Category Archives: Study

The Resilience Fallacy

“Don’t worry, she’ll bounce back. Children are resilient!”

boy child clouds kid

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Over the years, through divorce, moving, kids’ changing schools, new relationships, issues with friends, various diagnoses, etc., that adage and similar advice has been doled out to me like so much candy on Hallowe’en.

Although assuming that children will bounce back after trauma or even minor incidents may sound innocent enough and even reassuring, it can be a dangerous assumption.

What is Resilience?

Psychological resilience is the ability to cope with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis status quickly. Resilience exists when the person uses “mental processes and behaviors in promoting personal assets and protecting self from the potential negative effects of stressors”. Wikipedia

Building resiliency in children is vitally important and it’s a skill that can make a critical and positive difference in your child’s life.

Here are some methods that can help:

Let them solve their own problems:

While we might want to jump in and “save” our children from falls (literal or metaphorical), it’s vitally important that kids learn how to defend themselves, stand up for themselves and others, and find ways of coping in difficult situations.

Of course, this isn’t a way to opt out of helping your children or forcing them to make bad decisions because they don’t understand the options but rather it’s a way for them to test their own skills in order to help build up their self-esteem and self-confidence.

Be a living example:

Through your words and actions, show children how you deal with problems in your workplace, with your own friends, in your neighbourhood, etc. – and also how you dealt with different situations as a child.

I find watching movies or reading books about how children deal with minute or massive problems teaches them context. For instance, my partner and I watched the movie “Lion” a few days ago and I can’t wait to watch it again with my children for both its cinematic brilliance and the incredible story-line and ending. (I won’t add too much here in case you haven’t seen it. Please do!)  My daughter is also into learning about Anne Frank – and of course there is plenty of context provided with her amazing and courageous story.

Be there for them

This may sound contradictory to the above advice but it’s not. To me (and I am certainly not perfect at this and fail regularly) it’s about trying to be there for my kids when they really need me and not hanging them out to dry. So, let’s say, your child had a bad day or was bullied at school or saw something that made them uncomfortable. Ask them about it, try to help them solve the problem, be sympathetic and perhaps brainstorm possible solutions.

Something that seems to work for me is asking my kids, “Do you want me to talk to the teacher about that?” if it’s a problem related to school. They almost always say no. Even though they often don’t want me to step in, I feel like asking my children if they’d like me to intervene puts the power back in their hands. Note: Occasionally, I do talk to teachers or principals if I feel it’s important to step in!

Get out there

Whether it’s volunteering, building leadership skills or travelling, getting outside of one’s comfort zone can build resiliency by providing new experiences and challenges.

Travelling has been one of the single most defining aspects of my life. Not only has travelling to other regions and countries allowed me to experience new worlds, but the lead-up of researching trips, booking hotel or hostel reservations and flights (even as a teenager) and asking strangers for assistance has helped to develop my self-esteem and resilience. Meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds also provides context and perspective to consider when faced with a difficult situations.

ball shaped blur close up focus

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If you are able to volunteer and/or travel with your family, you might ask your children to help research the non-profit organization or new region, point out aspects affected by war or strife, talk to locals, learn a new language or a new skill. In any case, if you are travelling by plane, train or automobile, everyone will have to learn to be patient, creative and innovative together when faced with inevitable travel delays!

What tools have you used to help your children build resilience? What happened in your own childhood that helped you face adversity? I’d love to hear from you.

Update from May

I’d also like to provide a quick update on “No Money May” since it’s now June. I’ve recently had surgery so was forced into a no spending mode for the last part of the month. Overall, I’ll give myself a “7” on a scale of 1 to 10 for not spending frivolously. I heard from other people who were going to try No Money May too. If you did it, how did it work out for you?

Feel free to comment at bottom or write to me privately.

 

Onward and upwards,

Lisa

 

Canadian Mental Health Week: May 6-12

This week is Mental Health Week and Children’s Mental Health Week in Canada.

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It’s a good time to consider all of the facets of mental health. Happily, I feel that families, communities, schools, organizations and governments are getting better at recognizing signs, symptoms and remedies.

Even though some stigma remains, more people understand that mental health challenges are common. In fact, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health:

  • 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally face a mental health problem or illness
  • 8% of Canadians will experience major depression in their lives
  • Mental health affects people of all ages, education levels, incomes and cultures

Regarding kids, many wonder why suicide rates for children, teens and young adults seem to be increasing* and why more children (even those as young as 8) seem to be experiencing more stress than in generations past. What might the reasons be?

bed blanket female girl

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From reading, research and speaking with other parents and experts, here are three top-line theories:

The Sleep Factor

  • Children, teens and adults are getting far less sleep than in prior generations. Whether it’s due to the blue light from our devices, the lure of 24/7 streaming content, being overwhelmed with homework or answering emails, or parents not enforcing strict bedtimes for younger children, we all could use more shut-eye.
  • Sleep allows us to heal our bodies and minds and to recharge for the day to come. It also helps regulate breathing and blood pressure. Without consistent, regular sleep and sleep patterns we put extra stress on our mental health and well-being.

The Failure Factor

  • Over the past year, I’ve read more and more about how parents’ inability to let our children fail and experience disappointment is hindering their ability to be successful later in life.
  • While we may think we’re doing our kids a favor by protecting them from, say, losing a race or failing a test or not making the cheerleading team, it’s important that children understand how to fail. When a child gets a D on their math quiz or is not invited to the dance, she might learn how to do things differently next time and, at the same time, build resilience which can help her deal with future disappointment.

The Comparison Factor

  • Personally I think adults are just as at-risk of this as children or teens. In our social and social media-infused world, we can’t help but compare ourselves to our next door neighbour who just returned from a spontaneous trip to Italy or to our colleague who is taking a year off to write a novel.
  • I’m not at all against social media (in fact, I’m a huge fan) but it can be extremely detrimental when we (or our children) are feeling vulnerable. It’s difficult to remember that people are more than their social media profiles and that most only post the best of their lives – not the tedious chores or the endless amounts of homework or the fight they just had with their sibling.
  • Comparing ourselves to our friends, classmates, or colleagues can bring on feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, depression and doubt. For parents, talking to our kids about social media and its implications and limiting the use of personal devices and video gaming can be beneficial.

Do any of these theories about modern-day mental health resonate with you? Are you aware of your kids’ mental health on a regular basis? Do you speak with them about stress or social media or suicide? I’d love to learn about your own theories and advice.

Feel free to comment on this post or write to me.

Lisa

*Note: The web site linked to teen suicide includes some disturbing content

Help me! Resources for parents & kids

Happy Monday!

sakura tree

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Here in south-eastern Ontario, spring is trying desperately to make its presence known. One day it’s warm & sunny with birds chirping and little green buds pushing out of the earth, and then the next day it’s super cold and brisk.  In the very near future, we are hoping to enjoy more birds chirping and less ice scraping.

Navigating the Kids’ Mental Health System:

But I digress! As I mentioned in this post, one of the reasons I decided to reinvigorate my blog after several years’ hiatus is because a few months ago, out-of-the-blue, a woman wrote to me seeking assistance. She and her husband were desperately searching for resources in Ontario for their child who has learning disabilities and some neurological/mental health challenges. I was able to provide specific resources in the Greater Toronto Area and for that she was grateful.

For this week’s post, I’ve gone through my blog (all four or so years of posts) to capture some of the books, experts and resources I’ve collected for readers regarding kids and mental health. Note that some of these resources are specific to Toronto/Ontario/Canada but most are universal.

Helpful Posts:

  1. The Waiting Game – Anyone with a child or loved one experiencing mental health challenges will know the frustration and heartache of waiting for services. People in countries outside of Canada may think that just because we enjoy universal healthcare, we don’t have to wait for services or that every medication, procedure and assessment is free of charge. Those of us living here understand that this is certainly not the case! However, this post outlines some of the steps you might want to take while sitting on a waitlist (or ten).
  2. Results of CADDAC survey on kids with ADHD – One of the first resources I discovered when my child was diagnosed with ADHD is the Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada or CADDAC. In this early post, the results of a survey of parents of children with ADHD are shared. This advocacy group helps parents, children, teens, physicians and others better understand Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder.
  3. A Trip Down Bipolar Road – “My struggle of overcoming bipolar disorder was a tortuous winding road encompassing twenty years,” says Barry Shainbaum, radio host and speaker. I love this Q&A I did with Barry many years ago. However, I notice that his web site is no longer up and running. Still, I think you’ll find his intelligent and deeply personal responses about living & thriving with bipolar disorder to be useful.
beautiful bloom blooming blossom

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4. The Long-Term Implications of Spanking – This is a fairly recent post that deals not so much with spanking (as most people know that it’s unhealthy for both parent and child) but the frustration that parents or caregivers can feel when a child is acting out or not listening. Sometimes it’s difficult for adults to control their temper and/or we don’t have the tools to try something else besides yelling or violence.

5. Self-Regulation is One of the Keys to Good Mental Health – Finally, here is a link to an article I wrote for Parents Canada magazine. While I was a freelance writer, I focused mostly on researching and writing about child development and parenting. “Self-regulation” is a term that many people may not be familiar with but it’s very, very important to long-term success.

I’d love to hear your suggestions for studies, experts, books, web sites, conferences, etc. that have been helpful to you or others. Write to me at: lisa.tabachnick (at) gmail.com or comment in the comments section below.

