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Have you ever looked into a child's eyes and been able to see their pain? As people who work with youth, we want to do everything we can to help that child and make that pain go away. But what is that pain? How can we help?

Emotional pain is typical for children and youth as they develop and mature. These various types of emotional pain can range from anxiety about a big test at school to sadness because of the passing of a beloved pet. These emotional struggles are in line with typical adolescent development and maturity so they tend to be short lived and transient in nature. However, when the pain persists, it may be time to seek professional help.

While most kids and teens are physically and emotional healthy, one in every five youth ages 13-18 have, or will have a serious mental illness according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). So what does mental illness in children and teens look like?

mental health stats 3

May is the perfect month for us to be thinking about the mental health of children and teens as May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Since 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month has been reaching millions of people through local events and media to help breakdown the stigma of mental health, provide training and education opportunities, as well as, connecting those in need of mental health services to appropriate help.

Do you feel confident in yourself to be able to identify the warning signs of depression, suicide, or the onset of other mental illnesses? As youth workers and educators we are required to take on a number of different rolls while working with youth, I would strongly encourage you to seek out training opportunities in your area to learn more about youth mental health. But in the meantime, here are some standard warning signs for children and teens provided by NAMI:

  • mental health hashtagFeeling sad or withdrawn for more than 2 weeks.
  • Severe mood swings that cause problems with relationships.
  • Out-of-control, risk-taking behaviors that can cause harm to self or others.
  • Drastic changes in behavior, personality or sleeping habits.
  • Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart, physical discomfort or fast breathing.
  • Extreme difficulty in concentration or staying still that can lead to failure in schools.
  • Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight; significant weight loss or gain.
  • Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities like hanging out with friends or going to classes.
  • Trying to harm or kill oneself or making plans to do so.
  • Repeated use of drugs or alcohol.

Being aware of the warning signs above is a tremendous help, I challenge you to go a step further and complete some kind of mental health or suicide training as you might be the one to help save the life of a child. Here are my recommendations:

  • Youth Mental Health First Aid - is designed for anyone in contact with adolescents (age 12-18) who are experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge or is in crisis. The course introduces common mental health challenges for youth, reviews typical adolescent development, and teaches a 5-step action plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations. Topics covered include anxiety, depression, substance use, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders (including AD/HD), and eating disorders.
  • safeTALK - is a half-day alertness training that prepares anyone over the age of 15, regardless of prior experience or training, to become a suicide-alert helper.
  • QPR  – Question. Persuade. Refer. is on a mission to reduce suicidal behaviors and save lives by providing innovative, practical and proven suicide prevention training. The signs of crisis are all around us, so QPR trains you to make a positive difference in the life of someone you know.


For breakfast this morning I enjoyed an apple, egg and cheese wrap, and my daily cup of coffee!

Published in Breakfast Club

I live in a small town.

Our county has about 3600 residents in the town proper, with another 7000 scattered throughout the County (a County which includes two First Nations reserves and two Metis settlements). We have two grocery stores, a few gas stations, four schools, a post office, some shops, plenty of industry and farming operations, and a pretty nice community centre for our size. If you're looking for small-town Canadiana, look no further. We've got it all.

Only... we don't.

Like any other isolated community, we have a health centre but not a full-fledged hospital; we have a free mental health clinic, but its resources are limited; and we have one or two private counsellors who run a fee-for-service practice, but the standard rate is $180/hour. For a town battling a slumping economy, those are big bucks to shell out when rent has to be paid for and food put on the table.

candleLike any other isolated community, our people struggle with similar issues that larger centres do: depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, addictions, family breakdown, bullying, domestic violence, human trafficking, grief and loss, and loneliness. While it's certainly true that we can be lonely in the midst of thousands, geographic isolation has its own peculiar form of loneliness. When a crisis hits, there is no help for hundreds of miles. The closest hospital with a mental health ward is an hour and a half away; and the capital city is at least two hours away. If our local resources struggle, we all struggle.

More and more private counsellors are offering services via Skype or Google Hangout. Not everyone can afford fuel costs associated with driving to a needed support, but it's either that or keep quiet. The wait time for the free mental health clinic at present is about two months. Some triage work is done, so people deemed in severe crisis are bumped to the top of the list, but that just makes the list longer for others needing someone to talk to.

