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.

National Indigenous Peoples Day: What does June 21 mean to you?

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

On Sunday, many of us will be celebrating Father’s Day. Some of you will be enjoying a beautiful day reading a great book, by an Indigenous author, of course (#Indigenousreads). For Indigenous people in Canada, June 21 is a very special day: National Indigenous Peoples Day.

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been a long time coming and is now a day devoted to celebrating the unique and distinct culture and heritage of Indigenous people all across Canada. June 21 is also the Summer Solstice and, as such, is a traditional day of spiritual ceremony and celebration for Indigenous peoples.

Three Indigenous people in traditional dress are smiling and talking
Photo credit: Government of Canada – National Indigenous Peoples Day  

This year coming together to celebrate will look very different for us. Rather than feeling the beat of the pow wow drum deep in my heart, I will have to celebrate with virtual and televised events. For me, it will also be a day of reflection on how far National Indigenous Peoples Day has come as a significant day of observance and celebration in Canadian culture.

I look back fondly to the late 1990s, when my sister and her husband were living in a very non-Indigenous suburb of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan! This particular neighbourhood was newly developed and had expensive homes backing onto a large lake with walking trails. It was the central gathering spot for the community.

My brother-in-law decided that June 21 would be a great day to introduce his family to the neighbours. He arranged to have a tipi erected by the lake and ensured there was bannock and jam for us to share. He welcomed their non-Indigenous neighbours, and we relaxed and talked together all evening. It was wonderful! Everyone was so inquisitive and grateful for the opportunity to enter an actual tipi, and the questions were respectful and genuine.

I never let this special day go by without a celebration (even a quiet one) of some kind. This year, in addition to all the events happening on the internet, I intend to take a walk (physically distancing of course), on the Moccasin Trail in the Town of Oakville and give thanks for being Indigenous.

What will you be doing?

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

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.

HO HO HOLD Everything!

By Mary Tabak, Our Kids Network Developmental Assets Manager

It’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement of the holidays.  We can get overwhelmed with all the ads, decorations…and our children coming up with lists of “things” they want for the holidays. Let’s slow it down for a moment and reflect on what the holidays really mean to you.

How your holidays will look, sound and feel this year is up to you. You can choose what is really important and how you want to celebrate it.

Some considerations for when you’re making plans…

Spending lots of money?                    OR                   Spending lots of time with loved ones?

Most stressful time of year?                OR                   Most meaningful time of year?

House full of decorations?                  OR                   House full of family and friends?

Giving gifts from the store?                 OR                   Giving gifts from the heart?

A time to clash with family?                 OR                   A time to build or repair relationships?

Focus on getting?                               OR                   Focus on giving?

Eating lots of food?                             OR                   Sharing lots of food?

Standing in line?                                 OR                   Standing up for what you believe in?

Counting gifts?                                    OR                   Counting blessings?

In thinking about our work with Developmental Relationships, let’s make some space for relationships to thrive through the holidays and all year round.

Express Care                          Invite someone who is alone to your table.

Challenge Growth                   Continue an old family tradition or start a new one.

Provide Support                      Find a charity and commit to it as a family.

Share Power                           Encourage the children to help in menu planning.

Expand Possibilities                Visit and explore a small town in Ontario.

Kids hugging thier grandpa

For more information about Developmental Relationships and asset-building, visit www.ourkidsnetwork.ca/Relationships