Category Archives: Books

Sensitive much?

First off, some “housekeeping” as the corporate folks like to say. The reason I’m posting like crazy all of a sudden is because I’ve joined a “blogathon”. This special virtual event has all members posting once a day for the month of June. So far I’m on track. However, I hope those of you who are following my blog won’t get overwhelmed; after the blogathon, I plan to post weekly or bi-weekly.

emotional brainToday’s topic? Sensitivity. These days, there’s a lot of buzz around “highly sensitive people”.

Said to feel things more deeply than others, HSP can use their gifts to accelerate life but need to be aware of their limits, too.

According to Dr. Elaine Aron’s Highly Sensitive People web site, highly sensitive children and adults:

  • Are easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby
  • Notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art
  • Have a rich and complex inner life
  • Were seen as particularly sensitive or shy by parents and teachers

Does this sound like you or your child? I know I can relate. While I am sociable and love concerts and parties, I can also get overwhelmed and stressed out by loud noises such as sirens, fireworks, dogs barking, or loud children.

Do you think you or your children might be highly sensitive too? Do you want specific tools to help your children feel more comfortable in their own skin? In addition to Aron’s child-focused sensitivity quiz, another amazing resource is author and speaker Maureen Healy. Give their sites, books and blogs a quick tour; I’m sure you’ll find many valuable tips.

What have you learned from your highly sensitive child? Do you see this as an affliction or a blessing?

We Are Family

A Clear Path

Next week I’ll be attending the Vanier Institute’s Families in Canada conference. As a freelance writer  focused on subjects relating to children, parenting, mental health and social development, this is the perfect learning event.

How I’ll attend the myriad sessions in only two short days, I do not know. Themes include everything from LGBT issues to divorce, poverty, gender, northern families, volunteering, education, violence and love;  obviously there aren’t many topics that can’t be intertwined into the concept of “family”.

One of my favourite reflections on family is written by my writer colleague Christina Frank. The Half-Life of the Divorced Parent,posted on the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, is not only brilliantly written but poignant, clever and sad. I often think of Christina’s words as I go through my own parenting journey.

No one expert or speaker can define the complex topic of family as it means different things to different people. Trust, honesty, loyalty, friendship, secrets, ties, heritage, culture, blood relations, laughter, tears, journey, protection…

What does family mean to you?

Mental Health Week 2013: Meds and Kids

Canadian Mental Health Week 2013

A Kids ‘n’ Mental Health Wordle for a Rainy Day in May

Greetings, Blog Readers. I apologize for the large gap in posts. I’ve been working a lot and getting up to speed on new content, technology, travel, etc.

Mental Health Week is almost over and I feel compelled to post something on this topic as it’s so relevant to my blog.

Recently, the topic of mental health & medication has come up. I’ve read quite a few blog posts and articles by those opposed to having children take medication for “minor” mental health-related diseases and syndromes such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and Asperger Syndrome.

Beyond life-saving results for some, prescription medication can have devastating side-effects. From lethargy to increased anxiety, dry mouth, trouble sleeping and decreased appetite (I sound like an announcer on one of those pharma co. TV commercials!), the vast majority of physicians and parents of children with mental health disorders consider medication very, very carefully before introducing it to their child.

Many questions abound:

  • Do the pros out way the cons?
  • Will medication make the child’s life easier and better?
  • Does the child (if she’s old enough to understand) want to take the medication to increase quality of life?
  • Is this a “forever thing” or can he eventually be weaned off?
  • Will “talk therapy” combined with medication improve the situation even more than taking meds alone?

What are your thoughts on children and mental health medication? Do you have any experience with improvement or devastating effects? Did therapy help more than meds for your child? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

A Trip Down Bipolar Road…

Barry Shainbaum

Barry Shainbaum

I was recently introduced to Barry Shainbaum through a colleague. Creative leader, entrepreneur, broadcaster, mentor, counselor and “bipolar survivor”, Barry shares his history of mental illness and advice with us.

Q:  What advice do you have for children currently living with mental illness?    

A: You are possibly at the very beginning of a long journey — “a journey into yourself.”  The road to living with and possibly even overcoming mental illness can be multifaceted and one encompassing medication, psychotherapy and spiritual exploration.

Q: How has your struggle shaped who you are today?

A: My struggle of overcoming bipolar disorder was a tortuous winding road encompassing twenty years.   From an illness that came close to taking my life, today life is rich and full, both personally and professionally, with many creative ventures.  I have evolved to become a person who finds joy in each and every day, and in the smallest things in life.  I have also become aware of the power of persistence, hope, meditation, visualization, nature, love and synchronicity.

Q: Do you think mental illness (in adults and children) invokes creativity? Do you think people who haven’t “suffered” or felt pain can be truly creative?

A: The creative urge is often greater in those facing mental health problems, as there is a need to express the pain, confusion, and to search for meaning and joy amidst darkness.  Why has it been said countless times that there is a fine line between genius and insanity?   Perhaps, those with the most pain have to work so much harder on their lives, and often that means transcending boundaries.  I have also read that [people feel] joy to the same extent that they have suffered. I agree with that statement.

Q: Do you think society will ever be free of stigma or will people living with mental health always be stigmatized?

A: Stigma against those with mental illness is slowly being eroded.   The more that mental illness and mental health issues are discussed and the more that well-known figures come forward and talk about their challenges, the more stigma will be reduced. I see a future where, those diagnosed with mental illness are told, “In time your diagnosis will unlock the door to a life grander than it had been, had you never [been] ill.”

Q: What tools, tips, or resources helped you most as a youth struggling with bipolar disorder?