Not everyone owns their own personal device to connect online. Even if they do, not everyone can afford the data to maintain an online presence. Barrier upon Barrier upon barrier. How can after school programs assist families needing professional counselling?

Here are a few ideas that have seen some great success here:

• Churches or larger denominations creating funds to pay for private therapists in order to subsidize counselling fees for low-income families
• Creating private space for kids, parents and whole families to meet with accredited counsellors online at drop-in centres, hospitals or churches
• Developing training teams for after-school care workers to learn "Mental Health First Aid"—signs to look for, immediate assistance to offer, and an sound plan to connect a child and that child's family with a counsellor within a prompt space of time

Face-to-face counselling will always be the best. But rural and isolated communities experience extreme gaps in service on a long-term basis. Creative approaches need to be brought forward. Developing a fund within your after-school program to assist families with mental and emotional support using online communication is a good way to strengthen the web. Creating safer spaces for families to 'meet' with their counsellors assures them that their needs are being taken seriously. The more we can partner together to bring costs down for needed supports in remote locations, the stronger our communities will be. And, by extension, the stronger our children will be when they know there are supports out there to access.

For breakfast, I had Coconut Chia Seed Granola, a McIntosh apple, and a glass of water.

Published in Breakfast Club

Our minds are incredibly powerful. They have the ability to help us create amazing things; or, they can us! The perfect example is worrying.

We've all experienced worry — it's a natural human phenomenon. Worry happens when we have thoughts or emotions about a potential threat or problem in the future — something going wrong or something bad happening.

Worry can serve a purpose if we use it to help us identify issues that we can get prepared for. However, it can be detrimental, and an energy drain, if it leads to rumination (to think about it over and over) and anxiety. And most people, especially kids, are never taught how to break through the worry cycle!

The key to alleviating the worry cycle is to shift worry from anxiety and rumination to concern and preparation.

In this article we will look at a process you can use to step through your worries and several strategies you can use to ease your mind. And this process works for kids too!

worried boy dreaming1. The first step is to acknowledge your worries – give them time. The more you try to resist something the more it will persist. It's like trying not to imagine a green monkey wearing a big orange cowboy hat sitting on a purple giraffe in the middle of your just can't help it. The best way to stop rumination is to write it down and then go to step two.

2. Second, put boundaries around your worries. Set aside a specific time to focus on your worries. During this time, write down anything that you're worried about. If something comes up later in the day...just add it to the list and tell yourself that you can think about it tomorrow during your allotted time. The process of writing the worry down lets your mind rest because it knows you've got it on the agenda.

3. Third, change your language. Language is a very powerful tool – it creates our experience. Instead of using the word "worried" which automatically triggers a feeling of anxiety in most people, use the word "concerned" followed by the word "prepared". For example instead of saying, "I am worried about the economy and losing my job" you could say, "I am concerned about the economy and losing my job. To get prepare I am going to examine my budget and add to my emergency savings fund. I might also consider a part time job."

(How might you use this with a child? If you hear a child say, "I'm worried I'm going to fail this test". You can help her shift her language to something like, "I'm concerned about this test. To get prepared I'm going to ask the teacher for an extra practice sheet.")

4. Fourth, shift you worry into action. Tell your mind what you are going to do about the situation. For each concern, map out a plan. Put it in writing so that each time that concern comes up you can ease your mind by reviewing your plan.

5. Fifth, focus on what you want, not on what you don't want. Your mind is very powerful. Your thoughts trigger both your conscious mind and your subconscious mind to create whatever you focus on. Supportive self-talk and visualization are powerful tools to help you stay focused on what you want.

6. Sixth, focus on what is working in your life, not on what is not working. Shifting thoughts of worry to thoughts of gratitude can help ease your mind and create positive energy throughout your body. Did you know that multiple research studies have shown that practicing gratitude actually creates happiness? Positive energy and positive thoughts are essential for creating what you want in your life.

7. Seventh, look at what you can control versus what you can't control. If the thing you are worried about is something you can control, such as building up your savings account, then take action on that. However, if it's is something that you have no control over, such as when someone dies, then worrying about it only creates negative energy that doesn't serve you. Depending on your spiritual beliefs, you may want to create a "ritual" or personal practice where you turn over your worries to that which is greater than you.

