Archive for category: Original Posts


Back to School – Backpack Safety

Backpacks are a staple for every student. They travel back and forth between home and school, lugging books and school supplies. They are put through the unavoidable daily abuse of being thrown on the ground, trampled on, stuffed into a cubby or locker, saving a spot in line, and become over-stretched and over-used with the necessities of school. They are a necessary part of your child’s education, yet how much thought do you really put into the backpack your child wears aside from maybe price or color?  Have you considered the health implications of an improperly worn, fitted, or poorly supportive backpack?

Backpacks are meant to be worn over both shoulders so that the weight can be evenly distributed across some of the largest and strongest muscles in the body. Due to this, backpacks are preferable to shoulder bags, however they must be worn properly in order to avoid postural issues and injuries to the back, shoulder, and/or neck (1). Additionally, backpacks that are too heavy or large increase a child’s risk of injury due to falling or tripping (2). The following are some simple tips to help ensure your child’s backpack is fitted properly in order to avoid any negative health implications.

First of all, when choosing a backpack look for the following features (1,3):

  1. Make sure the backpack is made of a lightweight material. Sure, some trendy materials may look cool, but these can also add unnecessary weight.
  2. The backpack should have two wide, padded shoulder straps that are adjustable. Thin, narrow straps can cut off circulation resulting in pain, tingling, and numbness.  Straps with a clip to secure them across the chest are best.
  3. Look for a padded back to increase comfort and also to protect your child from being poked by items inside the bag.
  4. Backpacks with a waist strap help distribute the weight more evenly and can protect the neck and shoulders from carrying the weight independently.
  5. Check out backpacks that have a roller option if allowed in your child’s school. This allows freedom to switch between wearing on the back (for example on snowy days when rolling is not practical) and rolling the bag on the ground to take stress off of the neck and shoulders.
  6. Ensure the backpack has multiple compartments as this helps to distribute the weight more evenly, and keeps things organized and separated.

Once you have found the perfect backpack, ensure the backpack is worn properly by following some of these general guidelines:

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that backpack load should never exceed 10-20% of your child’s body weight. Make sure unnecessary items aren’t traveling back and forth – leave heavy items at home or school if possible.
  • When putting on a backpack, ensure your child bends at the knees (not the waist!) and uses both hands to lift it onto their shoulders. Watch for signs of strain or difficulty when putting it on – if any are present consider reducing the load in the bag by having your child carry a few items.
  • ALWAYS use both of the shoulder straps. No matter how “cool” your child thinks using one shoulder strap looks, it can cause muscle, spine and orthopedic injury down the road.
  • Tighten the shoulder straps and use the strap around the waist (if available). This helps to ensure even weight distribution. The bag should sit in the center of the back, about two inches above the waist (not down near the buttocks!).
  • When packing, ensure heavy items are near the center / back of the bag. Use all of the available compartments to help distribute the weight more evenly.
  • Talk to your child about making frequent trips to their locker, desk or cubby to avoid carrying extra weight around all day.
  • Consider the backpack as a possible culprit if your child starts complaining of back pain, numbness or tingling in the shoulders or arms, or discomfort in the upper body or lower back.  If so, consult with a professional about how to correct the issues, and prevent these from getting worse.  Core, back, or strengthening exercises might be needed if your child is having difficultly lugging around their school stuff – and consult a professional to have any exercises prescribed.

Then, make it fun!  Give your child a list of things to look for when picking out their backpack, and comment on the different features of the ones at the store.  Once purchased, load this up with different things so you can show them the difference when weight is distributed evenly, unevenly and gets too heavy.  Have them try the straps at different lengths so they can comment on what is most comfortable.  Encourage them to leave things at school that should stay there (like indoor shoes) and consider having a double set of school supplies at home so these don’t need to travel back and forth.  Make Friday “clean out your backpack day” for a special treat.

Remember that you get what you pay for.  A $10.00 backpack chosen on style or color may cost you a lot more in the long run.  Backpacks are not an item you should cheap out on!

1)      American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (2013).
2)      KidsHealth (2013)
3)      American Academy of Pediatrics (2014)


How to Create a More Productive Work Environment

No matter what type of work you do, everyone can experience productivity blockages during the day. Whether it’s a poor sleep the night before, the afternoon sluggishness, or simply a lack of inspiration for the project you’re working on, these slowdowns in productivity can be detrimental to your success. Occupational therapists are often involved in helping people to achieve workplace productivity by providing solutions for a more adaptable and comfortable working environment. The following article from Forbes discusses 5 small changes you can make today to help you concentrate and increase your productivity.

Forbes:  5 Small Workspace Changes That Will Make You More Productive


Turning the Back to School Blues into the Back to School “Yahoos!”

