Category Archives: Home

School’s In: Let’s focus on those A, B, Z’s

I know many of us say this every year but… “Boy, did the summer whiz by!” Here in Ontario, most kids will start their new school year tomorrow, the day after Labour Day.

man reading a book

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The night before school starts can be like the night before Christmas (if you celebrate, which, funnily enough, I do not!): there’s excitement, nervousness, curiosity, minds racing… which inevitably leads many students to suffer from lack of sleep. And, this leads me to my topic for today: 

The incredible importance of sleep.

Sleep is critical for health, happiness and success. This is true for babies, toddlers, ‘tweens, teens and adults.

I’m by no means a perfect parent (ask my children!) but one thing I think I did well is ensuring that they adhered to nap-time as babies and toddlers and I try, try, try to make sure they get enough sleep at teens.

Have you read the book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth? Someone gave it to me when I was a new mom and it stuck with me. Dr. Weissbluth talks about sleep schedules in babies and to how to understand their natural sleep and wake cycles. It worked really well for me and my kids and I stuck to it whenever possible.

toddler lying on pink fleece pad

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Likewise, I am not one of those “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” type people and never have been. (I mean, if you’re not going to sleep properly you might be dead sooner than you think!) Beyond coping with my own general anxiety and unfortunate sleeplessness I fully realize that having well-rested children can lead to:

  • better ability to study/higher grades
  • less grumpiness and tension
  • a happier household
  • a lack of sleep-related disorders
  • improved mental health
  • a better chance at overall success

Having good sleep hygiene is just as important as regular hygiene – bathing regularly, brushing our teeth, eating healthy foods, proper grooming, going to the dentist, etc. I feel it’s my job as a parent to make sure my children are healthy in myriad ways – and that includes getting a good night’s sleep whenever possible.

Whether we use binaural beats to help ourselves or our children sleep, use weighted blankets, get enough exercise & fresh air each day, or become more aware of our own sleep and wake schedules and then honouring those cues, let’s start off this school year on the right foot and make sleep a priority in our households.

Do you relate? Is sleep a priority for you and your family? I’d love to hear from you in the comments or by contacting me directly.

Happy First Day of School!

Lisa

 

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.

ball ball shaped blur color

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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

Dear Evan Hansen: Top-Rated Musical Depicts Teen Loneliness in a New Light

Dear Evan Hansen:

Today is going to be a good day…

Dear Evan Hansen shirt

Um, no. I’m afraid it wasn’t a good day for Evan.

Have you seen this musical that won 6 Tony Awards and myriad other honours? We recently had friends in from out of town so my partner, newly teen daughter and I saw it in Toronto with our adult friend and her ‘tween daughter.

The play depicts a lonely teenage outcast named Evan who is trying desperately to overcome obstacles in his life, make friends, get through high school and bond with his working single mother. One innocent misunderstanding turns into a labyrinth of lies and deceits.  

While the performance received a standing ovation and our friends (and seemingly the rest of the 1,200 person audience) seemed to love the play, I had mixed feelings.

The Good:

  • The set is amazing. The use of long transparent screens to highlight social media feeds and videos shown throughout the play is very clever. It’s a striking and fresh production.
  • The performers themselves are engaging. We saw the “alternate” Evan but he seemed perfect for the role. It’s a small cast and most of the actors were excellent and had beautiful voices. I was fond of some of them more than others but overall very professional.
  • The topic is timely. Dear Evan Hansen depicts themes of loneliness, heartbreak, family break-up, bullying, suicide, relationships, and social media madness in a clear, non-cliche manner. I wish my older teen had seen it with us but he was out of town.
  • It was cool seeing the show band in the background and their musicality is stellar.

 

Dear Evan Hansen set

The opening set of Dear Evan Hansen

The Not-So-Good:

  • I didn’t love the actual songs. Usually when I see a musical we’re humming the songs on the way home, dying to buy (or download) the soundtrack. Certain songs are indeed thought-provoking and unique but only one or two really stuck with us. Alternatively, I saw A Star is Born a few months ago and still sing many of those songs in my head and purchased the official soundtrack which is excellent.
  • The performance itself is very long. The Royal Alexandra is a gorgeous theatre in downtown Toronto built in 1907 but the seats are quite close to one another and I started to get antsy towards the end of the first act.

Overall, I am always happy to see live theatre or concerts and am almost never disappointed to have the opportunity – even if it’s not 100% fantastic. If you are interested in seeing modern life from a lonely teen’s perspective, definitely give Dear Evan Hansen a go.