8. Eight, adopt a personal practice that can help you relax. Many people find that meditation, exercise, or journaling can help them ease their mind. A daily practice of relaxation can help neutralize the impact of worrying

Finally, remember that worrying and rumination doesn't serve you – it steals the beauty of the present moment and can rob you of your happiness. Learning to focus on what you can do versus focusing on things outside of your control can lead to a feeling of personal power versus feeling like a victim of the future.

As I mentioned, worry is a phenomena that our kids will also experience. One of the greatest gifts you can give them is to teach them how to turn worry into action.

For more information about how you can use stories to empower kids Adventures in Wisdom to check out a free story.


For breakfast, I had an egg white and turkey sausage breakfast taco and a hug from my hubby and kids!

Published in Breakfast Club

My love affair with mindfulness began innocently enough. I was working as a primary care provider in an internal medicine office at the time. I was a newly graduated PA and quickly became surprised by how many patients would come in to the office over and over again for the same problems. So many people were continuing to suffer despite getting all the best medical care that western medicine had to offer. What was missing??? I was determined to find out.

At the time, I had not even done yoga, much less meditated. I was not interested in such woo-woo topics. However, when I went to my first conference on the mind-body connection, I knew I had found the missing link. This was at Harvard and they are not in the business of woo-woo. I was astounded and dismayed that in all my years of formal schooling, no one had even mentioned this crucial link, never mind how to cultivate it and use it to create a happier life. Yet neuroscience has indeed shown that mindfulness can increase happiness and decrease both physical and mental suffering.

There are many different ways to enhance the mind-body connection and I have spent the past 10+ years exploring as many as possible. To me, mindfulness is the missing link that can add immeasurable value to just about any problem you can imagine. I have been practicing it myself and sharing it with groups and individuals for the past 8 years and have seen the power of the practice over and over again.

In addition to medicine, I also spent many years as an educator, in junior high and high school science and most recently as a professor of health sciences at Northeastern University. Across all these areas, the problems I've seen have been similar. Namely that people are suffering from a disconnect between mind, body and spirit. When I look at what we're doing collectively, why so many of our systems are in crisis right now, and how best to fix things, I can only come to one conclusion.

We need to start healing from the inside out. We need to reconnect with what is best and brightest within ourselves and honor our wholeness and brilliance, even in our imperfection. We need to reconnect with stillness, honor intuition and make space for the totality of the human experience; without shame or judgment or a constant need to improve. Mindfulness can make these things possible.

breathe and smile

As educators, we can unwittingly foster this sense of disconnection and striving in our students that can contribute to suffering and even psychopathology later in life. How do we do this? By telling them to "sit still and pay attention" when their body is in fight-or-flight mode and the most primitive part of their brain is telling them to move. We do this by constantly comparing them to each other and ranking them higher or lower based on society's relatively narrow definition of intelligence. If you ask an elephant to climb a tree and a squirrel to pick something up with its nose, both will fail miserably. But are they failures or is the problem really our inability to see their unique intelligence?

We cannot legislate these qualities that could change everything; things like kindness, love, compassion, the ability to see the brilliance in ourselves and others, a clear seeing and deep acceptance of others and ourselves, the ability to truly listen to another. We cannot create these things by force. Nor can we buy them. We absolutely CAN cultivate and strengthen them with the practice of mindfulness.
I believe that this inner transformation is the only hope for the global transformation that is called for right now. We have the keys to the kingdom at our fingertips. We could change it all tomorrow if we collectively decided to do so. It is why sharing this practice with others is absolutely my "why". It is what led me to leave academia to dedicate myself fully to sharing these skills that can offer inner liberation.

"And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away
from wherever you are, to look for your soul?
Quickly then get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!
To sit down, like a weed among weeds, and rustle in the wind!"
~Mary Oliver

I hope that you will join me at the Master Class I will be presenting at the BOOST Conference on April 30th from 2:45-4:45 pm to learn more about mindfulness and how to share it with others. I would love to see you there.


For breakfast I had coffee with soymilk, a green smoothie, some clementines, and a Kind bar.


