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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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?

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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?

 

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:

Grateful or Hateful?

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I am working on an in-depth post about new guidelines issued from the American Psychological Association regarding physical discipline i.e. spanking and children.

For now, I wanted to post something that’s less research-intensive. I’ve been thinking about kids & gratitude. Lately, as a parent, I vacillate on how much to push my children to say “thank-you” to me and to others.

Firstly, I’m big on people (all people, not just kids or my own kids) saying “please” and “thank-you” or “no, thank-you.” To me, it’s the least one can do if someone is offering you something or gives you a gift or a compliment. I usually cringe when someone neglects to say thank-you after dinner has been made or a gift given or someone goes out of their way to do something nice.

However, similar to recent expert advice provided on kids & hugging, I am wondering if children should be forced to say thank-you by parents, relatives or teachers. Obviously, saying something verbally isn’t as intensive or invasive as having to hug or kiss a relative or friend but, perhaps pushing children to say something that’s not natural to them, isn’t right either.

Or, have we all become too politically-correct? Isn’t is a parent’s job to teach their kids right from wrong as well as manners and socially acceptable behavior? Usually, I’m steadfast in my thoughts about such things but, as mentioned above, I’m struggling with this lately.

What are your thoughts? Do you “force” your child to say thank-you or write a thank-you card when given a gift or cash? Did that change as they got older? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Yours gratefully,

Lisa

Weighing In on Weighted Blankets

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This post contains affiliate links which means if you purchase any of the items listed, I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you.

If you or your child deals with insomnia (*raises hand*) and/or sleep challenges due to autism, anxiety or depression, you may have considered investing in a “weighted blanket” to encourage better rest.

Whether or not you’ve tried one, you’ve most likely heard about weighted blankets as they are wildly popular right now. Here is an overview: weighted blankets are regular blankets or comforters filled with, well, weights! These can vary from plastic pellets to metal ball-bearings or chains to engineered heavy foam inserts. The general idea is that the firm pressure from the blanket feels heavy, snug and cozy – allowing people to fall asleep faster and sleep longer.

Proven Results?

Though the idea is meaningful and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence showing that weighted blankets promote better sleep, has it been scientifically proven? The results vary.

The results of a small 2015 study in Sweden can be found in Positive Effects of a Weighted Blanket on Insomnia. In this scientific study, people of varying ages with insomnia tried out and reported back on their quality of sleep using one particular weighted blanket.

Overall, the results from the study were positive: “…a chain weighted blanket was found to be effective at improving sleep quality in recognized insomniacs, both in parameters measured objectively and subjectively. The impact was more pronounced objectively when the participants reported having a positive experience of using the weighted blanket and if they used sleep medication. No adverse effects of using the weighted blanket were found.”

This is good news. However, I notice that the weighted blanket used by participants is produced by the same company that sponsored the study. This is both curious and worrying.

In another small 2014 New Zealand study, Effectiveness of Weighted Blankets as an Intervention for Sleep Problems in Children with Autism, the results were not as favorable. Unfortunately, in this study, “…Consistent with previous research, the current study did not find weighted blankets to be an effective aid in promoting sleep for children with autism.”

There are other studies of course. And, regardless of their results, it is not to say that a weighted blanket won’t work for you, your child or loved one. But, again, it appears that it is not a “one size fits all” solution.

Options, Options, Options

When it comes to weighted blankets, there are myriad options for weight, size, colour and style.

  • Weight-wise, it seems the most popular categories are: 10 pounds, 15 pounds or 20 pounds. Apparently, one should use a blanket that is 10% of your weight. So, if your child is 100 pounds, buy her a 10 lb. blanket.
  • The outer covering can be made from anything from polyester to satin to bamboo to cotton.
  • Styles/sizes seem to focus on queen or king-size but I am sure singles and doubles can be found.
  • There are myriad colours available but, again, generally I’ve seen mostly grey, brown, white, cream and taupe.

No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn!

I am keen to try one out. Unfortunately, my initial jubilation about purchasing such a blanket has abated.

You see, I had recently spotted an ad for a Canadian-made weighted blanket on a social media site (Instagram I believe) offering a special $15 discount. That was just the push I needed as I was considering buying one anyway. As you may know, they’re not cheap: Including the $15 discount and free shipping, with taxes it was still going to be $241 CAD. I was willing to pay that if the health benefits proved true.

However, sadly, it appears this particular company (I won’t name it at this point) is either unscrupulous, unusually busy or highly disorganized. Their initial estimated shipping time went from “end of January” to middle of February to, now, February 22. I ordered and paid for the blanket on January 15! So, um, no. Suffice it to say that I’ve now called my credit card company and asked them to cancel the payment and the order.

My Kingdom for a Good Night’s Sleep

Have you tried a weighted blanket with positive results or do you have a family member or friend pleased with their results?

If so, please comment or contact me to recommend a company (big or small) from which to buy one. I am still game to try out a weighted blanket. However, as outlined above, I had a negative initial purchasing experience and there are so many options to consider and factors involved.

Should I end up buying one, I promise to provide an update.

Lisa