How to Build Health Habits for Families – Maria Coutant Skinner, LCSW, CEO


A 22 morning live show at WZBG going to the live line this morning as we speak with executive director from the McCall Center for Behavioral Health and Health Inc. Maria Croutonskin. A good morning, Maria. Good morning, Dale. How are you? I’m well. Thanks for joining us on the live line this morning. Our topic this morning, we’re going to talk about children’s mental health and building resilience because that of course will prevent substance abuse to go a long way toward it. I guess the good question is and there’s been a lot of reporting on this. How are our children doing these days? Well, thank you so much for being here. To my mind, there’s not much that’s more important than talking about this topic and I appreciate being able to talk about it with you, Dale. So, I think it’s been well documented.

We’re really worried about kids these days. I think everything from the tragic overdose of the seventh grader in Hartford to juvenile crime to increase rates of anxiety and depression. We appropriately are concerned. There’s a lot of high-aturity crisis happening, but we’re also seeing this kind of generally kids are unsettled, they’re feeling that they have a lot that they’re dealing with on their plate and they don’t necessarily always have the language and the pathways to be able to express it appropriately and safely and adults in their lives don’t always feel like we have the right tools to be able to respond to them. So, important to have this conversation. I would agree and I think a lot of it you can lay at the feet of COVID. It’s caused a lot of social isolation and I think we tend to underestimate the power of human contact and interaction toward our mental well-being and all of that has really been assaulted now for the past two years. It’s so true and we see that.

We do surveys of young people and their families and we’re noticing and this is, we have specific data for our area but we also have data for our state and certainly across the nation and the trends speak volumes. We saw youth feeling more lonely and disconnected and more anxious actually even before COVID hit and then in many ways those things were amplified. Certainly, more reliance on screens and technology and just by virtue of the fact of needing to stay safe, more disconnection, more fear, more anxiety collectively, adults obviously are connected to each of the kids who we’re thinking about and talking about. So our mental health and our well-being certainly impacts how our kids are doing. So these are all things. These are markers. These are things we’re paying attention to. But, and you know, we look at things like substance use and some of the other behaviors as those are symptoms. Those are telling us a story about what kids are dealing with and we just have to scratch the surface of that and figure out what’s driving it.

Behind every behavior there’s a need and there’s lots of unmet needs that kids are experiencing right now. So there are things that we can do as the adults in their lives. Now when we start to break that down then, I mean how do we, we talked about how sometimes parents don’t know how to communicate what their kids might be feeling and draw them out. What’s the best way to start to make that connection so that you can get to the root cause of why they might be tumbling towards some kind of substance abuse? Sure. So I think there’s a few things. I’m going to just kind of give you three phrases and then I’ll give some more explanation for those. So high expectations, high structure, high nurture. So I think when people hear high expectations they think of like every kid needs to go to Yale.

That’s not what I mean at all. I think sitting down just as an adult and writing what you value in your family what’s important to you, what’s central to what matters. And then taking those as family values and having discussions in big and small ways about what your expectations are about how to move through the world, about how to treat other people, about how you spend your time, how you spend your money, ways that you relate to one another, all of those things get communicated based on your value system. So us as adults getting clear on what matters to us is really key to be able to do that in an intentional way. And having high expectations isn’t about like necessarily high grades and that kind of stuff. It’s this. Because I’ve been a social worker for I don’t know, hundred years right? And working with kids and with families for a long time, there’s a lot of things that we as parents do that’s driven by love and protection and oftentimes fear.

And when we feel afraid we’re not necessarily at our best. I don’t know, like if I think about the time when I was at my best versus when I was at my worst, my kids are now twenty four and twenty two. It’s when I was acting out of that fearful place that I was not the best mom. And I would love to be able to rewind and do things differently when I was acting out of fear. Yeah. And so if we’re acting out of love, then we know we’re going to make better decisions. And love is calming and it’s thoughtful, it’s nurturing, but it also doesn’t mean having no expectations. So I’ll give you an example. If we know that our kid is struggling with something, maybe it’s hard for them to get through the school day, maybe it’s hard for them to stick out being on a certain team or something like that. The temptation is to say, oh, it’s okay.

You don’t have to do that. Now, the whole idea of having high expectations is if you’re building in those other things, that nurturing environment, you say to your kid, you have, I’m going to be there with you, but you have the tools and you have the strength to be able to make it through this uncomfortable moment. And when you put these moments together and together, then I know that you can do hard things. And those experiences build on one another. And that’s where resilience comes in. Yep, very good point. Kids who’ve got to believe in themselves and that starts with mom and dad believing in them. So, yep. And when we over protect, when we do that helicopter thing, we actually do a disservice to our kids.

We used to say to our kids when they would get into a bind to say, we told them, you’re a smart kid, figure it out. And they did. Yep. And it doesn’t mean they’re alone in it. Right. You’re right there. You’re not going to get with them, but every time that we rescue, we make their world a little bit smaller. And we convince them that they’re not capable. And those are things, you know, we’re talking about big things. We’re talking about child mental health. We’re talking about substance use. But these are all things, building resilient kids, building in the skills and tools. Those are the things that could need to be able to navigate the world, to cope with tough big feelings, to be able to refuse when they’re tempted to, you know, experiment with drugs and alcohol.

And use other coping skills, but they don’t feel like they have to smoke or drink when they’re feeling stress or anxious or lonely. Got to make the kids feel like they’ve got the strength, but also that you’ve got their back right along the way, huh? Perfect. Exactly. Yep. Yep. It’s a gigantic challenge, Marie, and I want to give you a chance to, I don’t know, kind of nutshell it as we run out of time on our interview here. We could go on for quite a while about this topic because it is also important. But some thoughts we can leave, moms and dads who are facing this challenge and kids out there too, who are having a rough goal right now. Yeah. Thank you.

I think that the really, like a true show of strength is saying, I need some help here. And so if you’re wondering, you know, could my kid benefit from counseling? I’ve never met a kid who couldn’t. I’ve never met a family who couldn’t benefit. For sure. And so, you know, having, it could be just a few sessions, it could be longer and get into some of the deeper stuff. Parents and kids can be the drivers of what that looks like and what they want to address. But don’t feel like you have to go this alone. Don’t feel like, oh, it’s a phase. It’ll pass. Those, all of those things are opportunities to have an intervention any earlier. You can do that. And if there’s only one thing that people remember from this whole interview, it’s this. The earlier you can have a positive intervention, the better off the trajectory of that life will be.

And it’s easy to access. It can be telehealth. It can be in person. It can be family, it can be kid. But you know, we’re there. And you know, we have the ability to be able to put those tools in the hands of parents and kids. Well, I hope they grab those tools and use them to their best benefit for family mental health. Because, you know, there’s that saying about us parents where only gets happy as our saddest child, right? Right. So, it’s definitely. All right. Maria, I sure appreciate your time today.

You’ve given us a lot to think about. And yes, we’re not all in the same boat, but we’re all in the same storm, aren’t we? Exactly. Yeah. Thank you, Dale. Thanks for your time today. We appreciate it, Maria. Pleasure. All the best. Maria Crouton Skinner is the executive director from McCall Center for Behavioral Health. And you can always learn more at And we kind of went into the news department’s newscast here a little bit long. Sorry about that, Jeff. But, a little bit late, we had to use her.