Halloween! Exciting, Fun…and Stressful!

Maggie Perrins, Resource Consultant, Halton Region,
Our Kids Network Early Years Mental Health Committee Member

Halloween is an exciting time for our little ones!  The countdown has been on since the end of September.  Children are excited about deciding on a costume, and are anticipating dressing up for school, Halloween parties, scary sights, and of course, the treats!

As with any exciting time, there is also stress for children – and adults. Feeling stressed can translate to challenging behavior in younger children.  Dr. Stuart Shanker, a renowned expert on child development and self-regulation, says that recognizing the difference between what is misbehavior and what we call stress behavior is important.  Misbehaviour implies that a child could have acted differently. They are aware that they should not have done something. Stress behavior is when the child is not fully aware of what they are doing and has limited capacity to act differently.

Help children self-regulate to lighten stress load

Stress behavior can be caused by a high stress load.  Adding to a child’s stress load, even with fun and exciting stress may cause stress behaviours.  As educators, we want children to have fun at Halloween, but it is important to recognize that it can also be a very stressful time for them. “Self-regulation refers to how well we manage stress, how much energy we expend, and how well we recover,” Dr. Shanker explains. Helping children to self-regulate during these times, lightens their stress load and, ideally, can prevent stress behaviours.

Ideas for lightening the stress load

  • Encourage children to get a good night’s sleep before the big event. Sleep is essential for coping and recovering from stress.
  • Give more time to complete tasks and limit demands.
  • Provide down-time in class and help them practice mindfulness.
  • Prepare children in advance of changes to their daily routines. Classroom parties and costume parades add to the stress load for some children.
  • Maintain a quiet area for children who need a break from sensory overload during Halloween events and other celebrations.
  • Limit sweet treats or make healthy Halloween treats in the classroom.
  • Co-self-regulate!  Be present with children and slow-down. They can sense and take on other people’s stress. Take the time before class starts to consciously regulate yourself so that you can be genuine in your tone and body language.

Remember…exciting times can also be stressful times for both adults and children.  Plan ahead to lighten the load and be mindful of stressors in your students and your own children.  Limiting these stressors can prevent stress behaviours so everyone can enjoy the fun and spirit of Halloween!

To learn more about self-regulation and how it relates to the mental well-being of children, explore the Halton Early Years Mental Health Toolkit.

Take it further by exploring the Executive Function and Self-Regulation area of the Early Years Mental Health Tools and Resources section

Family Day is the Most Important Day of the Year!

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

Once upon a time there were 52 “family days” in a year.

Imagine…..children, parents, grandparents, friends and family gathered together to share food, play and enjoy each other’s company. There were no agendas, few distractions, no particular place to go, and people were together.

Some of you may remember these days. They were known as Sundays. Yes, for those of you much younger than me; let me explain. Sunday was a day when stores and businesses were closed; many people did not work; technology was just in sci-fi movies; and for that one day –  every week the world slowed enough to allow a focus on family and friends. We created memories, relationships and traditions that became the glue that held us all together. One of my favorite memories of Sundays is the long drives we took with no particular destination. They were always an adventure in the making.

Fast forward and I must say, I find it a bit ironic that we now have a declared a holiday devoted to the most important thing we can do – spend quality, connected time with our loved ones. On the usually frosty February Family Day, we slow down and we give ourselves permission to tune in, focus, put the distractions away – and have a little fun together.

If you think about it, couldn’t every day be a little more like Family Day?

Here are a few simple things that you could try to keep that family day feeling going

  1. Slow down (even just a little). Carl Honore, Canadian journalist and author of In Praise of Slow (Vintage Canada 2009),  speaks persuasively in his TED talk In Praise of Slowness
  2. Share a family meal together as often as you can: Need to know why? Check out the Family Dinner Project for recipes, conversation starters and for you information junkies, lots of research on the benefits.
  3. Believe in the power of relationships. You are your children’s first and most important teacher. Check out Halton’s very own Family Relationships Matter video featuring local families.
  4. The family that plays together stays together. This Psychology Today article by Peter Gray, research professor and author of Free to Learn (Basic Books, 2013), offers 5 important ways to know if it is really play.
  5. Connection is the key. Check out this Zero to Five commentary and learn more about the connect before you direct approach and invite more connection and cooperation from your children.
  6. Empathy goes a long way to bringing us closer to children and adults alike. Brene Brown is a researcher, professor and speaker on topics such as vulnerability, courage, and authenticity. Check out her video for some humorous insight.
  7. Love and parent with authenticity and a soft heart. Learn more from Brene Brown’s Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto.

Your children are miracles, gifted to you for a very short time. Enjoy them, learn from them and hold them dear. Trust and believe in yourselves and each other. You are truly all your children need.

My challenge to you – create as many “family days” in 2018 as you can. What will your “once upon a time” stories be?

Good-bye Fast and Processed Foods: Learning to Cook from Scratch!

By Jennifer Jenkins-Scott, Health Promoter, Healthy Families Division of Halton Region Health Department

When was the last time you made a meal from scratch? A whole meal, prepared using fresh fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs?

Parents today are so busy that they often rely on fast or processed foods for ease and convenience. But the trade-off is that these foods are much higher in fat, sugar and salt. Eating these types of foods frequently can put children at risk of developing chronic diseases. There is also a lost opportunity for family time together in the kitchen and for children to learn the enjoyment and skill of cooking.

Research has shown that improving children’s food skills in the kitchen results in higher vegetable and fruit consumption for the whole family! “Our Kids Eat Well”, a new Our Kids Network work group with a focus on promoting healthy eating in fun and interesting ways, has launched “You’re the Chef!”.

You’re the Chef! Learning to Cook for 10 to 17-year-olds
Numerous Our Kids Network community organizations have been trained to deliver a four-session program to children and youth 10 to 17 years-old, on how to prepare fruit and vegetable dishes.

This valuable “You’re the Chef!” program teaches youth how to read a recipe, measure ingredients, chop, fry and bake. Learning these important skills and having fun at the same time builds confidence and the skills to prepare fruit and vegetable dishes in their own homes for themselves and their families.

The initiative started in May and runs until the end of December. It will be evaluated for its effectiveness in preparing the trainers, and in teaching cooking skills to children and youth. Ideas on how to expand the program to more age- groups, communities, and organizations will be considered 2018. Additional initiatives will also be developed to continue to build our focus on strengthening food literacy in Halton.

If you’re interested in learning more about the “You’re the Chef!” initiative, contact Jennifer Jenkins-Scott, Health Promoter, Healthy Families Division of Halton Region Health Department at Jennifer.Jenkins-Scott@Halton.ca