ErinAfricaErin Sharaf is an Educator, Mindfulness Instructor, Mindfulness + Magic, and is from Saunderstown, RI. Mindfulness offers students and educators a way to increase creativity and resilience while reducing stress. It can enhance concentration and emotional regulation and promote positive emotions. With regular practice, this inner-exploration can have dramatic results. Mindfulness is being embraced more widely as a crucial adjunct to traditional learning. This workshop will introduce basic practices such as awareness of breathing and body, mindful communication and loving-kindness.

Published in Breakfast Club

For some reason lately I've been thinking about those moments that awaken us in some way—moments that either subtly or profoundly affect the way we interact with the world.

Some of those moments are earth-shattering, like the first time Loss comes up and punches you squarely in the face. (For me, that came in the form of a 7 am phone call when I was 17 years old alerting me to the death of one of my most beloveds).

Some of those moments are seemingly trivial, like the first time you find your own unique style. (I still remember trying to explain to my mom just how important Grunge music was as a college student in the early 90s).

We See the World Differently   by CalandraIceSometimes those moments change the very face of the world, like the first time you encounter a national or global crisis. (Nothing will soften the memory of standing on a rooftop in Manhattan with some of my co-workers, some blocks north of the World Trade Center, marveling at the gaping holes in the sides of the buildings, when the sudden distant rumble of some kind of thunder preceded the slow and shocking collapse of the first tower).

Sometimes those moments make you aware that you've never actually understood the full function of your heart until then. (While I thought my elementary-age heart fully opened up when I first saw "Stand By Me" and was introduced to the glory of River Phoenix, it was actually the first time I held my first baby that I knew the world would forever be so much more terrifying, heartbreaking, beautiful, wide open and exquisite... and that I could never hide my heart from any of it again).

Sometimes those moments show us just how important our voice actually is. (I spent the first year and a half at The Leadership Program waiting for an invitation to be included, to be "liked," to be considered worthy. And then I got tired of waiting and just declared myself included... and I've spent the past thirteen and half years declaring rather than waiting).

And some of those moments aren't actual moments at all but rather the accumulation of pieces of moments that you suddenly become aware of on a random Tuesday. (My husband and I have been married for 14 ½ years, and clinking coffee mugs across the table at each other this morning I was hit with the profound weight of the remarkable life we've created together, side by side, interwoven in ways that are not explainable and that extend so far past the pictures on the wall of two young people on their wedding day, practical strangers to me now).

Whether small (How did I ever live in a world without minivans?) or big (This wide-open heart thing that my children have created in me is sometimes unbearable)... these are the moments that offer an opportunity for us to awaken. It's as if one of the many layers that color how we view the world gets peeled away, and as such the color shifts just a bit and the world looks different, forever. It's kind of stunning when you take a moment to think about it, when you awaken to these awakenings.

Are you noticing the moments when you awaken? When your students awaken? Whether it's your own moment or a moment experienced by one of the youth with whom you work, it's important to acknowledge just how the awakening has shifted the way the world looks. Daily rituals can support this process—do you start your program with a circle and time for students to check in and tell you how they're feeling? Do you end your program with a chance to come back together and reflect on the day? Are there opportunities for students to journal or draw? All of these activities open up space for those awakening moments to be captured and acknowledged.

What moments have awakened you?

For breakfast this morning I had a cup of peppermint tea and a toasted mini-bagel with peanut butter. So civilized!

Published in Breakfast Club

My son often wakes up very early this morning, wanting the last part of his sleep to be snuggled up in our bed. I love watching him sleep—the sounds he makes; the way he settles his body; his face as it relaxes back into slumber. In those moments, he is completely at peace.

I see that kind of peace radiate from my children often. For example, one evening recently after dinner, they went outside to do some "gardening." This consisted of them sitting squarely in the middle of our garden plot, pouring buckets of water onto the dirt, and then shoveling the mud back into the bucket and mixing it up—getting themselves completely filthy in the process. I sat in a chair and watched them become completely immersed in their task in the quiet of the evening. They were completely in synch and at peace.

sunflowersI wish I could capture that level of peace and put it in a jar and sit on a street corner and then hand out those jars of peace to anyone who wanted one. Along with a sunflower. I mean, how can you not smile when you see a sunflower? Get Your Free Jars of Peace and Sunflowers Right Here!

