Category Archives: Family tips

How attachment patterns impact brain development

While working with children in the foster care system, it is important to have an understanding of their behavior.  A lot of the behaviors that young people present are telling of the home life they had prior to being placed in care.

Since the 1960’s, there has been a lot of research on the theory of attachment, and how attachment patterns impact brain development.  For example, if a child has a caregiver that is consistent in meeting their needs, the child is more likely to be able to regulate their emotions and be generally stress-free and safe. This is called a “secure attachment.” However, if a child experiences abuse or neglect from a caregiver, the child is then more likely to be stressed out and fearful, because their needs are not being met.  This can be an “avoidant attachment” or “resistant/ambivalent attachment,” and in some cases, a “disorganized attachment.”

As many people can relate, not just children, whenever people become stressed out, to the point of being afraid, a number of physiological symptoms occur.  The person may sweat a lot, heart rate increases, and the need to act, whether fight, flight, or freeze, is activated, particularly in high stress situations.  This is a helpful biological survival tool for people who have normal brain development, however, for children who are always in that heightened state of arousal, those constant responses can be quite damaging to the brain.

The excessive rise of cortisol levels can impact the development of the frontal lobe.  The constant inability of the caregiver to provide the child with safety and ways to get their needs met can impact the Amygdala, or the part of the brain that converts long and short term memories.  Because the brain is a social organ, nurturing through healthy and responsive care giving will help regulate the brain and help the child form a secure attachment. Here are five ways to develop a bond with your adopted or biological child:

  1. Play and do activities together – children love to play and it develops their abilities and social skills. Engage in activities that you are interested in as well as activities they are interested in.
  2. Create routines – routines and structure give youth a sense of control and help them develop their sense of trust.
  3. Be flexible – make sure to be flexible to keep life interesting for kids and to empower them to use their voice and let you know what they are interested in doing.
  4. Be consistent and dependable – it is critically important that a young person knows they can rely on you and that you provide a safe and stable environment.
  5. Read – read to little kids and share one of your favorite books with an older kid to discuss later.

Books You Should Read for Black History Month

As we recognize Black History Month and celebrate countless achievements by black Americans, our team at Hearts & Homes for Youth would like to share our top picks for books to read during Black History Month.

The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson

A beautifully written historical account of the decades-long migration of black citizens from the South to the North and West. This masterpiece is rich with data, official records, and narratives of individual experiences.

The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream, by Sampson Davis

This memoir follows three teenagers from a rough part of Newark, New Jersey, who made a pact to attend medical school together. Also check out: The Bond: Three Young Men Learn to Forgive and Reconnect with Their Fathers, by Sampson Davis.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston

A classic Southern love story centered around a strong black female protagonist. Also check out Native Son by Richard Wright

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander

Legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that racial caste in America has not ended, and that Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control.

S Street Rising: Crack, Murder, and Redemption in D.C., by Ruben Castaneda

A memoir of a crack addict and portrait of Washington D.C. during the height of the crack epidemic.

The Other Wes Moore, by Wes Moore

A book that documents the lives of two young men with the same name, born in the same area, but launched into different directions as a result of choices and opportunities.

From the Hood to the Hill: A Story of Overcoming, by Barry C. Black

From the Hood to the Hill is Chaplain Black’s story of overcoming unpromising beginnings in the ghettos of Baltimore.

Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party, by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin

Black against Empire is a comprehensive overview and analysis of the history and politics of the Black Panther Party.

Untold Glory: African Americans in Pursuit of Freedom, Opportunity, and Achievement, by Alan Govenar

Untold Glory offers a fresh perspective on one of the most fundamental elements of American history—the conquest of new frontiers. In twenty-seven fascinating first-person accounts, African Americans from different eras, backgrounds, and occupations explore and reflect on the meaning of frontier, both literally and metaphorically.

