Category Archives: Family

Cheap & Cheerful Ways to Enjoy the Last Days of Summer

Before digging into this post, I want to welcome my new subscribers. Despite not having posted much this summer, Kids & Mental Health has attracted quite a few new followers over the past few weeks. Welcome! Please feel free to contact me or comment with feedback or suggestions.

Here in Ontario, Canada, we’re enjoying the waning days of summer. If it’s summer-time where you are, how is the season treating you and your family? Has it been easy-breezy or is the absence of routine causing strife and chaos in the family home?

person s hand on black board with hello text beside brown mug

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This hasn’t been a typical summer for me. There was a long recovery process from surgery, a lot of work, work, work to follow and then a wee bit of play in between – some of it with my kids and friends, some by myself and some with my partner when he’s around.

Now that it’s mid-August, I’m looking at the calendar wondering how I might wedge in some more summer-time fun with my children before they head back to school. The humidity has finally dissipated (thank you, Lord!), the days are shorter and there’s a chill in the air at night…I’d better grab a last slice of summer while I can.

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Here are a few “cheap and cheerful” ways to spend these waning days with your flock:

  • Head to the beach with a book, umbrella and some sandwiches
  • Have a picnic in your backyard
  • If it’s raining, have a picnic in your basement or porch
  • Visit your local library and start a family book club
  • Play old-school board games
  • Use your voice-enhanced device like Alexa to play new-school games (there are a lot of fun options such as Song Quiz and Escape the Room!)
  • Check out previously-unexplored neighbourhoods in your region (we have a Little Italy, a Little India, a Jewish area, a “J-Town”, a China Town)
  • Watch your local soccer or baseball team play a game
  • Find a new splash pad, playground or community pool to try
  • Learn to play tennis at the local court
  • Set up a scavenger hunt in the park
  • Visit local food/cookie factories that allow the public in
  • Challenge yourselves to visit as many local hiking trails as possible before September

I’d love to know if you try out any of these ideas; leave a comment below and let me know how your summer’s been treating you and your family and what you’re planning until the school bell rings once again.

Lisa

The Resilience Fallacy

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

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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.

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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

 

Summer Daze

As a warm breeze blows through the window and birds chatter happily in the backyard ravine, I am wondering where the school year has gone.  Wasn’t it just the first day of school for my newly minted ‘tween and teen? Weren’t we just making plans for Christmas and then March break?

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In our region, there is approximately one more month left of school. I can tell that my children are looking forward to having a break from the seemingly-endless days of early wake-ups and constant assignments as well as the periphery of peer drama; (one or two) ineffective teachers and constantly being told what to do, when and where.

Breaking Bad

Summer can (and should) offer a break for kids but what about parents? In days gone by it was the norm for mothers to stay home and enjoy summers off with their kids. I always imagine picnics in the park, swimming at the local pool, soccer with the neighbours and play dates galore. These days, though I know some people who are teachers or stay-at-home parents, I don’t know many who have the luxury of taking entire summers off.

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Is it so bad to take two months off to rest and relax? Of course not – in theory. As most people know, constant deadlines and over-scheduling puts undue pressure on children and teens (and adults).

But what’s the grey area between idleness and helicoptering? As much as we want our kids to have a break on weekends, holidays and in the summer-time, sometimes this just isn’t possible or can lead to chaos in the household. I like this post I wrote about this same topic back in 2015: Idle Hands? I also enjoyed this funny and honest New York Times portrayal of after-school scheduling in the age of working parents.

The point is that too much “on time” can cause depression and anxiety in children. All human beings need to have quiet time with no deadlines, no rushing from Point A to Point B, no “end game” in mind. I think we’ve lost sight of the fact that idle time isn’t always a bad thing: It can actually lead to improved mental health, better sleep, more happiness and even creative insights on how to solve a problem or write a song. Our brains need time to breathe.

Despite not having scheduled one single activity at this point, I am still confident this summer will be one for the memory books. If you’re a parent, what plans do you have for your children this summer? Are they going to camp? Hanging with grandparents? Going to summer school? Traveling? Volunteering? I’d love to hear your thoughts on scheduling and plans for the season.

Please note: I will be taking a short medical leave of absence soon so please excuse any related absence from this blog. Thank you for your understanding.