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

Last year, my September blog was called “Stress-tember”. For many, the September transition brings about new routines, adjustment chaos, and change that can be met with resistance, fatigue and stress. This year I wanted to take a different approach. I thought instead I would start the conversation early and give parents, teachers, and even kids some proactive strategies they can use to manage this transition as smoothly, productively, and as positively as possible.

1. Plan Ahead
The last few weeks of August will go quickly as we all try to cram in those last care-free moments of outdoor time, vacation, and a less chaotic schedule. But, don’t let September catch you off guard! It is best to look at your schedule now and find time when you will be able to fit in back-to-school related tasks. Start with a list of jobs that need to be done to get back-to-school ready. Personally, with four kids, my list includes: closet and drawer clean-out to compile a list of needed clothing items, shoe inventory, looking at our available school-supplies and backpacks to determine what needs to be replaced, and sitting down with each child to ask them about the lunch foods they will happily consume if these land in their lunchbox. With one child transitioning to an out-of-catchment high-school we need to understand her new schedule and arrange transportation including some city bus trials and carpooling. Once we know what needs to get done, we need to have structured schedule to do it. When can we shop for clothes, shoes, supplies, groceries? When the first week of school arrives, it is best to have the shopping done and even meals prepared, so that the stress, anxiety and chaos of the new routine is easier to manage.

2. Get a Family Calendar
Having a calendar placed in a common area (e.g. the kitchen or back hall) can help with organizing weekly plans. Using a different coloured marker for each family member can help you to easily identify who needs to be where and at what time. You can also encourage or assist your kids with keeping track of homework deadlines, school events like picture day, and other social outings. Once school begins, set aside a time each week for the family to go over the week ahead to ensure everyone is on board and prepared (i.e. “we need a birthday present for Tuesday, rubber boots for the trip on Thursday” etc.).

3. Establish Routines
Due to vacations, sleepovers, and the unstructured nature of no school, daily routines are often disrupted over the summer months. A consistent nightly routine for kids is critical to them getting a good sleep. Be consistent with when they are to start getting ready for bed, which nights will be for baths / showers, teeth brushing, and how they enjoy falling asleep (story time, hugs and kisses, that favorite stuffie, nightlight etc.). The importance is in the consistency of the routine as this is what cues your child that he/she is ready for sleep. Set up a routine that works for you and your family and start early. Having an established bedtime routine in place BEFORE school begins will help to make the transition go smoothly.

In addition to bedtime routines, it is important to re-establish what after-school time should also look like. We have our “after school routine” typed, laminated and posted in the back hall. This includes “shoes and back-packs away, lunch boxes emptied, dry snacks and water bottle packed for the next day, paperwork from school in the “in box”, have a healthy snack, do any homework, then play (no technology)! We review this with the kids before school starts, confirm the expectations, get their commitment, and make any changes.

4. Re-Adjust Sleep Schedules
Just as the overall bedtime routine is disrupted during the summer months, so is the timing of sleep. It is important to get back into a regular routine before school starts to avoid tired and cranky kids. A good way to ease into it is to adjust your child’s sleep/wake routine by ten minutes each night, so you can gradually get back to the regular routine by the time school begins. Having alarms in the kids’ bedrooms will help them to wake at an appropriate time so that they are not rushing, skipping breakfast or brushing their teeth in order to make a bus. And watch out for the snooze button! Letting your child delay waking will only become a bad habit harder to break as they get older. Put the alarm clock on the other side of the room if you have to – walking to turn it off will deter them from returning to bed.

5. Honour Your Child’s Anxiety
If your child is nervous or anxious about getting back to school, acknowledge this. Let them know that these feelings are normal. Ask them what you can do to make this easier. If your child is going to a new school or concerned about a new teacher, call the school and see if you are able to visit the school and/or classroom teacher before the school year begins. Or, see if there is a friend also in the same class they can meet with over the summer to ease their concerns. Often just being in the new environment, or being exposed to other kids transitioning prior to the school year beginning can ease fears and calm nerves.

6. Be Consistent
The most important aspect of making the transition back to school easier is consistency. With a familiar and consistent schedule in place, children are more prepared for what is to come which minimizes anxiety, reduces behavioural episodes, and provides kids with clear expectations and structure to their day. And when kids adjust more easily, so do parents!

7. Check your Expectations
Sometimes the worst part of any transition is not having reasonable expectations in the first place. Expect that your kids will need time adjusting, allow them to be tired, out of sorts and cranky, know that you too will need some extra time for yourself to unwind or get some extra rest. Don’t be reactive to the adjustment but rather just acknowledge this as one of the toughest times of the year and accept that in good time new routines will be established and the family will once again be in sync.

So, I hope the above tips will be helpful as you make this necessary transition back to “normal” – whatever that looks like for you. Personally, I will still find September stressful and hectic, but I expect nothing less in a household of six. Like with all things, some preparedness, patience and consistency will make it easier on all involved!


Keep Calm and Yoga On – For KIDS!

Guest Blogger Jana Maich, Occupational Therapist

Working as an occupational therapist in pediatrics, I am always on the lookout for simple strategies I can offer to parents and classroom teachers that can be easily be implemented. One of the main difficulties expressed to me by concerned parents or teachers is that a child is having difficulty controlling their activity level, focusing or attending, or controlling emotional outbursts. In other words, a child is having difficulty self-regulating.

What does this mean? Self-regulation is our ability to monitor and control our body’s arousal level (in other words, our level of alertness) in order to remain in an optimal state that is appropriate for the current situation. Self-regulation is critical to being able to attend, focus, and learn (1). When our body’s arousal level gets too “high,” we may feel anxious, nervous, or stressed. When our body’s arousal level gets too “low,” we may feel lethargic, sluggish, or tired. Often unconsciously, adults participate in a variety of self-regulation strategies to remain in an optimum state throughout our day. For example, in a boring meeting where your level of alertness may be “low” you may tap your pencil, shift in your chair, apply pressure to your mouth or chin with your hands, or drink water in order to bring your arousal level up. After an intense day of work when you may be feeling too “high” you may take a bath, read a book, or participate in some other sort of relaxation promoting activity (1). There are many ways to regulate ourselves, and just as adults require self-regulation strategies, children do too. Yet, in today’s changing and fast-passed society, children are more stressed than ever before. School demands have increased, daily schedules are jam-packed, and they don’t have as much play or “down” time as kids once did. Unfortunately, unstructured play activities that are critical to a child’s innate self-regulation needs have been replaced by TV and electronics. All of this has ultimately stressed our young generations, resulting in disrupted self-regulation.

Yoga is one activity that has become recognized as a suitable and helpful regulation activity – for people of all ages. (2). For children, yoga offers many potential benefits – both physically and emotionally. Benefits include improved postural control, immune functioning, body awareness, strength and flexibility, emotional control, attention, sleep, and a decrease in stress and anxiety. Yoga is a simple strategy with a variety of exercises that can be completed anywhere including at home, when on vacation, while lying in bed, or as a group in the classroom. Depending on the current needs of the child, there are various poses and breathing exercises designed to bring arousal levels up or down as appropriate. Over time, children begin to develop an enhanced mind-body connection and an improved ability to monitor and manage their own levels of arousal (2).

In my personal experience, using simple breathing strategies and poses in my practice, has demonstrated firsthand how yoga can positively affect children with both physical and mental disabilities including autism, ADHD, emotional difficulties, mental health conditions, and motor coordination difficulties. In older children, learning how to control their own emotions and arousal levels empowers them and creates both self-esteem and self-control.

So what are you waiting for? Search out local yoga programs for you or your child. Try these links: or Consider that many places will let you try a class without a commitment, or offer great starter incentives. Or, buy a CD or DVD or check out some poses and breathing exercises via online videos to see if this might work for you or your family.

Check out some of our other resources and articles for kids health here.

(1) Williams, M., & Shellenberger, S. (2012). “How does your engine run?” A leader’s guide to the Alert Program for self-regulation.” Albuquerque, NM: Therapy Works

(2) Flynn, L. (2010). Yoga 4 classrooms. Tools for learning, lessons for life. Dover, NH: Yoga 4 Classrooms.


11 Time Management Strategies for Optimal Productivity

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

Meat Loaf says it best: “if you are only killing time it will kill you right back”. How true.

As we all try to cram more into our days, weeks, and nights we are creating unsustainable expectations for ourselves and for those that rely on each of us to get stuff done. In a previous post I offered my opinion on what I would consider dangerous and potentially life-threatening “time savers” that seem to be becoming commonplace in our manically productive world. Sleep deprivation, texting or emailing when driving, fast food and avoiding exercise were all on my list.

With that aside, I would now like to share the seemingly effective strategies I personally try to utilize for managing and maximizing time. But to be clear, I don’t have a degree or certificate in time management from any reputable institution. I am just a busy working mom of four kids who has been able to stay fit, get a Master’s degree, and run a business all because I can get lots done in a day. I have also read numerous books on productivity, health, happiness and personal development and have been able to incorporate many of the strategies I have read and learned into my world. So, here are what I would call my “tricks of the trade”…

1. I prioritize. What are your time priorities? If you answer “clearing my inbox, answering and responding to calls, getting projects done” then you have not looked at your life from the proverbial 30,000 feet. You are missing the big picture. Personally, my priorities (in order) are my health, my family, my career, and my personal development (yes, health comes first – without this the others are jeopardized!). So, my time spent always aligns with those. My health time includes sleeping, preparing healthy meals and exercising. My family time includes all that is involved in being a mother, wife, daughter, sister, cousin, grandchild, etc. My career is all that I do to manage my clients and business. And my personal development includes many of my social relationships, reading books and attending school, conferences and workshops. I make sure that every day includes at least one activity under each domain and recognize that some weeks my time shifts between these unevenly, but that in the next week I will find a way to correct course. Nothing I ever do under any of these priorities can be considered a “waste of time” as that would put me in a negative mindset (i.e. having to take a day off to manage a sick kid is never met with angst – “sick kid” falls under the family priority). Having set and firm priorities allows me to dictate how to schedule my time ensuring the right balance over a day, week and month between the four pillars of my life.

2. I live in the non-urgent but important quadrant. I love Stephen Covey’s thoughts on time management from the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. Consider that if everything on your list is “urgent and important” you are doing something wrong and have not planned your time properly. While urgent things may creep into our day, ultimately being proactive and planning effectively means that you can focus on important things and manage these before URGENT happens. To balance my priorities I ensure that nothing “unimportant” lands on my desk or in my schedule. After all, I just don’t have time for “unimportant”.

3. I am proactive. Being reactive is a time waster. When we “react” we enter a different head-space, are required to shift our focus from the events of the day to something unplanned, and often spend more time picking up the pieces than we would if things didn’t crumble in the first place. Do you have a warning light on in your car? Get it into the shop before you are stranded at the side of the road spending hours dealing with roadside assistance and not having access to a vehicle. Or better yet, schedule your car for regular maintenance to keep it running smoothly. Feeling sluggish or unwell? Take a day off to recharge, make some changes to your routines, or get into your doctor before you enter full-blown illness. Taking one day off to feel better is more effective than the week you will need when the illness spreads.

4. I use technology wisely. Technology is a tool, but it is also a trap. My phone has a few productive apps but no games. Personally, “playing video games” does not align with my priorities as these have nothing to do with my health, family, career or personal development. I also don’t use my phone to conduct business – more to just be informed about it. Trying to conduct business on a smartphone often leads to errors in typing, autocorrect, and changes the response to something shorter, even curt. I would prefer to respond on my computer, or make a phone call versus emailing on a device. I also don’t watch TV – unless it involves a family movie or show we can all enjoy together. Technology for me is an information tool for my business, and an “in the moment” way to communicate, but otherwise I think use of those gadgets are a waste of time, not the opposite.

5. I plan ahead. Proper planning is always an effective use of time. Leaving your home to realize your meeting is thirty minutes farther away than you expected, driving somewhere to realize you forgot something, going to the grocery store without a list, arriving to a meeting without reviewing the agenda beforehand, or cramming your Powerpoint the night before are all signs of poor planning. In our personal lives being unprepared wastes time and money, in our professional lives these jeopardize our professional reputation. Make time in your schedule to proactively manage your “to do’s”.

6. I know myself. Are you in tune with your capacity? Personally, I know my limits and recognize when I work best. For example, I am most effective at writing (reports, documents, blogs, etc) in the morning. From 8am to noon I can fly through written tasks quickly. After noon, my focus wanes and it is easier for me to work on emails and calls as these require more short-term attention. This is how I try to structure my workdays. I also know things that I am good at, struggle with, and those things that I have taken on before with poor outcomes. Knowing this helps me to stay in my strengths as this is where I am most effective.

7. I use lists. In “The Art of Stress Free Productivity” and even “The Four Hour Workweek” both authors suggested that each day should start with a list of the top 3-5 things that need to be done that day. No exceptions. I find this strategy exceptionally helpful and each morning, or even the night before, I write a short list of “to do’s” and enjoy crossing things off as I accomplish them. Sometimes the list is separated by “personal, kids, work” etc. to match my priorities. And if I find myself wandering from my list to other tasks (i.e. my email inbox), having this in front of me grounds me back to the tasks that need to come first.

8. I take notes when reading. When I read educational or development books I always have a note pad and pen with me. Why? Because to read a book about personal development and to not take away or implement any of the strategies after makes reading a waste of time. If there is information I can benefit from, I want to capture that in a place where I can incorporate it into my life and review it later. This optimizes my reading time and self-development priority.

9. I manage my energy levels. Maximizing my energy levels maximizes my productivity. I do this by eating well, sleeping well, managing stress, and exercising.

10. I delegate. To effectively delegate you need to look at the resources available to you and determine who might be able to take some of the responsibility and run with it. If you know you don’t have time to take on a new project, say no, or figure out who you can enlist to support you in getting the job done.

11. I practice self-discipline. It is easy to be distracted, coerced, or tempted by other, maybe more fun, but usually less productive, tasks. That phone conversation with a friend, google wandering, checking Facebook, that lengthy lunch. While these may ultimately align with your priorities, the things you are neglecting during your productive hiatus will only work to move things from “important” to “urgent” in no time. Self-discipline allows you to firmly focus on the tasks on your “to-do” list versus those other enjoyable activities that might sway you in a less productive direction. So, get the “to dos” done first before being pulled in other directions.

Do you have other time maximizing ideas? I would love to hear them.