Because there are so many people in the world that need a piece of peace right now that I don't even know where to begin. It feels like the entire world has literally caught fire. Every glimpse at the news makes me shudder.

So until I find a way to capture the peace that lives within my children and put it in a jar and hand it out on street corners, I guess I have to find another way to offer peace. Is that even possible? To offer peace? When I look at the unraveling situations in cities around our country and around the world, or within the minds of so many who battle depression, or in the halls of too many schools where pervasive bullying leads to suicide... when I look at all that, I'm just not sure.

But then I think about this: peace dissipates when it is overtaken by anger, fear, or anxiety. But what dissipates anger, fear, and anxiety? Respect. Love. Support. Empathy. Now—while it's totally unrealistic to shout at the world "Hey, let's just love each other!", it is not altogether crazy to think that the way I can offer my own piece of peace to this world is to anchor myself in those things. To anchor my children in those things.

And I can remember this when I start to complain about something trivial. Some minor (perceived) injustice. Some "need." I can remember this when I start to make assumptions about the person across the checkout aisle. I can remember this when someone says something offensive and I don't say anything as to not cause a stir. I can remember this when I pass the person holding the sign and hoping for help. If I've declared that my piece of peace is by offering love and respect to those around me, then it makes it a lot harder to race through my day with blinders on. And who's watching me when I remember all this? Not just my children, but my co-workers. My students. My neighbors. By anchoring myself in my own piece of peace, I'm perhaps lighting the way for someone else to do the same.

So maybe, in the end, the best we can do is each offer our own piece of peace to the world- simply by starting with what's right in front of us. If we all started to do that, who knows what might happen?

What piece of peace can you offer your part of the world today?

For breakfast I had quinoa. No joke, it was delicious.

Published in Breakfast Club

Included in this post is a basic outline for a four-session Dance/Visual Arts and Poetry workshop. The following session series is created around the poem, “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou. I have used the following experiences as a part of a curriculum for teenage girls who identified challenges with positive self-image and bullying within their peer group.

As you read through the outline keep in mind the age of the children or young people you work with. Also, think about the theme or message you feel needs to be heard and experienced by your young people. The following outline can serve as a starting point for you. Choose your own theme, a poem that fits, and then adapt the experiences appropriately!

dance pic 2
Day 1:

1. Opening ritual.

A. Close your eyes and think of one word that describes how you feel right now. Open your eyes when you have it. Close your eyes again and think of one simple movement that represents how you feel. Show your movement and have the rest of the group repeat your movement in unison. Move around the circle until each young person has shared their created movement. You can keep this as a simple call and response or cumulatively add the movements together to create a dance/movement phrase that communicates the collective story of how the group feels today.

2. Facilitator reads “Phenomenal Woman” out loud to the group.

A. Instruct participants to make themselves comfortable, lying down, sitting, or standing.

B. Ask, “What do you think Maya Angelou, the author, means by ‘inner mystery’?”

C. Take several responses. Maintain high expectations for peers listening to one another in order to ensure the space is safe. Guide young people to listen, build upon one another’s ideas, or respectfully hold a different opinion, do not accept comments that attack ideas shared.

3. Facilitator instructs the group, “Draw your inner mystery.”

A. Provide markers, colored pencils, and paper. Place materials in the center of the circle for the group to choose from. Emphasize sharing materials if needed by discussing it prior to placing the materials down.

B. Ask, “Who is willing to share about your drawing with the group?”

C. Provide an opportunity for all who choose to, to share. Decide prior whether the rest of the group will listen only, or if the group is ready to make positive comments about what they see in one another’s drawings and what it tells them about the person who is sharing.

4. Facilitator instructs the group, “Find your own space in the room and create one simple movement that represents your ‘inner mystery’.”

A. Play soothing music. Encourage the group to try out their movements in their body to find something that feels genuinely representative of their inner mystery. Circulate around the room to offer support if needed.

B. When each person has created a movement, bring the group back to standing in a circle. Each person will share their movement and the group will repeat it in unison. Add all of the movements together cumulatively to create a dance that tells the collective story of each person’s inner mystery.

C. Say, “You are choreographers!”

5. Closing ritual.

A. Standing in a circle, the whole group says in unison, “I am a woman, phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, that’s _____________.” Fill in the blank with each person’s name until all names have been spoken out loud.