Lisa

Now We’re Cooking with Gas

Do you know the term “gas-lighting”? I’ll admit I didn’t fully understand it until last year. I had heard the term referenced in books, conversation and movies and had a vague understanding but didn’t dig deeper until recently.

gray coat and blue jeans

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According to Wikipedia: “Gas-lighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief.”

Basically, gas-lighting is manipulating someone into thinking that they’re imagining something. We tend to think of it happening in an adult context such as manipulation between partners: “I am not having an affair, you must be dreaming.” Or, “It didn’t happen that way, you’re crazy.”

That’s bad enough but gas-lighting can happen with siblings and between parents and their children, too. A parent might downgrade a child’s feelings or reality in a variety of ways:

  • “Don’t be silly, you’re not afraid of the dark.”
  • “Your Uncle Billy is a lovely man; don’t be afraid of going to his house for dinner.”
  • “We didn’t eat your Hallowe’en candy; you must have counted wrong.”
  • “Oh, stop crying, Jenny. It’s not that important.”

While an occasional manipulation of the truth may not harm a child’s psyche, long-term gas-lighting of his thoughts, feelings, opinions or reality is most-definitely harmful and can wreak havoc on a child’s self-confidence.

Has this ever happened to you? Do you ever “gas-light” your child or partner without realizing it? I know I’m going to be more aware of this phenomenon moving forward.

Lisa

The Long-Term Implications of Spanking

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For decades, spanking (also known as physical discipline or corporal punishment) has been used and thought of as an effective way to discipline children.

Parents, teachers, ministers, coaches, babysitters, and others have used force to keep kids in line, as punishment for misdeeds or to “teach them a lesson.” Sometimes, young children – even babies and toddlers – are spanked, hit and slapped.

Why resort to violence?

Generally, common sense or one’s own inner voice tells us that any type of physical force or violence is not appropriate or helpful in child-rearing. Yet, anyone who’s a parent (or teacher or babysitter or grandparent) knows that it is very easy to lose one’s patience and lash out at a child who is acting out, causing frustration in the home or classroom, not listening or talking back.

Last week, I received a press release stating that the American Psychological Association has adopted a resolution on physical discipline of children by parents. The findings won’t surprise you: Overall, the APA has amalgamated several studies showing that, over the long-term, spanking and other forms of physical discipline can:

  • cause harm to children’s mental health
  • negatively affect their cognitive, behavioral, social and emotional well-being
  • cause children to mimic their parents’ behavior and repeat the same patterns later in life

Most parents would never want to physically or emotionally harm their child and only use force out of aggravation or frustration. But, understanding the toll that physical violence takes on children is paramount to successful parenting.

Where to get help and guidance:

As we all know too well, parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world. We need all the help we can get whether that’s from fellow parents, teachers, friends, neighbours, community resources, books, pastors or others. 

Personally, I think parents could use further free resources on parenting at different stages i.e. baby, toddler, elementary, teen, young adult, etc. There is so much to learn and grasp and so many questions popping up. Yes, there are various parenting programs available (especially in major centres) but perhaps a government run system of parenting workshops over time would be helpful both in the short and long-term.

Please see the short list at bottom of immediate helpful resources. A more fulsome list is coming soon.

Before I go… Let’s not forget the upside of mental health:

“Mental health” doesn’t have to be a downer or a negative thing. There are so many intriguing, fascinating, useful phenomena around mental health, illness and wellness.

For instance, one of my kids is in a new, progressive high school. Many of the teachers there use what is known as a “growth mindset.” I’ve heard about this philosophy recently in regards to adults and learning development. So, for a positive bent, I plan on writing in an upcoming post about understanding and taking on a “growth mindset.”

As always, feel free to like, follow, comment or contact me, any time.

Lisa

Helpful links & resources:

When Children Are Hoarders

This post contains affiliate links which means if you buy the item mentioned here I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

With TV shows like Hoarders still popular and everyone and their dog posting about how they KonMari’d” their kitchen, bathroom or office space, it’s no wonder that clutter (or lack thereof) is a constant source of conversation and consternation.

In the past, I’ve blogged about children & hoarding. One post is by guest blogger and professional organizer, Janine Adams and another is a round-up on the topic. I’ve also written articles about clutter and the art of cleaning up for Esperanza magazine.

For those who aren’t familiar with this phenomenon: According to a University of Florida study by Eric A. Storch et al, “Compulsive hoarding is characterized by the accumulation of useless items, associated clutter, and difficulty discarding hoarded items, which together cause interference in functioning (Frost & Hartl, 1996).”

That’s no surprise. But, according to this study, there might be differences between adults and kids who hoard, namely: clutter may be limited to a smaller area (e.g., the child’s bedroom) and the nature of the hoarded items is more constrained because of limited resources of children.

Interestingly childhood hoarding may also be associated with the following conditions:

  • Prader-Willi Syndrome
  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Do you or your child deal with clutter in bedrooms, cars or homes or, conversely, do you feel you need things to be constantly clean and tidy?

