Note From The Editor
With Summer ending, it’s time to return to our familiar routines and start planning for the year ahead. September arrives and we have our parent minds geared towards preparing our children for their school year. Pens, paper, note books, new socks and shoes… but what about preparing their hearts and minds and quieting their fears? A new school, a new class, a new teacher. All these things can lead to anxiety. This year’s issue of Okanagan Family Magazine will touch on interesting ways to tackle some of these fears.
Want to help him learn to express himself better? Try a drawing class. Boost her level of confidence? Act in a play or learn to dance. Choosing the right class for your child can be tricky? Read our articles on the many benefits of participating in the Performing Arts. Written by professionals at locally run non-profit societies, schools and after school care programs to help guide you through the process of making the right choice for your kids.
Another way to help your child acclimatize to the school year is to develop a regular routine and include bonding time. Kari Wright and Alison Ruks show us how routines can increase our children’s sleeping time and reduce their anxiety over the new things they will have to face in the day to come.
Have you just had a baby? Are you worried and you don’t know why? Are you having unexpected feelings that are causing you concern? Postpartum depression is not uncommon. Getting help is the key and there’s lots of options available. Read our article by Tascheleia Marangoni, Director for the Perinatal Mood Disorder Awareness Project Ltd.) to learn how you can overcome this unexpected obstacle. You are not alone.
Time to scrape a knee. Over-supervised and restrictive play may have kept our kids safe but is it healthy? We need to stop limiting our children’s play time and allow them to engage freely in outdoor activities… allow them to skin a knee. Sounds awful? Consider that it has been determined that access to active play outdoors, with all its risks, is essential for healthy child development. This doesn’t mean courting danger, instead give your kids the freedom to make their own decisions. This will in turn allow them to build confidence, develop skills, solve problems and learn limits. Research shows kids are more likely to be physically active when playing outdoors unsupervised. Time to let your kids play outside on their own.
We hope you enjoy this year’s edition of the Okanagan Family Magazine. Full of advice, ideas and insights, we hope to make parenting a little easier and a lot more fun!
For more information on child care options see our website at www.okanaganfamilymagazine.ca
Grow, Learn and Cook
by Helen Stortini | Photos shutterstock.com and contributed
“Being able to garden and grow food is becoming a lost art,” says Melissa Masters, cook at Predator Ridge Golf Course. “Growing up, my grandparents had a huge garden in their backyard. We got to grow and eat food from their yard. I feel like the current generation has lost the knowledge of how to do these things. I have two school-aged kids myself and I think it’s incredibly important for them to learn how to grow their own food and where it comes from. This is why I got involved with Growing Chefs.”
Masters is one of more than twenty chefs and community volunteers that participated in this year’s Growing Chefs! program in Kelowna and Lake Country. Masters and her fellow volunteers were paired with a grade three class. On the first visit, the volunteers helped the students plant an indoor windowsill vegetable garden, consisting of fast growing plants such as beans, peas, beets, salad greens and arugula. They then returned every two weeks for three and a half months to do hands-on lessons with the students which focused on plant growth, urban and local agriculture, food sustainability, vegetable exploration and healthy eating. Towards the end of the program the chef volunteers helped the students harvest their gardens and do cooking lessons with the food that they’ve grown.
Growing Chefs! was started by pastry Chef Merri Schwartz in Vancouver in 2005. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the program has grown from two classrooms with four chef volunteers to forty three classes with more than 140 chef and community volunteers in nine communities. The program started in Kelowna in 2013 with the help of Chef Donnie Ungaro. Ungaro had volunteered with the program in Vancouver and after moving to Kelowna, felt it would be a great fit for the community. With the support of the Okanagan Chefs Association, the Okanagan Young Professionals Collective, and the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission, it was first delivered in two classes at AS Matheson Elementary with eight volunteers. It has since grown to six classrooms with twenty two chef and community volunteers.
The program aims to give kids hands-on experience growing and cooking healthy food. “Our goal is to get kids making healthy choices,” says Growing Chefs! executive director Helen Stortini. “We want kids to understand where their food comes from, how it is grown, and how their food choices affect their health and the environment. We feel that the chef, restaurant and the grower community are the perfect people to be working with the kids on this. They have so much knowledge and passion to share with the community. When we were approached by Donnie about expanding the program to Kelowna, it seemed like the perfect fit.”
“There is so much local fruit and vegetables grown here and so many farms here in Kelowna,” says James Addington, Restaurant General Manager, Food and Beverage at the Delta Grand Okanagan Resort. “It’s important for kids to understand local agriculture. With the program, we’re able to teach them about eating local. It’s awesome because they can. There is so much local food available here.”
“It’s so great to see the kids taking what they learned home with them,” says Addington. “They are living and breathing it at home. They would tell us all about gardens they’d started with their families.”
By growing their own food in the classroom, the kids get hands-on experience with where food comes from. “My first year, I had kids that thought carrots came out of a box,” says Giulio Piccioli, chef and owner of One Big Table. “We had kids that didn’t make the connection between chicken and eggs. This program gives city kids the opportunity to create connections with their food. By the end of the program, I felt the kids really understood what we were teaching them. They were curious about their food and interested in supporting local farms.”
“Kids ask questions about food that adults have stopped asking,” says Piccioli. “Working with young kids and food really forces you to look back at the basics – how to taste things and really pay attention to the flavour.”
The program’s success comes from the community support of organizations such as the Okanagan Chefs Association. A large majority of the classroom volunteers are OCA members. The members take time out of their busy schedules to help set up the volunteer teams, put together all the soil and vegetables needed for the program and deliver the hands-on lessons. They also generously donate the produce needed for the program and help with fundraising to ensure the program can happen year after year.
“It was wonderful to see so many volunteers from the OCA,” says Masters. “Having that kind of representation is important. It brings more awareness to the program and gives chefs and OCA members an opportunity to engage the community in a way that’s outside the culinary field.”
Aman Dosanj and her mother Jas Dosanj of Poppadom’s loved being part of the program again this year. “Our teacher from last year asked us to be in her class again which was very cool,” says Aman. “We did a few things outside of the curriculum. We brought in my mum’s vegetable pakoras and my grandma’s spicy Indian peas. The kids, surprisingly, loved them. One day we even made a potato chaat in class.”
“This community support has been instrumental in making the program happen in Kelowna. It wouldn’t be the success it is today and have grown to six classrooms without their support,” says Stortini.
“It’s so rewarding helping create the connections between the kids and their food,” says Piccioli. “It makes you proud when you realize, however small, the difference you are making in the community.”
Helen Stortini is the Executive Director of Growing Chefs! For more information about Growing Chefs! Contact them at email@example.com
Everyone is an Artist
by Rena Warren, B.F.A. B.Ed. | Photos contributed
I’ve had the pleasure of teaching art for nearly 20 years, working with individuals ranging from preschoolers to seniors; running programs for middle schoolers, art enthusiasts, adults with developmental disabilities as well as mental health and wellness groups. Not only has this experience allowed me to work with all ages, it has afforded me the opportunity to observe the creative process at a variety of functioning levels.
