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  • Preeti Sawhney, Registered Social Worker

Planning for Your Child's Social and Emotional Success

With the start of the new school year, we want our children to do well in school. We know children have fallen behind in reading, writing and math and some have been affected more adversely than others. However, despite everything we have faced in the last couple of years and now, this school year brings optimism, hope and relief as most children are back to in-person school. Through this article, I would like to present some evidence-based strategies that, likely, will contribute toward supporting your child's well-being and outcomes at school.

Routines: Children do well with routines and predictability. Establishing simple predictable routines for meals, homework, play, and bedtime in early years may go a long way and reduce struggles later in the adolescent years. Dan Siegal has presented a healthy mind platter for the brain which consists of focus time, playtime, connecting time, physical time, time in, down time and sleep time as important components to add to your child's daily routine and for yourself and each aspect plays a crucial role. Often, children struggle with engaging in school work after school, setting the expectations of reviewing school work at home regularly from an early age may help them with learning and developing habits which will help them cope with academic demands of higher grades. Sleep: Good sleep is essential for all of us to feel good and perform well, especially for a growing child's brain. Having adequate hours of restful sleep is linked with learning, memory, attention, focus, and physical and mental health. Despite knowing the benefits of sleep, many children/teens continue to struggle with adequate sleep. For children in the age group of 6-13, recommended hours are 9 to 11 hours a day and for teens in the age group 14-17, recommended sleep hours are 8-10 hours a day. I encourage you to support your child/teen in establishing a sleep routine. Some children may resist more than others when you implement a change in routine. If your children are struggling with sleep, consult with your family doctor, or therapist or check free resources available online. Sleepfoundation.org has many tips as well on improving sleep. Nutrition: Eating a well-balanced diet nourishes our mind, body and soul. It is the fuel that our body runs on. There is a popular saying "we become the food we eat". Limiting processed food and including fresh fruits, veggies and unprocessed food may sound simple but is often harder to implement. Hence, including healthy food on your family's menu and eating at least one meal together as a family will help in supporting your child's overall health. Food rich in omega-3 fatty acids are linked to improved brain functioning. There have been many studies that state the connection between gut and brain. Improving your child's gut health will have a positive impact on their mental and physical health. Physical activity: "Exercise changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills," writes Heidi Gutman of Harvard Magazine. Children need daily physical activity and adding activities for them from a young age may greatly benefit them in building their self-esteem and developing interests and hobbies. Jim Kwik author of the book Limitless, wrote " as your body moves your brain grooves". There is a tremendous benefit of physical activity on physical and mental health. Attendance matters: Is your child attending school regularly? We know that chronic absenteeism, which could be as little as 2-4 days a month and 18 days in a year, is linked to poor academic achievement. Research tells us that children who miss 2-4 days per month throughout the Junior level are likely to fall behind in reading by the time they reach grade 3. Furthermore, children who do not attend school regularly in elementary grades have a higher risk of dropping out of high school.

Positive peer group: Who your child spends time with has a huge impact on them. Jim Rohn, motivational speaker, shared that you are an average of five people you spend time with. Talk about healthy relationships/friendships from a young age and your values as a family. Get to know your child's friends, who they hang out with and invite them home. Peer relationships have a big influence on children/teens and the choices they make. Connection time: We all know about the importance of spending time with children but our schedules sometimes make it so difficult. It doesn't have to be hours every day, it could be just as little as 15 min a day. Engage in fun activities with them. When parents spend time with their children, we know there is an improved relationship between them. I love the bank metaphor that talks about relationships as a bank account. The time you spend, praise you provide, and daily connection activities you do, are deposits in the relationship bank and requests and demands you make are the withdrawals. Hence in order to make withdrawals there has to be a deposit in your account. When we continue to engage in positive ways with children, we become their secure base and launching pads. Stress: Stress is an integral part of life and learning to cope with stress with the support of caring adults builds resilience for children. However, when stress is frequent, chronic, and uncontrolled, it can rewire the brain in a way that is harmful for a child's body and mind and is called toxic stress. When under stress, our bodies produce cortisol and continuous exposure to cortisol disrupts brain functioning and how the body responds to stress. Hence, limiting children's exposure to adverse experiences along with the presence of caring adults is crucial for a child's well being. Some of the adverse childhood experiences are abuse, neglect, parental addiction and mental illness, experiencing violence, and poverty. You can read more on adverse childhood experiences on the website below. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/fastfact.html#:~:text=Adverse%20childhood%20experiences%2C%20or%20ACEs,in%20the%20home%20or%20community Devices: Is your child spending too much time on devices? Is it interfering with their activities of daily living? We know children/teens today are spending way too much time on devices. Support your child by limiting their device time and set those expectations early on and give information on the impact of devices on their brain. It is often helpful for parents to have clear communication on usage, social media safety, cyberbullying and what would need to happen for them to continue to have access to this privilege before you buy them a device. Positive self-talk: Hearing and holding on to negative beliefs about themselves will limit our children's ability to trust themselves and do well. When we tell ourselves we can't do it, our brain has already accepted that we can't and these thoughts will hold us back. Help your child reframe negative thoughts to helpful thoughts which will have an impact on how they feel and behave. Praise your child for their effort and have them see the link between their hard work and the outcome. Support available at school: If you find your child is struggling at school, connect with your child's school to get resources activated within the school and in the community. Despite all interventions, if you find your child is still struggling, you may want to explore getting a psychoeducational assessment which can help determine their unique learning needs and ways to support them. Resources: https://www.sleepfoundation.org Limitless - Jim Kwik (limitlessbook.com) https://www.attendanceworks.org/ https://www.frp.ca/category/parenting/ https://drdansiegel.com/

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