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

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.

Put Play (and Rest) at the Top of your List for National Child Day Tuesday, November 20

By Mary Tabak, Our Kids Network Developmental Assets Manager

Playing was like a job for me when I was a child. I did it every day. And anywhere I went, children were playing. There were very few structured, scheduled activities. Play was just what kids did back then, no matter where we were or whom we were with. Well, until we dropped from exhaustion with a big smile on our faces…and then we slept soundly.

The United Nations has designated November 20th as National Child Day. This day is an opportunity to reflect on how we can advocate, promote and celebrate children’s rights to make Halton and the world a better place for them.

We know that play and rest are vital to positive child development, but did you know that, according to the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, children have the right to play and rest? Just as they have the right to basic needs such as food, shelter, safety, protection and education.

Considering this, our challenge is to prioritize play and rest in our tightly-scheduled, high -stress, plugged-in world. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

PLAY

  • Find a place at home to keep a puzzle going for days.
  • Turn the music on. Maybe someone will start to dance!
  • Waiting for laundry to dry? Grab a Frisbee and go outside.
  • Teach the dog a new trick together
  • Leave board games out and visible.
  • Organize a scavenger hunt in the park.
  • Get down on the floor and build something (with Lego, cards, pillows or anything handy and safe).

Children playing outside

 

Mother playing with her son in the back yard.

REST

  • Turn lights down in the evening.
  • Continue a bedtime routine as children grow up.
  • Limit screen time in bedrooms for everyone.
  • Encourage short naps as needed.
  • Model rest, relaxation and rejuvenation.
  • Keep bedrooms and bedtimes stress-free.
  • Take your vacation time.

A child’s right to play and rest is making a comeback.  Be part of the movement!

For more information and ideas on parenting, playing and sleep, visit haltoniparent.ca. Follow us @Haltoniparent

More information and resources related to National Child Day are available through the Public Health Agency of Canada at canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/childhood-adolescence/national-child-day.html  UNICEF Canada also provides resources at unicef.ca/ncd, including a kid-friendly poster that lists the rights outlined in the UN Convention.

 

Back to School Weather Report

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

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

These powerful words from psychologist, teacher and author, Dr. Hiam Ginott are worthy of reflection as our children, teachers and parents head back to the school routine. While Dr. Ginott is referencing the role of teachers, I believe it is equally appropriate for anyone who has the privilege of influencing the growth and development of our children.

I was reminded of this quote after spending some time with my 7 and 10 year-old grandchildren recently. We chatted for a while and finally came around to the “getting-ready-for-school” conversation. The 7 year-old was nervously anticipating the first day as many children do, not yet knowing who her teacher or classmates would be. My oldest granddaughter explained excitedly that her teacher was new to the school, but as it turned, out she had made an assumption. Later in the day, we ran into a friend who explained that this teacher had married over the summer. She was not new to the school. I was taken aback by the instant change in my granddaughter’s demeanor – from excited and happy to quiet and thoughtful. When we were alone, I asked her about the change in her behaviour. She explained that this teacher was well known for raising her voice often. As a sensitive and empathetic child, this creates a distressing climate for my granddaughter, and she was worried. To protect her heart, I told her that when an adult behaves badly, it’s not about the children, but about the adult.

I’ m not here to judge nor condemn educators or parents. I am both, and have certainly raised my voice from time to time. We are all human after all. However, as I reflect on my own behaviour, I realize that outbursts are not a conscious choice and have little or nothing to do with others, and are more about inner feelings. Stress, in particular, hijacks our logical brain, impulse control, and self-regulation skills; leaving us under the power of our emotional brain. Did you know that children often misinterpret expressions of stress on adult faces, as anger? I can’t help but wonder what children see and how they feel as they look to each of us for understanding, support, patience, and care given the levels of stress many of us live with.

When we take care of ourselves, we are better able to care for others. What if we worked harder to create a climate for ourselves, each other, and for children, that allows us to feel secure, respected, safe and loved, rather than criticized, judged and overworked?

