One simple shift that can improve your child's mental health this summer
Adapted from a presentation given by Matt Bukowski, MA LPC.

One of the parts of parenting no one quite prepares you for is the sheer number of worries. Are they eating enough? Is the car seat strap positioned correctly? Do we live in a good school district? For parents raising kids today, there is an added worry that previous generations never had to face – are they spending too much time on their phones?

The worries are real and warranted. In the case of smart phone use, more and more studies are linking increased screen time in kids and teens to increases in major depressive episodes and psychological distress. So much so that in 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics released screen time recommendations for all children.

The APA recommends that children under 2 should almost never have screen time, and children between 2 and 5 should have less than an hour per day. Beyond school age, the APA recommends to “place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.”

It’s all a bit overwhelming for parents who just need to get their families through the day. For many, screen time is the carrot that gets kids and parents to complete basic daily tasks. Parents can get the laundry put away, or schedule a doctor’s appointment, or make dinner without interruption by propping their child in front of their favorite show or with the promise of some time on Fortnite. It’s easy. It’s accessible. But, at what cost?

Famous Low-Tech Parents

APA Screen Time Recommendations
Look no further than the tech giants themselves. Most of the people who created the screens our children spend hours looking into, don’t allow their children unlimited access to phones and tablets. Steve Jobs and Bill and Melinda Gates were low-tech parents. They limited screen time. They realized, perhaps before anyone else did, that consumer tech was addictive and possibly harmful to young brains. This is the very thing research is now proving.

Being low tech may be great for Jobs and Gates, who can afford housekeepers and nannies, but it doesn’t help the average modern parent’s dilemma of how to get the laundry done without a toddler meltdown. Or make that phone call? Or boil some water for spaghetti? What do those of us who don’t have extra help on hand do?

Switch it up for better mental health

There’s actually a cheap and easy solution, but it might be a hard sell for the kid who loves Minecraft. Research about child brain development points toward what our grandparents knew to be true – send kids outside. Sit on the front porch and make that phone call while they play hopscotch. Open the window and watch them in the backyard while you fold the laundry. Or, if you live in an area without easy access to green space, take a daily walk before bedtime, get the family some free bikes to ride to a park, or sign your kids up for free swim lessons.

Humans are meant to be outside. Green space, the fractal patterns of nature and the sounds of the wind in the trees have the opposite effect on the brain that screens do. While video games and social media give brains increasingly exciting rewards, nature calms a growing brain. And what do parents want more than calm?

In the short term, changing behaviors and family patterns away from the easy solutions of technology and toward more nature-based and lower-tech play may cause complaining. But, kids are adaptable. After they realize you are not changing your screen time limits, they will find a way to deal.

In the long term, the greater benefit is that your child’s brain develops with healthier adaptations. Instead of seeking greater and greater rewards, they will learn the skills of empathy, creativity and imagination that no computer or artificial intelligence in the future will be able to replace.

Read More


Hope for Kids with Incarcerated Dads

James* was five-years-old when his dad was arrested and sent to the Albemarle Regional jail. James went to live with his grandmother. Five-year-olds are high energy and a bit rambunctious. However, over the course of a few weeks it became evident to his grandmother that James’ increasingly loud outbursts and frenetic body movements were beyond what was deemed ‘normal’ for his age. James missed his father. He had no words to describe the feelings within him, so they came out in other ways.

THE RESEARCH

Child Welfare experts have long known anecdotally that the shame and separation of having an incarcerated parent affects a child’s development and behavior. In 1998, they got proof. The release of a now famous study referred to as the “ACEs Study” detailed how ten different Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) were linked to poor physical and mental health outcomes in adulthood. Nestled among the more cited ACEs like child abuse or neglect was having a family member in prison.

Children affected by incarceration are a vulnerable population. Often they are living in poverty. Also, because 92% of incarcerated parents are fathers, they live with either a single mother, a relative or in the foster care system. They are, more often than not, black. One in 9 African-American children have a parent in prison, compared to one in 57 white children. The feelings of abandonment when a parent is incarcerated harm a child’s developing brain. It changes how they respond to stress and damages their immune systems so profoundly that the effects show up decades later .