Eating Brownies for Breakfast

Happy Mother’s Day! For those of us in North America, we celebrate on the second Sunday in May. In the UK and elsewhere, I believe it’s celebrated on a different date.

photo of boy hugging his mom

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Did any of you get breakfast in bed on a tray with a mason jar filled with daisies…? Me neither! I’m not bitter though, honestly. I’m over the traditional, commercial idea of Mother’s Day and hoping for a peaceful, quiet day with my kids which should include no arguments, complaints or nagging (from me or my children).

Special dates like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day can be fraught with expectations and disappointment. As my children and I get older though, I realize more and more it’s not about the gifts and expensive dinners but rather, as cliche as it sounds, the time we spend together and the way we treat each other on this day and throughout the year.

Regardless, I won’t be preparing a lavish brunch or taking anyone out to celebrate this year. Due to my self-imposed No Money May, the fact that my partner is working, my tween daughter is at a sleepover and my teen son is still sleeping (and probably will be until noon or later), it will be a simple Mother’s Day. I’m hoping for a hike in the woods and of course will contact my own wonderful mom who lives in another city.

brownies

As a strange start to the day, I’m up at the crack of dawn (not a good start but apparently sleeping isn’t my jam), cleaning the kitchen and making marshmallow chocolate brownies. I will most likely eat said brownies for breakfast – and I’m okay with that! They don’t look that pretty (see photo above) but smell great. Yesterday, I made a chocolate peanut butter version for my daughter to take to her sleepover.

What are you doing to celebrate? Do you have a special tradition? Do you expect your partner or children to pamper you on Mother’s Day? Are you on the hook to host your own family?

However you celebrate YOUR day, whether reading a favourite book, snuggling with your babies, taking a walk, going to the spa, fêteing your own mom or simply being you, enjoy and cheers to all of the hardworking, dedicated, savvy moms out there.

Yours in good maternal mental health,

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?

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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

I’m not an “ADHD Mom.” Are you?

woman kissing cheek of girl wearing red and black polka dot top

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I hesitated in writing this post for two reasons. One: I don’t want to be a Judgy McJudgerson (we all have enough guilt when it comes to parenting) and two: I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. However, I thought about it for a few days and decided to go ahead.

Have you read or heard people say, “I’m an ADHD mom?” Or, “I’m an autism mom?” This makes me cringe. I feel we do a disservice to our children when we label their projected imperfections in our parenting style. Would you say, “I’m a cancer mom” or “I’m an epilepsy dad” when introducing yourself online or in person? Probably not.

Now, I can guess where the label comes from… social media allows us to form groups and communities which are mostly wonderful and helpful and inspirational. To gather our “tribes” sometimes we need to attach labels or attributes to ourselves so that we can draw on people going through similar challenges. For instance, there are groups about running marathons, trekking mountains, for movie buffs and abuse survivors… really, any challenge or accomplishment good, bad or neutral.

Im not an adhd mom are you

However, by introducing ourselves or labeling ourselves online as our child’s diagnosis or disability or syndrome, we run the risk of drawing attention to something that our child may not want people to know – especially as they grow up.

Now, if you yourself are challenged with autism or epilepsy or cancer and you want to shine a light on this issue, I say go for it. But, if it’s your kid who’s dealing with something, perhaps ask them if they’re old enough or consider a different label.

What do you think? Do you agree with me? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Lisa

Kids & Exercise

man wearing blue crew neck t shirt holding girl near mountains

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Hello! I am happy to include a guest post from the tenacious and talented Sarah Maurer of Miss Adventure Pants. I recently wrote a guest post for her site about hiking with kids and am thrilled to include her expert tips here.

Yesterday, I wrote a similar post about how I may not be the perfect parent but I am really good at getting my tween and teen outside and active as I believe it is so important for everyone’s mental health. Unfortunately that post was lost in the great unknown (most likely because I forgot to save it as a draft!) so Sarah’s helpful list has saved me and will hopefully inspire you & your family as well.

Seven Surprising Facts About Kids and Exercise

If you have a hard time getting your kids to put down their phones and play outside, you’re far from alone. Raising active kids in the information age is a challenge for almost all parents.

Research by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that kids spend an average of 7 hours a day interacting with devices and screens. That’s about the same amount of time you spend at work — and they also do it on weekends.

However, even when it feels like pulling teeth, motivating your kids to exercise is almost always worth the trouble. If you need extra motivation to persevere, consider what the research says about kids and exercise:

1. Being active at a young age helps to prevent chronic disease in adulthood.

People who were active as children have a lower lifetime risk of many chronic illnesses, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and coronary artery disease.