If you do have hoarding tendencies, don’t despair – there are treatments for both adults and children, including resources like the Centre for Mental Health & Addiction (Canada). If you wish, feel free to comment here or contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

Lisa

 

Sensitive much?

 

alone black and white boy child

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“Calm down, you’re just being sensitive…” “Oh, don’t pay attention to him, he gets so over-sensitive about everything.”

Sound familiar? Are you or your child often labelled as “sensitive” or “hyper-sensitive”?

Hypersensitivity is common in some types of people such as those with ADHD as well as people who are very creative. I’m sure you’ve heard artists, singers, dancers, painters, and actors who are known for their intense reactions to situations big and small.

I find the link between sensitivity and creativity fascinating. I recently discovered “The Highly Sensitive Person” or HSP which I believe is a term coined by Dr. Elaine Aron. I love her site and blog as well.

While there are many good and exciting things about being a sensitive person (better overall emotional intelligence and the ability to “get” others quickly), it can be annoying to oneself and to others. However, I’ve learned that it’s important to be true to one’s self no matter what – even if others would prefer you to act or think differently.

Do you know anyone who’s “hyper-sensitive” or “overly emotional”? Is that you or your child or spouse? Feel free to comment here or reach out to me via email.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doctor, Doctor

physician-symbol-hiThis is my final post for the 2015 Blogathon which was hosted by a professional freelance writing group to which I belong.

Thank you to those of you who hung on, read, liked and provided comments during the month. It was an excellent challenge but, truth be told, I’ll be happy to blog less frequently for the next little while.

Today my children and I had a doctor’s appointment. But, before I get to the crux of this post, let me back up for a moment… If you’re American (or, rather, if you’re not Canadian and not familiar with our medical system), you may think that finding a family doctor, booking an appointment, and seeking out appropriate medical treatment is easy-peasy. 

True, most medical appointments, treatments and interventions are “free” (paid for by tax dollars) but finding a family doctor in your area who is taking on new patients is no easy feat. And, booking an appointment with a doctor or specialist can take weeks or months. They’re that booked up!

My doctor works downtown and we are far uptown. Driving downtown, even for a short appointment, is a journey in itself.  Luckily, our doctor is an awesome woman whom we’ve seen for many, many years.  Today, it struck me how complicated medical intervention is for mental health issues.

What's around the corner?

What’s around the corner?

For example, let’s say your child has a broken arm: You drive to emergency, check in, have the arm x-rayed, diagnosed, casted and go to follow up appointments.

Or, let’s say your child has asthma. You have her tested, receive feedback, perhaps get a “puffer” or other medicine and learn to adapt. I realize it’s not always this easy but in many cases an injury or illness can be addressed directly.

Mental health conditions (for kids and adults) are generally never straightforward. Usually, other conditions have to be ruled out because there’s often no 100% accurate diagnosis. Then, even if a disorder is identified, say it’s ADHD or autism or schizophrenia or OCD, the treatment, counselling, meds, follow ups, etc. etc. are often tweaked and changed – possibly over the course of a lifetime.

“Wait and see” can be frustrating and tiresome for everyone involved. Sometimes a clean diagnosis (even for something scary) is less ominous than a “Well, we could try this but…” explanation with no real end in sight. Those of you who live with mental health challenges or parent someone who does will know exactly what I mean!

The Waiting Game

waitlistI’m sad to say I missed a day of blogging yesterday. Dock me ten points during the blogathon. ):

Ironically, I missed posting because I was attending a parent advisory board meeting for a mental health organization and passed out cold when I got home around 9 pm. This was the first meeting of a newly configured board of (mostly) women whose families are affected by mental health challenges.

One issue that always comes up when talking about mental health intervention is waiting lists. The waiting list is the torturous reality that most, if not all, parents and children face after contacting a government-run mental health care agency.

Rarely will a child be seen right away. If there’s a real crisis (and we joked last night about the clinician’s version of crisis versus the family’s version), families can head to their nearest ER and be seen within a few hours.

However, most families require short or long-term counselling and programs for their child in addition any crisis intervention.Because waiting lists are so long (many people wait 1o months or more before their first appointment), frustration, sadness and stress ensues.

What can be done? I’ll be posting more about Ontario’s changing mental health strategy (of which I have some insight) in the coming months. The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) also has a decent list of ideas for children and families currently on waiting lists, including:

  • Checking in frequently with your family doctor
  • Putting your child or youth onto other lists for services in your community/city
  • Taking advantage of any employee insurance or private services (which can often happen within days) available
  • Spending good quality time with your child
  • Getting enough rest and having fun with the whole family in order to reduce stress

We have a long, long way to go before lists can be cut down to more reasonable wait times. Parents and kids with mental health challenges have enough on their plates and sitting on a waiting list for months at a time does nothing to counteract that frustration.