THERE IS HOPE

It can feel very “gloom and doom”. Like, these children are stuck in a societal pattern that’s impossible to reverse. But, it’s not true. The best treatment to combat Adverse Child Experiences is strong relationships with competent parents. How do we strengthen the relationships of children affected by incarceration? How do we make incarcerated parents more competent at parenting upon their release? This is how ReadyKids opens the door to bright futures for these children.

In 2007, ReadyKids created a program called REAL Dads aimed at coaching incarcerated fathers to have Responsible, Empowered, Available and Loving relationships with their kids. It was, and still is, the only evidence-based fatherhood program in the Charlottesville-area.

“I think often we think father’s programs are just about the father,” said Eddie Harris, Fatherhood Specialist with REAL Dads. “We’re approaching it from the perspective that the most important and valuable asset is the family. When a parent gets help, it helps the whole family.”

REAL Dads focuses on providing parenting classes to men who were incarcerated, or newly out of incarceration. Each year, REAL Dads works with 6 fathers in the Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional jail in a weekly fatherhood group. Outside of the jail, Harris works with approximately 30 fathers recently released from jail or estranged from their children for another reason.

THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTACT VISITS


Hope for Kids with Incarcerated Dads

In 2017, a growing body of research began to support the use of contact visits between incarcerated fathers and their children. A child who not only visits their parent in jail or prison, but is able to have quality time with them, has improved outcomes. Usually when children visit a parent in jail or prison, they are confined to a crowded, loud visiting room. Or, they must talk through a plexiglass wall. REAL Dads worked closely with the regional jail to begin twice-yearly contact visits, where fathers and their children can be together in a quiet, supervised space for special family time. Last year, 11 children in Charlottesville were able to play games, get hugs and spend quality time with their incarcerated fathers.

The visits make a difference.

“The look and smile on my son’s face as he ran up to me with a huge hug, really made me feel good,” said one REAL Dads participant. “He talked about how he beat me in the board games for days after it.”

The greater research backs up this particular REAL Dads’ experience. Contact visits are vital to a child’s mental health. According to the Urban Institute, “Spending time together as a family through play, conversation, or sharing a meal can help mitigate children’s feelings of abandonment and anxiety.” What’s more, children who continue to stay in touch with their parent in prison exhibit fewer disruptive and anxious behaviors. There is also evidence that contact visits helps lower recidivism rates for the parents.

THE POWER OF A HUG

One REAL Dads participant held his infant daughter for the first time in a contact visit two years ago.

“I had so many different thoughts going through my head, just finally getting the chance to touch my first born child,” he said. “The whole day after the visit I was day-dreaming about her growing up and what type of environment I wanted her raised in … I really wanted to change my own way of living.”

As for James, a visit with his dad in jail changed him for the better.

“I spoke to my mom and she says she wishes she could have a monthly contact visit, because she actually can see the difference in his behavior after each visit,” said James’ dad. “He starts the week off telling everyone what we did, that he has to be good and so does daddy so he can have class with me at ‘Big Boy Timeout.’ I am able to feel a little better knowing I am giving 100% to give him all that I can and I will continue to do so.”

CELEBRATE FATHER’S DAY, MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR A KID

To learn more about REAL Dads visit the REAL Dads website. Also, there are several ways you can support REAL Dads this weekend! Random Row Brewing is hosting a Fathers’ Eve Event on Saturday, June 15 from 6 to 10 p.m. to celebrate the “brotherhood of fatherhood.” Proceeds go towards our REAL Dads program. Then, on Sunday, June 16, Craft Cville will support the important work of the REAL Dads program at Ready Kids with an event at Castle Hill Cider from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Join us for either event this Father’s day weekend!

Or, you can make a donation in honor of your dad this Father’s day by visiting our donation page. Happy Father’s Day!

* Name is changed to protect confidentiality

Read More


Pinwheels for Prevention. Protecting Kids: It's Everyone's Job
National Child Abuse Prevention Month recognizes the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse and neglect. At ReadyKids, we know that no one becomes a parent with the intent of abusing or neglecting children. Opportunity gaps, trauma and social factors like addiction and mental illness add stress to the already stressful job of parenting.

Nevertheless, in 2018 within the ReadyKids service area there were 4,005 accepted claims of child abuse. Child abuse is a community-wide issue that can only be solved as a community. Therefore, we planted pinwheel gardens during the month of April. The gardens raise awareness of what causes and how to prevent child abuse.

Pinwheel Gardens for Prevention

The pinwheel is a symbol of child abuse awareness for its whimsy and childhood associations. In other words, it is a nationally recognized symbol of the great childhoods we want for all children. At ReadyKids, we work closely with not only kids but parents, caregivers, police and other service providers. Our goal is to create great childhoods by promoting social and emotional well-being.

Girl Blowing Pinwheel In addition, each pinwheel garden has copies of the ReadyKids “Keeping Your Family Strong” pamphlet. These pamphlets educate and support families. Research shows that “protective factors” like having a strong support system and knowing about child development help parents stay more calm in moments of high stress. For instance, a parent that knows that part of two-year-old development is learning to communicate and assert themselves is less likely to erupt when the child screams “no diaper change!” Above all, anything a family can do to build up protective factors will help to prevent child abuse.

ReadyKids placed pinwheel gardens in eleven neighborhoods of Charlottesville. You can find them in the following locations:
SARA
Women’s Initiative
Foothills Child Advocacy Center
Region 10
Albemarle Victim Witness Office
Southwood Mobile Home Park
Greer Elementary School
Agnor Hurt Elementary School
Friendship Court Apartments
Apartments at Greenstone on 5th
Park’s Edge Apartments

Read More


When threats are made against our children in Charlottesville, it is upsetting. Here are some tips to help support your family’s mental health.


Children look to the adults in their lives to understand their world and how to respond, especially during upsetting and traumatic community events. Even children as young as 2 and 3 pick up on family, social, and community stress. Kids are very good at noticing emotional changes in their caregivers, but do not know how to make sense of what is happening on their own. Talking with and supporting your child can help them cope better during this time.

Possible Ways Youth May be Impacted:

  • Media exposure. Children are impacted by what they see, particularly when seeing familiar places as the setting for violence and offensive symbols.
  • Possible Community Violence. The community is trying to prevent and prepare for potential violence.
  • Reawakened community division, including hateful actions and words toward minority groups, can impact children of all ages.

Signs of Stress and Anxiety:

  • Fearfulness: Increased fear, clinginess, and difficulty separating from caregivers.
  • Somatic complaints: headaches, stomachaches, tiredness.
  • Sleep Difficulties: nightmares, trouble falling asleep, or not wanting to sleep in own bed
  • Regression: Acting younger than their age.
  • Changes in Play and Activities: Young children may act out their fears or what they have seen in their play. In older youth, changes in interest in activities or social connections.
  • Trauma History: Youth with a past trauma or exposure to violence, mental health concerns, or special needs may be more vulnerable to the impact of these events.
  • If your child’s behavioral and emotional changes do not begin to improve after a few weeks, you may want to talk with a professional such as a Pediatrician, School Counselor, Spiritual Leader, or Counselor.