Time “Savers” that Could Kill You

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

I have been asked a few times to write a blog on time management. While I don’t profess to be an expert in this, people often do ask me how I “fit it all in” and my answer is always “I have learned how to effectively management my time”. What still surprises me though is those people that have not yet shifted their focus to “managing time”, but instead try to “save time” or wish there was just more of it. For me, that thinking is disillusioned. We can’t find or get more time – time is constant. What we need to focus on then is using the time we have optimally and in line with our priorities. This takes insight and self-discipline to accomplish, and in a future blog I will speak to some of my personal strategies here.

But before I do that, I wanted to start with the list of “time savers” that I don’t endorse. Ones that I feel are, in the extreme, life threatening and yet have become staples, patterns and habits by many, bragged about by some, and only work to help people shove more stuff into their already hectic schedule without forcing them to realize the real problem is prioritizing. So, here is the list of the time savers that I feel could kill:

Sleep Less. I will admit that I have previously considered cutting a few hours of my zzz so I could steal a few more hours of “productive” time. This is not an uncommon thought. Many people speak openly, or even brag, about how they “worked until 5am” or “only got a few hours of sleep last night cramming to meet a deadline”. Entrepreneurs are the worst. Our minds don’t tend to shut off and you will often find us emailing in the late hours or very early mornings. However, evidence continues to mount that “adequate sleep” is one of the key predictors of health and happiness, and the age old 7-8 hours per night still applies as a recommended dosage. Even napping is now being encouraged as a way to shut off the mind and to cognitively and physically reboot mid-day (I keep my naps to 20 minutes to not interrupt my sleep cycle). What research is showing is that inadequate sleep actually worsens brain capacity, making people less productive. So, the time you gain from sleeping less you then lose (and then some) in productivity. I would rather sleep thanks! Thus, stop thinking that sleeping is a hindrance to your ability to get things done. Reducing your zzz will only be a detriment to your health in the long run.

Texting or Emailing when Driving. Illegal or not, this is still happening and now texting and driving is the leading cause of motor vehicle accidents and deaths. STOP IT (yes, I am yelling at you guilty folks). Newsflash: the only thing you should be doing when driving is, well, driving. If we are talking about time management here, then think about the time you could lose from making this mistake. Lost work time while you are recovering from an accident. Loss of career if you can never return to work due to a disability. Lost productive time when you are dragged into a lawsuit when you cause a collision and are sued as a result (worse if you are driving a company car and take your employer down with you). Lost ability to emotionally manage when you know you caused another person’s (maybe someone in your own car) injury or death. The list goes on. And remember too that if you are emailing or texting when driving – what is the nature of the message anyway? Short and curt, fraught with spelling errors, auto-correct problems, or even those catastrophic email errors that are caused from forwarding the wrong message to the wrong person or “replying to all” when you meant to reply. There are both health and reputational risks from texting or emailing when driving and thus the time it might “save” you could cost you everything. The solution? If you have to multi-task driving with communication, use the phone with a hands free device. Then at least your eyes are still on the road.

Fast Food. I need to preface my comments here with the reality that I was raised in a fast food family. This was our business and I worked in our restaurant chain from when I was 13 to 19. So, believe me I get the appeal of fatty and good tasting food that is provided quickly. But this too is killing us. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and many other chronic illnesses are caused from poor dietary habits. Yet, people continue to think that using the drive-through will save them time. My experience with “fast food” is that it is rarely fast (just time your drive-through and walk-in experiences) and some of what is served is not even really food. Processed, frozen, overcooked, stale, loaded with additives and preservatives. Yummy. Also consider that when eating “out” people tend to overeat and consume significantly more calories than if they ate at home or prepared a snack before they left. Several years ago I used to love to grab a Tim Horton’s before my first client of the day. After all, I would be in the car for 30-60 minutes and drinking my tea was an enjoyable beginning to my morning. Then I became cognizant of the time I was spending in line. 5-10 minutes per morning was 25-50 minutes per week of just “waiting”. Not to mention the accumulating cost of some hot water in a paper cup with a tea bag. So, I decided to go “Tim’s Free”. It was liberating. I could (and still do) drive by Tim Horton’s and smile at the drive-through line while I drink my home-made tea that takes me 1 minute to make and costs a nickel. While I still understand that “fast food” is a treat, and can be used as such, I will argue that too many people who proclaim to be “so busy” actually waste time waiting for crappy food. The solution? Have some ready-made meals or snacks in the fridge and grab these on your way out the door. Put them in a cooler bag, or store them in your work fridge. Forgoing the fast-food habit will save you time, calories, and ultimately your health.

