Brushing Up on Our Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing

Guest Correspondence

BY ROXIE JERDE SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY NOV 7, 2020

Brush, rinse, floss, repeat. This daily (hopefully twice-a-day) ritual isn’t something we eagerly anticipate, yet it’s a simple habit that we know is important and just cannot go without. It wasn’t always that way, but a century of education and family routines has made it so. This observation stuck with me when I heard it from Dr. Laura Bakosh, co-founder of Inner Explorer and a national leader in the field of children’s mental health.

Dr. Bakosh deftly poses the question about preventative mental health care and its place in our daily routines: ”If we treat our pearly whites with such care, why shouldn’t we do the same for our mental health through daily mindfulness exercises?”

This analogy offers a glimpse into the important and complex road our community is on in support of children’s mental health. It was one we were already on, and a road that has become more well paved facing challenges brought to light by the shooting in 2018 at Marjory Douglas High School, and now the coronavirus pandemic.

What and how we think matters, especially when it comes to our children. With this in mind, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County recently hosted a discussion for our donors and community members with Dr. Bakosh and other area leaders supporting children and their caregivers both during and beyond this crisis.

Each of the speakers offered examples of resiliency strengthened through innovative projects our foundation is proud to support. For example, Dr. Bakosh’s Inner Explorer program provided daily, audio-guided mindfulness practices to develop coping skills. In Sarasota County, all schools have access to Inner Explorer so educators, students, and even families at home can practice and learn together, making mindfulness a habit.

Gocio Elementary School Principal Steve Royce shared the services his school has added over several years actually prepared his staff better to return to work this fall. Gocio was one of the first elementary schools in Sarasota County to welcome a mental health therapist from The Florida Center for Early Childhood to its team four years ago to better understand student behavior. With these professionals on campus, instructional staff have also received training on different ways of identifying behavior with a focus on mental health supports and help address needs that previously were misunderstood or just missed all together. The combined results have been striking: today, around 30-35 students are receiving in-depth services at Gocio, joining the 366 students served in 17 schools in Sarasota County last year alone.

The Florida Center’s CEO Dr. Kristine Skoglund helped prototype this “whole child” format beginning with Alta Vista Elementary in 2015. Dr. Skoglund shared that training teachers to recognize their own emotional triggers, along with providing wraparound support to students and their families, therapists are helping our schoolchildren build life skills that help both inside and outside the classroom.

Finally, Helen Neal-Ali, founder of SRQ Strong, gave voice to the parents, whom she helps find ways to cope with their own traumatic pasts. Too often, cycles of negativity are created by holding onto these past thoughts and feelings, inevitably tickling down to affect our children. Neal-Ali’s advice to parents is to live in the now, live in the present. Because if the parent is healthy, the children can be healthy too.

I share all of this (and a recording is available of their complete talk on our website) because children and families thrive when they have the relationships, opportunities and resources to build that mental resiliency. Like any good habit, this will take time, patience and positive reinforcement, and I believe our community is committed to this important shift. Keep brushing!

Roxie Jerde is president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

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