt them, they should say “NO” as loud as they can, and try to get away any way they can.

5. Be present

Your presence can help your children be safer on Halloween. Walk with your children to the doors of homes, and don’t let them enter a house or approach a vehicle unless you’re with them.

All safety rules are designed to help you address a situation that probably won’t happen (like a fire drill). But making a plan for trick-or-treating can help your children stay safe!

Having a safety conversation with your child before trick-or-treating lets them know that you care about them and you trust them to help you keep them safe.

The importance of diversified fundraising

Tim PriebeI’ve been fortunate enough to serve Family Builders for several years now. That has included time both as a board member and as President of the board.

In my day job, I’ve worked with a number of businesses and nonprofit organizations over the years. One of several things I’ve learned over time is the importance of fundraising.

Laura Gamble, our executive director, joined Family Builders back in 2011. Early on, she discovered that very little of our funds were coming from individual donors. Historically, the majority of our operating budget has come from DHS contracts and our status as a United Way Agency.

Laura quickly realized that by limiting our sources of funds, we were greatly limiting how much good we could actually do and how many families we could help.

In the investment world, it’s generally accepted that diversifying your investments is a good idea. That same concept applies to nonprofit organizations as well.

As a business owner, I would never want the majority of my revenue to come from a single client! In fact, I’ve seen other businesses close their doors because they lost their biggest client.

Is that a risk we want our nonprofits to take? Is that a risk I’m willing to let Family Builders take?

No!

As a fiscally responsible board member of Family Builders, I view it as a key part of my job to make sure we diversify our fundraising. And I’m glad that our executive director and I are on the same page on the topic.

That’s why I’ve personally put time and energy into introducing other individuals to Family Builders. Exposing more people to our mission means that there will be more people who are willing to help us serve Oklahoma families. Although not all of that help will be financial, assistance with time, money, and resources are all beneficial for effectively running an organization like ours.

Obviously, diversifying our fundraising effort is not a quick change in practice. Laura has been working on it for years. It’s a process, and takes time to implement. But I know Laura, my fellow board members, and myself will continue to move Family Builders in that direction.

Back-to-school safety tips

First day of schoolBack-to-school time is full of conversations about expectations and habits. It’s a natural time to remind your child how they should behave in all kinds of situations. You’re their first resource if they have conflict with their friends, are struggling in school, or don’t know how to tackle a problem.

You’re also their first safety resource. You’ve probably already had conversations with your child about crossing the street, avoiding burn hazards, and safety with sharp objects. Back-to-school season is a great time to remind your child of safety rules, including rules that can help protect them from kidnapping or sexual abuse.

Stick together

If your child walks home or to a bus stop before and after school, know their route. Children are safer in a group than alone in these situations, so help your child remember to stick with other children.

Be aware of predatory tactics

Help your child recognize signs that an adult might want to hurt them-before it happens. Remind them that adults don’t need to ask for help from children, and they don’t need to keep secrets with children.

Trust their gut

Let your children know they can say no and find another adult if any adult does something that makes them uncomfortable. Children should know this may be a stranger, or it may be someone they know.

Remind your child (often!) that they can always come to you if a grown-up does or says something to them that makes them uncomfortable.

You can protect your child in other ways, too. Make sure they’ve memorized their full name, address, your telephone number, and most importantly, 9-1-1. Have a safety plan for your child’s walk to and from school, or if they’re home alone after school, and help them think through how they would handle unexpected situations safely.

If you’d like more information for you and your child, KidSmartz, a program of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, has great resources here.

To learn practical ways to protect your children, schedule our More than Stranger Danger workshop. Contact Desiree Powell at dpowell@familybuildersok.org.

Building trust with Parent Child Interactive Therapy

Mom and daughter drawingWhen a child has experienced abuse, the response to that trauma is different for each child. But most children have some behavioral issues as a result.

Whether a child is cared for by a biological parent, family member, foster parent, or adoptive parent, those trauma-related behavioral issues can create significant parenting challenges. That’s where a service we provide-Parent Child Interactive Therapy (PCIT)-comes in.

A few months ago, I passed by a small family leaving one of their first PCIT sessions. The little boy, about four years old, was having a complete meltdown because he didn’t want to leave the PCIT room where he got to play with toys. His face was red, he was crying and his breathing was shaky, and he was begging his mother to let him stay and play. His mom looked guilty and embarrassed but wasn’t sure how to get him to stop.

He had a difficult time transitioning from one activity to another and because he didn't have the verbal skills to explain his feelings, he would get mad and have a tantrum. He had also learned that his mother usually gave in to this kind of behavior because she didn't know how to deal with it.

I saw this family again after about several weeks, and it’s like he was a completely different child. He was much calmer. And his mom was different too-she had so much more confidence as a parent!

What is PCIT?

PCIT is a 12-16 week program that is designed to help children with severe behavioral issues and their caregivers. Parents receive training on discipline and, for our clients, on how to meet the needs of children who have been affected by abuse. The most important part of PCIT is hands-on training for parents when they’re interacting with their children.

Parents and children play in a calm, home-like environment with special toys so they can focus on each other. A specially trained therapist views the interaction through a two-way mirror and coaches the parent through an earpiece.

For the first six or seven sessions (Phase 1), the goal is to enhance the parent-child relationship. The child chooses the activity and the parent plays along, building a nurturing relationship and secure bond between the parent and child.