“No Time” to Exercise. This one drives me batty. So many people claim to “not have the time” to exercise despite the ample evidence proving that exercise is a #1 predictor of health. This “no time” excuse needs to stop. We all have the same amount of time in a day, so the reality is that people don’t MAKE the time, or this is just not a priority. That is not a judgment. If exercise is not a priority then people can just admit this and stop using “time” as the shield. Personally, I believe that the time spent exercising pays itself forward in productivity. Reduced stress, more energy, increased mood, better time management, improved ability to prioritize, and of course all this on top of the fact that this could lengthen life. Avoiding exercise to “save time” is a fallacy. I don’t buy it. Personally, I think I qualify as “busy” but still exercise 1-2 hours daily. So people need to be honest with themselves, their priorities and recognize that avoiding exercise to “save time” could have the opposite effect.

In the end, consider your “time savers” and project these over the next 10 years. What will that look like for you? Don’t wait to suffer the consequences of sleep deprivation, a car accident, a health issue from poor eating habits, or physical decline from a neglected body to realize that being productive at the cost of your health is not productive at all.


Schooling on Pooling

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

In celebration of July, I wanted to repost a previous blog from last summer on pool safety. These are always good things to review and consider…especially this time of year.

I was a fortunate child who grew up with an in-ground pool. As the only house on the street with a pool in our yard, the neighborhood kids would loiter around our home hoping for an invite. My mom developed a wonderful system using a Canada flag. If the flag on our fence was up – everyone was welcome for a swim. The only rule was that the kids needed to bring a parent. Mandatory. And despite the kids that would sit on our lawn whining about not having an adult to join them, my mom was firm to the rule.

We have a pool in our yard. This is separately fenced. As our kids are getting older, and have been able to swim for years, we are giving them more freedom around the pool. As long as an adult is home, they are welcome to swim. However, last year I was reminded of an important lesson – just because my kids can swim, that is not necessarily true for others of the same age. We had a pool party for our twins’ birthday and all the kids arrived and proceeded to jump in the pool. One child was hanging around the shallow end and I asked her if she could swim – nope. I was surprised that in dropping her off to a pool party, her parents would not mention this very important fact.

Two summers ago on a street very close to mine an 18 month old child drowned when he was able to get outside while his father had a 15 minute nap. Drowning is the second most common cause of accidental death among children aged 14 and under in Ontario, after motor vehicle accidents. Yet, like many risks, drowning is absolutely preventable. Here are some safety precautions to consider:

Constant and vigilant supervision. Supervision of any child is a full-time job. Most drowning’s occur when a child is playing near the water and falls in – not while “swimming”. So, when it comes to kids, the “within arm’s reach” rule should always apply – whether they are in, or around, water.

Using safety devices for the pool. These could include:

o Poolside Alarm– A motion sensor is installed along the pool edge, which sounds an alarm when waves are detected from a body falling into the water.

o Child Immersion Alarm– A wristband worn by a child, which will sound an alarm when they come into contact with water.

o Pool Fences– Fences should be at least four feet tall, surround the entire pool and have self-latching gates out of the reach of children. Speclocks prevent children from entering the pool area, as they are complex or require adult strength to open. Gate alarms can also be installed to alert when the gate is unexpectedly opened.

o Pool Covers– A cover built to fit your pool dimensions will act as a barrier for a falling body, as they will not enter the water.

o Door locks – special locks, difficult for children to open and installed at the top of a door, prevent kids from being able to get into the yard without an adult.

Use life jackets, not just floaties. If your child is not a strong swimmer, they should always be wearing a life jacket – in a pool, at the beach, or on a boat. Like wearing a seat-belt and helmet, children should be taught from a young age that wearing a life jacket is necessary around water. From a functional standpoint, life jackets are safer than floaties. Floaties can develop small holes that actually fill with water, or can deflate, causing the child to slowly sink lower into the water. A well-fitting life jacket is designed to keep a child’s head above water, and to flip a child over onto their back to facilitate breathing. They cannot deflate. It also provides something for an adult to grasp if they need to pull the child out of the water.

Know the signs of drowning. Contrary to popular belief, drowning does not happen when people are flailing their arms, yelling and calling for help. It is actually the opposite. People that are getting into trouble in the water often look like they are climbing an invisible ladder. They can’t yell or cry for help as their body is low on oxygen and is focused on trying to keep air in, not yell it out. Know the signs – check out this link for the “8 Quiet Signs of Drowning.”

Knowledge of first aid. Parents should always consider having knowledge of CPR or basic water rescue. This could prove handy for many situations beyond just water safety.

Swimming lessons. Give your kids a head start by helping them to become comfortable in the water from a young age. Every minute they can stay afloat could save their life.

But remember, when it comes to children, nothing is safer than diligent and attentive supervision.


Change your Attitude and Change your Life

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

I was recently forwarded the below article from a friend. This is about a young man who was facing the amputation of his left leg. Given his situation he had multiple choices. He could choose to be angry, bitter, sad, could feel sorry for himself, be stressed and anxious about the impending surgery, or decide to accept his fate and ultimately “be okay” with it. His choice? Make light of his situation, involve others in the process, accept that he could not change what he was confronted with, and move on. Check out his inspiring story here.

