Category Archives: Social

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growth Mindset Parenting

No doubt you’ve heard the terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” bandied about in relation to learning. While they’re not new ideas, these concepts are very “buzzy” right now in everywhere from the classroom to the boardroom.

selective focus photography of chess board set

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Last year, my son mentioned that his high school math teacher repeatedly brought up the growth mindset philosophy when teaching.  Initially, I thought that was quite fascinating and odd — I mean, how does a growth mindset matter in a math classroom?

But, of course, it does! Many people have a fear of mathematics and feel they’re not clever enough to learn advanced math or that their brain doesn’t work that way. I know I used to think, “Well, I’m just not a math person” so I didn’t try to excel in that subject – I merely tried to pass the class. However, if we go into our math (or chemistry or art or aerobics or welding) class knowing that we are all capable of learning new things, we will be better able to relax, comprehend the information and then learn or adapt.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

So, what is “growth mindset” exactly? According to Carol Dweck, the Standford professor who coined the phrase and wrote the groundbreaking book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, someone who employs a growth mindset understands that learning is always possible – no matter your status, past successes/failures or accreditation. The concept reminds me of the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…” However, according to Dweck, it’s more than just a positive outlook.

From the book’s overview: “People with a fixed mindset—those who believe that abilities are fixed—are far less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset—those who believe that abilities can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and mentorship…”

Growth Mindset Parenting

Beyond math and classroom learning, we can also apply “growth mindset” to parenting. In my mind, having a growth mindset is somewhat tied to the idea of resiliency which I wrote about recentlyIn a way, to be resilient is to not let past failures define you. This can be taught to your kids as well.

We can teach our children that none of us are perfect or successful in everything but that we can all set goals we’d like to achieve – this can be social, emotional, spiritual, academic, athletic, long-term or short-term. If we go in with a growth mindset – understanding that we are physically capable of achievement and set realistic goals – and put the work in to achieve them – then we don’t have to let our own (or other peoples’) ideals and expectations define us.

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This is a massive concept and one that can be explored from many angles. I love this post on the “Children’s Library Lady” web site which focuses on books related to growth mindset. Through her post, I’ve learned that there are many ways to incorporate this vital concept into parenting and kids’ everyday learning. It’s a idea that, if used properly, can benefit us and our children for the rest of their lives.

Do you incorporate growth mindset into your parenting style? If so, how? I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to comment below.

Happy Growing!

Lisa

Please note: This post contains affiliate links which means that, if you decided to click on and purchase one of the items listed in this post, I may receive a small commission at no additional expense to you.

And, I apologize for getting off-schedule with my weekly posts. I had surgery about a month ago and then a nasty case of strep throat and am now getting to a place where I can focus on work and blogging. Thank you for your recent comments, messages and emails.

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.

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

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!
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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.

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

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?

 

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: