National Child Day 2020 Advancing children’s rights. If not now, when?

By Beth Williams, Our Kids Network Communications Manager

“The 21st Century will belong to our children and our children’s children. It is their dreams and aspirations, shaped by the circumstances into which they are born and which surround them as they grow up, that will give this century its final definition. Those who are under 18 today constitute more than a third of the world’s population and are already profoundly affecting our lives by their decisions and actions. For their sake as well as our own, we must do everything possible to reduce the suffering that weighs them down, open up their opportunities for success and ensure them a culture of respect.”

Senator Landon Pearson, National Early Years Conference, March 2007

Senator Pearson’s words resonate even more deeply today than they did 13 years ago. The children and youth of Halton are sharing the pandemic experience with the children of the world. Reducing their suffering and threats, creating opportunities for them, helping them build resilience, and most of all, creating a culture of support and respect are paramount. There has never been a better time to advance the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the Canadian Children’s Charter of Rights than on this year’s National Child Day, Friday, November 20.

The Canadian version of the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child was created in 2018

Cover of Canadian Children's Charter PDF
Click to download the Charter.

Developed by Children First Canada with the active participation of thousands of Canadian children and youth, the The Canadian Children’s Charter: A Call to Action to Respect, Protect and Fulfil the Rights of Canada’s Children came to be through a broad consultation process that included government, the private sector, and community leaders. The final version was released on National Child Day in November 2018, and received support from Prime Minister Trudeau and other parliamentarians, business leaders, and those serving and supporting children, youth and families.

Why are National Child Day and a Canadian Children’s Charter of Rights important?

The more children know and understand their rights, the more empowered they become. National Child Day is the perfect time to open the conversation and teach children about their rights. It’s an opportunity to explore the UN Convention for a global perspective and look at the Canadian charter for a national and local view.

A national day to celebrate children reminds us to reflect on and question how we are treating and interacting with children and youth. As adults, we must acknowledge that it is our duty to listen and to act when children express their needs, thoughts, and opinions.

In 2020, we recognize that the world, our countries, and our communities have changed forever. With everything that children have to deal with today, the Canadian Children’s Charter can be another resource to help us understand the challenges they face and create a sense of security and safety for them.

What can you do to take part in National Child Day 2020?

Become familiar with the Canadian Children’s Charter of Rights and the nine calls to action that specifically address the “gap between the promises made to children, and the harsh realities that millions of Canadian children face each day due to poverty, abuse, discrimination, along with threats to physical and emotional health.”  

Know the Canadian laws and policies that protect the rights and safety of children (in addition to the UNCRC, which was ratified in Canada in 1991.)

  • Optional Protocols 1 and 2 (Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography)
  • A Canada Fit for Children: a National Plan of Action
  • Children: the Silenced Citizens, a Report by the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights  
  • Jordan’s Principle                  
  • House  of Commons All-Party Resolution to End Child Poverty by the Year 2000

Study the research on the status of children in Canada and in Halton. Learn about the inequities and challenges that children in Canada and Halton face today.

Join the online National Child Day 2020 campaign. Use your social media networks and the hashtag #SeenAndHeard to spread the word.

Attend the National Child Day interactive digital event – for children and adults alike – on November 20 at 1 p.m. ET. This year, children and youth from across the country will discuss what it means to be #SeenAndHeard. You’ll also hear from youth activists, Canada’s leading voices for children’s rights, government and industry leaders, and more.

Start conversations about the Canadian Children’s Charter of Rights with the children and youth in your life. Listen closely to their comments and thoughts.

Visit the Halton Youth Initiative website and see how groups of young people are making a difference in Halton by working with adult allies to elevate youth voice, empowering themselves and having a positive impact in the communities of North Oakville, Acton, Aldershot and Milton.

Read the Children First Canada National Child Day blogs to find voices of youth, fast facts about National Child Day, and how partnerships can help support children’s rights.

Now more than ever, the importance of our collective work supporting Halton’s children, youth, and families cannot be underestimated. On National Child Day and every day, we thank you.

Orange Shirt Day and Shiny New Shoes… Truth and Reconciliation

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

What do Orange Shirt Day and shiny new shoes have in common?

For many of us, pandemic or not, the beginning of a new school year is marked with the ritual of purchasing new clothes. Phyllis Webstad is the founder of Orange Shirt Day. Her grandmother bought her a new orange shirt to wear on her first day of Indian residential school. For my aunt, the excitement of wearing shiny new shoes to school was only eclipsed by finally being in school with her big brothers and sister. The thrill of starting school in new clothes didn’t last long. The children had their new clothes taken away as soon as they arrived for their very first day of school.

Four Indigenous children stand in front of a house. They are all dressed in new formal suits and dresses.
My aunt, far right, wearing her shiny new shoes, poses for a picture with her brothers and sister.

I often identify myself as a fourth generation Residential School Survivor.