Recently, while teaching a beginner painting class for adults, I posed the question, “What experience do you hope to gain from this class?” The most common answer I received from this group; generally comprised of retired professionals was, “It’s on my bucket list”.
Why is it, that so many wait until their latter years to afford themselves the opportunity to create? Some believe that art creation is for artists, or for those who are naturally gifted. If that were the case, then leave fitness to the Olympians. More discouraging, is when adults tell me stories about how their creative processes ended when a parent or teacher criticized their work. If you’ve never seen the inner child crushed in an otherwise perfectly composed adult, then have them tell you about the last time they drew or painted and were told it wasn’t good enough.
The creative process isn’t about making a pretty picture. Quick grammar lesson here; painting is not a noun… it’s a verb. The finished product is superfluous to the process or journey.
Actively, the creative process involves risk taking, mistake making, and problem solving; skills that transfer in all aspects of life and make for a well-rounded individual. Passively, it promotes relaxation and self-reflection. Combined, this expression propels us deeper into ourselves.
Children and adults with developmental disabilities are a delight to watch in the creative process. Risk taking and mistake making; the bane and stumbling block for many a perfectionist; are exercised with lack of self-consciousness. How intrinsically linked is procrastination and perfectionism? The most paralyzing block to true creativity is the expectation of creating something perfect. We see beautiful works on gallery walls but what we don’t see are the countless explorations leading to a final work. How many mistakes needed to happen to make the discoveries inherent in beautifully crafted work? When we become less self-conscious about what we create, the ideas begin to flow. New discoveries are made about the potential of the materials we are using, and the potential of ourselves. How lovely to witness the delight and joy that washes over a student’s face when they lose themselves in this process.
Fear of making mistakes isn’t the only deterrent to encouraging the creative process. Another time, when I was teaching a group of children for a pre-school program, we were knee deep in paint, coloured sand and glue. Beautiful things were erupting from the vivid colours and textures being explored. One little voice rose above the cheerful banter to say, “We’re not allowed to do this at home.” Upon further questioning he clarified that art didn’t happen at home because it was too messy.
Just as our playgrounds are becoming stifled homages to liability, the next generation’s ability to problem solve could become stunted if we do not allow ourselves or our children to engage in the creative process, make mistakes and messes. No bumps and scrapes, no learning.
If you’ve never taken a drawing, painting or pottery class before because you’re genuinely not interested, consider other hands-on ways you can exercise creativity. Model building, xeriscaping and cooking classes are other non-arty ways to be creative while using your hands.
If you’ve never taken art classes because you’re afraid that you’re not good enough, then you’re definitely good enough! There are many art classes designed for absolute beginners. While it’s true that some individuals have a natural aptitude to art creation, everyone can learn with the right instruction and willingness. I may not have been born a natural athlete but that’s not going to keep me from the benefits of locomotion.
Never let age be a deterring factor for creativity. My eldest student was well into his nineties when he began painting. He credited his longevity to regular immersion in the creative process and dedicated himself to “life long” learning.
I’ve had students so young that they could barely hold a pencil. I’m often alarmed at how many children have never been taught how to hold a pencil or to cut with scissors.
Age or skill level should never stop the creative process. Take a look at the famous painter Henri Matisse. In his latter years he began to lose his sight but this did not deter him from being creative. His grandiose collages were comprised of simple shapes cut from coloured paper. Have your youngsters do some “scissor work” as a creative process. Not only is it skill building, but also the finished shapes can be assembled and glued onto paper to create an interesting and delightful composition.
Don’t let physical limitations be a deterrent either. There’s a full range of modifications that can be made to art materials and processes. I teach classes for a local disability arts group and there are many adaptations that can be made to any art lesson. Adaptive tools are available on the market and homemade adaptive tools are all around us. Ever tried painting with a bottlebrush, or dipping dryer balls into paint and rolling them on paper in a shallow plastic tub? With a bit of duct tape and sponge I have modified paintbrushes so that individuals with limited reach or compromised motor skills can paint too.
Some people view their gender as a deterrent as well. A few years ago I was presenting to a local Rotary Club, a group whose primary activities aside from philanthropic work, was golf tournaments. All generalizations aside, it was a tough group to sell art classes to. I stated that in my view the creative process was as vital to character building and cerebral development as physical exercise is to the body. Prior to my talk, a few of the members thought that perhaps their wives would be interested and admitted that they viewed art processes as “fluffy” and doesn’t the word fartsy usually follow artsy? They came away from my talk with a broader view of the creative process. I hosted a painting class with proceeds designated for charity and I’m pleased to report that many of the members signed up.
With all obstacles and preconceptions aside, there really isn’t any reason not to engage in the creative process. Do it for yourself. Do it for your children. Make it part of a balanced lifestyle. The rewards are awaiting you.
Rena Warren is a practicing artist and award winning art educator. She teaches art to all ages independently and for the Kelowna Art Gallery. She is the executive director of Cool Arts Society, a local non-profit group dedicated to providing art opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities. She also operates as Capricornucopia Artworks at Studio 202 ~ Rotary Centre for the Arts where she offers adult art classes and after school programs for youth.
The Theatre Prepares You For Life
by Michael Guzzi and Shannon Mason Brown | Photo contributed
Theatre is a very special education tool, as students learn countless transferable skills in an environment of fun and play! On a daily basis, students explore their creativity, develop social skills, cultivate leadership and teamwork skills through interacting with other students and celebrate the joy of working towards something greater than themselves. In finding their strengths and passions, children’s self-esteem and confidence is boosted, as every individual’s unique gifts are valued and important. Students in this creative discipline practice listening, understanding, empathy and compassion. We practice paying attention, learning from other people and caring. These are skills not only for the theatre, but for life!
On stage actors learn the discipline it takes for success. Not just from learning lines and reciting them, but learning to take on a character to match those words and give it life in front of an audience. So much learning, practice, perseverance and creativity are brought into play in that process and it is something that cannot be learned in books. It must be learned in the arts experience.
Off stage in the theatre technical areas the learning continues. How to be creative in presenting the play through sets, lighting, sound, costumes and affects? Brainstorming, designing, building and executing it all perfectly is a process that can be equaled in few places. Think about that process and then understand it is learned and perfected with excitement, long hours, trial and error as well as with love of the challenge.
When you combine on and off stage activities, you have a large team working towards a perfect goal while trusting and depending on each other for their success. The actors understand the needs of the stage crew and the crew understands the needs of the actors. Each understands that their mistakes or any lack of effort along the way can impact everyone. If you can translate this dedication, imagination, understanding and perspiration into any workplace, can you imagine what you could have? Theatre gives all this to its students and more.
Michael Guzzi is CEO/Teacher and Shannon Mason Brown is the Theatre Course Instructor at Studio 9 School of the Arts. For more information about Studio 9 School of the Arts visit www.studio9.ca
by Tanya Bakala | Photo by shutterstock.com
Dancing is a gift we are all born with, feet start tapping to a catchy tune before our brain even catches up to the conscious realization of what we are doing. Dancing is one of our greatest methods of expression and our children are our greatest teachers when it comes to showing us how to dance as if no one is watching.
