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Screen-time: Healthy Strategies for Children

While screens are a part of today’s culture, there are increased health benefits linked to reducing screen time, including improved physical health, decreased obesity and more time to play and explore.

The Canadian Pediatric Society Recommends:

  • For children under 2 years old, screen time is not recommended.
  • For children 2-5 years old, limit screen time to less than 1 hour per day.
  • For children older than 5 years old, limit screen time to less than 2 hours per day.

Screen Time Strategies

  • Role Model – Be a good role model with your own screen time. Be sure to put your phone down and connect with your children as often as possible.
  • Be accountable – Set expectations with your children and create goals together to help reduce screen time. Many devices have features to set time limits for use.
  • Be realistic – If your children spend a lot of time on screens, including watching TV, start by setting smaller, more obtainable goals. Instead of jumping to the recommended one to two hours or less per day, start by cutting current screen time in half.
  • Be engaged – After school or work, spend time each day face to face with your children and give them your full attention.
  • Put hand-held devices away – During screen free hours, put devices away or at a charging station in a common area so they’re not attracting your children’s attention.
  • Create phone-free zones in the home – Making family meals and bedtime routines, a phone-free zone is a great place to start.
  • Avoid using screens at bedtime – Turn off screens an hour before bedtime.
  • Go outside! – Putting down the phone and taking a walk or playing outdoors increases your endorphins and provides feelings of happiness in your brain, boosting your mood and improving your physical health. Check out these resources in Calgary for ideas on where you can go: CalgaryPlaygroundReview.com

Self-Calming Tips Parents Can Use with their Children

Young children generally have limited ability to calm themselves. When their parents provide them with a variety of tools to calm down, they learn how to comfort themselves. What helps will depend on the individual child and the situation.

  • Introduce the calming activity: Watch what works to help your child calm down. Use this information to select a self-calming strategy that will work for them. Find a fun or interesting way to share it at a time when they are not upset. For example, if your child is calmed by looking at books, invite them to create a quiet spot with cushions and books; a space they can use to calm down. You can also teach skills like taking deep breaths by having your child pretend to blow out candles.
  • Link the activity to a change in feelings: Once your child is familiar with the activity, refer to the feelings that are associated with participating in the activity. For example, you might say, “It is relaxing sitting on these comfy cushions; it helps me feel calm” or “Deep breaths help me blow my worries away”.
  • Practice using the tool when your child is calm: Encourage your child to practice using the strategy with stories, games, or by modeling. For example, while drawing with your child, you could say, “I’m going to pretend I’m angry and draw my feelings”. Or when you are experiencing an intense emotion, show your child that you use the strategy too, “I’m feeling very mad right now, I’m going to go to the quiet spot to read so I can calm down.”
  • Prompt your child to use the tool: Use a verbal reminder, “Looks like you are feeling angry” or a visual reminder (you can use an emotion chart) to remind your child to use the strategy. Sometimes giving a choice will help reduce resistance, “What would help you to feel calm – drawing or reading in your special spot?”
  • Back out and let your child use the tool: The end goal is to have your child use the strategy on their own. When your child starts to do this, back out and let them take responsibility. Be sure to comment on how responsible they are for taking time to calm down.
  • Give your child frequent pleasant experiences that let them experience happiness and joy, so they know what feeling good feels like.

Connection Before Correction

Parents Learning Together was recently joined by one of Lead’s behavior specialists. She helped the group learn to connect with their children before making any behavioral corrections.

  • It is important that grown-ups set out boundaries and communicate expectations to children.
  • Correcting a child should begin in a loving and nurturing way. Even when children have done something wrong, we want them to still feel seen, heard, and loved.

How do we show our children that they are seen, heard, and loved? We can use the ‘Connection Cycle.’

Communicate Comfort

  • Positive touch.
  • Non-threatening facial expressions.
  • Get down to their level.
  • Soft tone of voice.
  • Non-threatening body posture (relaxed vs. crossed arms).

Validate

  • Identify and label what the child is feeling.
  • Show that you understand why they are upset.
  • Acknowledge that you heard their concerns from their point of view.

Listen

  • Try not to ‘lecture’, especially when the child is already in a heightened.
  • emotional state
  • Try not to challenge their thoughts.
  • Engage in Active Listening

Reflect

  • Communicate to the child what they have said.
  • Let the child know they have your attention.
  • Ultimately, we want the child to know that you understand their position.

Once the child has calmed from the limit or boundaries that have been set, we can work on ‘repairing’ the relationship. We can discuss with the child why the limit or expectation was put in place. Now that the child is more regulated, we can use more language as well as plan for similar future scenarios.