6. Journal entry.

A. Instruct the group to reflect in a journal about their experience in the session. Journals can be provided or made by folding paper in half to create a book. Have the group leave their journals with the facilitator to be used each session. Tell the group that you will not read their journals unless they ask you to, or if you plan to read them make sure you tell the group this. It is suggested that you do not read them in order to encourage true reflection without fear.

dance picDay 2:

1. Opening ritual.

2. Facilitator reads “Phenomenal Woman” to students as they improvise creative movement.

A. Ask, “What do you think Maya Angelou means by the ‘fire in my eyes’?”

B. Take several responses. Maintain expectations for listening and responding.

C. Facilitate connecting the previous session’s discussion of inner mystery (Who are you?) to the fire in my eyes (What are your goals? Where are you going?). How are they both connected?

3. Facilitator instructs the group, “Draw the fire in your eyes” (vision for the future, goals, sense of purpose, motivation).

A. Ask, “Who is willing to share about your drawing with the group?”

4. Facilitator instructs the group, “Find your own space in the room and create one simple movement that represents the “fire in your eyes.”

A. Weave all movements together to create a dance.

B. Review the inner mystery dance and combine the two dances created to tell the collective story of the group’s inner mystery and the fire in their eyes.

5. Closing ritual.

A. “I am a woman, phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, that’s _____________.”

6. Journal entry.

Day 3:

1. Opening ritual.

2. Each participant takes a turn reading a line of the “Phenomenal Woman” poem.

A. “What do you think Maya Angelou means by ‘my head’s not bowed’?”

B. Take several responses. Maintain expectations for listening and responding.

C. Facilitate connecting the previous two discussions of inner mystery (Who are you?) to the fire in my eyes (What are your goals? Where are you going?) to not bowing our heads (overcoming challenges, strength, efficacy, believing in one’s self, working with others to achieve goals). How are they all connected? What does and what will help you to overcome your challenges?

3. Facilitator instructs the group, “Find your own space in the room and create a still shape/body sculpture that represents the biggest challenge you have or will have to grow through.

A. Have the group view each body sculpture and try it on.

B. Have the group collaborate to create one large sculpture that represents overcoming or growing through challenges that tells the story of being transformed and triumphant.

C. Have the group move from their individual challenge sculptures into the full group triumphant sculpture.

D. Review the inner mystery and fire in my eyes dance. Add the sculpture section to the end of the dance (or have the group decide where it should be placed in the order of the sections).

4. Closing ritual:

A. “I am a woman, phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, that’s _____________.”

5. Journal entry

Day 4:

1. Opening ritual.

2. Each participant takes a turn reading a line of the “Phenomenal Woman” poem while the rest of the group improvises creative movement.

A. Review previous discussions about “inner mystery,” “fire in my eyes,” and “head’s not bowed.”

3. Facilitator assigns small groups (2 – 3 per group will most likely work best).

A. Instruct the group, “In your groups choreograph a short dance that tells the story of a journey through discovering inner mystery, the fire in your eyes, and why your head’s not bowed.”

B. Share each dance with the rest of the group.

C. Analyze the dances. Ask, “What did you see in the dance?” “What did you learn about the choreographers?”

D. Review the cumulative dance created in previous sessions. Add these small group sections in (they could be performed simultaneously, as small group sessions spread throughout intermittently, or one at a time added to the end of the dance).

4. Closing ritual.

A. “I am a woman, phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, that’s _____________.”

5. Journal entry

The experiences included in these sessions provide participants with the opportunity to reflect on who they are and where they are going while learning about one another more deeply. These four sessions could be expanded into several more or could be incorporated into a larger curriculum. You might even have participants write their own poem about why they are Phenomenal (individually or as a group) and then independently choreograph a dance to represent it. This is just one more way to use creative art-making as a structure for teaching and practicing new skills!

For breakfast I had a coffee, an English muffin and an avocado.

Images: School of Harmony and BuildaBridge International.

Published in Breakfast Club

There’s nothing like best friends – they see the best in you, believe in you, and pick you up when you feel down. Wouldn’t it be great if your BFF was always with you? And wouldn’t it be great if our children’s BFF was always with them as well?

Well that can happen, when you become your own BFF!