Have you seen the play? Did it resonate with you or your children/teens? What did you think of the content? Feel free to comment below.

Note: This post contains an affiliate link which means I may receive a small commission should you click on the link and purchase the product.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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?

colorful umbrellas

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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.

sea sunset ocean relaxing

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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

 

Binaural beats for sleep

adorable animal animal photography cat

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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.

balance beach boulder close up

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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

Oh Brother

boys brother children country

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My family are big readers: Fiction, non-fiction, magazines, newspapers, periodicals… the works. I’m lucky that way; I used to take it for granted that everyone’s family read a lot but I now know that’s not true of all families.

As a parent, I try to instill a love of reading to my children. I thought it would come naturally but, unfortunately, I’m not sure that’s the case. For me, there will never be enough time to read all of the novels on my book bucket list.

Reading has so many benefits. Here are just a small sample:

  •  Non-screen entertainment
  •  Increased communication and vocabulary skills
  •  Understanding new worlds, new cultures, other religions and points of view
  •  Book clubs bring readers together to share notes
  •  Reading can save you from boredom and immerse you in a new world
  •  You can take a book just about anywhere – no WiFi or data or outlets needed!
blur book stack books bookshelves

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Popular fiction usually does it for me and my mom has given me a million excellent recommendations in the past few years. (Thank you, Mom!) In fact, these have been some of my favourite selections of all time. I’ll be sharing many of them with you in the months to come. Of course, this is a blog about kids & mental health so I will pick favourite selections that fit with this theme.

One of the best books I’ve ever read is Brother by David Chariandy.

Poetic and raw, Brother details the life of a small family from Trinidad – a mother and her two sons. They move to Scarborough (a region in Toronto) to try and make a better life for themselves. The boys’ single mother works tirelessly as a cleaner and Chariandy’s description of her slogging to work on the bus in her uniform day after day is so vivid.

The two boys, brothers, are very close but have their differences. Without giving too much of the story away, the great burden on their lives becomes too difficult and tensions ensue. Still, as heartbreaking as the novel may be, I’ll forever remember this family and many of the scenes Chariandy illustrates; in fact, I’ve been to a few of the locales he mentions, including the Rouge Valley in Scarborough.

For me, this novel also brought home the fact that, no matter what you do or how hard you try to shape them, your child is going to carve out their own path in life and eventually make all of their own decisions – whether you agree with them or not.

Check out Brother if you can. You won’t regret reading it, in fact it may haunt you (in a good way) for the rest of your life.

Lisa

This post contains an affiliate link. That means, if you purchase the book listed below, I may receive a commission.

Are you a Judgy McJudgerson?

photo of man pointing his finger

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Have you heard this famous saying about parenting? “I was the perfect parent until I had children.”

I just love this tongue-in-cheek phrase because it’s so apt. We are all the perfect parent, teacher, doctor, actor, trainer, etc., until we step into that person’s shoes. Then it’s like, “Hmmmm…maybe this isn’t as easy as it looks.”

Before I was a parent (and, if I’m being truthful, even afterwards), I’d often think: “Oh, I would never let my kid [fill in the blank]:”

  • Eat candy before dinner
  • Watch a horror flick
  • Skip a day of school to stay home and sleep
  • Ignore another child
  • Talk back to me

But, a lot of situations have multiple variables… Perhaps that parent’s kid has been cooped up sick for a week and is finally feeling better and wants a piece of candy at 5 pm. Or, maybe the child who looks like he’s being ignored has been badgering someone else for weeks on end. Or, maybe the parent you’re judging for letting their teen walk all over him is just too mentally exhausted to reprimand their child. There is almost always more to the story than what appears on the surface.

Of course, I still have opinions, questions and concerns at times. While I’m not a social worker, therapist or doctor, I volunteered with Children’s Aid Society for five years and was on the parent advisory council for a regional children’s mental health organization and I have a good understanding of trauma, abuse and neglect.

My parenting judgements (or lack thereof) aren’t all noble either; sometimes I roll my eyes when parents or babysitters let their kids stuff their faces with sugar or run amok in the movie theatre. I mean, there are limits to everyone’s patience! However, I really do try to give people the benefit of the doubt before I become just another Judgy McJudgerson.

What about you? What’s your take on judging other parents? Do you try to hold back or abstain altogether?