Reading this reminded me of my grandfather. At age 20 he was diagnosed with Polio. This caused atrophy of the muscles in his legs and buttocks and he walked with crutches for 56 years. Eventually his lower body circulation started to fail and his feet became infected. It was recommended that he have both legs amputated above the knees. He accepted this fate as a life saving measure and understood that his legs were no longer of purpose to him, and were actually a hindrance when trying to transfer and go about his day. Luckily my grandfather had a wonderful sense of humor, and an even better attitude, and as such had cultured this into the rest of us. Before his amputations, and even after, we came up with lists of clichés we could no longer say to him: “put your best foot forward”, “pull up your socks”, “if the shoe fits wear it”, “you are a shoe in” etc. He was just as engaged in making these lists as we were.

I remember his jokes continued even days before his death. I was visiting with him and an orderly came in to mop the floor. As she approached the hospital bed where he was lying, he asked her if she needed him to “lift his feet”. She quickly said “no sir you are fine” to which I replied “he is just being funny….first of all he is in a hospital bed that you can mop under anyway, and secondly he has no feet!” This one of my fondest memories of him, and the last conversation I had with him before he passed.

My point? Your attitude can determine your outlook and outcome. While we can’t change the situations that happen in our life, we can change how we THINK about them – for the good or bad. But guess what? If you THINK that a given situation made you angry (or sad, frustrated, depressed) then your FEELINGS AND ACTIONS will follow, mimicking your thoughts. A situation does not cause you to be angry, it is your thoughts about the situation that causes your reaction. So, as obscure as it sounds, if you want to improve your outcomes, change your thoughts. Simple enough? Well, not really. Adopting a new attitude and thinking differently about things is hard work – it requires awareness and a paradigm shift to a new way of being. But I am sure everyone can think of one person that they just don’t want to be around – that negative Nelly, that downer, that person who does nothing but complain, that “Droopy” character in real life. These people are life-suckers, are exhausting to be around and positive people tend to avoid them because that negativity can become contagious. Is that you? Then do something about it to change your approach to things and the result will be an enrichment of your relationships.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is the process of helping people to understand the relationship between thinking and emotion. It involves working with a therapist to sort through the negative thinking patterns that are dictating counterproductive actions and feelings. If you think you need that, consider that occupational therapists often use this in treatment when our assessment uncovers that someone presents with challenging thinking patterns, or we are finding that a difficult attitude is hindering progress in treatment.

Here are some great quotes about attitude that really drive these points home:

“Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.”
Albert Einstein

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”
Thomas Jefferson

“The greatest day in your life and mine is when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That’s the day we truly grow up.”
John C. Maxwell

So, work to change your attitude and that could change your life!


Capturing the Moment or Missing it Altogether?

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

I love the song “Scare Away the Dark” by Passenger. Some of the lyrics have powerful insinuations: “we should stare at the stars and not just at screens”…”we want something real not just hashtag and twitter”…”we are all slowly dying in front of computers”. I believe there is significant truth to what he is saying. The technology pendulum has swung so far in the direction of obsession and I am personally looking forward to it bouncing back to some form of neutral.

If addiction is defined as “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice that is physically or psychologically habit forming to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma…or “usage of something that is beyond voluntary control” then I would argue that technology applies, and many people have a serious problem.

On a recent holiday the evidence of this was immense. On one occasion I saw three young women on a horse-drawn carriage ride (a $50 experience I might add) and they were all looking at their phones. Were they texting, tweeting, posting on FB “loving my horse drawn carriage ride”, or maybe playing candy crush, instagramming a photo, taking a selfie? Or the families sitting at dinner looking down, using their devices, essentially ignoring each other. Or the guy at the theme park videotaping his experience – he was even videotaping while a photographer was taking their family photo! I am not sure it matters what these people’s intentions were with their devices, but I felt that in perhaps trying to capture these moments they were missing them completely. Look around, talk to each other, take in the sights, sounds, smells, be mindful of the fragility of life and take a moment to be grateful for the experience. Connect. Engage. Smile at a person, not just a screen.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for capturing moments. But some moments need to be captured by our eyes and filed in our brain, not just on a device, memory card, or online. The concept of being present includes enjoying moments while you are in them – without living in the past or obsessing about the future. How can we do this? Enlightened Living suggests that being present involves recognizing that we can only do ONE thing at a time and thus we should engage wholeheartedly. Taking a photo while trying to absorb a moment are two tasks that cannot happen simultaneously. Thus why people feel that “life has passed them by”…they were never there to fully experience it in the first place.

