Happy New Year and a wish for many joyful, connected parenting moments ahead!

Greetings and best wishes for the New Year. As I reflect upon my year as a parent, it has been one of great change and transition in our family. My son graduated from high school and has headed off to university. It has been a time of great pride and joy but also worry and fear that perhaps he is not fully prepared for the road ahead. Parenting children is so full of mixed emotions and blessings. I have faith that our son has the tools he needs to cope with the ups and downs of university life and know that we can continue to connect and support him in new ways as he matures. It is also a new stage for growth in my life both personally and professionally. Life is a journey with lots of different ebbs and flows...

This year I have been very busy with many professional development opportunities. I am currently in the final phase of the Self-Regulation Foundations program and have been eagerly applying this knowledge to my own life and sharing it with colleagues and families I have had the pleasure to work with. I have just recently completed a 30 hour program called The Brain Story Certification from Alberta which discusses the latest neuroscience on how adverse early childhood experiences impact physical and mental health for life. In 2018, I have also immersed myself in learning about trauma informed practices for working with children and families.

In the past year, in addition to my parent coaching, I have also taken a part time role as a trainer for professionals working in the Early Years sector. This new role had provided me with exceptional opportunities to collaborate and co-learn with many diverse professionals who share my passion for children and families. Together we have explored a variety of topics such as "How Does Learning Happen?" - Ministry of Education 's  framework for Early Learning; Physical Literacy and "Risky Outdoor Play"; Resilience; Attachment; Anxiety; Supporting Children's Emotions; Early Literacy; Supporting Newcomer Families; Canada's Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth; Supporting Balanced Screen time in Families, etc.  I am still very actively involved in local initiatives to support Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health; Parent Support; and Healthy Transitions for children from Childcare to School. Overall, 2018 has been a very busy year filled with many parent workshops and parent support meetings with families. I look forward to another year ahead full of learning, growing and collaborating with families and professionals. I am hoping to continue to plant the seeds of positive change one family at a time so we can all find joyful, connected parenting moments in the days ahead. Looking forward to connecting with you. Don't hesitate to contact me with your parenting questions or a request for parent support. All the best, Joanne

Ready To Support Your Family for 2016-2017 School Year

Hello and hope you all had a great summer. So far, 2016 has been a very busy year for me with lots of opportunities to connect with families through workshops I delivered at various schools, daycares and community health centres plus all the great folks I worked with through one-on-one coaching. I have been actively involved in some great professional development this year and am grateful to have had the opportunity to complete The Infant Mental Health Certificate from Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, Making Sense of Preschoolers by The Gordon Neufeld Institute and some amazing online professional development on Supporting Aggressive Children through Hand In Hand Parenting. I continue to immerse myself in great books on the latest findings on brain development, support for children with special needs, coping with anxiety and family relationship dynamics.  I'm fully inspired and ready to work with you to support your family relationships and connection with your child. Feel free to contact me for a FREE CONSULTATION to discuss your needs. Happy September! Keep things simple, stay connected to your child!

“Surviving and Thriving” as a Parent… Entry #3 – Staying Calm When You Are Triggered

So, we’ve established that parenting is hard work and all of us come to the table with some kind of personal baggage or experience from our own upbringing that impacts our ability to parent optimally at all times. How can we manage our emotions when children present with big feelings and / or challenging behaviors day in and day out?

From a developmental perspective, we know that children don’t think like us, are impulsive, curious, and are limit testing creatures. Current research in the field of neuroscience states that it takes 24 years to grow an adult brain and a combination of genetics and experience determines who our children will be as adults. It is up to us as mature adults to take control of our family lives and provide safe, nurturing experiences that teach our children healthy ways to manage emotions and cope with life’s inevitable ups and downs. The first step is to understand and accept that children sometimes have strong feelings that they can’t manage and are gradually learning how to respond and adapt in a complex world. We need to be very mindful as their parents that harsh emotional reactions to our children’s feelings and behaviours can have harmful effects on their health, well-being and confidence for life. Our young children are completely dependent on us to provide a loving, responsive, safe oasis from which they can develop and grow to their full potential. As parents, we must avoid harmful verbal, physical and emotional reactions at all costs.