What about when it comes time for our children to take dance lessons? How can you choose a school that will nurture and develop that innate ability in a child? Pursuing the art of dance requires devotion, dedication and discipline yet joy and fun are the heart of it. There are many practical and essential ingredients in choosing a school. As a parent ask yourself, is this an environment in which my child will flourish? Do the values, intentions and approach of this school and it’s teachers match those of myself and my child? Any school that you enter is the start of a relationship so make sure that you, and especially your child, feels good in that environment.
What should I do first?
What are you looking for and what is your child looking for? Make sure that your wants, wishes, dreams and desires don’t override what your child needs and wants out of a class and dance school environment. Set up an appointment with the director and have a chat about your child and your expectations. This will give you an opportunity to find out the values and philosophy of the school, its director and the teachers. Know what is most important to you. Is it training and education? Is it convenience of the location, days, hours?
Ask about entrance requirements and how age and ability influence that. Inquire into the financial possibilities and funding options. Be informed of policies in the event of possible injury and need of cancellation.
Have your child try a class or you can observe an existing class prior to enrolling. This will allow you and your child to feel the vibe of the teacher and students. Research the background of the teachers, their education and years of teaching experience.
Consider the philosophy
Do all the students experience equal attention of the teachers so that everyone has the same opportunity to improve? How do the teachers deal with problems or conflicts? Are the teachers positive in their delivery of constructive criticism or correction for improvement?
What is the school’s process for casting roles?
Is mentorship fostered in the school, how do the seniors behave and interact with the juniors?
The difference between programs
The quality of the training will be directly related to the level of training the teacher has received. The programs you choose can be geared towards different intentions of results.
• Recreational classes are designed to give basic dance training without the commitment of many hours of training per week.
• Competitive stream of training is specifically geared towards that end… competition.
• Performance programs exist for those students wishing to perform often throughout the year. Many times these programs offer training at a more professional level with an expectation of a commitment to numerous hours of training.
• Professional training programs are geared towards students who wish to pursue dance as a career. This is similar to a high performance program.
Many parents like to start their youngsters in a recreational program first. Once their child demonstrates ability, desire and determination, they can be enrolled in a more demanding program.
But be aware…
Classes called “ballet” when offered for very young children may not actually be true ballet. It is very important that rotation (turning out of the toes) is not forced at a young age since joints are still developing. Light turnout can start around the age of six or seven but teachers must keep a watchful eye that ankle and knee joints are not being twisted all about.
A teacher who previously was a dancer may not necessarily understand how to teach your child.
For the dance mom enthusiast, trophies are not always where it’s at. Focus on good quality dance training and education for possible professional success. Be careful not to mistake a highly competitive school for a highly professional school.
The joy of dance is there for everyone. If you love the school, its direction, philosophy and values, and if the teachers are to your satisfaction, and you are sure that your child will thrive, then you cannot put a price on that. Go for it!
Tanya Bakala is the Artistic Director at Mission Dance Centre. For more information about Mission Dance Centre visit www.missiondancecentre.com
by Amanda Morazain | Photo by shutterstock.com
We love and value our children more than anything in this world. One of our most important jobs as parents is to help them grow into well-rounded, happy and healthy adults.
Part of this journey, especially if they are creative, is giving them the opportunity to delve into the arts. Studies have shown that the arts have numerous benefits including advancing motor and language skills and building self-confidence to name just a few. Let’s focuses on some of the physical and mental benefits of music.
Anyone who has ever picked up an instrument for the first time knows that the brain works harder when playing music. Students use their ears and eyes as well as muscles, coordinating them all at the same time to create sound. This not only leads to a beautiful, pleasing tone but also to a larger growth of neural activity. A study by E. Glenn Schellenberg at U of T found an increase in IQ of six year olds who were given vocal and piano lessons once a week. On average they scored three IQ points higher than the other children in the experiment.
Music lessons, vocal in particular, help develop language skills. Being able to recite and emotionally connect to the lyrics increases their ability to use language to express themselves while improving their memory.
Listening to and playing music can lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and has been used to ease pain, anxiety and depression.
Learning to play creates a sense of appreciation. Students learn to appreciate different genres, the talent of other artists and themselves when they successfully play the song that they have been working on. It can be a challenge getting the melody, rhythm, tonal quality, accents and dynamics to happen effortlessly. Once they are able to play it they are able to build on their definition of what constitutes great as opposed to mediocre playing. They learn to put high standards on themselves to constantly be able to play harder material. When that high bar is consistently set and reached it builds self-confidence as well as cultivates patience along the way. These qualities are important in all aspects of our lives.
Music helps children develop socially. It teaches them how to relate to others, how to listen and how to work as a team to create one single sound.
But forcing a child to play an instrument because you know it will be good for them rarely leads to the love of music that we are trying to cultivate. Your child has to want to learn.
So how do you choose the best instrument for your child? The first thing to consider is their age. Many instruments are not appropriate for smaller children because they demand too much dexterity or are just too big for them to hold! Piano, violin and ukulele are popular instruments for younger children because they all help build musical foundations that can be transferred over to other instruments when they are older.
When they start expressing an interest notice how excited your child is about playing that particular instrument. Yes, their passion will increase over time but if they aren’t enthusiastic about it at the beginning you may be setting them up for failure.
How do you find the right studio and teacher for your young musician? Most music schools teach a variety of genres. They do however try to offer something unique to set them apart. Find a school with a good reputation. Look them up online and ask other parents where they take their children.
Having an inspirational teacher that uses the right teaching method for your child is paramount. You can Google the teacher to find their bio and musical clips online. Many teachers offer drop-in classes. These classes are a chance for you to meet the instructor and to have one lesson to see if it’s a good fit, most of the time you’ll know right away.
Most importantly, support and encourage your budding musician as they jump into a whole new world of learning their first instrument. What an exciting time!
Amanda Morazain is a private vocal and piano instructor, mother and writer.
by Amelia Ellsworth | Photo by shutterstock.com
Birthday parties are so much fun. Every kid wants to be invited to the party. They seldom think about how much work goes into planning one. It’s hard to come up with different ideas and fun activities each time. Here are some helpful ideas, tips and themes you might want to use for your next great event.
Do you play the guitar or piano? Do you enjoy singing? Have a sing-a-long. This is convenient when it comes time for the Happy Birthday song as well. Younger children will automatically get up and dance if you let them. You could also have them play along with you on their own instrument. A simple instrument can be made from a cardboard paper tube. Just put inside some dried beans, glue a piece of paper over both ends and you have a shaker. You could even get the kids to make their own shaker, decorate it and take it home when they leave.
Here’s a great idea for a party which will also teach your kids something important: have a “Do Good” party. Instead of having your guests bring presents, bring donations for your favourite charity. If you love animals have that as your theme and make your own petting zoo. In place of gifts ask children to bring donations in the form of cat or dog treats, food or money which you can give to your local SPCA. It’s a fun way to teach kids at an early age to give back to their community.
