Youth Handling Grief

Two of my colleagues provided a great article on helping youth deal with grief during these changing and challenging times so I’ve included it on this blog post.

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Could this be Grief? Loss, Disappointment, and Cancellations

Written by Dr. Holly Hatton-Bowers and Dr. Amy Napoli

Many of us have experienced major changes in our daily routines and activities.  We have experienced loss of social connections, normalcy of routine, and a sense that life is forever changed. For youth, they have experienced these changes and losses too. Abrupt school closures, not being able to participate in ceremonies and cancellations of summer camp or family vacations can bring feelings of sadness, disappointment, and frustration.

It’s important to know that youth may be experiencing grief.  According to the National Institute of Health, grief is defined as a reaction to a major loss of someone or something. It is common for young people to feel grief during this time of great uncertainty. For some, this will be their first major encounter with grief; therefore, it can be helpful to understand the experience of grief: the emotions, behaviors, and/or reactions. Grief is universal and also personal.

Grief is normal and can be shown in different ways. Some youth may withdraw and become quiet, some will cry more easily, some will be more argumentative and irritable, push people away or become clingier.  Sometimes feelings of grief will lead to physical symptoms, such headaches or stomach aches. Grief can be overwhelming, confusing, and particularly challenging during a pandemic. Furthermore, grief is cyclical in nature. Unfortunately, it is not something you experience once and then it is over.

What can caring adults do to help young people experiencing grief?   Support them by helping them identify their experience as grief.   Learning about grief can help youth understand their experience, name their experience, and give them some ideas to be in control of their feelings. It is important to remember that youth are resilient. Research finds that in difficult times and changes, having a caring and supportive adult can help young people.

Here are some ways adults can support youth:

  • Be available, present, and patient to talk about grief. Youth may not be ready to talk about their grief, loss, and disappointments right away. Be available and patient when they are ready to talk. It may take time to go through the process of grief.
  • If youth are ready to talk, simply listen. Empathize with them and actively listen through eye contact, limit interrupting, and demonstrate interests through verbal and nonverbal communication. A head nod, gentle pat on the shoulder, or saying “I appreciate you sharing this with me or I am here to listen to you, is there anything else?” are ways to show active listening.
  • Help youth understand that we all have times when we experience grief. You can say, “I understand this is difficult. You seem disappointed. It is really hard to miss out on this. Do you want to talk about it?” When you see youth are upset, it is best to first acknowledge these feelings and offer some understanding. Listen and accept their thoughts and feelings unconditionally and refrain from judgement.
  • Try not to go into a “I need to fix this” mindset. Seeing youth experience strong feelings, like disappointment and grief, can be difficult. Avoid minimizing or reassuring them that “it will be ok” or “it is fine.” These types of statements can feel dismissive. Create a safe space for youth where they can be heard.
  • Acknowledge that everyone responds to grief in different ways. Some youth may be angry, some will be stubborn, sad, or silent. These are all common ways of responding. Let youth express these strong feelings in safe ways.
  • Be a good role model. Youth observe how adults handle disappointment, frustration, sadness, and anger. When you feel upset, model mindful breathing or share your feelings with others, this shows youth it is safe and okay to feel their feelings.
  • Help youth reflect to find meaning in these experiences. It may be helpful to support them in helping others and finding gratitude. When they are ready, ask them what they are learning through this experience.
  • Find moments to laugh and express joy. Help youth understand that it is common to experience different feelings and emotions at the same

These resources can provide additional support and help:

These are difficult and painful times. Youth experiencing grief need a caring, available adult who is there to help them gain skills to be more resilient.  Learning healthy ways to cope with these difficulties and strong feelings are important lifelong skills.
More information and resources about youth social-emotional development in difficult times can be found at or by contacting your local county Nebraska Extension office.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Crops, Programming, Youth

Youth Crop Scouting Competition

IMG_3105Looking for a fun club project? Want to unite your club members? Running out of ideas for club meetings?  If you answered, “yes” to any of these questions, help is on the way!  Nebraska Extension is pleased to present the 5th annual Crop Scouting Competition for Nebraska youth. Youth interested in crops have the opportunity to learn about crop growth & development and basic crop scouting principles.

Don’t know a lot about crops?  Ask a local agronomist to assist by providing a short lesson on crop production. You can have the agronomist meet with youth a little during each meeting or outside of the meeting. This is one way to engage those youth interested in crops.

