Tuesday is Halloween, a night when children dressed monsters, witches, superheroes and more hit the streets to Trick or Treat. While Halloween can be a fun night for both kids and adults, there are many dangers associated with it. Learn some valuable Halloween safety tips in the following from Safe Kids Worldwide to ensure your little ghosts and goblins have a fun and safe Halloween night!
Children living with disabilities often face a number of physical and mental challenges, however, on top of this are also facing social challenges such as bullying and lack of inclusion. In fact, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital states that 53% of children living with a disability have zero or only one close friend. Holland Bloorview has created a new campaign to help put an end to the stigma of disabilities. The Dear Everybody Campaign aims to provide awareness, knowledge and resources to help put an end to the stigma of disability.
Learn more about the campaign and help create change by visiting their website deareverybody.hollandbloorview.ca.
Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)
Every generation is said to be shaped, influenced and molded by the major world events that they experience. These events hit us so deeply that most of us can remember where we were when we “heard the news”, how we felt in the moment, and the way the world changed following the event. Today is the anniversary of 9/11 and marks a day of mourning for those of us that still feel deeply connected to the senseless tragedy that remains the world’s worst terrorist attack. But the threats aren’t over and the connected world we live in exposes all of us, including our children, to these events in gory detail complete with photos, video and even the live streaming of things as they unfold. If parents are not careful, these events can have a negative, harmful and life-lasting impact on children especially if we don’t help them process what they are seeing or hearing.
So, in the spirit of both mourning and hope, today I wanted to try and provide some suggestions on ways we can talk to our children about events like 9/11, the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert, North Korea testing missiles, the terrorism in Paris and London, attacks on Parliament Hill, or even the recent suffering caused by hurricane Harvey and the wildfires in Western Canada. Despite the fact that I am a mom of four, I still struggle to have these conversations with my kids, and as such reached out to an Occupational Therapist friend and colleague skilled in mindfulness (Angie Kingma www.mindfulnessforhealth.ca) to get her take on how all parents can try and manage these conversations better. Here is what Angie had to say:
Some parents take the stance that they’d rather shield their kids from the disturbing events that continue to happen daily around the world. These parents are well-meaning, assuming that talking about these grim facts will not only upset their kids but perhaps also cause harm. However, literature shows quite the opposite. What happens is that these kids are denied the opportunity to develop the resilience that is necessary to become a healthy, fully functioning adult. There are other parents who would like to discuss these issues but just don’t know what to say or where to start.
Mindful parenting can greatly enhance our ability to be skillful when talking to our kids about the world’s hard truths. So, what exactly is mindful parenting? It involves the intention to bring a particular quality of attention to the interactions with our children, as they unfold moment-by-moment. To do this, we choose to consciously pay attention to what is arising in the present moment, becoming aware of what’s happening internally for both the parent and the child, as well as what’s happening externally. Mindful attention is enveloped by attitudes of non-judgment, gentle curiosity, open-heartedness (kindness and compassion), as well as acceptance. We are especially interested in the child’s thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations, as well as our own. We practice mindful listening, which just means listening with full attention, staying present, conveying to your child that you are truly listening and care about their experience. This quality of focused attention and awareness goes beyond just listening to the words, and includes awareness of facial expressions and body language.
Here are some mindful communication tips when talking to kids about life’s difficulties:
Don’t avoid the conversation. Depending on your own comfort level, let kids know that darkness, misfortune, evil, natural catastrophes and other unpleasant life pressures do exist.
Explain issues to kids in an honest and age-appropriate manner.
Keep it simple. Kids don’t need the gruesome details, just the gist of the event. Find out what they know about it first and then fill in the gaps with the basics of what happened.
Remind your child that you might not have all the answers but that you know it’s important to have these types of discussions. Sometimes they aren’t looking for answers, our kids just need to feel “seen” and “heard”, and to feel a sense of safety.