Does your kid like to bake? Then have a few of their closest friends over and make your own cookies or pizzas. This will take some time so make sure you plan ahead. Sleepovers are the perfect setting for a baking party. You could even make your own chef hats while waiting for the cookies to bake and cool. When the cookies are cool enough they can decorate with icing and sprinkles. If you’ve made extra your guests can take them home to share with their family.
How about a make-over party? There’s a variety of options for this theme depending on the age of the girls. Younger girls could have a dress up party with all your Halloween costumes. With older girls you could go and get your nails done at a salon. Some salons have mobile units which come to your home so do some research. You could also get a bright coloured extension added to your hair. Make sure to get mother’s approval ahead of time and don’t forget to take your camera.
If you have older boys and girls to consider, try a scavenger hunt in the mall. Give them $10 each and have them try to find all the items on the list. Some they can find for free like a coffee cup or a bottle cap, while other items they will have to buy, like bubble gum. Make sure to set a time limit, determine a meeting place and have a prize for the winner. Another version of this is a photo scavenger hunt. Get everyone to bring their cell phones and let them go for it.
Crafts are fun and there’s millions you can do. It’s easy to find a craft that goes with the theme of your party so don’t forget to include a craft time especially if it’s raining outside. But make sure to have other adults help if the age of the kids attending is six years or younger. Some ideas for craft inclusion in your party are: have a fairy theme and make your own magic wand or wings. Crepe paper makes excellent wings. Have a super hero party and make a mask or cape.
Dressing up for a party is fun. Have a ballerina party and ask all girls to come dressed as ballerinas. Then you can play the freeze dance game… where everyone dances but as soon as the music stops you must freeze. If you are caught moving then you are out. The game continues until only one person is left. A good tip here, have a couple extra tutus in case a child comes without one. You don’t want anyone to feel left out.
A pool party is perfect for the summer months. Have a Hawaiian theme. Kids can come dressed up or you can make your own grass skirts from brown paper bags (a good tip is to make these ahead of time). Or you could wrap a large, colourful scarf around the child like a sarong. A craft for this theme could be to make a Hawaiian lei using silk flowers that your string into a garland. Use popped but unbuttered popcorn as the spacers between the flowers (three popcorn kernels works good). Or beads are good spacers too. You could also have a hula lesson and real Hawaiian music. And why not create your own Hawaiian name.
If you don’t have a pool you can still have a pool party by going to your local public pool. They often include games, food, wet and dry activities but you may need to bring adults along depending on the age of the kids and the number attending. Make sure to book ahead as this is a popular party idea. Also make sure to ask about how the food ordering is done. Often times you must order your food prior to the start of the party. You don’t want any child to miss out because they didn’t know the rules.
Johnson Bentley Memorial Aquatic Centre (250-768-4442),
Parkinson Recreation Centre (250-469-8957),
Kelowna Family Y (250-491-9622),
H2O Adventure + Fitness Centre (250-764-4040).
Inflatables make for the perfect party. Call Par-T-Perfect for your next party. They have lots of themes and a wide variety of equipment (250-764-7278).
Rock climbing and laser tag are also great activities, Energyplex (250-765-4486).
How about planning a bike party? Boys love this one. Get your guests to bring their own bikes and helmets and set up an obstacle course in your cul-de-sac or a vacant lot. You can do this by drawing with chalk on the pavement or setting up pylons to swerve around. Remember to include a water area for them to ride through especially if it’s a hot summer day. You’ll need a timer to record each person’s run and prizes for the winners. How about having someone at the end of the race with a checkered flag? It’s a great task for a child who can’t compete for some reason.
Another version of the bike party is the make your own parade party where you decorate your bike and then have a parade. Beads, flags, whirly-gig and noise makers are fun to include in your decorating. Make your own pinwheels. (To see how visit www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Pinwheel). A good tip here is to have a couple extra helmets in case someone forgot theirs.
All in all a party is supposed to be fun. Hopefully it’s not a headache for you to plan. To make the planning fun, ask a few friends over to help. Plan in advance. Think outside of the box and don’t try to cramp too much into your party time. Kids don’t need structure for every minute they are there. Give them some free time to run around and make their own fun and you should try to have fun at the party too. Remember, just because things don’t go as planned doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be a fun party. Just relax and go with the flow.
by Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. | Photo by shutterstock.com
Originally published on Psych Central www. http://psychcentral.com
One of the most important gifts we can give our kids is time to play, both as a family and on their own. Finding time to play with kids can be a challenge if you are working, managing a household and meeting the many day-to-day challenges of getting things done. But play isn’t optional. It’s essential.
Play is considered so important to child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child. Play – or free, unstructured time in the case of older children and adolescents – is essential to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play as a family weaves the ties of love and connection that bind family members together.
Play is needed for healthy brain development. 75 percent of the brain develops after a baby is born, in the years between birth and the early 20s. Childhood play stimulates the brain to make connections between nerve cells. This is what helps a child develop both gross motor skills (walking, running, jumping, coordination) and fine motor skills (writing, manipulating small tools, detailed hand work). Play during the teen years and into adulthood helps the brain develop even more connectivity, especially in the frontal lobe which is the center for planning and making good decisions.
Pretend play stimulates your child’s imagination and creativity. Studies have shown that kids who are encouraged to use their imagination are more creative in their adult life. Although artistic expression certainly is important, creativity isn’t limited to the arts. Creativity also helps people find new and innovative ways to do things and to invent new products that make our lives more productive, easier, or more entertaining. It’s the ability to “make believe” that can take people’s minds to places where no one has gone before.
Play develops the brain’s executive function. Executive function refers to the mental skills that allow us to manage time and attention, to plan and organize, to remember details, and to decide what is and isn’t appropriate to say and do in a given situation. It’s also what helps growing children learn to master their emotions and to use past experiences to understand what to do in the present. These are the skills that are central to self-control and self-discipline. Kids who have a well-developed executive function do well in school, get along well with others, and make good decisions. Make believe play gives the frontal lobe of the brain, the center of executive function, a workout.
Play develops a child’s “theory of mind.” “Theory of mind” is the ability to walk in another’s shoes. Kids who play lots of “let’s pretend” learn to figure out what their various characters would think about and do. Engaging in pretend games with others requires understanding playmates’ thoughts and feelings. A well-developed theory of mind increases a child’s tolerance and compassion for other people and increases their ability to play and work well with others.
Physical skills, emotional regulation, flexible thinking, the ability to get along with others and the confidence to try new things and think outside the box are all keys to being successful in life. So what can parents do to ensure their children develop these important skills?
Encourage free play. I love the notion of “free.” It means both “unstructured” and “with no cost.” Both are essential for our growing kids.
Yes, it’s important to provide kids with experiences that teach them new skills and how to work and play in a team. Whether a kid participates in soccer, the orchestra, a dance team or any other organized activity, he will learn how to cooperate with a group goal and will develop physically and mentally.