So every once in a while check your addiction. Step away from your phone. Take technology away from your children. Leave it at home. Don’t take it on vacation. Set rules for technology behavior. In our house we have significant rules for screen use, including a 17 clause contract our daughter signed in getting her first cell phone at age 14. Rule # 1: The phone cannot be used to be mean to anyone – directly or indirectly. Rule # 2: Proper grammar and spelling must be used when communicating. Rule # 4 and 5: The phone is not allowed upstairs and cannot be used during family or meal times. Rule # 9: I will not use my phone to take photos or video of people without their permission. I will not post or share photos or video without consent of the people in them. Rule # 15: I will follow classroom and teacher rules for phone use when at school. Rule # 16: I understand this is not an appendage and obsessive use will not be tolerated. Rule # 17 is a list of reasons for repossession. My 14 and 12 year olds read the contract together. At the end my 12 year old said “so, what CAN she do”?

Do you feel sorry for my kid? Don’t. The real reason for the contract was not because she needs to be rigidly structured, but because I, as a new parent of a kid with a cell phone, was not comfortable with the entire concept in the first place. At 14 (and younger) kids are not developmentally able to understand and grasp the full impact of this new power in their possession. That is why there are recommended ages for Facebook (14), and age-specific laws for driving and drinking. They are young, naïve, immature, and still learning the ways of the world. I have a responsibility to be her guide, as effortful as that is. In the end, the contract worked to set out the expectations, establish boundaries, communicate about safety and proper use, and helped us recognize the need to adapt as a family to the transition of now raising teenagers, not just “kids”. But my true intent was to make sure that I don’t teach her, or worse, model for her, that technology trumps experiences, replaces in-person relationships, or is a valuable way to tick away the proverbial time bomb that is life.

So, try if you can to capture moments by being present, and by using your born faculties to photograph, store and file your memories – not just a device. Check in with yourself at times about your behaviors, track these, shock your system with some detox, set some boundaries and try to unplug.


The Brain Injury Rehabilitation of Disorganization

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

Last stop for Brain Injury Awareness Month – my favorite topic – organization!

photo 1


Yes, this is my drawer system to store pens, pencils, and markers. And if I find a pencil in the pen drawer look out! Perhaps being organized and knowing how to find what I need when I need it is one of the many ways I manage the demands of being a business owner and mother of four. But the reality is that we all have different levels of energy, tolerance and mental attention and these things can become depleted after a brain injury. So, if you were an energizer bunny with a DD battery before your injury, chances are your new batteries have been replaced with some AAA’s. This means that daily activities will take more time, more energy, and you will need to recharge sooner. So, considering this, do you really want to spend your valuable energy looking for stuff?

Consider that you have 10 units of brain capacity and energy when you wake in the morning. Every activity you have on your “to do” list takes one unit. Going for a walk, preparing supper, managing the laundry, responding to emails, attending an appointment, completing personal care, and having coffee with a friend all drain your battery. Some of these activities are necessary, some can be put off, and others are enjoyable. So what if you spend one unit of energy looking for your phone, keys, that bill that needs to be paid, your agenda, or those new runners you bought yesterday? What activity will come off your list when you have spent your energy to find something that with some organization would have taken you no time at all? Maybe you will call your friend to cancel, or order supper in again. Maybe the laundry will wait to tomorrow, or those emails will just keep accumulating. But this is unnecessary because you had the energy and cognitive ability to manage these things, it just became misdirected.

Often the focus of occupational therapy becomes helping people to organize their activities, their stuff or their time. Schedules and consistency are keys to helping people to understand the size of their battery and the amount of units each activity takes. This can be difficult when working with clients who did not need to be organized before an injury or illness, but the necessity of this following cannot be ignored. Even small steps to help people to be more organized can have a huge impact.

Helping clients with brain injury to become more organized can take many forms, depending on the client, the nature of their problems, and how they previously organized their stuff and their time. What I tend to witness is the time lost and sheer frustration that clients experience looking for cell phones, wallets and keys. Often, cell phones become used as a “second brain” assisting people to maintain a schedule and make appointments (calendar), remember things (task lists), have access to support systems (contacts, calls, text, email), and negotiate their environment (maps and GPS). If this gadget is so important, it is even more important that people know where it is. Having a catch tray by the front door, in their room, or a standard docking station can be helpful. Wallets and keys should also be left in a consistent location. I am sure we can all relate to that feeling of looking for our keys in their usual spot to find they are missing. But if you lack the ability to efficiently look for these, it could completely derail your day.

After the day to day items have a place, then we can work to simplify other spaces that are identified barriers to function. Perhaps the kitchen has become too cluttered to allow for efficient meal preparation, or the bills are piling up because these are lost in a stack of papers. In the world of insurance I find that clients become overwhelmed by paperwork and this results in missed appointments, nonresponse to time sensitive material, or failure to submit for expense reimbursement. Slowly, over time and with suggestions and tools (filing cabinets, labels, folders, a pen drawer!) clients become able to more efficiently spend their units of energy on things that are more important, or more fun and ideally, learn to transfer these strategies into other life areas independently – like work, school or parenting.



To read more of our articles on brain injury check out our section on Brain Health.