This contest will be held at the ENREC near Mead, Nebraska on July 28, 2020, pending directive health measures at that time. If a live competition is unable to occur, a virtual option will be conducted.  Teams of middle school thru high school students (those completing 5-12th grades) from across Nebraska are invited to participate. This year, to comply with directive health measures, the event is limited to the first five teams who sign-up!

Clubs or other organizations may enter a team composed of three to five participants. An adult team leader must accompany each team of students. Team leaders could be FFA advisors, crop consultants, extension staff, coop employees, etc.

Top-scoring teams win prizes: $500 for first, $250 for second, $100 for third place. Unfortunately, there will not be a regional competition this year.

Teams will be expected to know the basics of scouting corn and soybean fields. This includes crop staging; looking for patterns of crop injury; disease, insect and weed seedling identification; etc. Other topics many include but are not limited to, pesticide safety, nutrient disorders, and herbicide injury.

More information about the crop scouting competition and instructions on how to register a team are available online at Register at:

Teams must be registered by July 15. This program is sponsored by Nebraska Independent Crop Consultant Association and Nebraska Extension.

Crops, Programming, Youth

Tractor safety course for teens

The Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, College of Public Health and Nebraska Extension have announced new plans for the tractor safety training course that was originally scheduled to be held at 12 sites across Nebraska this spring and summer. The new plans are designed to protect the health of the students and trainers during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Students will take the first day of the course online through the eXtension Foundation Campus website. After successfully completing the online course and testing, the required driving test will be offered at five locations across Nebraska July 27-31, 2020.

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Teens 14 or 15 years of age who work on farms, or others who are interested in learning about safe farming practices, are encouraged to register for the Course. Anyone under age 14 is not eligible to take the class.

Federal law prohibits children under 16 years of age from using certain equipment on a farm unless their parents or legal guardians own the farm. However, certification received through the course grants an exemption to the law allowing 14- and 15-year-olds to drive a tractor and to do field work with certain mechanized equipment.

Susan Harris, University of Nebraska Extension Educator, reports that a common cause of agricultural-related injuries and deaths in Nebraska is overturned tractors and ATVs. She emphasized that this course is designed to train students how to avoid these incidents as well as many other hazards on the farm and ranch.

The online course will cover the required elements of the National Safe Tractor and Machinery Operation Program, including quizzes which students must pass to attend the driving portion of training. Once a student is registered, they will be sent a training manual, course paperwork and a link to the online course.

The onsite driving training and exam will include a driving test and equipment operation and ATV safety lessons. Students must demonstrate competence in hitching and unhitching equipment and driving a tractor and trailer through a standardized course. Instructors will also offer education about safe behaviors and laws for ATVs, utility-task vehicles (UTVs), and other off-road vehicles (ORVs).

In order to protect students and trainers, the number of students on site will be limited to allow proper social distancing. All students and trainers will be required to wear a mask at all times during instruction and driving. Masks will be provided along with instructions for proper use. Equipment, steering wheels, control knobs, hitches, will be disinfected before and after each student completes their testing. Students who have had a fever or persistent cough within 14 days of testing will be required to reschedule their driving test. Additional driving tests may be added in August to accommodate students who are unable to attend the 5 scheduled trainings.

Instructors for the course are members of the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health: Aaron Yoder, Ellen Duysen; UNMC graduate student Alyssa Damke; and Nebraska Extension educators Troy Ingram, Randy Saner, and John Thomas.

Cost of the modified course is $40 and includes educational materials, online learning link, and supplies. More information on the 2020 Tractor Safety Course can be found at

Driving dates, site locations, and site coordinator contact information is below:

  • July 27 – Akrs Equipment, 49110 US Hwy 20 in O’Neill, contact Debra Walnofer, 402.336.2760,
  • July 28 – Legacy of the Plains Museum, 2930 Old Oregon Trail #8500 in Gering, contact Stacy Brown, 308.632.1480,
  • July 29 – West Central Research & Extension Center, 402 West State Farm Rd., North Platte, contact
  • Randy Saner or Vicki Neidhardt 308.532.2683,
  • July 30 – Hall County Extension, 3180 W. Hwy 34, Grand Island, contact Nancy Usasz, 308.754.5422,
  • July 31 – Cass County Fairgrounds, 8420 144th St, Weeping Water, contact Sandy Prall, 402.267.2205,

For more information or to register, contact the appropriate Extension staff member above.  Visit for a registration form.