But it’s equally important not to get so caught up in providing so many structured activities that our children don’t have time to just hang out with other kids and figure out for themselves what to do with their time. Kids who are too involved in organized sports, classes and activities can end up not knowing how to entertain themselves. Kids who are kept occupied every minute don’t have the time to flex their imagination muscles.
Further, when the adults provide all the ideas for leisure time and set all the rules, kids are deprived of learning important social skills. Free play gives kids the chance to learn to work with others and to make compromises. After all, a kid can’t pretend to be a superhero without people to save. He can’t learn to take turns if there isn’t another kid who wants to be the hero too. If she wants other people to play with, she has to learn how to go along with others’ ideas and to get along with the gang.
Think before you buy. Free play comes for free. Resist the temptation to buy the latest video game, construction toy or costumes. Kids who don’t have ready-made props for their play learn to improvise. Boxes and sofa cushions can become a fort. A superhero cape can be made out of a pillowcase. Doll house furniture can be created out of bottle caps and odds and ends from around the house. Kids who are encouraged to be creative by using what’s available instead of what’s in the store become more creative.
Play with your kids. Not so finally, play helps connect family members. When everyone in the family is occupied with their own personal screen for entertainment, they don’t form the bonds with each other that come from enjoying time together. When everyone in the family spends some playtime laughing, giggling, and enjoying some spontaneous play, everyone feels good about themselves and everyone else. Parents who let their children direct the playtime learn much about their world. They can also provide some gentle guidance about positive behavior and problem-solving, if necessary, as the pretend game unfolds. Board games help older kids learn how to take turns, follow rules and be both polite winners and gracious losers. Time around the game board promotes conversation and cooperation – and maybe some friendly competition. Best of all, when families play together, they tend to be more supportive of each other and more interested in each other’s lives.
So shut down the screens for an hour or two after dinner a few times a week. Find that Chutes and Ladders game or that deck of cards that’s at the bottom of the toy box. Throw a sheet over the table to make a cozy tent. Hand out paper plates and challenge everyone to make an outrageous hat. Play hide and seek with the little ones and charades with the older kids.
Resist the “Do I have to’s” and the protests about limiting screen time. Get into it 100 percent yourself. Make it fun. Make ’em laugh. Soon the kids – and you – will be looking forward to enjoying playing together. It’s an important part of what family is all about.
Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central’s Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart. You can like Marie on Facebook. Search for Marie Hartwell-Walker. http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-benefits-of-play/
by Kent Stralbiski | Photo by shutterstock.com
Recent research clearly identifies the importance of the early years in a child’s life from birth to age six. Future health, well being and success in life are strongly influenced during this period. The future costs of healthcare, education and justice begin here and the payback on economic and social investment is significant.
Since the late 1990’s, people across the province have been working together to turn research into practice and to bring awareness to everyone in their local community about the value of investing in the early years. Much of this work in the Central Okanagan is done through the people of Community Action Toward Children’s Health (catchcoalition.ca) and United Way Success By 6 (unitedwaycso.com/unitedway-success-by-6).
In early 2014, the BC government created the Provincial Office for the Early Years (mcfd.gov.bc.ca/early_years) to help ensure that the work of these organizations, service providers and of the different government ministries that touch children and their families during the early years is as effective as possible. Health authorities, school districts, municipal governments and provincial ministries all influence early childhood development in many different ways, as do all of us who live and work in our communities.
Included in this strategy is the creation of Early Years Centres in communities throughout the province. At time of writing there are twenty six centres in various stages of development and operation. People here in the Central Okanagan are in the advanced planning stages for one or more Early Years Centres in the Central Okanagan. The centre is seen as a place where parents can go to contact the wide range of early years and family services that are available across the Okanagan. This ‘one stop shop’ is another step to meeting the goal of accessibility.
Investments in literacy promotion over the past years have had a positive effect in the Central Okanagan where the level of literacy skills in the early years measured at kindergarten age are encouraging. Unfortunately, levels of social competence and emotional maturity are less than desirable here and across the province (earlylearning.ubc.ca).
The importance of environment to the developing child is a current area of study by many researchers to define how adverse environments during critical windows of brain development can impair brain development and lead to developmental and mental health disorders. Problems that appear in the mental health of youth may well have roots in earlier years.
Resources for support and treatment of mental health issues in youth are limited as are the number of available professionals, particularly in smaller communities. Providing optimal environments during the early years, early evaluation and timely support can help to mitigate the effects of environment and are significant pieces to improvements in social competence and emotional maturity.
Work through CATCH currently identifies child poverty, child mental health and child care as specific areas of concern within the Central Okanagan that all directly and indirectly affect social and emotional development.
CATCH research also shows that access to programs and services alone won’t resolve some of the issues that parents and families face. Families with challenges – whether economic, health, or social – face feelings of judgment and marginalization when attempting to access services. The concern is often significant enough to create a barrier for families from getting the help they need and deserve and is an area where societal attitudes require change. Look for Learning About Families’ Connection with Services in the Central Okanagan on the CATCH website.
Participants in CATCH research identified a sense of belonging as a critical part of a healthy environment. Local involvement in provincially coordinated early years planning remains a critical piece that must include the diverse perspectives of different cultures and economic lifestyles within each community.
Families need not feel that influencing their child’s early years is just about access to services. Creating a more connected and inclusive neighborhood environment where raising children is considered a community responsibility rather than an individual one is a fundamental part of family support. The City of Kelowna, for example, has programs to help people plan neighborhood events and projects to address local issues. (Look for Strong Neighborhoods on the City of Kelowna website and ask your own civic officials about similar programs.)
Whether you are a city planner or a developer, an entrepreneur or an employee, a national, provincial or municipal representative, a parent, grandparent or a free spirit, whenever a decision is to be made, pause for a moment and ask – is it good for children?
After all, if it’s good for children, it’s good for everyone.
For more information go to IsItGood4Children.ca, search for IsItGood4Children on Facebook and use #IsItGood4Children on Twitter.
Kent Stralbiski is a retired biologist, community volunteer, and partner in McBean’s World (McBeansWorld.com), an independent childcare centre in Kelowna that is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
In an era of schoolyard ball bans, bylaws that restrict tobogganing and parents’ frequent calls of “Be careful” or “Wait for me,” are we limiting our children’s ability to engage freely in active play outdoors? Over-supervising kids or keeping them indoors to ensure they are safe limits their opportunities for physical activity, endangering their long term health. It’s time to get out of kids’ way, let them play outside and give them the freedom to occasionally scrape a knee.
The 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card (formerly the Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card) was released in concert with an evidence informed Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play. Available in this year’s Report Card, the Position Statement was developed by the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute (HALOCHEO), ParticipACTION and a group of 14 other organizations, and was supported by over 1,600 stakeholders from across Canada and around the world. It finds that access to active play in nature and outdoors, with its risks, is essential for healthy child development.