Tips for Supporting Kids

  • Set aside time to talk: Find a time when you are calm and not distracted to talk with your child about what is going on. Tell the truth, avoid graphic details, use age-appropriate language, and speak in simple, clear ways.
  • Focus on Listening: Children need to be heard, even when you do not have all of the answers. Ask about their thoughts and feelings, and focus on responding to their questions or concerns.
  • Model positive coping: Monitor your own stress level so that you can be calm and in control around your child. Find healthy ways to cope and express your own emotions when your child is not nearby. If your child wants to talk when you are upset, schedule a later time to follow up when you are ready.
  • Limit Media Exposure: Minimize or restrict TV and social media exposure of graphic and violent content. Talk with your child about what they see, including how older youth engage in social media.
  • Plan positive activities: In difficult times, kids especially need to feel connected and to engage in comforting activities.
  • Reassure Safety: Emphasize ways that adults are keeping them safe, including Helpers in the community, without making unrealistic promises.
  • Maintain normal routines and rules: Consistency and structure provides stability and comfort for kids. Talk with your child ahead of time about schedule changes.
  • Positive Expression of Values and Emotions: Difficult times can provide rich opportunities for sharing your values with your kids. Older youth may benefit from helping activities that allow them to express their values. See back for healthy ways to express emotions.

Read More


4 ways to be an ally to transgender youth and their families

In the last two years, the ReadyKids Teen Counseling Program has seen an increase in participants who identify as transgender. Someone who is transgender has a sense of personal identity and gender that does not correspond with their birth sex.

Nationwide, about 0.7% of American teens identify as transgender, but nearly 2% of the participants in the ReadyKids Teen Counseling program have identified as transgender or gender variant. That’s an almost 200% increase than what you’d expect to see.

“There are a lot of variables that lead into it,” said Jordan Leahy, Teen Counselor. “People who are transgender are more visible than ever in our society, but there is also a political climate that is trying to deny they exist. This is increasing mental health needs.”

Coming out as transgender in your teen years comes with a variety of struggles, particularly with parents. For instance, studies show that familial rejection can lead transgender youth to engage in behaviors that put their health at risk, trigger depression and other mental health problems, and in the worst of cases – result in suicide. Furthermore, lack of family acceptance after coming out as transgender is one of the top reasons teens runaway or are kicked out of their homes by their parents. Among homeless youth, 20-40% are transgender, and most face discrimination when seeking even temporary shelter.

Support for Trans Youth Matters

However, familial support does the opposite. Parents who accept their child’s gender identity can act as a buffer against bullying and bias outside of the home. In other words, for some transgender youth, family support can be the difference between life and death. The ReadyKids Teen Counseling Program wants to help families and teens in this journey toward acceptance and support.

Here are 4 tips our counselors offer on how to be an ally to a transgender teenager.
1. Use their preferred name and pronouns

“A name is significant, and we don’t always have an understanding of that in our culture,” said Leahy. “If a person has chosen a new name for themselves, it’s usually because their given name is in some way hurtful. If you live in a home with someone who doesn’t acknowledge who you are and can be cruel to you for who you are, that has a huge effect.”

If you’re unsure which pronouns a person uses, listen first to the pronoun other people use when referring to them. If you’re still unsure, you can default to “they/their.” If you must ask which pronouns a person uses, start with your own. For example, “Hi, I’m Alex, and I use the pronouns he and him. What about you?”

Most importantly, if you mess up (as everyone who has known someone as a different gender for a long time is likely to do), quietly correct yourself.

“Many people are well intentioned and want to be supportive, but if you miss a beat and say something wrong and everyone can get hurt,” said Dee Keller, Senior Teen Counselor. “Mistakes do happen. It’s okay to go back. It’s okay to learn. It’s okay to do things differently.”

2. Break the connection in your mind between gender identity and sexuality

“When teens come out as transgender, this can be confusing, especially for parents,” said Leahy. “But gender identity is not the same as sexual identity.” Transgender does not mean gay or lesbian. Gender is about who you are, not who you are attracted to.

Trans Student Educational Resources has a helpful diagram called the “Gender Unicorn” which explains how gender identity, gender expression, what gender someone is physically attracted to, and what gender someone is emotionally attracted to all exist on a spectrum. For example, it’s possible to be born female, transition to male and still be attracted to men. It’s also possible to be born male, and later identify as genderless (part male, part female), but that doesn’t mean you’re A-sexual and not interested in a relationship. A wide variety of possible combinations exist, over 7 billion!

