By now, many people have adjusted to the “new normal” that is physical distancing and self-quarantining. For many of us, this pandemic has lead to an abundance of free time that may not be being used in a productive way. Rather than spending all of this newly discovered free time re-watching our favourite television series, we could be using this time to learn new skills, or teach our children valuable life skills.
Teaching children from a young age to clean up after themselves is important, as it will help them to develop the habit of picking up after themselves. If children are older, they can always help with dusting, vacuuming and sweeping. Leading by example is a great way to peak children’s interest in helping with household chores. Keeping a clean house can also help with our mental health.
As we’ve likely all seen on social media, bread making has become the newest past time for many of us in quarantine. With most restaurants closed, now is the time to get creative and try your hand at those new recipes you have saved on your Pinterest board. Choosing recipes that your kids can help with is a great choice, as the more children are able to help out with a successful recipe, the more confident they will become in the kitchen. Even small tasks such as pouring their own cereal can make a child feel as though they are self-sufficient and can help with their confidence.
With Spring just around the corner, now is a great time to get started on plotting the garden. Taking the time to explain how plants grow and how to care for them is a great way to teach children responsibility. You can assign your children their own section of the garden to care for; they can make a habit of checking for growth every day.
Sewing is a skill that comes in handy more often than people think. Right now, many people are making their own facemasks to wear in public. This is a great family project whether or not you know how to sew. You can learn together while also creating a helpful project. In addition to masks, projects such as crocheting, knitting and cross stitching are creative ways to pass the time indoors or in our backyards.
Trying to use the time we have at home to teach our children and learn some new skills ourselves is important, but it’s also important to make sure we are taking time to practice self care. Eating well, exercising and sleeping well are all ways we can take care of ourselves in such uncertain times. Adapting to this “new normal” is not easy, but we’re all in this together and we can help each other out, even if it’s from a distance.
With all the uncertainty that the world is dealing with, it’s safe to assume that our little ones are going to start asking questions if they haven’t already. Whether they’ve overheard news coverage or kids chatting about it on the playground at school, chances are they have heard of the coronavirus. It is important to have a conversation with your kids about what COVID-19 is, but in a way that kids can understand. The goal is not to scare them about the virus, but to educate them on the importance of why almost everyone is staying at home for the most part and why we all need to make an extra effort to wash our hands more often.
Use Words They Will Understand
Chances are, a 5-year-old will not understand what “social distancing” means, so try explaining it more simply. Try telling them “we can’t see your friends right now, because we need to make sure we aren’t sharing germs with anyone so we and they don’t get sick.” A typical 5-year-old response maybe, “but I’m not sick”; to which a simple response as, “germs travel on all of us and we do not have to be sick to spread them, they are sneaky little things”. Children do no need to know the risk factors, as it can cause their imaginations to run wild, and can cause unneeded stress. Use your judgement based on your child’s age to gauge how much information needs to be delivered. There is a great video online showing how soap can repel germs using a bowl of water, pepper and soap. You can show your kids this video to show them the importance of keeping our hands clean.
Limit their exposure to the news
As adults, we understand that the news focuses on negative events, and the growing number of confirmed cases of COVID-19. While it’s important for us to stay informed, it’s also important to shield our children from information that may be too much for them to understand. Young children do not fully know how to process news like this, and that’s okay. If you can, watch press conferences and news segments on your phone with headphones plugged in. This way you can stay informed, but the children won’t be left to try to process things that they may overhear. As well, children can be very sneaky if at all possible limit exposure to live streaming, television which has short segment new casts or banners and opt for media sources as Netflix, Disney +, Crave, or other sources that all you to control the exposure to news and media updates regarding Covid19.
Make Hand Washing Fun
Children will be much more excited about washing their hands more often if you make it fun for them. A great video has surfaced recently of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson washing his daughter’s hands while singing part of his song in Moana. Find something your kids enjoy, whether it be a short video or their favourite song and make hand washing fun for them. Even better, make a video of yourselves being creative and post it on social media with the hashtag #inthistogether.
Try to focus on the positives with your kids
Even though you may be more stressed and anxious than usual, it’s important to not transfer that stress onto your children. Take the time you have at home with your kids to make some memories. Go for a long walk together, do some crafts that they’ve been asking you to do, build a blanket fort in your living room, or have a movie night. Once this is all over, you and your kids will be able to look back on the extra time you were able to spend together. Embrace the opportunity to use this time for family bonding. Our typical world is so hectic that it is easy to disconnect, this pandemic may turn into a gift for many who are able to reconnect and reengage in what truly matters, family and our human connection.
This is not an easy time for anyone, but protecting our kids from unneeded stress can make things just a little bit easier for them. If you have more suggestions on how to speak with our kids about COVID-19, feel free to share them in the comments below!
Stay well and remember we are all in this together, let’s continue to support one another.
