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.

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.

Relationships Reno – Securing the Foundation

NEW and IMPROVED OKN Asset-Building Toolkit

By Mary Tabak, Our Kids Network Developmental Assets Manager

Every structure needs a strong foundation. The OKN Asset-Building Toolkit is constructed of valuable resources and information that have been used by Halton professionals for years in building Developmental Assets. They’ve also used the toolkit to help families build Family Assets. Important accomplishments, but we felt something was missing to make this work really concrete.

It was the Search Institute’s Developmental Relationships Framework that steered us to a missing key ingredient – relationships. This important foundation focuses our attention on the central element of relationship building, which underpins the Developmental Assets and Family Assets work.

All Asset-Building in Halton is grounded in relationships. Relationships with each other, our children and youth, our families, and our communities, are the foundation of successful interactions, interventions, programs and outcomes. We can build assets more effectively and efficiently if we build meaningful relationships first. 

  • Josh Shipp, a teen expert with lived experience, supports this thinking in his story about the power of one relationship in his life.
  • Leaders can consider the preconditions necessary in organizations for relationships to thrive, and address barriers to building relationships by reviewing this summary from the Search Institute. 

These examples are just three of numerous new resources that have been added to the “relationships foundation” of the improved Asset-Building Toolkit. Watch for a highlighted NEW! as you tour the website.

Did you know use of the Asset-Building Toolkit is going up year after year? People in Halton, Canada and well beyond, are accessing and using this comprehensive resource that we built together. 

We know about the power of relationships in Halton. In the spirit of continuous improvement, this NEW and IMPROVED toolkit gives us even more tools, ideas and resources to elevate relationships in our work.

Take some time to explore our renovated Asset-Building Toolkit and discover how you can use it in your work today.   

Think about the Hearts of Our Children this Family Day, February 18

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

“Children must never work for our love; they must rest in it.”
Dr. Gordon Neufeld, Developmental Psychologist   

 

As a young child, I recollect watching my parents as they played, celebrated, and worked with friends and family. When I think back, I remember happy and joyful adults who enjoyed being together in the good times and bad. It provided me with a great sense of security, a belief that I could trust adults; that I belonged with them and they would take care of me. I was relaxed, knowing I was safe. In the words of Dr. Gordon Neufeld, I could “rest in the relationship”.  Security created a space where I felt protected from stresses in life and could focus my energy on the important things in childhood. My parents helped to keep my heart soft because they had soft hearts.

Interdependence is defined as “the state of being dependent upon one another”. Deep down we know that we are better together. We crave connection and belonging, yet are often confused by the dichotomy created by the commonly-held view that strength and competence require independence and self-sufficiency. If we believe this, we can resist connecting with others and receiving their support.  We can fear that trust and vulnerability might be judged and criticized. Over time, this fear can be too much and a “wall” grows to protect our hearts .

Nature has designed us to be interdependent and it is our deep, caring relationships that keep our hearts soft and vulnerable. Those of us who influence, teach and raise children require soft and vulnerable hearts to do the job well.  Brene Brown’s parenting manifesto PDF is one of my favorite parenting resources and speaks to the need to be vulnerable, authentic, make mistakes and love unconditionally.

I love a challenge and here is one for you.  On Family Day, this Monday, February 18, allow your children to experience a day where you have put away distractions and are focused on what really matters.

  • Let them feel what it is like to be truly seen.
  • Smile and say hello, even to strangers.
  • Let your guard down, put your phone down, and spend some time in the present moment.
  • Light up when they walk in the room.
  • When they look at you, make sure you are looking back at them with kind eyes and a soft heart.

The only thing that matters to them is knowing that they exist, that they are important, and are worthy of your time, attention and love. At the end of the day when it’s quiet – reflect. I suspect you may find more inner peace, less stress, and happier children. And I bet everyone will sleep more soundly…and little softer too.

Happy Family Day from my family to yours.

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”
Jane Howard, journalist