Stay level-headed when you’re discussing difficult news. Practice ‘radical acceptance’ of these realities, which simply means acknowledging the truth of things (radical acceptance doesn’t mean we that we have to like it or approve).
Pay attention to your own feelings. Since events like terrorist attacks evoke strong emotions in us and our kids, be aware of what feelings are coming up in you before the conversation and during. Pay attention to your feeling(s) and observe them, breathing with them, without having to act on or get overwhelmed by them. When we can regulate our own feelings, it can help your child to regulate their own feelings (a term called “co-regulation”).
Share with your child what strategies you use to deal with distressing situations.
Seek professional assistance if you’re having feelings that are too difficult to manage on your own or your coping strategies are unhealthy or ineffective.
Pay attention to your child’s feelings. Help them name what they are feeling, which tips us in the direction of emotional regulation. Ask them if they can describe where in their body they feel their emotion, ex. tightening in chest, butterflies in the tummy, tension around their head.
Listen open-heartedly to your child’s feelings about the situation. Ask open-ended questions such as “How does hearing about this make you feel?” or “Is there anything else that you’d like to talk about?”
Validate your child’s feelings, even if you don’t understand them yourself. Say “Of course you’d feel that way. That makes total sense to me”.
If you notice a significant increase in fear and anxiety in your child that begins to affect their daily functioning, report this to your family doctor as soon as possible and consider getting a referral to a children’s mental health specialist.
Respect it if your child will simply not talk about certain topics. Some children, particularly kids who already have anxiety, won’t be able to tolerate the conversation so don’t force it. Other kids will have a lot to say and want to discuss it at length. Neither response is better than the other.
Difficulty helps to build our resilience. Let your child know that the things that we go through in life make us stronger and teach us important lessons. Point out specific stories of heroism, survivors, first responders or people coming together to help one another during times of need.
Teach the concept of impermanence, meaning that while difficulties in the world do exist in the present moment, things are always changing. There is hope that things will change for the better. Practice modelling attitudes of hope and optimism and discuss the importance of these with your child.
Not only does mindful parenting and communication strengthen the parent-child bond and facilitate a strong attachment, it also cultivates emotional awareness and self-regulation, which our world so desperately needs.
“Your mindful presence is the most valuable and precious gift you can give to yourself and to your children.”
Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)
Co-written with Student Occupational Therapist Elizabeth Fallowfield
Last spring my daughter brought home a “fidget spinner” that she purchased off a kid at school. She showed me how this worked as I had not seen it before. After watching her use this I had flash backs to my pen-twirling days from University. When I started my undergrad at the University of Waterloo, I noticed other students (many foreign) that would twirl or spin their pen in their hand during lectures. I decided I too wanted to master this, and spent many-a-lecture working more on my pen-twirling skills than absorbing the worldly lessons of my professor. Eventually, after launching a few pens rows ahead of me, or losing them altogether, I mastered the twirl, flip and spin with both my dominant and non-dominant hands. Sometimes I would even get daring and twirl two pens at once (only in the really boring lectures of course). To me, the fidget spinner serves the same purpose – give your hands something to do when you should otherwise be focusing and attending to something else. But is this really the case?
The History of the Fidget Spinner…
The fad fidget spinners we saw in classrooms everywhere are a specific type of “fidget”, which can also include things like stress balls, fidget cubes, putty or smooth stones. The purpose of these “fidgets” are to allow for movement and sensory input – which then helps to either calm the body, or allow it to become more alert based on the sensory profile of the person, as assessed by a qualified therapist, such as an Occupational Therapist. The sensory profile is a depiction of the way that a person seeks, processes and organizes sensory input. It is this sensory profile which would determine for example, whether movement and fidgeting is beneficial – allowing someone to calm their body in order to stay seated throughout a lesson, or whether it would be overloading, or distracting.
