Helping Youth Thrive in these Unpredictable Times

The Virtual Halton Youth Initiative Program

By Siobhan Laverdiere, Halton Youth Initiative Project Coordinator and Lily Viggiano, Youth Asset Builder

The goal of the Halton Youth Initiative (HYI) is to elevate youth voice and empower youth to have a positive impact in the communities of North Oakville, Acton, Aldershot and Milton. The project is youth-led, with young people identifying local issues and strategies for possible solutions.  Activities are grounded in an asset-building  approach and focuses on relationship building. Funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the initiative brings youth and adults together to form developmental relationships in the four communities. 

Youth Tackle Self-isolation: Using Technology to Cross Borders and Connect

By the time the Region of Halton instated COVID-19 pandemic emergency measures in early April, HYI youth groups had already begun to move the project to the virtual world. This important transition provided an unexpected opportunity for the four youth tables in North Oakville, Acton, Aldershot, and Milton to become borderless and to begin to connect with and get to know each other. Expanding their personal online communities to the other Halton HYI communities and beyond was a natural step for most of them.

Zoom online meeting

Still Reaching Goals in the Virtual World

Core HYI goals:

  1. Youth know more about local resources.
  2. People and organizations know more about topics that matter to youth.
  3. Youth work with community agencies to develop/promote positive youth hang-out space.

The four youth groups quickly found that they could continue their work virtually. They reorganized themselves into three online communities, each taking on one or two of the HYI core goals.

  • Communications Crew focuses on creating informative and engaging content for social media, the HYI website (blogs and vlogs) and traditional media.
  • Community Builders are developing campaigns that support or acknowledge specific groups of people in Halton during COVID-19, for example supporting seniors and acknowledging grocery store clerks.
  • Creative Spaces group is developing virtual activities for HYI youth and other youth in Halton. They are also promoting opportunities in the community for youth participation.

Weekly ZOOM meetings facilitate discussions and planning, and the youth use Google Classroom and Google Drive to share and edit content they have developed for their projects. They have posted blogs, images and other information on social media, and written letters to the editors of local media for National Volunteer Week, National Youth Week and about addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. They are coordinating virtual card games with seniors, recording DIY tutorials face masks, and hosting Kahoot! quiz championships for Halton youth.

The Town of Halton Hills and Positive Space Network have requested specific content from our teams for their own youth engagement activities.

Instagrams
Instagram posts by the Communications Crew

COVID-19 Virtual Response Game: Online Asset-Building

Most youth are feeling stressed, anxious, and bored during the pandemic. An empowering COVID-19 Virtual Response Team game was the answer to helping attend to these negative emotions.

Each week, youth and adult allies come together online to talk about one dimension of the Developmental Relationships framework. They participate in activities that connect with a weekly theme and compete for points and fun prizes.

For example, youth were asked to reflect on the Developmental Relationship dimension of Challenging Growth as it relates to their virtual participation.

How has changing everything onto a virtual platform in general challenged your personal growth?

“It’s helped me become more independent and create my own schedule.”
“I’m taking the initiative to ask others for help.”
“A lot of self-regulation…”
Self-motivation… “to focus on school work as there’s no strictness.”

Virtual Safe Space can Help Build Confidence and Boost In-person Participation in Future

The young people are responding positively to the three newly-formed groups and are growing through the virtual experience. Some who may not have high participation at in-person meetings are more confident and join in more within the virtual environment. The groups are learning the etiquette and protocols of meeting online as a group, such as one person speaking at a time and intentional listening. Skills that can support interpersonal in-person interactions later on.

We continue to find ways to foster connections between team members, they are also trying to find innovative ways to create safe spaces online for some young people to make it more comfortable to participate. This may lead to increased confidence and self-esteem later with in-person group meetings and interactions.

If you are a community partner and want more information about the Halton Youth Initiative or would like get involved visit www.haltonyouth.com or contact program coordinators, Siobhan Laverdiere, siobhan@ourkidsnetwork.ca or Lily Viggiano, lily@ourkidsnetwork.ca.