Caring teachers and family

 

I hope that this short reflection will help us, as adults raising and working with children, to create a climate of acceptance, tolerance and trust for children and youth to thrive.

Relationships Make the Difference

A Couple of Holiday Stories to Consider, as We Start the New Year

Our Kids Network wrapped up 2017 by taking a look at our numbers in the 2016-17 Collective Impact Report. In the report, we gathered our research statistics, attendance evaluations and survey results and we saw how the data confirms that we are making progress towards the Halton 7 (the conditions of well-being for children and youth), our common agenda. If you missed it, you can read it here.

As the year wound down, we were happy to see that the data revealed our positive progress towards ensuring that all children thrive, but we also thought about the strong relationships behind those numbers. We could see that, although it is known for its use of outstanding research, OKN is also becoming known for making progress through the power of our relationships.

Going forward into 2018, you’ll be hearing more and more from OKN, our Asset-Building Table, and our partners about how relationships – from the smallest gesture to support a child to a community taking collective action on behalf of many children – make all the difference.

Here are two stories to consider as we go forward into 2018 continuing our work to ensure that all children thrive.

Beth Williams, Our Kids Network Communications Manager

The Greatest Gift of All

By Mary Tabak, Our Kids Network Developmental Assets Manager

I asked my eight-year-old niece what she wanted for Christmas. Her answer surprised me. She said that Santa and her parents were taking care of most of her gifts, but what she really wanted was some alone time with me.

I quickly re-organized my Saturday and we spent the afternoon making cookies and decorating a wreath. We even fit in little shopping for gifts that she wanted to buy her family. We wrapped them together so she could put them under the tree when she got home.

It was only an afternoon of simple (but meaningful) activities with her, but my time with my niece was precious and very well spent. And it was the greatest gift of all for both of us.

Building relationships does take time but it doesn’t always have to be a lot of time. Take a moment today to take someone out for tea, send a meaningful email, or just play with a child in your life. For more relationship-building ideas, visit  http://www.ourkidsnetwork.ca/Public/Relationships-Matter.

 

Toys for Tots at the Aldershot Hub

By Sheila Slattery-Ford, Our Kids Network Aldershot Hub Coordinator

For all families, Christmas can be a stressful season. Children can have high expectations and want the latest and sometimes costly toys. No parent wants to disappoint their child. They want to provide  joyful memories for their children to hold onto for the rest of their lives. It can be a time of grand preparation, baking, entertaining, school concerts, cleaning, decorating, and shopping. Parents who struggle to pay the rent and put groceries on the table throughout the year can be overwhelmed with thoughts of providing gifts and treats during this season.

Aldershot is known for community spirit and the strong partnerships and relationships that foster that spirit. This is where the Halton Regional Police Service (HRPS) steps in. The police and the Aldershot Hub have been working hand in hand addressing families’ Christmas needs for eight years. The community at large gives unwrapped new toys to the police starting at the Santa Claus Parade. Also, corporations and groups donate to the cause throughout the year. The result is a warehouse full of gifts to be sorted according to ages and themes. These presents are distributed through the Salvation Army and other non-profit programs, including the Aldershot Hub, to be given to families recognized as being in need. Many Aldershot families make their needs known to the Hub, because they know it can help in accessing programs and opportunities for all families.

The police and their volunteers do the sorting – a massive time consuming task which lasts throughout December. Parents register for help providing confidential information about their families.  The Toys for Tots program is interested in each child’s wishes so that the gifts can be appropriately chosen. This way soccer balls are not given to gymnasts and aspiring dancers. Each family description with only gender, age and interests is given to the police with anonymity. Through multiple emails, texts and phone calls during the month a strong relationship is built between the HRPS Toys for Tots coordinator and the Hub coordinator. We both know that we are working with respect for families and with attention to detail to prevent any disappointment. This requires diligence and time – making a list and checking it more than twice. The program was designed for children up to 12-years-old, but since Our Kids Network serves children 0 to 18-years-old, the police adjusted their age limits. Each “Hub family”’ youth between 12 and 18-years-old is given gift certificates for the mall, movies or fast food. Continue reading