Now this might sound a little silly but please hear me out. Teaching kids to become their own BFF is the secret behind strong self-esteem. The key is to teach them about the power of positive self-talk.

Self-talk refers to what we say to ourselves – both verbally and through our thoughts. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are constantly “talking” to ourselves. Every day, every hour, and every minute, we are saying something to ourselves that is either building us up or tearing us down. And so are our kids.

Self-talk is one of the most powerful influences on children’s emotions, mood, self-esteem, self-confidence, actions, and therefore what they create in their lives.

There are two types of self-talk – negative self-talk and positive self-talk.

Negative self-talk is the self-esteem crusher and it includes statements, observations, and judgments that bring kids down - “I can’t do it,” “I’m going to fail this test,” “They won’t like me,” etc.  Negative self-talk creates an undercurrent of self-doubt which erodes self-esteem and self-confidence.

Positive self-talk, on the other hand, is the self-esteem enhancer. Positive self-talk includes statements, observations, and affirmations that support kids in their lives - “I can do it,” “I’m going to ace this test,” “I’m smart,” etc.

Here’s the critical decision - kids can either choose to think positive things about themselves or they can choose to think negative things about themselves. It’s completely up to them. The challenge is that it isn’t natural for most kids, or even most grownups for that matter. Kids are bombarded with messages from outside of themselves that they don’t measure up - “Your grades are too low,” “You’re not a good enough to make the team,” “You’re too fat,” etc. These messages may come from their peers, the media, their teachers, their coaches, and even from family members.   Kids can’t help but wonder what the truth is.

As an after school professional, you have a unique opportunity to teach kids that the only opinion that matters is the one that they have of themselves. And the good news is, they get to choose what that opinion is.

So why is positive self-talk so important?

Positive self-talk is important because it has a positive impact on both your body and your brain!

Each time you use positive self-talk, it releases endorphins in your body which helps you feel good about yourself. It also builds connections in your brain called neural pathways. This is where the “magic” happens.

Neural pathways are connections in your brain that are created every time you learn something new or have an experience. The more you think about something or do something, the stronger those neural pathways become. As neural pathways get stronger and stronger, they become your pattern of thinking which becomes your habits and your comfort zone.

For kids to develop strong self-esteem, they need to create a strong foundation of neural pathways that are based on positive messages about themselves. And the key to laying this foundation is positive self-talk. The more kids practice positive self-talk, the more it will become their normal way of thinking. Positive self-talk will actually become their habit.

To help kids develop a habit of positive self-talk, the first step is to teach them how to notice and stop negative self-talk. The second step is to teach them how to proactively start developing positive self-talk.

Let’s talk about stopping negative self-talk first.

The key to stopping negative self-talk is to notice it. At Adventures in Wisdom, we teach kids to spot negative self-talk by looking for the “grungies.” Grungies are negative feelings such as fear, embarrassment, shame, guilt, anxiety, helplessness, anger, etc. Grungies, or negative feelings, are caused by negative thoughts. And in most of cases the negative thoughts are negative self-talk.  

Once kids spot the grungies and identify the negative thoughts behind the grungies, the next step is to gently shift their thinking to positive thoughts or supportive thoughts. There is no need for self-beat-up because of the negative thinking, just notice and gently shift to positive thoughts.

The second thing we teach kids is how to proactively develop positive self-talk. A fun activity for developing positive self-talk is to have kids create a “mirror mantra.”  A mirror mantra is a positive statement that kids can practice saying to themselves every time they see their reflection. For example, a child might something like, “I’m a superstar learner” or “I rock it out.” If a child plays a particular sport, she might pick something like, “I am a superstar hitter and a rock star on my team.” By practicing their mirror mantra, kids are building those neural pathways, rewiring their brain to feel great about themselves, and becoming their own BFF.

If you would like to bring this powerful way of thinking to the kids you serve, I’d like to invite you to download a free story from Adventures in Wisdom called “Choosing Your BFF (Best Friend Forever).”  Through the story, kids learn that what they say to themselves is more important than what anyone else says to them. And with your support, kids can develop a habit of positive self-talk and create soaring self-esteem! To get your free story visit here.

For breakfast I had an egg white taco complete with hugs and kisses from my hubby and kiddos.