“We have lost the balance between short-term safety and long-term health. In outdoor play, risk doesn’t mean courting danger, but rather giving kids the freedom to assess their surroundings and make decisions, allowing them to build confidence, develop skills, solve problems and learn limits,” says Dr. Mark Tremblay, Chief Scientific Officer, ParticipACTION Report Card, and Director of HALOCHEO. “Kids move more when they are outside, have some freedom to roam unsupervised and engage fully with their environments, which will set them up to be more resilient and less likely to develop chronic diseases in the long run.”
Research shows that kids are more likely to be physically active when playing outdoors and less likely to engage in higher levels of physical activity if a parent or supervising adult is present. Despite this, safety concerns lead to excessive supervision and keeping kids indoors. But, is outdoor play really something to fear?
What many adults recall from their childhood as thrilling and exciting play that tested boundaries – such as exploring the woods, rough housing, moving fast or playing at heights – is often called risky play these days. While these activities could lead to injuries, the vast majority are minor. The fear of stranger abduction is also disproportionate to the risk; the odds are estimated to be about one in 14 million.
Despite common knowledge that Canadian kids need to sit less and move more, the two lowest grades in this year’s report card are a D- for Sedentary Behaviours and a D- for Overall Physical Activity. Child and youth physical activity levels remain alarmingly low, with only nine per cent of five to seventeen year olds meeting the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines of 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity.
“In order to help ensure Canadian children get enough heart-pumping activity, we need to recognize that they are competent and capable to go out and explore on their own or with friends,” says Elio Antunes, President and CEO, ParticipACTION. “This will also allow them to have more fun and learn how to manage and assess risks independently. Children move more, sit less and play longer in selfdirected outdoor play, so the biggest risk is keeping our kids supervised indoors.”
Among the eleven grades assigned in the Report Card and in addition to the above, other grades include:
• “D” for Active Transportation
• “C+” for School
• “C+” for Families and Peers
• “B-“ for Organized Sport & Physical Activity Participation
• “B-“ for Government
• “B+” for Community & Environment
• “A-“ for Non-Government
The Position Statement includes recommendations directed at parents, educators and caregivers, health professionals, injury prevention professionals, school and child care administrators, media, attorneys general, governments and society at large to help increase all children’s opportunities for selfdirected play outdoors.
To download the 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card Highlight Report, including the Position Statement, or the 58-page Full Report, please visit www.participactionreportcard.com.
The Report Card
The ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth (formerly the Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card) is the most comprehensive assessment of child and youth physical activity in Canada. The Report Card synthesizes data from multiple sources, including the best available peer-reviewed research, to assign evidence-informed grades across eleven indicators. ParticipACTION relies on its strategic partner, The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute’s Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (CHEO-HALO), to research, develop and communicate the Report Card. Over the years, the Report Card has been replicated in numerous cities, provinces and countries, where it has served as a blueprint for collecting and sharing knowledge about the physical activity of young people around the world.
Production of the ParticipACTION Report Card has been made possible through financial support from RBC, The Lawson Foundation, the MLSE Foundation, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, provincial and territorial governments through the Interprovincial Sport and Recreation Council (ISRC) and IA Clarington Investments.
ParticipACTION is a national non-profit organization that helps Canadians sit less and move more. Originally established in 1971, ParticipACTION works with its partners, which include sport, physical activity, recreation organizations, government and corporate sponsors, to make physical activity a vital part of everyday life. ParticipACTION is generously supported by the Government of Canada.
by Michelle Sanche | Photo by shutterstock.com
Pregnant? Your breasts likely let you know about it even before any tests came out positive. From the moment of conception, your hormonal environment shifts towards supporting the growth and development of the baby within your body. At the same time your breasts are preparing to provide the continuation of that growth and development via your breastmilk once the baby is born. A new mother’s body expects to make milk for her baby. For over 100,000 years humans have fed their young with their milk. It takes six to nine months for the breasts to develop to the point where they can provide the perfect nutrition for your baby and everything they need for healthy growth and brain development. Making milk completes the cycle that started at conception and continued through pregnancy and birth.
Human milk is a complete food for the first six months of life, and with the addition of solids around the middle of the first year, remains the primary food for the next six months as well. A mother’s milk changes throughout the day to meet the needs of her baby. If a mother and baby breathe in a germ, the breasts start to put antibodies to that germ into the milk. Every breastfeed, right up to weaning, gives your child increased immunity against the many germs mom and baby will run into. Lack of breastmilk puts babies at increased risk for respiratory diseases, digestive diseases, ear infections, eczema, diabetes, meningitis, obesity and SIDS.
Your breasts are so efficient at producing milk and your baby is so efficient at digesting human milk, you can consider breastfeeding a spectacular eco-friendly way to feed your baby. Babies’ diapers hardly smell and breastfed babies produce little garbage or pollution compared to the energy needed to produce, package and transport formula and the waste produced from the packaging.
How does making milk benefit you? Here are some highlights:
• improved mood and relaxation via the hormones prolactin and oxytocin
• reduced risk of cancer (breast, ovarian, cervical and uterine)
• decreased incidence of heart disease and diabetes
• protection against osteoporosis
• help with losing baby weight
• uterus gets back into shape
• delays the return of your period and helps space out pregnancies.
What will breastfeeding be like?
Baby’s stomach at birth is about the size of a cherry! That is why early milk (colostrum) is very concentrated and in just the right quantity not to overload such a tiny tummy. No wonder babies love to nurse frequently. Small frequent meals establish healthy eating patterns. At five days old a little tummy is about the size of a baby’s fist so it can only hold so much at once! As a baby grows, mom’s milk production increases and changes in response to his needs. And the milk flow slows down towards the end of a feed so baby learns what “full” feels like and can control intake with remarkable precision. Mothers and babies work out their own nursing pattern that is unique to them.
Only breastmilk for the first six months of life – really? It is sobering to realize that formula is an artificial product made from cow’s milk or soy and is a foreign substance for this new little body. It can cause changes in the lining of the baby’s gut. Breastmilk contains prebiotics, probiotics and Omega-3’s that naturally protect the baby’s gut. In a whole lot of ways, your breast is health central for your baby.
Where can I feed my baby?
No need to hide your love away. Babies can have a snack and a cuddle when out and about with mom. And in Canada it’s a human right for a mother to breastfeed her baby anytime, anywhere. Breastmilk is always ready and at the right temperature, whenever and wherever it is needed. There are even clothes that make nursing easy when out in public. Whatever plan you have: staying home, going back to work or traveling, breastfeeding can fit into your life.
What if I’m not sure what to do?
Babies don’t follow rule books, so getting together with other mothers can show you how different babies can be; that is, there’s a range of “normal.” Mothers learn about breastfeeding by seeing it, and especially by listening to other mothers’ stories about their experiences. It’s fun to be around other breastfeeding mothers and babies too. La Leche League meetings are great places to get breastfeeding information and support and recharge your mothering batteries.
Sometimes there might be challenges. When breastfeeding just doesn’t feel good, a trained La Leche League Canada leader can help and is as close as the phone or computer. Find the nearest leader at www.lllc.ca/get-help or call 1-800-665-4324. You will also find information about local meetings and the “Submit a Question” option. We’re here to help.