Self-Regulation and Sensory Processing

Self-regulation refers to one’s ability to monitor and adjust their level of alertness, emotions and actions in response to various cues from their body or the environment. There are 3 neurological components that need to work together: Emotional, Cognitive, and Sensory.

Children are learning self-regulation skills and benefit from the support of caregivers as they learn to understand and respond to cues from their body and environment. This support is called co-regulation!

Sensory Regulation: The ability to select and process sensory information in order to plan and perform expected behaviors.

Sensory Dysregulation: When the body is out of balance due to the sensory environment (i.e., unexpected loud noise).

Sensory Processing: Taking in, understanding, and using sensory information to perform daily activities.

We have 8 sensory systems

  1. Touch
  2. Vision
  3. Hearing
  4. Taste
  5. Smell
  6. Proprioception (movement)
  7. Vestibular (balance)
  8. Interoception (internal sensations)

Activities to Support Sensory Processing

    • Have your child explore different sensory tools when they are calm (eg, playdoh, shaving cream, massages or tickles)
    • Have adults or peers demonstrate using these sensory tools
    • Create a sensory space in the home or classroom where the different
      sensory tools are available.
    • Some sensory activities to try: messy play including finger painting, playing barefoot in the grass, blowing bubbles or a whistle.
    • Discuss sensory needs with an Occupational Therapist.

 

Caregiver Self-Care Over the Holidays

The Holidays can be a stressful time for caregivers. Filled with happy times and overwhelming times. It may not seem like there is time for self care, but this is an effective way to reduce stress, improve wellbeing, and help find some joy during those overwhelming times.

Make time for yourself – It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of extra tasks and hassles that the holidays bring. Added on top of regular caregiver responsibilities, it can really crank up the stress level. To help balance this out, make it a priority to take some time for yourself to sit quietly, relax and recharge. Remind yourself that self care isn’t a waste of time. Brief time-outs can make you feel more present and calm.

Know your priorities – There may be dozens of things going on during the holiday season, and you can run yourself ragged trying to keep up with all of the demands. Take a moment to consider what is the most important to you? Taking this time to consider what gives you the most meaning and fulfillment can help you prioritize activities, events, and even people.

Reflect on what you are grateful for – Practicing daily gratitude is a proven stress buster. The practice of gratitude can change your perspective and can help you see that there is always some good in life, even in tough times. To practice, write down 3 things you are grateful for, or tell someone why you are grateful for them.

Remember that holiday stress will pass – When you are in the middle of a stressful situation, it can feel as if it will never pass. Keep reminding yourself that this will be over soon, and that you have successfully made it through every other holiday season, and you will this one too. Try to notice all the positive things happening and see the joy.

Try to understand why you might be having negative emotions – Negative emotions during the holidays could be related to unrealistic expectations of yourself or your family, goals set too high, or just feeling overwhelmed. If you are feeling negative, you may need to adjust your expectations to match the reality of the situation or choose to do a few less activities.

Find reasons to laugh – Humor is a fantastic way to reduce stress and an effective way of coping with challenging situations. Take the opportunity to laugh as much as possible during the holidays. If being funny doesn’t come naturally to you, watch a funny movie, play a funny game like charades, or have a fun sing-along.

Take a few moments for deep breathing, meditation, or music – To help your body de-stress and relax, try a simple breathing technique that can be used anywhere at any time – Box Breathing – or try meditating for a few minutes – 2 Minute Mindfulness. Other ways to help your body and mind release tension are to get out into nature, listen to music, do a quick workout, or stretch your body.

Lean on a self care buddy – When you know that times are going to be challenging, it can help you to have someone to talk to – in person, online, via phone, or even by text. Sharing our challenges with others in a non-judgmental environment can really help alleviate stress and remind us that we aren’t alone.

Teaching Healthy Boundaries

Healthy boundaries are flexible and will change as your children grow. You will likely have many conversations about different types of boundaries and why they are important. Be aware of your own boundaries, and make sure you communicate your own needs and wants.

Let your children know they are the boss of their own bodies – Create opportunities for your child to understand that they are in control of how they interact with others and how others interact with them. Never force hugs or kisses, even with relatives. If your child does not want to hug during greetings or good-byes, let them know that is OK, they can wave, high-five, blow a kiss, or simply say goodbye.

Ask for permission before touching children and encourage them to do the same – Model this behaviour. Before reaching out for a hug from a child, niece, nephew etc., ask permission to do so. If the child is very young, or nonverbal, be sure to check in with them and let them know what you are doing and why. For example, “I’m going to button up your shirt, so you will be ready for school”, or “I’m going to rub shampoo in your hair, so you’re clean”.