Anger is part of being human and learning to manage our intense emotions responsibly is a mature response to these sometimes overwhelming feelings. Rage can hijack us and cause damage to our relationships. With practice, we can develop good coping plans and anger management strategies that will become invaluable parenting tools as our children grow and develop. Try to examine some of your own emotional triggers and what times of day or what specific issues are hard for you. We can tackle these triggers by planning ahead and thinking about what strategies we can use in the moment when we feel as though our buttons are being pushed by our children.

One strategy is to listen to our negative “self- talk” and the beliefs we hold when we are feeling angry. We might be feeling resentful that our child is whining and not behaving appropriately after you just spent the whole day at a water park or attended an expensive special family event. In this example, you may be saying to yourself that your child is a selfish, inconsiderate, and ungrateful and you shouldn’t have to tell them to behave several times after they just had such a great treat. Can you challenge this negative belief and “self-talk” and find a healthier perspective that keeps the connection with your child? Could your thoughts change to “my child is overtired and hungry after a big day and can’t cope.  I can help by not reacting, staying connected and offering some downtime.” I can take some deep breaths and let my intense feelings pass without lashing out at my child. I can take a break for myself when we get home to recharge even if it is just a cup of tea for 10 minutes at the kitchen table. Focus on de-escalating the situation and remaining calm and present.

Here is a mini tool box for managing anger:

  • Make sure you practice good habits for stress reduction – enough sleep, healthy meals, daily exercise and relaxation time, support from friends and family, time for fun.
  • Choose positive “self-talk” next time you feel triggered. “I can cope. This is not an emergency. I will let these feelings pass and stay connected to my child who needs me”. Make up your own calming mantra.
  • Take some deep breaths in and out to re-oxygenate your brain and reduce the “fight or flight” response brought on by intense reactions/emotions. Think of a happy calm picture of your child to bring back good feelings in the moment.
  • Walk away and tell your child that you need to take a mini break to calm down. Be mindful that your child is safe and that walking away is appropriate for your child’s age, stage and temperament. In some cases, for the safety and security of your child, you may have to practice calming yourself on the spot. Remember, you are modelling healthy strategies that your child will eventually learn.
  • Respond with compassion and empathy instead of reacting angrily. (What does your child need right now? What are the feelings behind this misbehavior? What do you need?)  Pay attention to your body language, voice tone and the language you use to ensure that your message teaches rather than punishes. Wait until you are calm to discipline or help your child so you can do the right thing for all of you.

Be reflective and keep practicing these skills over and over. Over time it will eventually become easier for you. When you make a mistake, go back and tell your child that you are sorry and you didn’t manage that situation very well. Tell them that you will continue to work on your reactions. This is a great way to teach your child very important relationship skills. Be kind to yourself and put a plan in place so you will be prepared for the next battle. It is through life’s challenges that we learn and grow the most. Warmest regards, Joanne

Surviving and Thriving as a Parent… Entry# 2. How Were You Parented?

In order to parent our children in a healthy, loving manner, it can be helpful to take a step back and reflect upon the way we were parented. Since parents are not provided with " how to manuals" when their children are born, it is not unusual for new parents to practice the same parenting style that they were exposed to as children. Did you grow up in a home that was safe, secure and loving for the most part?  Were your parents actively engaged in regular, positive, and  open communication with you? Did your parents acknowledge and support your emotions ( positive and negative) growing up?  Was your parent's approach to discipline fair and did it provide guidance and teaching? Looking back, how would you describe the parenting style used by your parents? Was it for the most part balanced and consistent? Might your parents have been harsh and insensitive on occasion when you were seeking empathy and understanding from them?  Or alternatively, were there times when they may have been indulgent and overly lenient? Did you have opportunities for fun as a family growing up? Reflecting back on how you were parented while thinking about what kind of parent you want to be can be an illuminating experience.

Chances are many of us did not grow up in a completely optimal home environment ( arguably a rare experience ) and it is important to understand that our parents may have also faced challenges under their own parent's upbringing or life experience. While we can't change the past, we can work through our childhood experiences and current day triggers to better parent our children in a thoughtful and intentional fashion. Sometimes the attachments ( or lack of ) we had to our parents resulted in us shutting down our feelings to numb the pain of not being seen, soothed or safe. On occasion, specific childhood traumas we endured in the past, may lead us to perceive ongoing threats in our lives today and cause our emotions to feel out of control at times. If you feel as though your past and / or intense emotional reactions are getting in the way of how you respond to your child or children, you may wish to seek out professional support. This will provide insight to help you understand your emotional reactions and find a new ways to express yourself that allow existing relationships to thrive and grow.