Adapted from “Amazing Milk”, LLLC Information Sheet # 410, which can be found here: www.lllc.ca/Information-sheets . Further information about La Leche League: www.lllc.ca/breastfeeding-information The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
by Aaryn Secker, MEd | Photo by shutterstock.com
Have you ever been challenged to consider what a mentally healthy community would look like? What would you want available for your children and family? What would you need in order to increase your mental well-being?
You very likely know and care about someone who lives with mental illness, even if you aren’t aware of it. In fact, one in seven young people in our community struggle with mental illness and, in any given year, one in five Canadians will experience a mental health and/or substance use problem.
You may have heard or read similar statistics before. Yet, despite the prevalence of these issues and increased media attention, many people still feel uncomfortable discussing mental illness. You have the power to change that, to create a mentally healthy Kelowna, and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) wants to help.
Hi, my name is Aaryn. I joined the Kelowna branch of CMHA only two weeks ago and it has been a whirlwind of an experience. Although I am coming from a background in community education, I have a lot to learn about mental health and the services offered by CMHA. In my short time here, I have already taken a Mental Health First Aid course (who knew this was a thing), toured the 40 unit Willowbridge transitional housing building, admired the artwork created by participants of the Wellness Development Centre, met several of the family and peer support coaches, and learned about Connected by 25, which helps to bridge the gap between resources for children, teenagers, and adults. What has stood out to me is the concept of mental health as a continuum; we are all on it everyday, experiencing that wide range of ups and downs throughout your lifetime. With this in mind, the importance of prevention and maintaining a mentally healthy environment, and seeking treatment when problems arise, simply makes sense.
My vision of a mentally healthy Kelowna consists of a place where people won’t be ashamed to talk about mental health, help will be readily available for those living with mental illness, referrals will result in mental wellness through a comprehensive system, the physical environment will provide safe spaces for activity, workplaces will encourage a healthy work-life balance and a culture of respect, and everyone will have the tools and education they need to make healthy choices. Whether this sounds like your vision of a mentally healthy Kelowna, or, if you have other ideas to share, I would now like to challenge you to #GETLOUD for mental health.
What does it mean to #GETLOUD? First, you can sign CMHA’s #GETLOUD Pledge online. What you do next is up to you, but we’ve simplified the concept into three key steps:
• TALK openly to a loved one, friend or counselor about your mental health
• SHOW empathy and support to friends and family with mental health issues
• SHARE with friends and family members and commit to breaking the silence that keeps people from getting the help they need.
Maybe on day one you’ll have a conversation about mental health with a co-worker. Another day, you might open up to a trusted friend at your favourite coffee shop. Plus, you can share your vision for a mentally healthy Kelowna on social media and join the online conversation using #GETLOUD.
I have just joined CMHA but I am confident that, if we work together, we can break down the barriers surrounding mental illness and understand mental health as something that has an impact on all of us. With your help, we can achieve a mentally healthy Kelowna for everyone.
Aaryn Secker is an Education and Communications Assistant at the Canadian Mental Health Association.
To sign the #GETLOUD Pledge, and to learn more about mental health, visit our website: http://cmhakelowna.org You can also Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter: @CMHAKelowna
Don’t Judge, be more Understanding
by Tascheleia Marangoni | Photos by shutterstock.com
Over the past few years public awareness has increased dramatically about the prevalence of postpartum depression and the stigma surrounding it has lessened significantly. We now understand that the postpartum period is a time of great transition and chemical upheaval that can put new mothers at risk for the development of psychiatric symptoms. Did you know that Canada has had a non-profit organization specifically focused on helping Moms and families affected by postpartum depression and perinatal mood disorders for over five years now! More importantly, our director lives right here in the Okanagan Valley, connecting people to help and with available resources in any way she can.
If you are pregnant or in the postpartum period and just don’t feel like yourself or suspect something might be wrong, always talk to someone and get help. Talk to your partner, your family doctor, your obstetrician, a family member, a friend, a psychologist or therapist… choose someone you trust.
Perinatal Depression, also know as postpartum depression. Perinatal as it refers to the period during pregnancy and postpartum, is a more accurate term for defining the illness, as moms and dads can experience depression during pregnancy not just postpartum. This is sometimes referred to as ante-partum depression.
Pinpointing perinatal mood disorders is not always easy and symptoms can vary greatly. However here is a list of symptoms that may help you spot a perinatal mood disorder in yourself or someone you care about. (Symptoms have been listed according to specific perinatal mood disorders and it is important to note that there is a cross-over of symptoms between disorders.)
• Feeling unlike yourself for a prolonged period of time.
• Difficulty getting out of bed, changes in sleep patterns.
• Difficulty performing normal daily tasks.
• Changes in appetite, noticeable weight change.
• Changes in libido.
• Feelings of sadness, hopelessness and depression.
• Feelings of worthlessness, prolonged thoughts that you are a bad mother.
• Abrupt changes in mood or energy levels.
• Feeling irritated often.
• Difficulty concentrating and making decisions.
• Lack of interest in your baby or extreme over-protectiveness of your baby.
• Lack of interest in normal activities.
• Desire to run away.
• Possible thoughts of harming yourself or baby.
Anxiety can be brought on by many things. During pregnancy and postpartum, anxiety is often triggered by a combination of factors that can include: lack of sleep or change in sleep patterns, hormonal changes, changes in brain chemistry, depletion of key nutrients in the body and obsessive worry about the pregnancy or baby.
• Feelings of agitation, anxiety and panic. Panic attacks have a variety of symptoms, some of them are dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, feeling like your throat is closing, losing feeling in parts of your body, temporarily losing sight, pressure in your head, feeling like you need to run, hot flashes and nausea.
• Fear of being left alone with your baby.
• Fear of impending disaster or dread.
• Fear of hurting yourself or your baby.
• Feel like life is spinning out of control.
Perinatal Mood Disorders, like most forms of mental and physical illness, do not have a quick fix. Several things usually need to be employed for full healing and recovery to occur. Different things work for different people. Keep all of this in mind as you read below. If you are not feeling like yourself, are uncertain about anything you are experiencing, if your situation is becoming severe or you are feeling scared, please talk to someone and get help!
Talk to your obstetrician if you are experiencing any of these symptoms during your pregnancy or talk to your obstetrician at your six week follow-up check-up. Explain to your family doctor what you are experiencing. Ask questions, ask for referrals, be inquisitive. Have a conversation with your baby’s pediatrician when it’s check-up time. Ask for a referral to see a psychiatrist if you or your doctor feels you may need anti-depressants. Make an appointment with a psychologist or therapist to talk about what you are experiencing and feeling.
If at any point in time you feel that you are not being taken seriously by your healthcare professional or are dissatisfied with the information and help you are receiving please see a different healthcare professional and get a second or third opinion.
Make an appointment to see a naturopathic doctor to learn about supplements you can take to help with symptoms you are experiencing. Go and see a nutritionist to learn ways you can improve your diet and eat for brain health.
Alternative therapies such as Reiki, acupuncture and massage can be quite helpful. Different forms of art therapy can also be an excellent route for healing.