Africana, by Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates

Inspired by the dream of the late African American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois and assisted by an eminent advisory board, Harvard scholars Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Kwame Anthony Appiah have created the first scholarly encyclopedia to take as its scope the entire history of Africa and the African Diaspora.

The Mis-education of the Negro, by Carter G. Woodson

This book by the founder of Black History Month, Carter G. Woodson, is an exploration of what it means to be black in America.

Up from Slavery, by Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington describes events in a remarkable life that began in bondage and culminated in worldwide recognition for his many accomplishments. In simply written yet stirring passages, he tells of his impoverished childhood and youth, the unrelenting struggle for an education, early teaching assignments, his selection in 1881 to head Tuskegee Institute, and more.

The Souls of Black Folks, by W.E.B. DuBois

This landmark book is a founding work in the literature of black protest. W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) played a key role in developing the strategy and program that dominated early 20th-century black protest in America. In this collection of essays, first published together in 1903, he eloquently affirms that it is beneath the dignity of a human being to beg for those rights that belong inherently to all mankind.

Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Malcolm X

This autobiography traces Malcolm X’s journey from being born as Malcolm Little to becoming one of the black freedom movement’s most recognizable figures. He describes his life experiences, from encountering racism, to being imprisoned, to being reborn through the Nation of Islam.

Black Boy, by Richard Wright

This autobiography traces Wright’s tortured years in the Jim Crow South from 1912 to 1927.

The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

The main character wants blue eyes, convinced that it is her ticket to escape from life as a bullied black girl.

Everything is not fine

0A38F0B702Sometimes children and teens hide behind a mask, feigning self confidence and boldness when in truth they feel vulnerable and are in need. These masks are hard to recognize until the cheerful and resilient youth gets into trouble, abuse substances, or have an emotional or physical outburst.

In his book Real Boys, William Pollack proposes that parents can get behind the mask with the following steps:

  1. Become sensitive to the early signs of a change such as substance abuse, poor grades, symptoms of depression, rowdy behavior, or becoming a perpetrator or victim of violence.
  2. Ask questions in a way that does not make a young person feel ashamed or afraid; instead of asking “What were you thinking?” ask, “Are you okay – what’s going on, can you tell me?”
  3. Accept that youth, just like adults, have their own “emotional schedules” – give the youth time to sort out their thoughts and open up to you.
  4. Connect through action – instead of having a sit down conversation in the living room, go for a walk or play a game, engage in an activity together that creates a connection and makes the youth feel comfortable  to share.
  5. Share stories about your own experiences, show you can relate and empathize with the experience and associated feelings, showing that you understand and respect the youth.

Schools can get behind the mask by providing you with a mentor. One of the youth in our group homes found a mentor at his high school and the relationship has made an immeasurable difference in his overall well-being. Another youth in our foster care program found a mentor at school in his football coach who has helped him develop a sense a belonging and a sense of community, and inspired this young man to invest in himself.

Everyone has the ability to make a big difference in a young person’s life. We need to be aware of changing behaviors, anticipate challenging situations and provide support, and don’t always believe that “everything’s alright.”

Make summer resolutions!

Q7UIKF58IRAs the school year draws to a close and we move into summer, it is great idea to make some summer resolutions focused on making your family a priority –  to spend more time together, have more conversations, and have fun together!

Think of resolutions that fit your family and your summer plans. Here are some ideas to get you started!

Delegate chores
Give your children specific chores that they can each be responsible for. They will feel helpful and you will appreciate the help!

Ask questions, listen and share!
Talk to your kids! Ask them about their school year and what they are looking forward to next year. Ask them what they are most excited about this summer. Share some stories from your childhood! Tell them about some of your great summer memories! Talk about the week, upcoming plans, and work out family problems.

Plan family trips
Whether you can get away together for an hour, a day, a weekend, or more, planning a family trip can help strengthen family bonds. Pick a place where you can explore and learn together, or a place that has special memories you can share.

Cook and eat together
Pick a recipe, go to the grocery store together, pick up the ingredients, and make a meal together! Spend time asking your kids about what cuisines they like and what they would enjoy making! Talk to your kids about the culture and traditions that correspond with the cuisine you are cooking. Then sit down together and enjoy the delicious meal you have made together!

Go for walks
A walk is a great way to calm down, clear your mind, and get some exercise together. You can talk with your kids about your day, about the community, or upcoming plans!

Speak with your kids and pick a community service project to get involved in together! Volunteering with your kids in the community will make you all feel great!

Play a game
Turn the TV off, turn your cell phones off, and pick out a game  – Scrabble, Risk, Pictionary, Monopoly, Stratego, Charades, Farkle, Go Fish, Uno, Connect Four, Twister, or another! Enjoy the time together!

Create a family night
Pick one night a week for family night. This is the night every week that you and your family get together to cook, bake, play a game, watch a movie, or enjoy another activity. If you stick with it, the family night could become a ritual and last through the next school year!

Make each child feel special.
Whether you have one kid or many, make a commitment to spend time doing something unique with each child. Whether it’s throwing a baseball, ice skating, painting, or something else your kids will feel important to you!

Make time for your spouse
Dedicate time to your partner. You are parents, but you are also friends and lovers and those relationships need time and nurturing! Schedule a date night for the two of you and have fun!

Kemp Mill climbs to practice mindfulness!

20150412_131410The focus of Mental Health Awareness week is mindfulness and at Hearts & Homes, we believe recreational activities are a great way to practice mindfulness. Recently our young men from Kemp Mill went rock climbing. The challenging and leisurely sport is a great way to give your mind and body a workout, practice listening to your body, and clear your mind.

Recreational activities are vital for the health of body and mind. We regularly provide the youth with recreational activities such as sport training, group games, going to the gym, and other activities. The various recreational activities help youth learn how to deal with stress, learn how to participate in organized activity, develop confidence, improve coordination, get a positive self-image, and recognize positive lifestyle choices.

If you ever have trouble dealing with stress, we recommend getting some fresh air, take a walk, and if you can, go rock climbing and you might reach new heights.

Advice from youth on how to keep your cool

In celebration of Mental Health Awareness Week, we asked our youth at Harriet Tubman Emergency Shelter to give us some ideas on how to keep your cool in frustrating and stressful situations. Check out their tips!

  1. Go for a walk, the fresh air will clear your mind
  2. Count to ten
  3. Take ten to twenty deep breaths
  4. Talk to a friend, your parents, or someone else close to you
  5. Take a nap
  6. Do something that you enjoy like listen to some music or play a video game
  7. Sort your thoughts out and get done what you need to do
  8. Sit down and focus on your breathing
  9. Isolate yourself for a little bit and return to the people or problem when you are calm and ready
  10. Don’t let things get to you, everything is a choice

We are proud of the great advice from our young men and hope one of tips works for you!

Mental Health Awareness Week – Mindfulness

U3T4F3GBGUFor one week each May, the Mental Health Foundation campaigns around a specific theme for Mental Health Awareness Week. Click here to read more about the campaign on their website!

Mental Health Awareness Week is intended to help generate public debates around how anxiety, sleep deprivation, and exercise can impact our mental health. This year, the focus is mindfulness. Mindfulness is an exercise  that helps us change the way we think and feel about our experiences. Mindfulness is a useful tool for people with mental health issues, people dealing with stress, people coping with recurring depression, and anyone trying to improve their mental health and well-being.

Click here to read about mindfulness

Mindfulness includes techniques such as meditation, breathing and yoga, which help us become more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and bodies. The practices can help us improve our relationships, attentiveness, concentration, and emotional insight. Mindfulness can be practiced by anyone – children, young people and adults – individually or with others, in any environment.

Next time you feel overwhelmed or under pressure, try closing your eyes, taking a deep breath and slowly counting down from ten, thinking about how you fell. Or, with the great weather we have, step outside for a brief walk!