June is pride month, which is a fantastic way to celebrate all of those in the LGBTQ+ community. We thought it would be important to also raise awareness to the increased risks of mental illness experienced by those who identify at LGBTQ+, and share a few ways we can help to prevent the risks from becoming anything more than risks. A 2010 study showed that 47% of trans youth in Ontario had thought about suicide, and 19% had actually attempted suicide in the preceding year (Scanlon, Travers, Coleman, Bauer, & Boyce, 2010). LGBTQ+ youth contemplate suicide two to three times the rate of youth who identify as straight, so it’s important to know how to help them through the tough times of coming to terms with their sexuality or gender identity.
How Can We Help?
Look for Signs- Educating yourself and your loved ones on the warning signs of suicide and depression is a great way to help LGBTQ+ youth. It’s important to recognize when your child/friend/student/sibling is behaving differently than usual so that you can help to avoid a potential crisis. Resources such as The Trevor Project or Crisis Services Canada are readily available resources for anyone struggling with depression or suicidal ideation.
Open Your Ears- Sometimes we just need to talk it out. From a simple “you okay?” to a more in depth conversation about emotions and how to cope, it’s important to be ready and willing to listen to the individual that is struggling. It’s also important not to push the individual to speak when they aren’t ready to. Whether or not the person has come out, try to show empathy and understand that speaking about their thoughts and feelings may be incredibly difficult and scary for them. Prepare yourself for the possibility of a tough conversation, and make sure they know that you’re there to support them through their hard times, not to judge them for how they feel or the choices they are making despite your own belief.
Be Open Minded- Often times it’s hard for loved ones to fully understand what certain labels mean. Gender dysphoria, two-spirited and queer are all terms that not everyone is familiar with- so it’s important to be open to learning about any label that your loved one may or may not put on themselves. The Ma Group has put together a list of many gender and sexuality identifying terms to help better understand some of the newer and less “common” identifiers.
Be Supportive- As tough as it may be to hear that your loved one is going through a hard time, I can assure you it’s even harder on them. Admitting that they need help is a step in the right direction, and you need to be there for them. Thank them for trusting you enough to open up and talk about their thoughts and feelings, and ensure them that you will do your best to support them no matter what.
If you feel that your loved one’s symptoms are severe enough that they might inflict harm on themselves or others, direct them to the nearest emergency department or mental health facility.
We’ve all experienced it - our child comes home after a day at school and has an absolute meltdown for seemingly no reason. After speaking with the school, they have been doing well - no issues with their peers or adults, yet when they come home they seem devastated. It could be that your child is struggling with mental fatigue.
We all have times in our lives when it all seems like “too much”. Between dealing with the stress of getting everyone out the door in the morning, meeting deadlines at work, picking up groceries, making dinner, getting the kids to their sports, all the while projecting a cool, calm and collected attitude; we get stressed and overwhelmed. A good cry is sometimes all we can do to make ourselves feel better. This is exactly what can happen to kids after going back to school- especially in the first few months.
How can we help?
1-Offer them your support/ comfort
Similar to when children are upset for any other reason, let them know that you’re there for them. Tell them that you’re ready to listen when they’re ready to talk. Depending on the child, this may or may not help them feel more at ease.
We’ve all been hangry before- it’s not fun. Be prepared to welcome them home with a nutritious snack. If they are old enough to be home alone before you get home from work, have one prepared for them to grab easily when they get in the door. Try to stick to fruits and vegetables or other unprocessed foods.
3-Give them space
For some children, hovering over them or trying to make them talk about things will only make it worse. Give the child some distance to relax and unwind after school. For some children, this means 30 minutes of quiet time in their room or outside, others it’s just sitting quietly in the kitchen as you prepare dinner. If the child frequently has a tough time with the school-to-home transition, consider creating a spot in the house for them that is specifically for them to go during calm down time.
4-Don’t blame anyone
Like other mental health issues, this is no one’s fault. Everyone processes stress differently- and no one should be punished for it. Getting angry at your child (or yourself) isn’t going to solve anything, in fact, it will more than likely stress the child out further.
If behavior like this continues for more than a couple of weeks, I would suggest bringing the child to see a therapist to rule out other potential mental health issues. The Kids Help Phone is also a great resource for youth who are struggling; you can find out more information here https://kidshelpphone.ca/
With the excitement of back to school come and gone, it’s time for reality to set in. For many teens, this means anxiety is starting to creep back into their everyday lives. We, as parents want to help our children as much as we can, but it’s often tricky to know what to say and how to handle a teen struggling with anxiety. Inspired by an article written by Dr. Marjory Phillips, here are a few tips to help tackle this task:
1. Listen before you try to solve their problems.
Sometimes, all your child needs is to have their voice heard. Give them the opportunity to say what they need to say, uninterrupted. Once they’ve had their chance to speak their mind, then you can offer your advice and try to walk them through solving their problems. If this is something you struggle with, perhaps have a notepad handy if you know the discussion is coming to jot down any thoughts you have as they are speaking.
2. Take them seriously.
Even if their concerns don’t seem like a big deal to you, it’s very real to them. Emotions run high in the teenage years, so it’s important to approach your child’s problems with encouragement and kindness. Be open with them when discussing their emotional strengths and ensure they know that you want to help.