Download program overview and full details.

Halton Community Partners Share Ideas and Information on Supporting Youth

More ideas and strategies on supporting and working with youth during the COVID-19 pandemic from the Oakville YMCA, Oak Park Neighbourhood Centre, Oakville Public Library, Nelson Youth Centres, Milton Public Library, Canadian Gap Year Association. Download the PDF.

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.

What Youth Want Adults to Know

By Siobhan Laverdiere, Initiative Project Coordinator and Lily Viggiano, Youth Asset-Builder, Halton Youth Initiative

The Halton Youth Initiative connects youth and adult community members in Aldershot, Acton, and through local youth-lead committees. The North Oakville Youth Development Council served as a resource and model for this work.

Halton Youth Initiative website

Meaningful relationships are the foundation of asset-building in Halton. They are the key ingredient to our work with youth, communities and each other. One key aspect of this work is to give youth a voice. And one way we do this is through the Developmental Relationships (DR) framework.

When sharing the framework with the youth committees, we asked the question, “What do youth want adults to know?” This question is an excellent conversation starter to introduce both youth and adults to the 5 dimensions of Developmental Relationships: Express Care, Challenge Growth, Provide Support, Share Power, and Expand Possibilities.

Guided by the DR framework, the four committees’ common goals are to:

  • strengthen assets in youth.
  • build meaningful relationships between youth and adults (adult allies on the committees, but also adults in the wider community such as neighbours, teachers, coaches, youth workers).
  • connect youth with their community through various neighbourhood-focused projects.

Acton: Youth Want Adults to Know that Tone and Style of Behaviour Counts

The Acton committee is called the “Seven Somebodies”. Current membership is more than 7 youth, but the young members think the name is cool and decided to keep it as their numbers grew. This group focused on the tone and the style with which adults can control young people. They talked about how they felt adults did or did not Express Care.

There were discussions about how they will tune in to adults who acknowledge their presence, seem happy to see them, and have a good sense of humor – especially in moments of stress. They noted that a smile and warm welcome goes a long way to effect the overall tone of groups. They said that adults must find creative and upbeat ways of shutting down undesirable group behaviour, such as disruptions and staying on topic. These youth felt that they want adults to be in charge, but also be aware of their power to set the tone for the group.

“I can tell when adults go the extra mile, and it means a lot to me.
Jenna, Seven Somebodies committee member

Aldershot: Survey Says…Tune into How We Feel and Take Action!

The Aldershot Youth Crew established in April 2019, wanted to pose the question “What do youth want adults to know?” to the larger community of youth. So on September 14, at Alderfest, an annual neighbourhood-building event, our team members took up their clipboards and interviewed 56 local youth.

The results reflected two DR dimensions: Provide Support and Expand Possibilities:

  • Youth need their voices heard in their households, classrooms, and community.
  • Give youth more freedom to explore their community and interests.
  • Kids are awesome!
  • Tune into how we feel and take action.

“My older cousin takes me to Halton Conservation parks and always points out the signs and information. She tries to teach me new things even though she doesn’t have to. That’s how I know she cares”
Chase M., Aldershot Youth Crew member

Milton: See the Best in Us!

The Milton Youth Action Team discussed what they wish adults (in particular program coordinators and volunteer managers) knew about young people. This team wants adults to see the best in them; to see their ability to take advantage of opportunities and to leverage adults’ wisdom and experience to help young people. These statements reflect the Provide Support and Share Power DR dimensions.

“In terms of ideas, youth are good at coming up with ideas and need some authority to make it happen. Adults and youth are a powerful combination – youth power the ideas and adults can make it happen”
Rayyan, Milton Youth Action Team committee member

North Oakville: Support and Guide, but Give Us Our Space Too!

The North Oakville Youth Development Council (NOYDC) started in June 2017 and paved the way for the other developing youth councils in our other communities.