The importance of communication

_photo06_f0_2a_dab57f378615__1326928849000Effective communication is an essential skill to develop in order to have a healthy family relationship.  Communication is just that – a skill that can be developed.  So, if your relationship with your family is not at the level that you would like for it to be, do not get frustrated or give up!

You can exercise and develop the muscle of effective communication just as you would exercise and develop any other muscle.  In order to be physically healthy, you would need to exercise your entire physical body.  In the same way, in order to be relationally healthy, effective communication will also require you to exercise your entire body.

YOUR EARS.  Good communication is dependent upon your ability to listen.  Hearing is different than listening.  Being able to hear does not mean that you have developed the ability to listen.  You may be able to hear what a person is saying without really listening and allowing what that person is saying to have an impact on your understanding of that person’s experience.  For this reason, it is often that parents may exclaim in frustration to their children, “You are not listening!”  The problem is not that the children cannot hear their parents; the problem is that the children are not listening.  Hearing is passive.  Listening is active, and therefore requires action.  As you listen to the people in your life, remember to ask yourself, “What action should I take based on what I hear this person say?”

YOUR TONGUE.  It has been said that the “power of life and death is in the tongue.”  While the tongue may be one of the smallest parts of the body, this tiny muscle truly does have the power to change a person’s life – for better or for worse.  Before using your tongue, always remember to THINK:

Is it…

  • True
  • Helpful
  • Inspiring
  • Necessary
  • Kind

YOUR EYES.  What can be said about the eyes? In the ugliest of times, the eyes are always a source of beauty. They are said to be the window into a person’s soul. They produce the power of sight. However, with this power comes great responsibility. The simple courtesy of looking someone in the eye when addressing them or while listening to them is a gesture that should not be taken lightly.

YOUR HEART.  Honesty is important not only for yourself, but for effective communication with a loved one.  Speak from the heart.  Listen from the heart.  Love from the heart.  Any communication offered or received in honesty and in love will make a difference in your relationship.

As with any exercise routine, it is important to remember that consistency is key.  The greatest gift you can give to the people in your life is to consistently communicate your love and gratitude to each of them.  What is one way that you can say, “I love you,” with your ears, with your tongue, with your eyes and with your heart today?

The lean, not so mean, three bean chili

FullSizeRenderHere is a recipe for some mild chili for you and your family to enjoy making together! It’s a recipe for quality family time with a tasty reward at the end!


Half an onion, chopped
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 pound of ground turkey
1 teaspoon of minced garlic
1 teaspoon of chili powder
1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons of oregano
1 cup of tomatoes, diced
1 can of roasted diced tomatoes
2 cans of navy beans
1 can of black beans
1 can of kidney beans


  1. In a stockpot over medium heat, saute the onion in oil until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the next five ingredients; stir around and cook until the meat is no longer pink. 
  2. Add the tomatoes; cover and cook on medium/low heat for 5 minutes. Stir in the beans and salt/pepper if desired; simmer for 30-45 minutes or until heated through. Yield: ~16 servings

Turkey minestrone – a soup to warm you up in chilly weather

Here is a recipe shared by Caitlin from Hearts & Homes for a Turkey Minestrone soup to enjoy with family and friends!


Half an onion, chopped
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 pound of ground turkey
1 teaspoon of parsley
2 teaspoons of minced garlic
1 teaspoon of oregano
1 teaspoon of basil
1 teaspoon of sage
1 teaspoon of thyme
1 cup of tomatoes, diced
6 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
1 medium zucchini, sliced (and halved if necessary to make it bite-size)
2 stalks of celery, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
1 can of navy beans


  1. In a stockpot over medium heat, saute the onion in oil until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the next seven ingredients; stir around and cook until the meat is no longer pink. 
  2. Add the tomatoes, broth, zucchini, celery, and carrots; cover and cook on medium/low heat for 5 minutes. Stir in the beans and salt/pepper if desired; simmer for 30-45 minutes or until heated through. Yield: ~16 servings