3. Be prepared for your entire family to be affected.
Anxiety doesn’t just affect the individual struggling with it; it affects the whole family. There may be days that you have plans but anxiety is preventing your child from leaving the house. It takes time to guide them through overcoming these days, but patience is key.
4. Be there to listen.
Busy schedules are often rather hectic; between school drop off, work, groceries, school pick up, dance class, dinner, homework help and night time routines, it’s sometimes difficult to find time to sit down and talk with your children. When you have a child that is struggling with anxiety, it’s important to either make the time to spend with them 1-on-1, or find another way to keep the lines of communication open (texting, phone calls, video chats) and listen to what they are dealing with and how they are doing.
5. Offer your support.
When speaking with your child, remain calm and make sure you communicate with them that you understand they are struggling, and that you will do anything you need to to help them get better. Having a parent’s support is huge for a teenager dealing with anxiety. Keep your child’s problems on your mind, and make sure you check in with them on a regular basis.
6. Work with them to figure out their triggers.
Take time with your child to reflect on the times when anxiety is not affecting them. Are there any notable changes in friends they are spending time with recently? Shows they are watching? Amount of time spent with family? If any environmental changes have triggered their anxiety, try to make an effort to revert back to when things were more “normal” for them.
7. Resist the urge to pry for reasons.
Anxiety is a tricky feeling to explain. Sometimes it hits you for seemingly no reason at all. Teens will most likely struggle to answer the question “Why is xyz giving you anxiety now? It never used to.” Asking too many questions may lead to your teen feeling more anxious, so I would suggest trying to keep this type of question to a minimum.
8. Be Patient with them.
Even with the help of a therapist, it can take years for some individuals to overcome the overwhelming feelings of anxiety. Being patient and calm with your teen is extremely important to maintaining a positive, healthy relationship. They can’t prevent the feelings from coming, and pressure from their loved ones in their time of need is not going to help any situation.
9. Normalize it.
With the surge in social media usage among teens lately, it’s no secret that anxiety is an extremely normal thing for teens to deal with, and (in some cases) are open to share with strangers. Make sure your child knows that they are not alone in their struggle. Perhaps try to find local support groups for teens in your community if they are more social.
10. Enjoy some outdoor cell-phone free time.
These days, it’s rare to see a teen without a smart phone in their hands 24/7. The constant notifications with real-time views on how many people “like” their appearance or thoughts can be overwhelming on its own. Try to get your teen involved in a cell-phone free activity outdoors to clear their head of the social media avalanche that they deal with every day. After all, studies have shown links to sunlight lowering levels of anxiety as well as depression.
At the end of the day, there are no sure answers to how we can help our children overcome anxiety, but with these tips, you should be on your way to getting your teen the support that they need. If the anxiety is becoming too severe for your child to handle, seeing a psychotherapist, social worker, or psychologist is always a great option- an outside non-biased voice is extremely helpful for children, teens, and adults.
The end of summer means time to prepare for a new school year. Buying supplies can be the easy part, however, preparing your children and yourself for the year to come can be more difficult. Here are nine ways you can prepare everyone to go back to school.
1) Re-establish Routines
Use the last few weeks of summer to return to school routines. Begin an earlier bedtime routine, get up and get dressed closer to when school is scheduled. Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, and snacks around the same time you will when school starts.
It is also important to get used to leaving the house in the morning, so plan morning activities away from home in the week or two before school. That can be a challenge for working parents but hustling our child out the door will be less painful when summer habits have been broken ahead.
2) Nurture Independence
At school, children will have to manage many tasks on their own. Prepare them for independence by talking ahead of time about responsibilities they can manage. This might include organizing school material, tracking assignments and remembering homework.
Even young children can acquire skills that build confidence and independence. Have your child practice writing her name, tying shoes and putting clothing away. The transition to school will be easier if basic needs can be met without adult assistance.
3) Create a Launch Pad
Designate a spot at home where school items always go to avoid morning searches. You might also have a list of things to bring to school posted by the door.
4) A Time and Place for Homework
Eliminate battles by making homework part of everyday routine. Establish a time and a place for studying. Plan to be available during homework time, especially with younger kids. Don’t hover, but be around to check progress.
5) After School Plans
Whatever the normal after school routine will be, if possible, try to arrange to be home when your child returns during those first few days.
6) Make a Sick Day Plan
Before school begins, line up a trusted babysitter or group of parents to support each other when children are sick. Make sure you know the school’s policy in case forms are required for other people to have permission to pick up your child.
7) Attend Orientation to Meet and Greet
Schools often hold orientation and information session before the start of each academic year. Take advantage of this opportunity to meet the key players: teachers, school counselors, the principal, and front desk staff.
8) Talk to the Teacher
When you talk to teachers, ask about their approach to homework so you understand the goal. Some assign homework so kids can practice new skills while others focus on the accuracy of the assignments.
9) A Family Affair
Sit down with your child to create a routine chart. The more kids have ownership in creating a new routine and setting expectations, the more likely they are to follow it.
Dr. Diana Garcia
Dr. Diana Garcia has over 20 years of experience in the field of psychology. She has provided psychological and counseling services in Ontario, and the states of Pennsylvania, and Florida