Dr. Gordon Neufeld in his Parenting video series " Power 2 Parent " talks about a parent's secure attachment with a child being the most critical factor to raising a loving child with good behaviours and a healthy sense of self. Many factors contribute to our ability to attach securely to our loved ones:

  • our past experiences
  • our own emotional health
  • our stress load - work, financial matters, family life, health, competing priorities
  • how supported or not supported we are in our relationships
  • our ability to have empathy for ourselves and others
  • our acceptance of mistakes and willingness to learn from these challenges
  • our reflectiveness and openness to learn new ways of surviving and thriving

Help yourself to be the best parent you can be... Find a way to be warm, affectionate and responsive to your child and this will create a safe oasis from which your child can develop to their full potential. Listen for feelings and try to respond calmly instead of reacting. You can do it! Your kids are worth it!

Until next time, Joanne

Rethinking The Teenage Years

Culturally, what are the current views about teenagers? We are constantly being bombarded by negative reporting and commentary about the impulsive, reckless, inconsiderate, know-it-all behaviours of teenagers. In fact, just the mention of the word "teenager" and many of us conjure up images of awkward looking kids with pimples, braces, and out of control hormones.

I just watched a great webinar put on by Dr. Dan Siegel of the MindSight Institute in California. He just released a new book called Brainstorm which describes the fundamental changes in the architecture of a teenage brain and how we as parents and a society can change our beliefs and see the teenage years as a time of great potential instead of a train wreck waiting to happen

To quickly summarize Dr. Siegel’s webinar, adolescence is a time of transition between childhood dependency and adult responsibility. It is a period of immense brain changes starting with exuberance (new brain growth) around the ages of 10 and 11.  Then the pruning of certain existing neural connections occurs; this is followed by the myelination of remaining neurons to increase speed and effectiveness of communication between neurons.  If all goes well, we have solid integration of the various components of the brain by the age of 22+. New exciting research in the field of brain plasticity suggests that experience has a giant impact on building and changing the brain for better or worse

For parents of teens, this means we need to change our beliefs about what is happening with our teen so we can look at this transition in a positive light. Integration of the brain is the basis of good health (body, mind and our relational world). By promoting healthy habits and pursuits, communicating in a loving way, and supporting our children emotionally we can create the environment and positive experiences necessary for healthy integration of the coordinated adult brain. Dr. Siegel describes the" ESSENCE" of Adolescence which can be explained as follows:

ES   Emotional Spark

This is the increased passion, vitality and emotionality that our teens display. The downside may be increased moodiness, storminess and unpredictability

SE Social Engagement

Teens value time with their peers, a push for their own identity separate from family, and opportunities for collaboration. In a healthy environment, they learn to reach out for support and get along well with others. On the negative side, peer pressure may become a big concern

N Novelty

Teens have potential for innovative thinking and new ideas. They become restless with the familiar and seek out novelty. Sometimes, this urge for novelty will manifest itself in risk taking behaviours

CE Creative Exploration

The mind of a teen is full of new perceptions and awesome problem solving capability. We need to provide stimulation and new healthy experiences to spark that creative response and enable it to flourish

So in closing, we need to change our lens when looking at this critical stage of development. Teens need a supportive, connected home life with diverse opportunities to experience new challenges and adventures. They need to practise different roles and find their passions, talents and interests. The science of building a healthy integrated adult brain demands "Essence".  Help your teen make it happen.   All the best, Joanne

Celebrate your teen!

“Surviving and Thriving” as a Parent… Entry# 1 – What is Your Parenting Style?

Happy New Year! The start of a new year is a practical time for reflection and fresh starts so I thought I'd change up the direction of my blog a tiny bit. My plan for the next little while is to do some blog entries in the form of a parenting workbook called "Surviving & Thriving as a Parent....  A Workbook for Family Harmony". I hope these entries will serve as opportunities for reflection on our parenting techniques, offer tips, and help us develop some healthy goals for our families. So let's get started....... I really welcome your feedback, editing, comments, stories, and input. Don't be shy; share your experiences and thoughts if you wish.

Effective parenting requires reflection, introspection, flexibility and resilience. We have to look back on where and how we learned to be parents, and our experiences and values definitely influence and help us chart the course for where we want to go now with our children.