3. Be patient

A person who is questioning or exploring their gender identity may take some time to figure out what’s true for them. They might, for example, use a name or pronoun, and then decide at a later time to change the name or pronoun again. Do you best to be respectful and use the name and pronoun requested.

4. Become educated

Being transgender is no longer taboo. With people like Laverne Cox in Orange is the New Black and Caitlyn Jenner from the Kardashians being open about their identities, trans people are more visible than ever. GLAAD has a number of resources to expand awareness of trans issues. Locally, the Cville Pride Community Network has a compiled list of resources as well.

Check out art, literature and films about trans people. Barnes and Noble has a helpful list of Young Adult novels about transgender characters, IMBD has a list of movies featuring trans main characters, and an online comic called “Assigned Male” has great cartoon strips about the daily challenges trans people face.

Support for Trans Youth Matters

As a parent, if you come to a point where you don’t know what else to do, the ReadyKids Teen Counselors are available to talk any time, 24/7 to any teen or parent of a teen in the Charlottesville area. Call (434) 972-7233.

“Trans kids are more vulnerable. We want to have the space to welcome these kids,” said Keller. “The runaway risk and family conflict is high for LGBT kids, having a supportive family is a huge resilience factor. We hope to equip families and teens.”

The ReadyKids Teen Crisis Hotline is a free service that can be reached at any time by calling (434) 972-7233.

Read More


Each ReadyKids program tackles a community challenge.

Our Relationship Ready programs help to prevent and treat toxic stressed faced by over 3,500 children in the greater Charlottesville area.

Our Learning Ready programs recognize the need for positive educational experiences in a child’s first five years, when 90% of a child’s brain development occurs.

The need is great, but we believe that with a little help that children, families and the greater Charlottesville community are resilient.

Click on our Annual Report to learn more about how ReadyKids helped get kids ready for life this year!

Read More


The events of August 2017 in Charlottesville were deeply upsetting within our community. While we do not know what the anniversary of these events will hold, we can expect that August 11-12, 2018, and the days afterwards may bring up difficult thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in both adults and children.

Children look to the adults in their lives to understand their world and how to respond, especially during upsetting and traumatic community events. Even children as young as 2 and 3 pick up on family, social, and community stress. Kids are very good at noticing emotional changes in their caregivers, but do not know how to make sense of what is happening on their own. Talking with and supporting your child can help them cope better during this time.

Possible Ways Youth May be Impacted:

  • Media exposure to the violent events of last year. Children are impacted by what they see, particularly when seeing familiar places as the setting for violence and offensive symbols.
  • Anniversary Reactions are common after traumatic experiences.
  • Possible Community Violence. The community is preparing for potential violence during anniversary events.
  • Reawakened community division, including hateful actions and words toward minority groups, can impact children of all ages.

Signs of Stress and Anxiety:

  • Fearfulness: Increased fear, clinginess, and difficulty separating from caregivers.
  • Somatic complaints: headaches, stomachaches, tiredness.
  • Sleep Difficulties: nightmares, trouble falling asleep, or not wanting to sleep in own bed
  • Regression: Acting younger than their age.
  • Changes in Play and Activities: Young children may act out their fears or what they have seen in their play. In older youth, changes in interest in activities or social connections.
  • Trauma History: Youth with a past trauma or exposure to violence, mental health concerns, or special needs may be more vulnerable to the impact of these events.
  • If your child’s behavioral and emotional changes do not begin to improve after a few weeks, you may want to talk with a professional such as a Pediatrician, School Counselor, Spiritual Leader, or Counselor.

