We at PA Family Alliance sat down for part two of our interview with Wendy Luckenbill; Senior Recovery and Resilience Specialist for Community Care - for children, youth, and their families. In this interview, we discussed the benefits of taking a positive approach with your child, rather than one that focuses on a negative approach. Wendy has been a family advocate for children's mental health for a long time, in the very beginning of her work she was able to witness the drastic benefits of focusing on wellness and positive outcomes. Health and wellness are what makes us resilient. It is what helps us bounce back, and to be our best selves and reach our goals. We wanted to get her insight on how using an approach like this can help you support your child's health and wellness. (for ease of reading this article, we will use child or children to refer to persons birth age to 26).
Luckenbill has seen the benefits of focusing on the wellness of entire families rather than just one member of the family. "The interesting thing about your children is they're not independent beings. They are connected to the entire family. Everyone in the family should be supported and uplifted." said Luckenbill. We know exactly what Wendy is talking about and know that families are units and if something impacts one member of the family, it impacts them all. Maintaining a strong family unit and protecting every member of it is essential in supporting your child to be healthy and live a life with personal meaning.
Luckenbill shared with us the importance supporting you child to live in the most integrated and natural community setting. That usually means supporting your child to live in their home and attend their community school. We are learning there can be trauma when those natural connections are disrupted. It's important that a sense of wellness and essential connections are preserved, no matter what struggles a child and their family are going through. Getting help for challenges does not mean that the child or family are "bad" or different. Everyone has mental and physical challenges from time to time. Luckenbill said hat to make sure their connections to family, friends, and routine are maintained and strengthened if a situation arises where your child must leave their home and community.
"Hope is the medicine that fills our hearts and keeps us hanging on. Sometimes we have to carry hope when other people can't carry it for themselves. This can certainly be the case for children and young adults with mental health difficulties. At the same time sometimes we can't carry our own hope and we need to find to help it." This thought from Luckenbill drives home the point that a positive and hopeful approach can not only be helpful for those involved but it can also allow everyone to feel secure.
"Physical and mental health are completely connected, in fact they are interdependent," says Luckenbill. Luckenbill reflected on stories of children's therapeutic agencies which incorporated yoga and exercise. This type of activity helped the children and it became part of many of the children's ongoing health and wellness skills, even when they left the programs. Nutrition and food also can become a health and wellness activity for children with behavioral health challenges. Learning to eat and act in healthy ways supports wellness. This can be a wellness activity for the whole family-like adding hikes and learning to cook new types of meals together staying united will help everyone stay on the path to health and wellness.
It is important for you and your child to feel connected to the world around you. A sense of community by sharing hobbies and interests with the people around you can have massive positive impacts on your mental health. Luckenbill noted how much it has helped that celebrities and politicians have opened up about mental health. "To hear things being talked about that were once cloaked in shame and stigma allows people to see that mental health is a normalized topic and it can be discussed with people in your community. By being open about mental health it is a way for us to care for each other, and understand that practicing good mental health is part of a good community".
We have mentioned in multiple blog posts how impactful it can be to share your story. Luckenbill was in agreement and discussed how much of a wonderful gift it is to share your story with others. Opening up and sharing your struggles and triumphs can help others feel less alone and completely transform the way people care for and help each other.
Luckenbill shared that this is an often forgotten part of building resiliency; "if we don't address safety, we will never get to wellness." We need to ensure that we are keeping our children safe and that no decisions are being made that make them feel unsafe.It is easy to "check in" with your friends, family, or people you work with and just ask them how thet are feeling- "How are you feeling about this, do you feel okay with this, do you feel safe? This is more straightforward than any other tip but it is essential to ensuring your child's physical and mental well being.
It is important that every child's wellness has been planned to match their unique strengths and needs. A helpful phrase is "it's not what's the mater with me, it's what matters to me." (Pat Deegan). A good wellness plan focuses on what is meaningful to the person! Using the child's preferences and strengths to address challenges they want to change is the key. Find what works, and take small steps that grow success.
Utilizing a resiliency approach can help foster a hope-filled world for your child. Luckenbill has seen firsthand how instilling your child with positivity and a sense of self worth can make transformative changes in their recovery process. She has witnessed the benefits of a peer support system and thinks peer support partnered with wellness and recovery can achieve positive results. "All of life is about finding companions that have been where you are. It is even more helpful if that person is a trained professional in the field." The research surrounding a wellness and recovery approach is vast and growing.