How were we parented?

Do we carry any baggage from our own childhoods? How are we triggered today from those experiences?

How has society changed with respect to parenting since we were young?

How would we like to parent our children?

What are our goals?

What are our values?

First let's take a look at three main styles of parenting:

THE AUTOCRATIC PARENT - severe, controlling, seeks child's submission; emphasizes obedience, rules and order. Children are constantly being controlled and don't learn to think for themselves. They may misbehave when they think no one is watching. They may respond with aggression or helplessness, and /or be withdrawn

THE PERMISSIVE PARENT - difficulty setting and/or maintaining limits, rules and healthy routines; wants to be child's friend; oscillates between indulgent and strict parenting to cope with child's behaviour. Essentially, the child is in charge. These children may have difficulty accepting "no" in relationships and may be less than considerate of the feelings of others. They may behave immaturely and potentially lack self-control.

THE DEMOCRATIC PARENT - sets clear rules, limits, expectations and routines; communicates with kindness , warmth, openness and respect; remains flexible while setting  consequences that teach; encourages child to assert their feelings, needs, and beliefs; practices problem solving with their child. These children grow up understanding the "give and take" of relationships. They learn to think for themselves and consider their needs and the needs of others.

Sometimes as parents, we may alternate between these three styles of parenting based on the specific challenge or situation, our own stress levels and the "goodness of fit" between us and our child. By "goodness of fit", I am referring to how similar or different your personality and temperament are to your child's.(e.g. introvert versus extrovert, active versus more sedentary, intense versus more relaxed, etc.). You may be consciously trying to be a democratic parent for the most part but when you get triggered or stressed you revert back to your factory settings i.e. the way you were parented as a child. You might hear your own parents exact words slip out of your mouth: "Do it because I said so", or, on the flip side, "you don't need a curfew, I trust you honey". Have a look at your interactions with your family and examine what type of parenting you practice currently. I love the way the authors of "Raising Emotionally Intelligent Teenagers" put it... "Do you want to parent by chance or by choice?"  All the best, Joanne.

Managing Holiday Stress…

The busy holiday season is here already and you may get some unexpected visitors from children, such as difficult behaviours and indication of stress. With some advance planning and managing holiday triggers you can reduce some of the holiday stress and find some peace and joy

As much as kids love and get excited for the Winter Holidays, there can be high expectations followed by lots of disappointment, lack of routine and numerous opportunities for over-stimulation which can contribute to some “naughtier than nice” behaviours and tantrums. As a parent, the first thing you need to do is manage your own stress and negative triggers. Acknowledge and try to find healthy releases for your own emotional triggers and reactions, which can include:

• not being able to be with loved ones

• coping with the recent death of a loved one

• financial pressures

• taking on too much socially and or personally

• trauma from your own childhood around holidays

Take time to cope with your feelings and share them with someone who can listen without judgement. Be realistic about your holiday season expectations and find ways to slowdown and continue healthy habits like good nutrition, enough sleep, opportunities for exercise and time to reflect, relax and regroup. Learn to say “no” if your plate is too full. You may also try to temporarily set aside ongoing differences with family members or friends recognizing that they too might be suffering from the stress of the holidays.

Children need clear expectations for their behaviour at parties and family gatherings, and they also need some predictability in their routines if we want them to be able to cope. If your routine is going to be different from usual, communicate what the day will look like and what your child can expect. Try to keep a decent routine around sleep, eating and downtime each day so they can recharge and roll with the season’s many activities. Get them involved in helping to clean, decorate, bake, wrap gifts, shovel etc. which can create times for connection in all the chaos and extra work the holidays generate.  Don’t over program over the holidays.

Children need time to play outdoors, have un-structured playtime and time for one-on-one sharing with you. Watch your child’s cues and engage with them in a loving way before they get to a state of frustration, anger or hyperactivity. Do your best to listen to their feelings and support them in working through problems or challenges. Stay connected to your child by taking time out from a busy gathering to go to a private space to read, tell a story, or give a mini massage / cuddle or play cards. Role-play and coach them through any difficult interactions they may be having with friends or relatives. Recognise when they are overtired or “sugared out” and be prepared to decline to participate or leave early from a gathering or party if you have to. Don’t let the flurry of holiday activity distract you from connecting and protecting yourself and your child from holiday burn out.  Plan ahead, think positively and have a wonderful holiday season. One event, one day at a time….. Cheers, Joanne    Happy Holidays!

