Battles

By Our Kids Network Milton Hub Coordinator

“Be kind to everyone. You don’t know what battles they’re fighting.” is paraphrased from a quote written by Scottish author Ian MacLaren in 1897. It still rings true today and never more than when we are working with adolescents. Life is hard enough through this period of development, but these days youth contend with social media and the tremendous impact that it has on their lives. School yard bullies wait for them now via social media. Too often home is no longer a safe place to hide at the end of the day. Keyboard stalkers are there at every click to criticize and bully. The pressure is on to fit in and get noticed by the number of likes and views on hundreds of social media and gaming platforms. Youth struggle to be “unique” in a world where rich media celebrities and music icons promote unattainable luxury lifestyles and model shallow, destructive behavior.

The competition to get into a post-secondary school and find a good job is substantially more stressful now than it was even fifteen years ago. And both families and young people are bearing the financial burden of higher education.

Adults are more stressed these days for their own reasons, and that affects the young people around them. All of this adds up to much higher rates of youth struggling with depression and anxiety at younger and younger ages.

“Be kind to everyone, you don’t know what battles they’re fighting.”

Imagine yourself as a youth: you arrive at school and not one adult smiles as you walk in the door. Not one adult addresses you by your name or asks how your morning is going. Not one adult takes an interest in you, guides you, or supports you. No one seems to see or care about the battles you’re fighting. They are preoccupied with imposing their own agendas on you, and might criticize you if you can’t follow through. You would certainly feel disheartened and hopeless, and overwhelmed. The pressure would seem unbearable. Then you arrive home and encounter stressed parents, who may be dealing with the needs of their own elderly parents and have no time for yours. When you imagine yourself in this situation, it’s easy to understand how anxiety and hopelessness can build up.

“Be kind to everyone, you don’t know what battles they’re fighting.”

Now let’s think about this quote when we look at interacting with young people, including our own children. Let’s be the adults that smile when a youth walks into the room. Let’s make an effort to know their names and learn something about them. Let’s guide them and always support them. We’ll ask them how they’re doing and, if we’re concerned that they may not be doing well, we’ll ask them privately and find out how we can help.
It’s possible that you may be the only person in a young person’s day that reaches out to them, praises them, and sees the good in them. Let’s model how to be caring, empathetic and supportive for all youth that we encounter each day.

Teacher helping a troubled student

“Be kind to everyone, you don’t know what battles they’re fighting.”

When we meet youth that may need more support than we can offer, we want to be able to provide them with information about professional supports in the community. It’s important for us to know where to find information or who to ask for the appropriate supports so we can respond quickly to their needs. The Our Kids Network website is an excellent knowledge-building resource that includes Developmental Assets and Relationships First, found in the Building Relationships section. Try Halton iparent for information on Halton-based parenting programs and information.

Police constable talking and laughbing with teenager.

Most of all, remember, the easiest way to make a connection – smile and simply ask how they’re doing today.

Back to School Stress – 7 Ways to Help at Home

By Nikki Taylor, Senior Manager, Early Years and Family Supports, Oakville Parent-Child Centre

“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.” Fred Rogers, host of the television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

After a fun-filled and relaxing summer, it’s time for children to head back to school. Some families rejoice in anticipation of getting back to the routine and structure that the school year brings, while others feel reluctance, butterflies in the tummy, or more intense anxiety about the situation.  Even for those who are excited, there is always an element of stress associated with this familiar transition.

Positive stress is a good thing, and in fact, an essential part of healthy child development. According to the Centre on the Developing Child at Harvard University:

“Positive stress refers to moderate, short-lived stress responses, such as brief increases in heart rate or mild changes in the body’s stress hormone levels. This kind of stress is a normal part of life, and learning to adjust to it is an essential feature of healthy development. Adverse events that provoke positive stress responses tend to be those that a child can learn to control and manage well with the support of caring adults, and which occur against the backdrop of generally safe, warm, and positive relationships. The challenges of meeting new people, dealing with frustration, entering a new child care setting, getting an immunization, or overcoming a fear of animals each can be positive stressors if a child has the support needed to develop a sense of mastery. This is an important part of the normal developmental process.”

So it turns out that the stress experienced by children as they head back to school can be good for them; but how do we ensure that it remains in the “positive stress” category?

Here are 7 tips to consider as your family makes the transition to school this fall:

  1. Children express stress in different ways. Know how your child shows you they are stressed.
  2. Stress is contagious. Be aware of your own stress and do your best to manage it well. The kids are watching.
  3. “Name it to tame it.” Dr. Dan Siegel talks about the importance of naming feelings for children. Stress is reduced when we acknowledge children’s feelings rather than denying or distracting them. Mix things up a little and try using some new emotional vocabulary. This list of feelings can help get you started.
  4. Get back to basics. A consistent routine, healthy nutrition, physical activity and ample sleep all help to reduce stress for everyone.
  5. Children’s stress is significantly reduced when parents are present, focused, calm and available. If life is super busy, consider scaling back a little on the activities. Busy lives often result in chaos and disconnection. Spending time together, such as family meals, are shown in research to help build relationships, lower stress and is a wonderful way to connect with each other.
  6. Pillow talk is a bedtime strategy that can be highly effective in reducing stress. Allow enough time for your child to relax, process the day and talk with you about anything that may come up. Focus on listening rather than advising or solving problems. Children who have regular bedtime talk sessions with parents come to count on them and they often help children to relax and sleep better. This can take quite a lot of time, so be prepared.
  7. Stay connected to the school. When children see that you are interested and engaged in positive ways to the school community, it tells them that school is important and helps you to understand some of what your child is experiencing every day.
Father talks to his son

Other Resources for Families

For more information on Family Assets (the everyday interactions, values, skills and relationships families can focus on to help them thrive), ourkidsnetwork.ca/Public/Families-Matter.

keepconnected.searchinstitute.org
Keep Connected offers all kinds of families—and organizations that support them—ideas, activities, and experiences to help build strong family relationships. Our goal is to strengthen family relationships to help kids be and become their best selves.

haltoniparent.ca
Halton iparent gives families easy, online access to Halton-based parenting programs, plus helpful, relevant information and resources on a wide range of child development topics in the Information Hub.