Be direct about talking about body anatomy – It’s common to rely on cute or silly names when referring to body parts, but coming up with alternate words can send the message that parts of our bodies are embarrassing, or not to be talked about, making it hard to distinguish between safe interactions and safe touch.

Let children know it’s ok to ask for help and help them identify ‘safe’ adults – Teach kids that safe adults listen to what they want and need, and don’t make them feel uncomfortable or scared. Finding safe adults at school, in the community, and extended family members will help build up your child’s network.

Talk early and often – Sexual development is just as important as physical, cognitive, and emotional development. Having age-appropriate conversations throughout your child’s development can help our kids feel more confident and comfortable seeking out honest and open conversations about their bodies, boundaries, and consent.

Emphasize confidence and emotional boundaries – Healthy boundaries often require us to be confident in our own opinions, desires, and needs. To build confidence, children need to learn how to identify what they need, where their limits are, and the types of interactions with which they are comfortable. Talk about emotions and acknowledge your own and your child’s emotions frequently. Ask questions like “How did that make you feel?” or “Why do you think you felt that way?” or “Would you do anything differently next time?”

Coping with Big Emotions

“Emotions are the fabric that connects us to the world”

Handling big emotions is a tough job! As parents, there are many ways we can support our children in learning how to cope with these big feelings. Below are some strategies to co-regulate with your child, or help them when they experience big emotions:

Connect and Redirect – It is important to connect to our child first, before we take any further steps. Acknowledging feelings and expressing empathy, helps to create this connection. From here, you can set boundaries and redirect. “I can see you might feel frustrated. It’s ok to feel upset. I can help you”.

Stories – sharing and reading stories of how others cope with big emotions can help our kids understand themselves.

Offer Choices – Provide lots of opportunities to help your child feel in control, find ways to allow them to make decisions for themselves. For example, “Red shirt or blue shirt?”

Move the Body – A powerful way to gain emotional balance is to move the body – dance, play, run, climb, wrestle (this increases bonding hormones and decreases stress hormones).

Play, Pause, and Rewind – After an upsetting event, children benefit from pausing and taking a look back at what happened. Storytelling helps children understand, process and heal from stressful events.

Let the Emotions Roll By – Give reminders that everything passes, emotions are transient and will come and go.

Emotion Coaching Phrases

“It’s ok to be upset, it’s good to let it out”All emotions are ok, they need to be felt and safely expressed. All emotions need acknowledgement. 

“I hear you, I’m here for you, I’ll stay with you”The best gift we can give our children is to stay with them in their big emotions, just BE THERE with them.

“It’s ok to feel how you feel, it’s not ok to…” – Sometimes we need to set limits on behaviours while we acknowledge the underlying emotion. The emotion is fine, but the expression of it may need some guidance. Taking a break when we are angry is a good way to regulate anger, get some space, take a deep breath and gain some new perspective.

“How you feel right now won’t last forever”Big emotions can take over and give the impression that they are forever. As parents, we need to be able to let things go, teaching our children that they can let things go too.

“Let’s take a breath, take a break, sit down and pause”It’s hard to sit with a strong emotion, but if we allow ourselves to simply be, the emotion loses it’s hold over us as we experience and express the emotion. Describe your own experiences with emotions; let them know what sadness, anger, and frustration feels like to you and how you can let the emotion pass.

“You are good and kind” – When children are dysregulated and have big emotions it can make the child appear ‘bad’, but no emotion, no matter how big, makes a child bad. Our children can make mistakes; that is how they act, not who they are. Research shows us that telling our kids they are kind, leads to more acts of kindness.

“I’ll be over here when you need me” – Validation and acknowledgment is important, but sometimes kids just need some space. You can acknowledge while giving space, by saying, “I see you are very upset.. I
will be right over here when you need me”. This is supporting them from a safe and present distance. You are trusting them to use some strategies to calm themselves down.

“Let’s have a do-over” – Sometimes all we need is a chance to reset. Kids make mistakes sometimes and they need to know they can have a chance to do it better.

“What can we learn from this? What is the lesson?” – Life gives us many opportunities to grow and learn. Teaching our kids that there is a lesson when we struggle, helps them learn from the experience. There is a lesson/learning in our challenges.

“You’ll remember next time” – This one simple phrase communicates to our children that their mistake today is not a permanent one. Tell them this after they are calm and regulated.. This gives them something positive to focus on, shows them that we believe in them, and can help empower them to make positive choices in the future.

5 Tips to Help With Back-to-School Stress

Back to School | First day of school and first day of kinder… | Flickr

Anxious feelings are normal and expected for children returning to, or starting school. We can help our kids manage their worries and stress with a few tips.