Report Card Blues…..

Report cards come out 3 times / year in schools across Ontario and often, we, as parents may  feel as though our parenting skills are up for evaluation at this time. It's an important time to reflect upon the comments about your child that are being conveyed in the report cards, and respond as needed, but not to react hastily.  So step back, take some deep breaths and relax...

Report cards are one of the many measures of how kids are doing. The good news is that report cards measure performance in one setting, school!  Take the pressure off yourself and your child and break things into small manageable pieces. School measures academic success - reading, writing and math but it doesn't measure every talent or gift your child possesses. Positive communication with your child's teacher combined with the information found in the report card can be a helpful indicator of things that need to be improved upon or even a pat on the back for the things that are going well for your child.  When you do sit down and read your child's report card, focus on the areas where your child has shown improvement, effort and new skill development. Encourage your child with positive feedback for the effort they have shown. Partner with your child's teacher to advocate for your child's learning style, strengths and areas that need extra support. Involve your child in solutions that might help them develop skills in problem areas. Help your child to develop good daily study routines and organizational skills. Set up a well-lit, quiet, uncluttered workspace that has all the necessary tools for homework (dictionaries, pencils, pens, rulers, tape, a calculator, rulers, paper, etc.) Explore resources that can help your child, such as homework clubs, older siblings, neighbourhood tutors, online tutors, and so on. Make a plan for success and set small goals with your child. Celebrate the progress no matter how tiny.

The front page of Ontario's report cards/ progress reports assesses "learning skills and work habits". These skills are important life skills that take time to foster and develop. We can help our children acquire these skills by giving them age appropriate chores and responsibilities at home. Setting up good routines for organization such as tidying your desk, binders, knapsack, and school locker on a weekly schedule and establishing a work plan each week for homework can make a big difference. Make checklists with your child to help them remember what they need to bring home from school every day or jobs they need to do before school. Foster opportunities to work on homework independently but be nearby for support if your child needs it. Involve your child in team sports or activities that encourage collaboration and leadership. Practice social skills, negotiation, turn taking, problem solving at home with the family or with unstructured play dates. Children need time and freedom to practice, make mistakes, grow and learn. Help your child find their thing, i.e. something they are passionate about so they can develop competence and a sense of mastery. Fill their boots with positive experiences in school as much as you can but also focus energies on developing great skills outside of school. Believe in your child!

In Search of Positive Visions…

In The Art of Sensitive Parenting, Katherine C.Kersey wrote, "children learn who they are from those around them." We can create warm tender feelings or harsh labels that make kids and parents feel lousy, overwhelmed and discouraged. It is not difficult to come up with negative labels for our children's behaviour and temperament but can we come up with positive descriptors instead? Can we change our filter to look at strengths? Labels stick and can be devastating to children and parents. From a parents point of view, negative thinking about our children can drum up the following feelings:

  • fear of being a bad parent
  • resentment as to why did I have this difficult child
  • shame / confusion - can't this child be different? I must be doing something wrong
  • embarrassment for how this kid behaves in public
  • exhaustion from raising a child whose demands never end
  • anger about how entitled and selfish this child is
  • isolation - I'm the only parent to have a child like this    (Adapted from Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka)

Redesign labels to help give hope and a new perspective about your child... Instead of stubborn, use tenacious or persistent. This is the stuff PHDs and Olympians are made of. In stead of demanding, try holds high standards. Replace nosy with curious, wild with energetic, picky with discriminating, explosive with dramatic. This new vision leads to the building of better relationships and healthier responses to our children and their unique needs. Help others see your child's gifts...teachers, in laws, friends, relatives. Perhaps your child is the beautiful orchid in the garden that requires more TLC but the potential for inner beauty/ talent is limitless. So write down your child's strengths and post them on the fridge to help you find a new vision of your child.

Don't forget to assess your own strengths and positive attributes. Let your inner voice be one that delivers positive messages to yourself about your parenting abilities.You don't have to be perfect, you can make mistakes and practice making amends. We are modelling to our children 24/7 and when we apologize and say we didn't handle a situation well, we teach our children relationship skills.

Practice + Patience= Progress

There is no room for perfection in that equation. Stay connected to your child. Cheers, Joanne