In these unprecedented times, we hope you are keeping safe and well. While social distancing has become the new normal, it is gratifying to see people finding creative ways to continue supporting children, youth and families. Our strong communities will get us through this. OKN staff members are currently working from home. We continue to focus on support for service providers and organizations that provide services to children, youth and families.
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)
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.
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?
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
Discuss the rights with children and youth in your life.
Donate to an organization that works to make the lives of children better.
Donate children’s supplies to a local charity.
Sponsor a child. Foster a child.
Send a child a letter of appreciation. Here’s an example to get you started.
Appreciate all that Canada has to offer children and youth now, and consider the work still to be done.
Introduce a child to something new in their community.
Write a letter to local politicians supporting children’s rights.
Learn about the Indigenous culture and community in Canada.
Provide Support. Help me complete task and achieve goals.
Share Power. Treat me with respect and give me a say.
Expand Possibilities. Connect me with people and places that broaden my world.
Be Dependable. Be someone I can trust.
Listen. Really pay attention when we are together.
Navigate. Guide me through hard situations and systems.
Empower. Build my confidence to take charge of my life.
Advocate. Stand up for me when I need it.
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.
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.
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
children to get a good night’s sleep before the big event. Sleep is essential
for coping and recovering from stress.
more time to complete tasks and limit demands.
down-time in class and help them practice mindfulness.
children in advance of changes to their daily routines. Classroom parties and
costume parades add to the stress load for some children.
a quiet area for children who need a break from sensory overload during
Halloween events and other celebrations.
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!
“Be kind to everyone. You don’t know what battles they’re fighting.” is paraphrased from a quote written by Scottish author Ian MacLaren in 1897. It still rings true today and never more than when we are working with adolescents. Life is hard enough through this period of development, but these days youth contend with social media and the tremendous impact that it has on their lives. School yard bullies wait for them now via social media. Too often home is no longer a safe place to hide at the end of the day. Keyboard stalkers are there at every click to criticize and bully. The pressure is on to fit in and get noticed by the number of likes and views on hundreds of social media and gaming platforms. Youth struggle to be “unique” in a world where rich media celebrities and music icons promote unattainable luxury lifestyles and model shallow, destructive behavior.
The competition to get into a post-secondary school and find a good job is substantially more stressful now than it was even fifteen years ago. And both families and young people are bearing the financial burden of higher education.
Adults are more stressed these days for their own reasons, and that affects the young people around them. All of this adds up to much higher rates of youth struggling with depression and anxiety at younger and younger ages.
“Be kind to everyone, you don’t know what battles they’re fighting.”
Imagine yourself as a youth: you arrive at school and not one adult smiles as you walk in the door. Not one adult addresses you by your name or asks how your morning is going. Not one adult takes an interest in you, guides you, or supports you. No one seems to see or care about the battles you’re fighting. They are preoccupied with imposing their own agendas on you, and might criticize you if you can’t follow through. You would certainly feel disheartened and hopeless, and overwhelmed. The pressure would seem unbearable. Then you arrive home and encounter stressed parents, who may be dealing with the needs of their own elderly parents and have no time for yours. When you imagine yourself in this situation, it’s easy to understand how anxiety and hopelessness can build up.
“Be kind to everyone, you don’t know what battles they’re fighting.”
Now let’s think about this quote when we look at interacting with young people, including our own children. Let’s be the adults that smile when a youth walks into the room. Let’s make an effort to know their names and learn something about them. Let’s guide them and always support them. We’ll ask them how they’re doing and, if we’re concerned that they may not be doing well, we’ll ask them privately and find out how we can help. It’s possible that you may be the only person in a young person’s day that reaches out to them, praises them, and sees the good in them. Let’s model how to be caring, empathetic and supportive for all youth that we encounter each day.
“Be kind to everyone, you don’t know what battles they’re fighting.”
When we meet youth that may need more support than we can offer, we want to be able to provide them with information about professional supports in the community. It’s important for us to know where to find information or who to ask for the appropriate supports so we can respond quickly to their needs. The Our Kids Network website is an excellent knowledge-building resource that includes Developmental Assets and Relationships First, found in the Building Relationships section. Try Halton iparent for information on Halton-based parenting programs and information.
Most of all, remember, the easiest way to make a connection – smile and simply ask how they’re doing today.
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:
Children express stress in different ways. Know how children show you they are stressed.
Stress is contagious. Be aware of your own stress and do your best to manage it well. The kids are watching.
“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.
Get back to basics. Recommend a consistent routine, healthy nutrition, physical activity and ample sleep all help to reduce stress for everyone.
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.
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.
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.
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.