September 2019

Good grief - we just lost...

This is the sixth article in a series from the ISU Extension and Outreach Dairy Team on Dealing with Farm Stress. More farm stress resources.

Farm Youth have varying degrees of "mastery" to deal with the opportunities and stressors of life. Learning opportunities abound on the farm, but growing up on a farm can also bring challenges, and is this article’s focus.

Challenges are normal and can be healthy as they can push youth to do things that promote healthy growth. It is in the process of dealing with and overcoming challenges that can help provide deeper meaning in life and can help youth develop a life skill of "mastery" along the way.

Mastery is the ability to both conceptualize and actualize solving a problem, create a project, communicate an idea, achieve a life skill, or using a skill to deal with or better manage a situation or opportunity. The aim here is to better develop mastery over life’s more "down" times.

The power of positive reality is a mindset to help youth use the power of positive focus that hopefully leads to the power of positive definition of who they are that then leads to the power of positive reality in their lives. Relating the power of positive reality to farm child psychology is depicted in the next image. The goal of reality is to foster youth to positive actions, behaviors, habits, performance, decisions and thus positive reality on the right. But, in order to get youth there, we need to step back and help youth create or envision positive thoughts, images, ideas, perceptions, mission to help youth create a positive focus and a mindset to overcome negative stimuli.

Positive thoughts are a precursor to positive feelings and thus, positive actions. A common parenting skill is to threaten youth to quit this action, behavior or habit or to perform a certain way or make this decision, maybe even harping on this daily to get this end-result or action. As children grow, they tend to acquire many deep-rooted pictures or images, ideas, perceptions from parents and peers, teachers and television, siblings and society that may or may not be healthy.

what do you tell the kids?

Trying to sway youth towards a healthy action that conflicts with their perception or mental image of what is the norm may mean a parent needs to go back and adjust the camera or brain lens to help youth understand why their image might need to be changed first for healthier decision-making. But, the reality of getting from picture to good decision has another step. Attached to the thoughts, pictures and perceptions are often feelings, attitudes, values and principles that often need changing to get at the desired action, behavior or habit. Bottom line is that positive thoughts or images are precursors to positive feelings or attitudes which are precursors to positive actions, habits or behaviors. Thus, the power of positive reality in youth development takes a multi- step approach.

Well-Adjusted youth tend to come from well- adjusted parents. Modeling healthy behavior is key. Witnessing unhealthy conflict due to farm or family can be harmful, a source of unhealthy pictures or perceptions that may get rooted in a child’s mind forever. Farm and family stress may cause youth to be anxious, scared or sleepless and may respond by acting out or turning inward, and having trouble interacting, concentrating and performing in school or elsewhere (NERMEN). All families have some conflict and challenges or they are not normal.

It is more important to deal with a youth’s thoughts than feelings (Rosemond) as often parents give overt attention to a child’s feelings at the expense of well-adjusted thought processes to help them better deal with their feelings. It is more important to empathize with youth than to sympathize with them. The former tends to help with understanding their situation. The latter tends to help them feel sorry for themselves. But, in times of great grief, sympathy may be the needed form of compassion.

farm youth psychology 101

Communicating with youth under stress is not an easy task! Its success is a product of good relations. Success of relations is a product of good communication! Thus, it’s a "Catch 22" situation needing a "TALK" plan!

acknowledge thoughts, empathize with feelings

Talk Meaning—help youth see and appreciate the “meaning” of small, good things in their lives, starting early on. They find greater happiness and satisfaction, even amidst difficulty, and help understand the bigger "meaning" of other things.

Talk Definition—help youth "define" who they are in their strengths and abilities, not just athletic or musical talents, for example. Call attention to their goodness, kindness and sensitivity and "encourage each other (them) daily while it is still today" (Hebrews 3:13) with positives points mentioned much more than negative ones.

Talk Positive Reality—help youth “realize” that if they want to feel good about themselves they need to "think" good about themselves. Do they see themselves as weak and down in a hole or strong, sitting on top of the world? Both humility and confidence need to be learned in their internal reality. Focus on the positive and learn from the rest as youth are as happy as they decide to be.

Talk Relative—help youth relativize, not magnetize problems. Often farm youth don’t have all the things others do. Talking through the previous topics of meaning, definition and reality, can help youth realize how blessed they may be without things or in comparison with other youth around the world.

Talk Respect—help youth develop humility and thus develop a sense of respect for others and the world around them. Understanding that respect for parents, teachers, coaches and other role models, barring any wrongdoing, creates a value of humility within oneself towards others. Humility is often a more important interpersonal value than pride, for communication skills later in life.

Talk Joy—help youth experience joy in relationships by:

  • Being genuinely interested/concerned using eye contact and focus, which means not letting cell phones get in the way!
  • Being appreciative with an attitude of gratitude.
  • Being accepting, yet disciplined in righteousness.
  • Being joyful, looking at blessings even in sorrow and joking around as appropriate.
  • Being affectionate and empathetic which means using a tender touch. (adapted from NERMEN)

Talk Their Level—Adults can be intimidating to youth often simply because height is associated with power. Sitting or kneeling to get closer to their level can often improve communication response with a simple gesture for more level "eye to eye" contact.

Talk in Their Time—Youth often are not as talkative when their minds are occupied elsewhere.  Meal times, car ride time, family game time and/or lying in bed/prayer time are often more responsive times when youth "might" talk.

Talk Their Talk—Use words and examples they can relate to and create "word pictures" connected to their interests to give better meaning. Youth tend not to be proactive in talking so, like boating, if just left to natural currents, busyness and competing interests will drift people away. It takes time and energy to keep youth on course with purpose.

Talk Their Walk—youth are growing up in an environment today much different than parents. Farm and family stress might pale in comparison to bullying and social challenges brought on by technology and social media, which have made it ever so difficult to walk a mile in their shoes. When their "walk" is less than good, youth need support, security and safety measure, knowing they are not alone and that family is their safe haven where boundaries and the "fundamentals" of life are found. Youth need safety and boundaries, but help them   see the fun or meaning in the mental challenge of "thinking" through life.

when you turn to you, you do what?

So, what do you tell the kids?

Farm youth, when times are tough, can often rise to the occasion, and even help deal with the fire or problem, if supported with clear and caring communication. Protecting loved ones from bad news is not always best, as often, kids may be aware of something, feeling emotional charges. Mistrust can develop if not told the truth. If age appropriate, give youth the opportunity to appreciate the real concerns of the family, it can teach youth to deal with difficulty, and can help build resiliency in your children.

Bring youth along in the discussions rather than just announce the bottom line plan. Let them know they are loved and did not cause the issue at hand, as they often blame themselves. Listen to them without criticizing their worries. Check their level of understanding and know a one minute chat, a gentle hug or a reassuring word may be the best way to communicate with youth under stress.


Larry Tranel, dairy specialist, 563-583-6496,


Larry Tranel

dairy specialist
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