Programming, Youth

Nebraska Extension Showcasing 4-H’ers at County Fairs

Nebraska Extension is working to make sure all 4-H’ers across the state have the opportunity to showcase their hard work come county fair time this summer. Since COVID-19 hit, rest assured Nebraska 4-H faculty and staff have been diligently working on numerous plans and options to celebrate our youth and showcase their hard work. Recently, our Dean and Director, Chuck Hibberd released an article which also describes our efforts.4h_mark1

County fair boards and agricultural societies in Nebraska’s 93 counties are determining what their county fairs will look like – or whether to have them at all — as the state responds to COVID-19. Nebraska Extension is working with these groups to design in-person or virtual 4-H experiences or a combination of both appropriate for each county.  Recommendations of both the governor’s office and Nebraska’s district health departments will determine what strategies will work best on a county-by-county basis.

“We are absolutely committed to making sure all youth who take part in 4-H across Nebraska have the opportunity to exhibit their hard work at a fair,” said Chuck Hibberd, dean and director of Nebraska Extension. “We are equally committed to protecting the health and safety of our youth, volunteers, judges and spectators.

Nebraska has one of the highest 4-H participation rates in the nation, with one in three – a total of over 140,000 — youth engaged in the program. Nebraska Extension began adapting 2020 4-H programming to virtual formats back in March, when social distancing and other directed health measures were first put in place. Locally, I’m proud to say that Clay and Fillmore Counties actually reach one in two – youth engaged in the program.

“Fairs may look different than they have in the past with social distancing, different arrangements for livestock shows, and the possible option for virtual shows; we also know that the fair experience is an important part of a 4-H’ers summer,” Hibberd said. “We are excited to be able to make that happen.”

Additional information for county fairs will be available as details are finalized.  Please be patient with our staff and council members as we work through options.

Horticulture, Programming, Youth

Biggest Grower Youth Competition

Nebraska Extension and the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture have launched a new student gardening competition to take place this summer. The Biggest Grower competition offers Nebraska high school students the opportunity to learn how to start their own garden and small growing operation. Students will plant, grow, cultivate, harvest and distribute their own fresh specialty crops in a garden space or in containers. Participants will be placed in virtual teams with one team chosen as The Biggest Grower and each team member will be awarded a $50 Amazon gift card. Additionally, one high school junior or senior will be awarded a College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Department of Agronomy and Horticulture scholarship of $1,000.

The goal of this competition is to help increase awareness in growing food, improve personal wellness and community involvement, explore opportunities in entrepreneurship and expand the availability of specialty crops in fresh food drought areas.  Stacy Adams, an associate professor of practice in agronomy and horticulture and a Nebraska Extension specialist is in charge of the program.3EC4F63F-DE54-490B-92DE-378D19986434_1_105_c.jpeg

This project can expose Nebraska youth to the fundamentals of plant production and demonstrate career opportunities in agriculture. Funding is provided through the Nebraska Specialty Crop Block Grant Program as a means to enhance the competitiveness of non-commodity specialty crops, such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, nuts and ornamentals.

This competition is beneficial for both rural and urban students; growing specialty crops can expand income potential for farmers as well.

The Biggest Grower competition is free to Nebraska high school students entering the ninth through 12th grade this fall 2020. Nebraska Extension and a university horticulture student, who will be a personal garden mentor, will work with each student virtually on a weekly basis. Participants will be randomly placed into 10, statewide virtual teams of 10 gardeners. These teams will compete over the summer to find out which team is The Biggest Grower.

Students can register at

Each participant will use an existing garden space at their home or they can choose to grow in pots as a container gardener. Competition garden space as a backyard gardener is limited to 80 square feet, maximum. Participants will complete the activities assigned by the garden mentor and will be given a toolkit consisting of a hand spade, weeding tool, seeds and starter plants.

Participants will be asked to participate and complete the following:

  • 10 weekly activities.
  • develop and cultivate specialty crops in their backyard or container garden.
  • record productivity data in the growers’ leaderboard.
  • record the amount of harvest consumed.
  • record the amount distributed.
  • participate in virtual The Biggest Grower Day hosted by the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture on June 26 from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln East Campus.

High school junior and senior participants, who want to be eligible for the scholarship award, will be asked to write a 350 to 500-word essay on how The Biggest Grower competition affected them and their community, or the use of specialty crops in their future. Students must also enroll in one of four majors within the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture in CASNR at Nebraska.

The competition will begin May 25 and end Aug. 7. After all the data is entered and the essays are reviewed, The Biggest Grower team and the scholarship winner will be announced Sept. 4. Complete application guidelines and more information may be found online.