  1. Take Care of the Basics – Ensure your child is getting enough sleep, eating regular meals, has daily exercise, and practices healthy coping skills.
  2. Provide Empathy – Listen to your child. Allow them to share their fears and worries with you. This can help lessen their fears and reduce their worries.
  3. Problem Solve – Once you have listened to your child and know what’s bothering them, you can start to develop a coping plan. For example, you can tell your child “Let’s think of some ways you could handle that situation”. Anxious children are often unable to problem solve and may doubt their ability to cope. Addressing fears head on and creating an active plan with concrete solutions can significantly reduce worries and anxieties.
  4. Focus on the Positive Aspects – Once you have an understanding of what your child is afraid of, and you have a coping plan to address these fears, you can encourage your child to re-direct attention away from their worries and direct them towards the positive things in their life. For example, you can ask your child “Tell me 1 thing you liked about school today”.
  5. Pay Attention to your own Behavior – It is completely normal for parents to experience their own feelings of worry and anxiety. Children take cues from their parents, so the more confidence you can model, the more your child will believe they can handle any challenge. Be supportive, yet firm. When saying good-bye, say it cheerfully, and only once. If they display any protests, you can say in a calm voice ” I can see that going to school is making you feel scared, it’s ok to be scared, you still have to go to school. Tell me what you are worried about, so we can talk about it”.

Building Friendships

Friendship Building Tips

Learning how to navigate social situations involves learning many new skills. We can help our kids at home using these tips:

  1. Greetings and Questions – Try to make a habit of practicing different greetings throughout the day, model good listening skills, and take turns asking and answering open-ended questions, for example, “How are you?”
  2. Respecting Personal Space – Learning about the personal space needs of others is a skill that will benefit your child throughout their life. Try using hula-hoops or your arms to demonstrate the concept of ‘personal bubbles’ and move around the room trying not to touch each-other’s ‘personal bubble’. If your child is overly affectionate, try teaching them to replace hugs with high-fives or fist bumps.
  3. Levels of Voice – Encourage your child to listen and match the level of your voice. Imagine your voice has a volume dial and practice turning the volume up and down
  4. Dealing with Rejection – Children who are learning new social skills and meeting new friends will inevitably experience rejection at some point. As a parent, we can be ready to support them when this happens. Remind them of all of their wonderful qualities that make them the amazing child they are, and encourage them to continue to practice their skills of meeting new people.
  5. Reading and Responding to Social Signals – Communication is so much more than just words. Body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, and volume of voice are all used when we communicate. Social signals are the variety of ways in which we communicate using our body language and facial expressions. Help your child learn common social signals. Use visuals, pictures, social stories, books and your own face to teach different expressions.

Big Emotions When Making Friends

  1. Patience – Learning how to wait for a turn in play or a time to speak in conversation is an important social skill. Play board-games and use timers at home to practice taking turns.
  2. Flexibility – Help your child make compromises using “First/Then” statements. For example, “First we play my game, Then we play your game”.
  3. Communicating Strong Emotions – Practice acknowledging and accepting your child’s emotions and teach them healthy ways of expressing them. For example, “When we are mad, we can stomp our feet like dinosaurs”. Daily meditation and deep breathing practices are good ways to help our children regulate.

It is important to offer our children opportunities to practice their newly learned social skills.

  • Find a Parent Support Group – connecting with other parents in similar situations can provide opportunities to grow your child’s social circle, in a supportive and loving environment.
  • Schedule Play Dates – set up the environment by making a list of activities and have the children take turns selecting the activities out of a hat.
  • Look for Inclusive Clubs and Social Groups – check out local community organizations that foster inclusive environments.

Building Relationships with a New School

Fall registration is ongoing, and parents have many questions regarding how to advocate for their children in the school system. Parents Learning Together invited a Lead Early Learning Coordinator to help guide families through the process.

She recommended:

  • Check out the school’s website
  • Request a school tour – you can do this before the start of school in September
  • Know how the school supports communication and resolution between home and school
  • Attend the school’s Open House and attend Parent – Teacher conferences
  • Call, visit, and email the principal
  • Play on the school playground, maybe you’ll meet other parents or children
  • Attend school council meetings – you can go before your child starts attending the school

Communicating with the School

  1. Your child’s teacher, principal, etc. want to hear from you
  2. When teachers have a relationship with parents, they know the child better, teaching and learning is improved
  3. You are not bothering a teacher with your communications; you are facilitating easier and smoother communication, especially if there is a tricky situation
  4. Don’t worry about your own communication skills!

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