Regular Exercise. Exercise is crucial for good mental health. Yoga, dance and running are great forms of exercise that will release endorphins into the brain to help with mood.
Self Care and Good Mental Health:
Reduce stress in your life in the ways that you can. Have realistic expectations of yourself, your baby and your partner. Take advice from family and friends with a grain of salt. Consistent good nights sleep. Try your best to get as much rest and sleep as possible.
Eat a nutritious diet. Work to replace the nutrients that have been depleted in your body during pregnancy and nursing by taking vitamins and eating a healthy diet.
Develop some coping mechanisms for the times when you are feeling overwhelmed or exhausted. Examples might be: keeping a book you love handy to do a bit of reading whenever you can. Having a relaxing bath at the end of the day. Listening to music you love to help reduce stress. Going for a walk. Keeping an enjoyable hobby handy (ie: knitting, scrapbooking, painting etc).
• Go to a postnatal class or support group.
• Join a moms group.
• Reach out to community resources in your area. To find local resources please visit www.ppda.ca/resources/british-columbia.
Are you concerned for a loved one who is going through a difficult time during pregnancy or postpartum? As a partner, family member or friend it is important to understand the illness further and ways you can offer support.
It is important to first understand that any person affected by a perinatal mood disorder needs a lot of understanding and support. They are not to blame for what they are going through. It is also important to understand that perinatal mood disorders are temporary and treatable.
When an individual is afflicted by a medical condition, society willingly accepts their illness and the individual can openly share that they are ‘not feeling well’ with others. However, if an individual is suffering from a mental illness society does not respond with the same empathy, care and support it would for an individual diagnosed with a medical condition. In society, there is stigma attached to mental illness. Although mental illness has always been part of humanity, the general reaction to mood disorders is judgment, lack of understanding and fear which is brought on by a general ignorance on the subject.
A significant amount of women are affected by a mood disorder in connection with pregnancy and/or the postpartum period every year. Literature states that approximately 15 to 30% of women are affected by perinatal mood disorders. However this statistic is believed to be much higher as so many women do not come forward because of the stigma attached to PMD’s. Many women suffer in silence, enduring unnecessary pain when their condition is diagnosable and treatable.
Moms who share what they are experiencing with their family and friends do not always receive the support and understanding they hope for and need. Often family members and friends, due to their own lack of education and awareness on the subject, are quick to dismiss the mood disorder their loved one is experiencing. Family members and friends can also be judgmental, drawing untrue, unhelpful and hurtful conclusions. When a person dealing with a mood disorder (such as depression or anxiety) is treated in such a way, it can make things much worse for the individual.
In an article written by a sufferer of depression, Sarah explains “Not only do people with mental health conditions suffer inside, they are judged on a daily basis by those closest to them.” For example, Sarah recalls family members or friends stating “what’s wrong with her again”, “you’d feel better if you left your house once in a while”, “you are just having a bad day”.
Family and friends may often have good intentions, hoping to ease and minimize the experiences related to perinatal mood disorders. However, they may not realize their words often sound patronizing, as if they are downplaying the sufferer’s experiences rather than understanding the sufferer’s situation.
The reality is that it is difficult for someone who has never been through a mental illness to be understanding of someone who is. However it is not difficult to show compassion and love, or difficult to care enough to find a way to be supportive or understanding. Yet many don’t bother.
Another mom shares that her mother would inquire on rare occasions about her health during the postpartum period with little added help or care. Saying things like “everyone has been worried about you lately” “you just have cabin fever” “I really don’t know how to help you” and “If you know what the problem is, it shouldn’t be a problem any longer”. Genuine love, attention and concern for this mom and her situation were not shown by her own mother. When she turned to her husband’s family she faced lack of understanding and judgment and when she turned to her husband she faced more of the same.
It is incredibly sad that some moms and sometimes dads do not receive the support and understanding they need and deserve. Yet if these individuals were suffering from a more acceptable illness such as diabetes, their family and friends would be significantly more understanding. All of us must ask ourselves: What can we do to change this? What can we do to reduce stigma? How can we be more supportive and understanding?
If you are a sufferer of a perinatal mood disorder and are looking for ways to help your family and friends understand what you are experiencing, below are some tips you may find helpful.
• Help them to help you. Sit down together and have an open discussion. Try to find places where each of you can relate to one another (for example: do you both feel angry, scared, overwhelmed or frustrated?).
• Invite them to join you for a therapy session, in order to gain some understanding as well as be a support for you.
• Clearly ask for the support you need. Things like meeting your own needs and help with the baby, chores and errands.
• Share some literature with them about perinatal mood disorders. Things like sharing an article or directing them to our website or possibly emailing some information about the illness if that is an effective route of communication for you and them.
• If open discussion and clear communication are not effective with those close to you, try to accept their limitations concerning what you are going through to save yourself as much hurt and frustration as possible.
If you are a friend or family member of someone going through a perinatal mood disorder such as postpartum depression? Here is a list of ways you can be more understanding and supportive.
• Don’t be shocked or disappointed if your partner, friend or relative says she believes she may have a perinatal mood disorder. It is more common than you think, it is diagnosable, and it is treatable.
• Take some time to be sure that you understand what perinatal mood disorders are. You can do this in many ways. Research and reading on the internet. Speak with a few healthcare professionals. Do some reading at the library or in the pregnancy/postpartum section at a bookstore.
• Simply be there for and listen to the person in your life who is affected by a PMD. Often that is all someone who is affected by a mood disorder needs. Do not offer unwanted advice or draw conclusions or judge. Simply listen, offer support and some comfort. Reassure this person that they are not alone and they will get better.
• Encourage your partner, relative or friend to get the help and treatment they need. Offer to go with them to a doctor appointment or support group.
• Ask what kind of support they need in their life right now to make things a little bit easier. It will be different for everyone, so be respectful of their wishes. Some moms will want help with the baby, other’s may only want help with household things or errands.
• It is crucially important that someone dealing with a mood disorder eats very healthy. Lots of fresh food from all of the food groups and lots of foods known to promote brain health. Often moms with babies and children of any age find eating healthy to be a challenge. This can be exacerbated by the onset of a mood disorder such as depression. Without being so forward as to tell this person what to eat, do what you can to help her eat better and get the nutrients she needs.
• If you are the partner of the person experiencing a perinatal mood disorder, be sure that you are being as supportive and understanding as you can possibly be and also be sure to get some support for yourself. It is not easy caring for someone affected by mental illness. There is a lot of literature out there with information on how to support a partner affected by mental illness. Do some research and be informed.
Through awareness we can change the stigma attached to postpartum depression and perinatal mood disorders. Through education we can begin to make things a little easier for expecting moms, new moms, dads and families through support from healthcare providers and family and friends.
Tascheleia Marangoni is the Director for the Perinatal Mood Disorder Ltd. PMDA is a registered non-profit organization and a network of moms and individuals across Canada who feel passionate about increasing awareness, education and advocacy for postpartum depression and perinatal mood disorders. www.ppda.ca