A stretch in some people’s eyes, given I didn’t actually attend residential school. In a recent conversation with one of my aunts, I was reminded that my Mooshum, my great grandfather, was identified as the twelfth person to be enrolled at Lebret Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. My grandparents and my father attended that same school, and I have had the privilege to learn first-hand about residential school from two generations before me. Our family has a long history with the Residential School System and I am still coming to terms with the long-term effects of this as I parent my own children. I guess this is why the impact of the residential school experience is called “intergenerational trauma”. It doesn’t skip a generation.

If you think about it we all tend to parent in the way we were parented. I grew up in a fairly rigid household. My father wasn’t parented by his parents for most of his life. He was raised in a system that denied him his identity and culture. I was raised with similar rigidity and values. Rules had to be followed or punishment ensued. Being on time meant being at least ten minutes early. My sister and I had many rules about how we could dress and how long our hair could be. We had to play sports – team sports preferred – and there was no getting out of it. While other kids were enjoying Easter break, my sister and I were at softball camp getting ready for the season, but only after we had attended all the religious ceremonies associated with Easter. As a parent, I now look back on my childhood and can understand why following rules was so important to my father.

But I didn’t always get it. I think about the way my father always walked with his toes up in the air. It looked odd. He told me it was because the floors were cold at residential school and you had to walk with as little of your foot on the ground as possible. I didn’t believe him. I didn’t believe his stories.

Stop and think about the children in your life for a minute.

Can you imagine the government taking them away from you, often with the threat of incarceration if you did not let them go to a school that might be days away? My auntie was so excited to be with her siblings. When pressed to discuss though, she explained that she was able to see her big sister in the halls once in a while, and sometimes her brothers on Sundays after mass, if there was a sporting event. She shared a dormitory with many other little girls away from their parents for the first time. She told me with a sad smile, “Reality set in that first night, but that was the way it was. You didn’t question it.”

So maybe you too can see why I didn’t get it. I We simply cannot imagine our children not being able to share in the rituals of bedtime stories and cuddles, or not having their siblings at their side to comfort them. The Residential School System was an implement of the Canadian government which was determined to methodically “take the Indian out of the child”. This seems unbelievable to us today. We cannot imagine not having the right to question government policy and the elected officials who represent us in Ottawa.

And in some ways the system worked. My father’s and my family do not speak our mother-tongue language, Cree. The same is true with spiritual practices, but we are revitalizing this aspect of our lives as best we can.

I am sharing with you the TRUTH in Truth and Reconciliation. Perhaps you are thinking the same thing I did when I listened to my father’s residential school stories. Everyone has a ”I had to walk to school and back in 40 degree below weather uphill both ways” story. I began to understand the scope of the atrocities of Canada’s Residential School System right around the time I took my first Indigenous Studies course in university. I was in my twenties before I really began to comprehend my own family’s long history with Canada’s education system. I apologized to my father. I knew then that his stories were true  and I regret that I only came to this realization after learning about the traumatic impact of residential schools in a Euro-centric institution of higher learning.

The Lebret (Qu’Appelle, St. Paul’s, Whitecalf) Industrial School, (1884 – 1998) operated by the Roman Catholic Church (Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Grey Nuns) from 1884 until 1973, was one of the first three industrial schools that opened following the recommendations of the Davin Report, and was fully funded by the government.
This school was located on the White Calf (Wa-Pii Moos-Toosis) Reserve, west of the village of Lebret on Treaty 4 land. Lebret school has a long history as one of the first industrial schools to open and the last to close.

I have come to realize that my family primarily shares fond memories of their time at Lebret Indian Residential School.

They are reluctant to speak about the difficult times. My aunts and uncles talk about how they learned to play musical instruments, the championships won in hockey and basketball, and that they were able to wear their own clothes on Sundays. It is astounding to me that all of my dad’s siblings went on to post-secondary education. Indeed, many of the graduates of Lebret Indian Residential School went on to varied and interesting careers such as NHL scouts and actors in some of Hollywood’s biggest films.

Upon reflection of my family’s experiences, I realize that in order to survive at residential school, and to cope with the awful memories, it helps to look on the bright side of things. The positive stories I hear mask their unfathomable painful experiences. Going too much beyond fond memories takes gentle and careful prodding. Laughter is used to nudge those difficult memories to the surface.

Playing team sports was required, but it also meant it might be the only time you could interact with a sibling. Being on a team meant you belonged and had support of team mates in the classroom and dormitories. If you learned that your little brother was being bullied, you took care of it on the ice or the field. Being part of the choir meant you might be able to leave the school premises to sing at a neighbouring church. If you were deemed intelligent enough, the priest could arrange for you to further your education. It is clear from these stories that Indigenous people did not have control over their own lives. Some would argue, we still don’t.

Without the truth, reconciliation will not be realized in a meaningful way.