In discussions about support and guidance, Daniella a NOYDC member, explained that young people want adults to show that they care about youth and are there to support them. Youth welcome support and guidance but also want personal space to figure out for themselves what they want to do.

Expressing Care and Expanding Possibilities are reflected here. In the discussions with young people at the North Oakville Youth Development Council, they said that expressing care could also be about providing youth with the space they need to think things through in order to form their own identities and perspectives.

“As a youth, I would like adults to know that youth value their community and want to help assist in its proceedings. They like participating in political discussions and love being able to share their opinions, especially if people are willing to listen.”
Hargun, North Oakville Youth Development Council member


Read the What Youth Want Adults to Know Fact Sheet.

To learn more about the Halton Youth Initiative and read blogs written by the youth involved on the committees visit www.haltonyouth.com.


The Halton Youth Initiative is a project supported by Our Kids Network and the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Celebrating 30 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on November 20

By Mary Tabak, Our Kids Network Developmental Assets Manager

Thirty years ago, many world leaders made a commitment to the world’s children by adopting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international agreement on childhood rights.

Take a moment to review the rights. Are there any surprises? Did you feel that you had these rights when you were young?

Download the child-friendly language poster.

It’s become the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history and has helped transform children’s lives around the world. However, until every child has every right, our work is not done.

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

30 Ways to Celebrate and Reflect on Children’s Rights

  1. Discuss the rights with children and youth in your life.
  2. Donate to an organization that works to make the lives of children better.
  3. Donate children’s supplies to a local charity.
  4. Sponsor a child. Foster a child.
  5. Send a child a letter of appreciation. Here’s an example to get you started.
  6. Appreciate all that Canada has to offer children and youth now, and consider the work still to be done.
  7. Introduce a child to something new in their community.
  8. Write a letter to local politicians supporting children’s rights.
  9. Learn about the Indigenous culture and community in Canada.
  10. Send the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to someone who works with children, and tell them they are doing a great job.
  11. Post the child-friendly version of the rights on your social media channels.
  12. Ask a child how they want to celebrate, then do it.
  13. Do something to make your neighbourhood safer.
  14. Give a young person a job.
  15. Connect youth with their passions.
  16. Ask young people what they think of the rights.
  17. Give parents a break.
  18. Invite your extended family for dinner and discuss the rights.
  19. Discuss the rights at work. Is there anything you can do there?
  20. Use the OKN Data Portal 2.0 for a deeper understanding of the status of children and youth in Halton.

And 10 more…put the Developmental Relationships Framework into practice to demonstrate children’s rights.

  1. Express Care. Show me that I matter to you.
  2. Provide Support. Help me complete task and achieve goals.
  3. Share Power. Treat me with respect and give me a say.
  4. Expand Possibilities. Connect me with people and places that broaden my world.
  5. Be Dependable. Be someone I can trust.
  6. Listen. Really pay attention when we are together.
  7. Navigate. Guide me through hard situations and systems.
  8. Empower. Build my confidence to take charge of my life.
  9. Advocate. Stand up for me when I need it.
  10. Inspire. Inspire me to see possibilities for my future.

All kids are our kids. Let’s keep working together to make this world a better place for children and youth.

We Have A Voice

National Child Day is celebrated in Canada on November 20th in recognition of our country’s commitment to upholding the rights of children and two historic events: the 1959 signing of the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.

For more information about The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child visit https://www.unicef.org/child-rights-convention

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 families make the transition to school this fall:

  1. Children express stress in different ways. Know how children show 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. Recommend 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. Ask parents to consider scaling back a little on the activities. Busy lives often result in chaos and disconnection. Spending time together, such as family meals, is 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. Tell parents to allow enough time for a child to relax, process the day and talk with you about anything that may come up. They should 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 parents need to be prepared.
  7. Let parents know about the benefits of staying connected to the school. When children see that parents are interested and engaged in positive ways to the school community, it tells them that school is important and also helps parents to understand some of what their 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.