Tips for Supporting Kids

  • Set aside time to talk: Find a time when you are calm and not distracted to talk with your child about what is going on. Tell the truth, avoid graphic details, use age-appropriate language, and speak in simple, clear ways.
  • Focus on Listening: Children need to be heard, even when you do not have all of the answers. Ask about their thoughts and feelings, and focus on responding to their questions or concerns.
  • Model positive coping: Monitor your own stress level so that you can be calm and in control around your child. Find healthy ways to cope and express your own emotions when your child is not nearby. If your child wants to talk when you are upset, schedule a later time to follow up when you are ready.
  • Limit Media Exposure: Minimize or restrict TV and social media exposure of graphic and violent content. Talk with your child about what they see, including how older youth engage in social media.
  • Plan positive activities: In difficult times, kids especially need to feel connected and to engage in comforting activities.
  • Reassure Safety: Emphasize ways that adults are keeping them safe, including Helpers in the community, without making unrealistic promises.
  • Maintain normal routines and rules: Consistency and structure provides stability and comfort for kids. Talk with your child ahead of time about schedule changes.
  • Positive Expression of Values and Emotions: Difficult times can provide rich opportunities for sharing your values with your kids. Older youth may benefit from helping activities that allow them to express their values. See back for healthy ways to express emotions.

Read More


NBC News ranked the Aug. 11 and 12 rallies in Charlottesville as one of the top 10 news stories of 2017.  The Atlantic rated the photo of protesters being hit by a car on 4th street the top news photo of the year.  For those of us living in Charlottesville, 2017 was a tense and stressful year, particularly for our children.

Athena Gould, Executive Director of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Blue Ridge was moved to find ways to speak words of hope to Charlottesville’s children.  From this was born that #DearYoungPerson campaign.  Recently, ReadyKids was a recipient of dozens of #DearYoungPerson postcards.  They came from Louisiana, New York, Texas, Illinois, Mississippi, Florida and even as far away as Norway.  Each one had touching words of inspiration and light.  These postcards now hang in the ReadyKids waiting room where children in the Inside Out program, who have experienced trauma, can read them.

If you also need a pick-me-up, take some time to read what beautiful people all around the country took the time to say to hurting kids.  It’ll make you believe the world is a good place again.

Read More


Read More


We’re smiling bashfully from ear to ear.  We’ve gotten a lot of positive attention lately!  Everyone at ReadyKids is passionate about the work they do, and we’re so glad our work contributes positively to our community.

Last week, our Executive Director, Jacki Bryant, was interviewed for the CBS19 Community Counts Segment.  This week, ReadyKids’ hard working teams of InsideOut, ReadySteps, and Child Care Quality were featured on the local Charlottesville news last night in two separate stories.

InsideOut Receives Heal Charlottesville and Concert for Charlottesville Funds

We are proud to announce publicly that we are one of the proud recipients of donations from the Concert for Charlottesville and the Heal Charlottesville Fund of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation.  This summer, partly due to the trauma of the Aug. 12 rally, our wait list for trauma counseling climbed to over 54 kids.  These funds from CACF will go towards hiring an additional trauma counselor to meet the needs of our city’s youth.

Click on the photos to be led to the CBS19 video with Shannon Noe, the program manager for our counseling programs.

 

ReadySteps and Child Care Quality Featured in Reporting on Affordable Childcare

As the cost of child care in Charlottesville rises, more parents are forced to chose between affordability and quality. ReadyKids wants to make sure that this decision is less painful for parents.  Whether you choose to opt out of the workforce and stay home with your children while they’re little or you go back to work but feel nervous about child care options – there is a ReadyKids program for you.
For those at home with kids, ReadyKids ReadySteps program brings regular early learning playgroups to children and their caregivers in their home communities.  ReadySteps teaches parents how to be their child’s first teacher, helps families connect with other families in the community, and helps families gain access to a support system that grows with their child.  They currently meet in five different Charlottesville neighborhoods including Agnor Hurt, Friendship Court, Greenstone on 5th, Southwood, and Westhaven.
For parents working outside of the home, ReadyKids Child Care Quality program improves the quality of early child-care and preschool settings by offering coaching, training and support to early childhood teachers and directors.  If you are in need of resources to find affordable, quality child care in Charlottesville, check out this list of resources compiled by the Child Care Quality team.
Click on the picture of Shannon Banks, ReadySteps Program Manager, or Gail Esterman, Child Care Quality Program Manager, to be linked to the CBS19 story on the riding cost of childcare in Charlottesville.

Read More