A: When I “fell ill” in 1970, there were not the resources that there are today.   As a volunteer, I currently run a men’s group at the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario and at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. I recommend that a person receiving a diagnosis of mental illness  begin [their journey] in the library. Read about the numerous aspects of mental illness: psychiatric, psychological, genetic, relationship, environmental and spiritual.   It can be overwhelming so read a little bit at a time. And remember: Life is full of problems. And by facing our problems, we evolve and grow.


Barry Shainbaum overcame bipolar disorder 24 years ago.   He works in 5 disciplines:  professional speaker, photographer, radio broadcaster, singer/musician in senior homes and as a mental health consultant.  He is also a juggler!  Barry is the author of two books:  Hope and Heroes, and Dancing in the Rain.  His website is: barryshainbaum.com

For Extreme Parenting Read The Glass Castle

This post contains affiliate links meaning that if you purchase this book through my link below, I may receive a commission.

Have you read The Glass Castle? Written by Jeannette Walls, now a successful American writer and reporter, this memoir takes the reader on an unbelievable journey through a traumatic, wild, raw childhood in the American south.

Next time you feel guilty about not being able to give your child the latest gadget, activity or toy, read The Glass Castle – it will instantly make you feel like you’re the best parent in the world.

Even now on my second read, I gasp at the outrageous acts of neglect foisted on Jeannette and her three siblings by parents, Rex and Rose Mary. These children often went for days without food, heat, electricity, proper clothing or even needed medical attention.

Here are a just a few examples from the book:

  • In the book’s opening chapter, Jeannette, at three years old, is cooking hotdogs on the stove top. Her pink dress catches on fire and she suffers severe burns. Rushed to the hospital, she entertains herself by picking at dead skin, happy to stay in the hospital where she receives fresh food, enjoys a cozy, clean bed and has a TV all to herself. She’s not eager to leave.
  • At one point the family moves to Welsh, West Virginia. First staying with Rex’s mother and father, a dour, unkind couple, the family later moves to a heatless, rusted old shack where they sleep in boxes, rarely have enough to eat and are traumatized by river rats who sneak into their home.
  • Jeannette suffers a nasty gash in her leg from a rusty nail. Her mother takes a quick look and declares it nothing but a flesh wound.
  • We find out later that Rose Mary inherited Texas land from her mother worth well over a million dollars. She could have sold the land to pay for the family’s food, medical expenses, and education. She never does.

Sure, the family enjoys extreme adventures – moving constantly from city to city, state to state, and all four children learn more about physics, astronomy, art, history, geography and hard knocks from their parents and their own ingenuity than the average child.

However, it’s only through sheer luck – or a kind angel looking down on the family – that anyone in the Walls’ family survives.

Gluten-us Maximus: Does Gluten Affect Mental Health?

Swaying in the wheat

Swaying in the wheat

If you have a child with mental health issues no doubt you’ve heard that removing gluten from his/her diet may help improve symptoms.

Running the gamut from physical, emotional and mental health, there is evidence that a gluten-free and often times casein-free (milk protein) diet results in  significant and positive differences in both children and adults. The book Wheat Belly is a hugely popular resource on this subject.

Just type “gluten-free” into Google and you’ll get millions of hits. Last year, ABC News posted an article on giving up gluten. The doctor interviewed suggested that many people embrace it as a fad diet and only those who have a sensitivity to the protein should remove it from meals.

Me? I’m carefully considering it. Besides having family members who live with celiac disease, almost daily I hear about another friend, neighbour or relative who is ditching gluten.

Here’s an example: Over the holidays we had a group play date – four kids and two parents. While the kids were playing, the boys’ mother went into great detail outlining the increasingly positive effects she’s discovered by removing gluten from her family’s diet. From a decrease in tantrums (the smallest child) to a radical decrease in weight (the mom), they are absolutely embracing the gluten-free life.

Would you try removing gluten from your child’s diet if you thought it might help? 

SNAP to it!

Stop Now and Plan program logoWhat if, when confronted with a stressful or contentious situation, instead of instinctively fighting or fleeing, we made the decision  to SNAP – stop now and plan?

Sounds simple doesn’t it? Alas, if it were, there were be a lot less brutality and trauma in this world. SNAP was developed in the 1970s at the former Earlscourt Child and Family Centre, Toronto, Canada (now called the Child Development Institute). The program teaches children to come up with positive and proactive strategies and is aimed primarily at kids under the age of 12 who experience behaviour issues.

A more formal definition from the SNAP web site: It is a cognitive-behavioural strategy that helps children and parents regulate angry feelings by getting them to stop, think, and plan positive alternatives before they act impulsively.

More key info:

  • SNAP is available across Canada and is utilized by social workers, psychologists, parents and teachers in Australia, the U.S., Sweden and the Netherlands.
  • Its emotional regulation techniques are universal but social workers do tweak the program to accommodate clients in different regions/cultures.
  • Dr. Leena Augimeri, SNAP’s co-creator, explains that behaviour can’t be changed overnight but the techniques help clients to “slowly undo and unwind”.
  • The program is free of charge for clients who meet the SNAP criteria!

“Families are the key to success,” explains  Dr. Augimeri. However, she understands that sometimes “families are depleted and have nothing else to give...” Based on this, SNAP staff work with what/who they have in the program.

I was wowed by the awards and honours bestowed upon SNAP and its creators.

  • Just recently, Prime Minister Stephen Harper presented SNAP with the inaugural Prime Minister’s Volunteer Award. SNAP won in the category of Social Innovator in Ontario.
  • Last month, Dr. Augimeri was the recipient of the 2012 Elizabeth Manson Award for Community Service in Children’s Mental Health from the Department of Psychiatry at The Hospital for Sick Children.

If you know a child who fits the criteria outlined in the SNAP model, I urge you to read up on this fantastic program. If it’s not available in your area, try asking your local social services agency to adopt it or contact the CDI or Children’s Mental Health Ontario for more information.