All Canadians bear the burden of the truth of the harm and trauma caused by Canada’s Residential School System. If you don’t think it affects you because you are not Indigenous, I encourage you to continue learning about Truth and Reconciliation. There are excellent, free courses available such as the University of Alberta’s Indigenous Canada program. 

We are all interconnected in some way. Reconciliation is important for all Canadians and without the truth, reconciliation will not be realized in a meaningful way.

On Sept 30, wear an orange shirt. This is a day to be a good ally, remember those who were taken by the Residential School System and commit to learning more about the truth. Help carry the burden and build a better future for Canada.

All my relations,
Angela

Learn more about Orange Shirt Day: https://www.orangeshirtday.org/phyllis-story.html

Mohawk College presents a virtual presentation with Phylis Webstad, Executive Director of Orange Shirt Day campaign. Sept. 29th, 12 to 1 p.m. https://events.eply.com/2020OrangeShirtDay

What We will Remember and other Thoughts on the Pandemic as Halton Families Meet the Return to School Challenge

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

In the middle of March, as I was closing my office up for what I thought would be a couple of weeks, I saved this picture as my screensaver.

Little did I know at the time, that six months later, we would still be living in this seemingly alternate universe. It feels like a lifetime ago. The picture of this little girl and her chick is still on my computer and each day when I look at it, I am reminded of what is really important during this time of stress and uncertainty.

As children, families, and teachers contemplate the return to school and academic learning, I have been listening closely to parents about what they both feel – and fear. For many, finding nuggets of hope and optimism strengthens their resiliency and ability to carry on. For others, the worry and fear overwhelms them and the reptilian brain takes control creating a propensity for instinctive fight, flight, or freeze responses. Fear and anxiety want comfort and certainty, and we know when it comes to COVID-19 there is no certainty. We can, however, find comfort and support in each other, maintain our sense of optimism, take hold of what we can control, and attempt to let go of what does not aid us.

So how do we take back our sense of control? How do we find our courage, our creativity, and soft hearts in order to protect and guide our children?

First and foremost, we cannot project adult fears and mindsets that negatively influence our children’s view of the world and their healthy growth and development. We must avoid righteous indignation and judgment and find a way to work together with compassion, tolerance, and a collaborative spirit. Our children need us to do this. And they need to watch us do this.

I am reminded of a quote by Dr. Hiam Ginott, teacher, child psychologist, psychotherapist, author, and parent educator.

“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.”

Every day parents and teachers have the opportunity to get up, take a few breaths, find gratitude, and make a conscious choice to create a healthy and nurturing environment for the children in their lives; to create a warm, sunny day out of the rain and cold.

I believe that this school year will not be about academics. I believe that it will be about the chance to strengthen our resiliency and relationships, and build deep, nurturing interdependence. Now more than ever, we understand how interconnected and reliant we are on each other – in our families, in our communities, and on a global level.

Finally, as I look for the silver lining in all this, I hope it will be the opportunity for parents and professionals to realign their relationships with children in the way nature intended. To restore the adult’s rightful place – in charge and with the responsibility and wisdom to lead our children through this pandemic. Now is the time to show them that they can depend on us and trust us to do what is best for them.

Collectively we can do this. When this pandemic has ended, what will stand out most in our memories is how we treated each other.

Cupid, Chocolate, & Social-emotional Development

By Melissa Graves, Health Promoter, Halton Region; Our Kids Network Early Years Mental Health Committee Member

Along with all the fun of trading Valentine cards, paper hearts, and enjoying treats, Valentine’s Day is also a great opportunity to think about and celebrate what we love, appreciate, and value in the important relationships in our lives. It can also bring to mind how those relationships develop.

It All Starts in the Early Years

Developing skills for healthy and strong relationships begins in the early years, by laying the foundation for expressing a range of emotions and healthy social-emotional development.

The foundations of social competence that develop in the first six years of life are linked to emotional well-being and affect a child’s ability to form successful relationships throughout life. As a child develops into adulthood, these same social skills are essential for lasting friendships; healthy intimate relationships; effective parenting; the ability to have successful relationships in the workplace; and to contribute to the well being of the community. (Centre on the Developing Child Harvard University, 2004)

Dad and daughter smiling and wearing heart-shaped glasses for Valentine's Day.

Early Experiences are Important to Mental Health

Research has also shown that early experiences shape the developing brain and underpin an individual’s mental health and well-being. The social-emotional skills developed in the first six years of a child’s life are linked to their later success in school, work and ability to form healthy relationships.

Watch this video by the Centre on the Developing Child at Harvard University about serve-and-return interactions. It illustrates how to use this strategy to strengthen positive interactions between caregivers and children, and shows how caregivers can use everyday moments to build relationships that also foster social competence.

To learn more and access helpful resources about social-emotional development in the early years, visit the Early Years Mental Health Toolkit.

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