Popsicles, splash pads, barbecues….and tears?

By Mary Tabak, Our Kids Network Developmental Assets Manager

Keeping your cool when kids’ behavior heats up

Yes, summertime. We all look forward to the relaxing days, kids out of school, family barbecues, and summer fun. But when you have children in your life, there can be power struggles, temper tantrums, hurt feelings, and banged up knees. How we handle these moments can mean the difference between a good day and a bad day for our kids. 

I remember one summer day many years ago when my five-year-old packed his bags and decided to move out. People had been coming and going in the house all day, as I rushed to prepare for a large family barbecue. He walked into the kitchen, Spiderman luggage in hand, and told me that he was going to live with grandma. Without thinking I said, “Go ahead, but you better start walking now because you won’t get there until tomorrow.” He turned on his heels and walked out the door. 

I watched as he marched along the sidewalk. Fortunately those few moments, as I followed him, gave me the time needed realize how my thoughtless response had hurt him. Of course, I caught up with him, hugged him tight, and apologized. I told him how much I love him. Then we sat on the sidewalk and figured out how he was feeling and why. 

Have you ever had a parenting moment when you blurted out a thoughtless, hurtful comment? Have you wished you could take back something you just said to your child? Of course you have. 

When children and youth’s behavior is challenging, we can be triggered by their actions or things they may say. But before we can help them, we need to regulate our own emotions and get to an internal calm space, so that we can truly support their needs.

These are a few things that I could have said to give myself time to think, reassure him, and diffuse the situation:

  • I can see you are upset and that’s okay. 
  • Something is hard for you right now.  How can I help? 
  • We can figure this out together.  Tell me more.
  • Can you help me understand what you need?
  • I care about you and would hate to see you go.
  • Let’s come up with another solution together.

Think about keeping statements and questions like this where you can see and practice them regularly, until they become natural and habitual. (My kids have memories of me running to the fridge door when I needed a few seconds to think!) A simple strategy like modelling emotional regulation will build meaningful relationships with your kids.

Loving mom talks sweetly to son outside

Thanks to our friends at Reach Out Centre for Kids (ROCK) a Halton agency for child and youth mental health, for developing this resource, What You Can Say When Children are Upset.

School’s Out! Start the Summer on a ‘Positive Note’

By Mary Tabak, Our Kids Network Developmental Assets Manager

Report cards, locker clean out, last day drama, plans for the summer…

There is a lot going on with families as school draws to a close. It’s easy to get caught up in last day of school details and summer planning. But before you wrap up another school year, consider starting the summer on a positive note – with a positive note to children and youth in your life.

Why?

Getting a note from someone you look up to about your positive traits and behaviours is a very powerful gesture of caring and support. It helps to reinforce expectations and boundaries while celebrating important things like effort, unique personalities and meaningful relationships.

Not sure where to start?  Follow this template or use the guide below.

            Dear ______,

            Congratulations on a successful school year.

            Thinking back on your year, here are a couple of highlights for me….

            My favourite memory of this school year was….

            Three qualities that I really appreciate about you are….

            One area I think you’ve really grown is…..

            My hope for this summer is to….

Take a few minutes now to make a child or youth’s day brighter. And I promise, you will be giving a boost of confidence along with a note that will be kept forever. 

Youth Caught…Helping Others…Contributing to Community…Doing the Right Thing…

National Youth Week May 1 to 7:
Honour Their Involvement and the Good They Do Everyday

By Mary Tabak, Our Kids Network, Developmental Assets Manager

Our young people contribute so many great things to our lives and community. They are vibrant, passionate, hopeful, and committed to making the world a better place. Sensational headlines too often overshadow the everyday positive, courageous and caring behaviour of our youth.

National Youth Week is May 1 to7. It’s a perfect time to highlight and honour youth initiative and involvement. Recreation, drama, sport, dance, civic engagement, art, on the job, volunteerism, or leadership – every single day young people are engaged in positive and meaningful activities that benefit others.

They Could Have Kept Walking…

Last March, I was walking my dog on one of those cold days that was neither winter nor spring. Two teenagers along the trail with a shivering cat that had been out in the cold much too long. They asked me if I knew who owned the cat – I didn’t.  By the time my dog had calmed down after seeing the cat, these caring and responsible young people had already come up with an action plan. They decided to take the cat home to warm it up, put a picture of the cat and a phone number on flyers, and then post them around the neighbourhood. They also planned to knock on a few doors and call the Humane Society. Their enthusiasm and sincerity was heart-warming. I thanked them and acknowledged that many people would have just kept walking. 

Catch Them!

This week, and all year long, catch youth doing good. Catch them at home, in the neighbourhood or at the local mall. And when you’ve spotted them, reach out and let them know how impressed and inspired you are – and why. Once you start looking, you’ll be amazed at all the great things you’ll see. 

L to R: Teen volunteers at OKN’s Buskerfest event 2012. Connecting in the community. Youth volunteers at OKN’s Burlington Play Day 2018.

For inspiration, watch this video with real-life examples of youth in everyday situations behaving responsibly and sensitively, and often with humour

The Child and Youth Engagement section of the Asset-Building Toolkit has numerous ideas and resources to engage youth in your work and life.