Source: IANR News & Stacy Adams, Associate Professor Nebraska Extension/ Department of Agronomy and Horticulture



Cultivate ACCESS Announces New Summer Program

Cultivate ACCESS is an agricultural mentoring program through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This program encourages students from rural towns to learn more about agricultural jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (agSTEM). Participating high school students connect with college students and career professionals through online conversations about agSTEM careers. In this 10-week program students learn how to improve their communication, leadership, and teamwork skills.

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Cultivate ACCESS participants include students from all over Nebraska. One participant is a student from McCook, NE interested in working for her family’s business. Another participant lives on the other side of the state in Omaha and aspires to become a zookeeper. These students’ career choices are examples of different careers in agSTEM. One Cultivate ACCESS participant commented on her experiences in the program, “No matter what your background is you can do anything you set your mind to.” If you have an interest in gaining essential employability skills and exploring agSTEM careers this summer, we are currently accepting applications for the 2020 summer session of Cultivate ACCESS starting June 1st and running through August 7th.

Please see our website to learn more and apply.

Programming, Youth

May Youth Project Workshops

Pick a Project Fridays Square_EDIT.pngClay, Fillmore, Nuckolls, and Thayer counties are hosting a “Pick A Project” Zoom workshop series to encourage local youth to practice their fair project prowess and to learn how to make (or at least get started on) projects for County Fair 2020. We encourage youth ages 8-18 to register for one or all four of the workshops. Even though COVID-19 disruptions have limited in-person programming, we’re excited to inspire 4-H members to practice experiential learning and learn to do new projects.

Register by visiting

May 8 – Heritage

Join Nuckolls/Thayer 4-H Educator Kylie Kinley as she explores the Heritage project. We’ll peer into the past and brainstorm what historical stories or family heirlooms would make quality projects for fair. Supplies: Pencil and paper, potential heirlooms, family photos, list of family members for family tree drafting.

May 15 – “Coffeecake 201”

Join Clay County 4-H Associate Holli Alley from her kitchen as she bakes coffee cake for the Cooking 201 project. Youth will learn basic baking techniques to perfect yummy coffee cake for the county fair.

May 22 –  “T-shirt Rags to Riches”

Fillmore County 4-H Assistant Rachel Adams will show youth how to use old t-shirts that would normally be used as rags to make a one-of-a-kind rug. Don’t know how to sew? No problem! We’ll use a braiding technique to craft our rugs. This will not be a project we will get done in an hour, but you can work on it in your spare time. Supplies: Old T-shirts cut into 1 ½ inch strips. Around 10 XL shirts or the equivalent would be a good place to start. Avoid too many seams in your strips. You will also need scissors (fabric scissors would work best).

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Join Fillmore County Extension Educator Brandy VanDeWalle & Todd Boller, county weed superintendent, as they explore common weeds and even start you on an exhibit for county fair. Create a Weed Display, which allows original and creative exhibits that contain educational information about weeds, such as interesting information about a weed species, the effects of weed control, herbicide-resistant weeds, what makes a weed, or uses for weeds. Supplies needed: 1-3 weeds to identify, sheet of paper and pencil to brainstorm a poster idea. (Optional: poster board & supplies to get started on a poster.)


Creating a Routine in Changing Times

By Guest Columnist: Dr. Jill Lingard, Nebraska 4-H Youth Development

With virtual-learning, social distancing, and a long list of cancelled beloved pastimes, life can feel pretty far from what we once knew.  Change is hard.  Yet, amidst a time of uncertainty and change we are searching to find a new normal.  A sense of stability, routine, and familiarity are important for youth.    Parents, care-providers, and youth development professionals can help youth plan their day to reestablish routine. Having a daily routine enables youth to have some control and choice in their life which is important for their well-being.

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Consider the following as you develop daily or weekly plans:

  • Engage youth in planning a routine together. Adults and youth may have differing ideas about ways to spend time, start by having a conversation about what expectations you have.  In the beginning of your planning determine what activities that are non-negotiable. Be clear about the expectations that need to be met. If possible, offer some choice for when these “must happen” activities can occur.
  • Find a healthy balance between flexibility and consistency when establishing routine.  Creating plans that are too ambitious or rigid will be difficult for youth and for caring adults in their lives to monitor.
  • Maintain self-care routines. Regularity with hygiene practices, diet, sleep, and exercise will set adults and youth up for success.
  • Stay focused on what youth value. During times of change, it might be tempting for youth to abandon goals that were important to them.  Take this opportunity to talk about why persistence toward goals is important.
  • Create a balanced routine that includes time for unstructured activity and FUN! We all need a healthy amount of free-time, so don’t overschedule the day.  Be aware of the amount of screen time a plan includes.  For free time, consider non-screen activities like playing outside, reading a book for enjoyment, drawing, family game night, cooking, or other hands-on activities.
  • Focus on what youth can control. During periods of change there so many things that can’t be controlled.  Help youth focus on what they CAN do as opposed to what they can’t. This can be an opportunity for youth to explore an interest they haven’t had time for in the past and invest in learning something new.
  • Stay connected. Successful routines should include intentional ways to keep young people connected to the important people in their lives.  Staying connected to those we care about helps manage anxiety and challenges that times of change can create.
  • Practice gratitude. Change can present feelings of loss and it is important to acknowledge and address those feelings.  At the same time, change can be an opportunity to talk about gratitude.  Challenge youth to explore what they are thankful for and look for ways to express that gratitude.

Experiencing change and finding a new normal can be hard. While creating new plans won’t solve all of the challenges associated with change, planning can be a positive way to help young people respond to the uncertainty of the situation by establishing a flexible routine.

More information and resources about youth social-emotional development in difficult times can be found at or by contacting your local county Nebraska Extension office.


Coping in Changing Times

This article was written by Dr. Saundra Frerichs, Nebraska Extension 4-H Youth Development.

How can someone like me cope with something so unexpected? As I searched for this answer, I read recommendations for different groups of people: individuals living alone, families, children with special needs, empty nesters, and seniors.   I found suggestions that can help all of us cope.

It seems with the increase in online education, everyone brings their pets to show others!  I appreciate my daughter’s teachers for connecting with them and trying to keep things routine in our new “norm”. 

Create a routine.

Consistency and structure may be calming during times of stress.  This is true whether we are creating a work and learning schedule for the whole family, or creating routines for ourselves when we are home alone.  Use routine to create reasonable expectations for yourself and others.

  • Build off familiar routines from school or work. Create cues for the start and end of each day.    For example, take a quick walk around the block or in the backyard before starting work.
  • Healthy routines include adequate sleep, healthy meals, exercise, and time for social interactions.
  • Plan to work or learn in bursts. Children need learning bursts of 15 to 45 minutes.  Adults can focus longer, but still need regular breaks. Stretch for 5 minutes every 20 minutes if sitting or get up and walk around for 10 minutes.

Check-in with yourself and others.

It is important to take time to check in with yourself and with friends and family.  When connecting with others follow these tips.

  • Acknowledge feelings. For young children use a feeling chart to help them express themselves.   Also, remember to acknowledge your own feelings.  Avoid passing judgement on yourself and other.  There is no right or wrong way to feel.
  • Treat yourself with as much gentleness as you treat others.
  • Resist the need to solve other’s problems. Ask, “How can we work together to make this experience more bearable?” Then be quiet and listen.
  • Encourage yourself and others to be mindful of the present. Avoid worrying about “what ifs.”

Try something new.

With so many events we can’t control, it is important to focus on what we can control.  Trying new activities can give a sense of accomplishment.  You may discover new coping strategies that you can use for the rest of your life.

  • Don’t try to do everything, but do try new things. For example, start a new arts or crafts project, make a new recipe, or read a book for enjoyment.
  • Try yoga or a new exercise video with a spirit of adventure and fun.
  • Try new ways to connect with friends and family like connecting through video calls, virtual play dates, or writing letters.

Use your network.

  • Remember to use your social network. Friends, family, neighbors and co-workers can help you cope.  Make plans to celebrate birthdays, holidays, and other special events in new ways.
  • Use your network to find opportunities for learning, traveling, or playing online.
  • Use your network for support. Would your child be more motivated to do his homework on a video chat with a friend? Would a virtual story time with grandparents at 5:00 help you get supper ready?

During this time of unexpected and unprecedented events, remember it is okay not be the perfect parent or family member, employee, or person.  Simply, don’t expect perfection from yourself or others.  Healthy coping skills will help you and your family navigate this experience.    More information and resources on coping can be found at or by contacting your local Nebraska Extension office.

Resources to Support Coping in Changing Times

Child Mind Institute provides daily tips and a collection of resources for parents on coping during COVID-19, including resources for supporting children with special needs.

The Center for Disease Control has resources for Daily Live and Coping in response to COVID-19 that cover both physical and mental health concerns.

Child Trends has brought together a great set of resources on promoting resiliency in response to the COVID19 pandemic.