For these reasons, fidgets were originally used as part of therapy for children with ADHD or Autism, who often have trouble regulating themselves in a classroom setting. However, the popular spinners we see in classrooms today are not a design of fidget commonly used for therapeutic treatment. A fidget cube is an example of a more therapeutic fidget that would provide tactile or touch stimulation without the visual distraction of spinning.
What Does the Research Say?
The Occupational Therapy profession is a leader in sensory processing assessment and research, and while these specific types of spinners are too new to have been researched specifically, the research on other types of spinners is clear – they can be equally helpful, harmful or neutral to a person’s focus depending on their unique sensory needs – which can only be accurately assessed by an Occupational Therapist or healthcare provider with training and experience in sensory processing theory and assessment.
The Bottom Line: Fidget Spinners are a Better Toy than a Therapy…
Parents and the general public should be cautious of the claims that fidget spinners are a broad and successful therapy tool for managing ADHD and Autism, or that they are globally effective at increasing attention and focus, or have a calming influence. Truthfully, fidget spinners could be either an outlet to provide stimulation and to increase attention, or a distraction from something that is likely more important to be attending to (i.e. expensive University lectures). So, perhaps unless prescribed, these are best left at home this coming September.
Barton, E., Reichow, B., Schnitz, A., Smith, I., Sherlock, D. (2015). A systematic review of sensory‐based treatments for children with disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 37, 64‐80.
Foss-Feig, J. H., Tadin, D., Schauder, K. B., & Cascio, C. J. (2013). A substantial and unexpected enhancement of motion perception in autism. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(19), 8243-8249.
Stalvey, S. and Brasell, H. (2006). Using Stress Balls to Focus the Attention of Sixth-Grade Learners. Journal of At-Risk Issues, 12, 2, 7-16.
Zimmer, M., Desch, L., Rosen, L. D., Bailey, M. L., Becker, D., Culbert, T. P., … & Adams, R. C. (2012). Sensory integration therapies for children with developmental and behavioral disorders. Pediatrics, 129(6), 1186‐1189.
Due to vacations, sleepovers, and the unstructured nature of no school, daily routines are often disrupted over the summer months. A consistent daily routine for kids is critical to them learning responsibility, time management, and so they get a good sleep. Therefore, in September it is important to re-establish what morning, after-school and bedtime time should look like.
Use our customizable free printable to help kids stay on track each day in the morning, after-school and before bed! Be sure to review this with the kids before implementing, confirm the expectations, and get their commitment. You’ll be well on your way to creating a less stressful and more organized home!
For more helpful tools for children and adults visit our Printable Resources Page.
As it’s back to school time we wanted to shed some light on the awesome work Occupational Therapists do to help children succeed in the school system. From helping with IEP’s, to modifying the classroom environment, an Occupational Therapist can help to enhance the learning experience based on the individual needs of the child they are working with. Learn more about how OT’s help kids in schools in the following care of the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists.
Back to school is just a few weeks away. Check out our helpful infographic aimed at giving parents, teachers, and even kids some proactive strategies they can use to manage this transition as smoothly, productively, and as positively as possible.
No matter your age, whether you are starting school for the first time, returning to the same school, moving up to middle or high school, moving away to university or going back to school after years in the workforce, the words “Back to school” can bring on both excitement and anxiety. Many feel excited for the opportunities and experiences that may come, however, many also feel frightened and anxious over what lies ahead. For children with special needs any transition can be difficult, and parents and caregivers often find “back to school” one of the most difficult.
The following article published by Care.com discusses the some great strategies for helping plan for and make the transition of “back to school” as pleasant as possible for children with special needs.
Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)
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. Additionally, backpacks that are too heavy or large increase a child’s risk of injury due to falling or tripping. 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. 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)
Studies show that kids across the globe are becoming less active “couch potatoes” as early as age 7. In the following from CBC News learn more about this growing problem and the recommended guidelines for daily activity.
How can we put a stop to this growing problem?
We challenge you to spend active time together as a family! Now that Spring Has Sprung, try some of these fun family activities to boost the health of your children and yourself.