2. For kids, the health benefits of exercise are mental as well as physical.

Active children ages 6–17 are less likely to develop depression than their sedentary peers. A two-year study involving 4,600 middle school kids found that the exercisers among them scored lower on measures of depression like anxiety and fatigue. While the study didn’t look specifically at the effects of exercise on childhood depression, the authors posited that young exercisers probably experience the same mood-lifting benefits as adults.

3. Exercise helps kids learn.

Schools, think twice before you cut your physical education programs any further. Active kids ages 6–13 score higher on measures of cognitive function, thinking, and memory skills than their less active classmates.

4. Kids need a surprising amount of exercise.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services currently recommends that children and teens engage in 60 minutes of physical activity a day, including vigorous activity on at least 3 days a week. That may seem like a lot when you think in terms of aerobics or spin classes. But keep in mind that for kids, this can include active recreation like walking, skateboarding, biking, and ball games.

5. Kid athletes are surprisingly mighty

Until fairly recently, experts warned parents about the dangers of too much exercise during childhood. They posited that activities like weight lifting and long-distance running might harm growing bodies. However, research hasn’t borne these concerns out. Weight training in particular has been shown to be safe and effective for school age children, so long as they avoid maximal effort and explosive movements (no power cleans!).

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6. Active kids tend to become active adults.

Experts lament the fact that so many sedentary children are growing into sedentary adults who are at increased risk for chronic illness. However, the opposite is also true. Kids who enjoy exercise and physical activity will tend to maintain these interests as adults, reaping many health benefits along the way.

7. The best way to raise active kids is to be active yourself.

What’s the number one predictor of physical activity in kids and teens? It’s having an active role model in their lives, whether it’s a parent, a sibling, or anyone else they look up to. That’s a great reason to be active as a family — even when the kids would sometimes rather be playing video games.

For some excellent tips on hiking with kids, check out this blog post by Lisa. I’ve also written a 4-week walking workout plan that you can enjoy with children and teens.

Hopefully, these tips will motivate you to get active with your kids, whether you’re walking the dog together, doing exercise videos, lifting weights, or just monkeying around at the playground. And if you hit some resistance from the kids, rest assured that the lifelong health benefits will be worth it.

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Sarah Maurer is a fitness coach and hiking enthusiast who blogs at missadventurepants.com. She previously worked as a school counselor to elementary and middle school students.

Binaural beats for sleep

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Have you heard of binaural beats? In my quest for slumber, I recently discovered this niche audio element. As I’ve indicated in prior posts such as this guy or this one, sleep is not my friend. Well, to be clear, sleep *is* my friend but she can be an elusive and cruel friend at times.

Here’s a basic definition from Wikipedia:  “A binaural beat is an auditory illusion perceived when two different pure-tone sine waves, both with frequencies lower than 1500 Hz, with less than a 40 Hz difference between them, are presented to a listener dichotically (one through each ear).”

I have many tips & tricks up my sleeve when it comes to getting shut-eye. This bag o’ tricks includes *hand in front of mouth* sleeping pills which I have come to accept as a necessary part of my life and no longer feel guilty when I need to take one.

Some of my non-medicinal sleep-well tips:

  •  No screens of any kind prior to bedtime (I am only somewhat successful at this)
  •  At least 30 minutes of (ideally outdoor and vigorous) exercise during the day (generally very successful)
  •  Magnesium as a tablet or a drink with magnesium such as Calm (the jury’s out on this)
  •  A white noise machine (I’ve used a white noise machine every single night for years with good success for both slumber and drowning out background noise)
  • Spritzing or steaming essential oils such as lavender (smells lovely in any case)
  •  And, more recently, listening to YouTube videos with binaural beats included (definitely helpful for both sleeping and relaxing)

Music with binaural beats has a very zen-like, relaxing element to it. I can see this type of music driving some people nuts (and is apparently dangerous for people susceptible to seizures) but, for me, as someone who tends to be on the anxious side, I find it soothing and relaxing.

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Thankfully, my children and partner do not seem to suffer from sleep issues or insomnia. Because I’ve dealing with this issue most of my adult life, I’m used to it and can usually get through the day on little sleep when necessary. But, honestly, it sucks. I would happily pay good money for regular, long-term decent slumber.

What are your tricks and tips for sleeping well? I’d love to hear ’em.

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.

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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