When the family is ready to move on to Phase 2, the sessions include more active direction from the parent and allows them to practice setting limits and disciplining their child while the therapist coaches them.

We’re proud to offer PCIT because we continually see how it improves the relationship between children who are victims of abuse and their caregivers, like the four-year old and his mom who had both changed so much.

Who is PCIT for?

PCIT is for children who have severe behavioral problems and/or have experienced trauma that results in behavior problems. That can be any number of things, but in our work we serve children who have been victims of abuse.

Since 2003, we have provided PCIT as a part of the reunification process to parents and children where abuse has occurred in the home. We know that not all families end up reunited so we are excited to now offer PCIT to foster and adoptive parents thanks to a federal VOCA (Victims of Crime Act) grant.

Ultimately, PCIT benefits children long-term by helping them form a strong, trusting bond with their caregivers. Children learn to behave better, and caregivers learn how to parent and discipline in a way that lessens their stress and helps their children feel safe.

Vacation safety for families

Family in airportWhen you’re taking a family vacation, your safety concerns as a parent will probably only grow. You’re visiting new places and trying new activities with kids who are bouncing off the walls with excitement-who wouldn’t be a little nervous?

Planning ahead will give you (and your children) tools for staying safe, and handling tricky situations appropriately if they do occur.

Two especially stressful places for traveling families are airports and theme parks. Here are a few ways you can take steps toward safety in these environments!

Airports

Divide and conquer. If you have two adults in your family, have one who is responsible for checking flight information, finding the gate, or checking in, while the other is watching the children. If you’re traveling with the kids as the sole adult, have an older child make sure everyone sticks together while you tackle logistics. Holding hands is a tried-and-true tool for this!

Plan it out. Airports can be very exciting (and distracting!) for a child. Talk with your children before, making sure they know to stay close to you and avoid distractions. Use the buddy system and make sure your children know who are safe adults to talk to if they get separated from you.

Theme parks

Decide on an emergency meet-up point. If you get separated, your child can wait for you there. Make sure they know what the uniforms of the park staff look like, so they can ask for directions, but remind them they don’t need to go anywhere or do anything they’re uncomfortable with.

Ride safely. Help your children understand why the buckles, harnesses, and safety precautions are important. If you choose not to ride, wait in line with your child, ensure they’re buckled in safely, and wait for them close to the exit of the ride.

Explain the rules. A theme park is very different from school, home, or anywhere else kids have to follow a certain set of rules. Remind your children that safety is important, and in order for so many people to be safe and have fun, there are special rules to follow. Let your children know about them ahead of time so they know what to expect, and model the behaviors you want them to follow.

In general, family vacations are a great way to remind kids of your family’s safety rules. Encourage them to find a park staff person, store staff person, or police officer if they need help in public and can’t find you. Make sure they have your phone number memorized as early as possible.

Once you’re sure they know what to do in an emergency, you can relax a bit-and hopefully enjoy your vacation as much as your kids will!

5 fun family activities in May

Mother and sonHenry David Thoreau said, “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?”

May can seem like an endless to-do list for busy families: attend the awards assembly, buy a teacher gift, and video the year-end choir performance of one kid for dad, who’s missing it because of the last baseball game of another kid.

Who’s thinking of family fun and togetherness when you remember at midnight that your kid needs two dozen iced cupcakes for a year-end class party the next day and the only thing you can find resembling a cupcake in your pantry is a stale package of Oreos with the centers eaten out?

Parents can make sure they are “busy about” the important task of making happy memories, even during the chaotic month of May, by scheduling in one or two special kid- and parent-friendly activities.

Check out these upcoming, exciting and unique events around the OKC metro in May:

Sam Noble Museum of Natural History

Visit the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History in Norman starting May 5 and continuing through the month for their interactive Be the Dinosaur exhibit. This exhibit features video game stations where players move through a virtual world as dinosaurs from the Cretaceous period, making life and death decisions. Visit samnoblemuseum.ou.edu for more information.

Fairy Ball

Attend the Fairy Ball at the Crown Heights Christian Church Amphitheater on Saturday, May 14, 7-9 PM. Admission is free, fairy costumes are encouraged, and the evening promises to be full of creative, magical fun. Call 405-528-5568 for more information.

Full Circle Bookstore

Become a regular at OKC’s own Full Circle Bookstore, 1900 NW Expressway (bottom floor of 50 Penn Place building), for Storytime with Julie. This weekly event on Saturdays at 10:15 AM provides a different featured story each week, selected by the book-loving Full Circle staff, and sometimes even welcomes a special literary guest. For more information, check out fullcirclebooks.com.

Live on the Plaza

Try a family night out at one of the metro’s most fun monthly events, the Plaza District’s Live on the Plaza, Friday, May 13, 7-11 PM. This event takes place “rain or shine” every second Friday and features a different monthly theme, food trucks, kids activities, live music, local shopping and did we say food trucks? Visit plazadistrict.org for details on May’s event.

National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Annual Chuckwagon Festival

Round out the month celebrating cowboy-style at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Annual Chuckwagon Festival, Saturday, May 28 and Sunday, May 29. The festival offers traditional chuckwagon food samples and fun for children of all ages with bandana decorating, leather stamping, butter churning and even selfie stations. See nationalcowboymuseum.org for more information.

Don’t get caught in the May-hem! Make sure that deadlines, awards assemblies, field trips and class parties don’t keep you from spending that quality time with your family.

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