Published in Breakfast Club

It's the middle of February and we're in The Zone. Winter has caught up with us, we're weary of the cold weather, we aren't getting enough natural sunlight, road conditions are often hardly mediocre, and... the kids are ornery.

That's right: ornery. Downright unpredictable. Bored. Whining. Frustrated.

We have plenty of activities for them to do, but they remain energetic one moment but restless and cagey the next. It's difficult to know how to respond to such unpredictability; it wears on our own nerves as parents, teachers, afterschool care providers, leaders and mentors. It also grates on us because we're going through our own mid-winter slump.

Just to give you readers a bit of background, I'm writing from northern Alberta, Canada, where we are used to long dark winters, where many people live with official diagnoses of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and oodles of kids of all ages suffer from cabin fever from October through to April (at least). I thought I'd offer some healthy suggestions to beat the winter blues since 'Snowmageddon' seems to have hit further south than normal, for longer, and with greater fury. Those of you living in sunnier climates, maybe you can chime in here too with some suggestions.

Let's get a few things clear:

1. It is perfectly normal to have the winter blues. The body needs sunlight to live! When days are shorter, cloudier and colder, it is natural for the body to experience lethargy, moodiness, increased carb appetite, irritation, and even depression.

2. Not every bout of the winter blues is 'Seasonal Affective Disorder'. If you or your child experience ongoing symptoms, or seasonal symptoms over a period of years, perhaps a visit to your doctor is in order. In the meantime, a few days to a week of overall blah is something families and communities can handle.

Take it from a Canadian who knows winter: there are ways to boost the spirit and the body without medication. Are there times when medication is required? Absolutely! However that is for a qualified physician to determine, and should always be used in tandem with other activities to help make it through darker times.

A Canadians' Top 10 Checklist for Beating the Winter Blues:

1. Wrangle your children and talk about how the body needs sunlight. It's a great science project to work on at home or in your afterschool program! Research some basic information and have everyone come back and talk about the skin, as an organ, processing sunlight; or how the Earth's axis changes with the seasons; or how spring will come and what signs to look for in your region. When we understand ourselves better, we can accept our seeming out-of-place emotions better as well.

2. Turn off the TV. I know that might sound counter-productive when it seems like there's nothing else to do (especially if it's too cold to play outside or too stormy). Screen time will drag emotions down – this includes computers and phones. Sometimes extended snowstorms can agitate people. Sure, some folks appreciate the silence but many find that drawn-out stormy times still need some sort of familiar sound. Turn off the TV (especially if you're obsessing over the weather channel), and play some uplifting or soothing music.

If you're really courageous, play the loudest craziest music you've got and have a dance party! Not only is the TV off, but your bodies are now moving!

3. Make it a point to get the kids outside every single day. Keep everyone moving! Yes it's a pain in the royal behind to saddle all those kids with snow-pants, parkas, toques (Canadian term for a really warm winter hat), mittens and boots; but we need the fresh air. Even if it's cold out, trot a path in the snow or find a place out of the wind and play a round of tag, build a snow-person, make snow angels or any other game that includes a lot of movement. Your muscles and immune systems will thank you for the fresh air. Even if the sun's not out, fresh air can lift dampened spirits. The body gets some good stretch time, and your kids might find they adapt to colder weather than they thought.

4. Try a new snow activity if you live in a region that rarely gets snow. Never been sledding? If you've suddenly got the snow base for it, try it out! Bundle up, sit on a piece of slippery plastic, park your rear on the top of a hill, and FLY! Trust me, I'm 35 and sledding is still one of my favorite winter activities. If possible, have a campfire ready for toasting S'mores and drinking hot chocolate. Have a camera on hand to capture the crazy memories.

Or, have all of your kids grab rulers or measuring tapes and see who can find the biggest deepest snowdrift. Again, have cameras available so judges have proof to decide the winner. The more 'bad weather' is seen as inventive and wondrous weather, the more spirits will be lifted.

5. Stock up on craft supplies, board games, indoor sports equipment (if you have a gym), and art stuff. Remember: the goal is to keep the television off for most of your indoor time. Keep heads and imaginations busy so that long hours without outdoor play are still effective and consistent.

6. Buy healthy snacks. I cannot stress this enough. It is so tempting, especially in cold or nasty weather, to run to the store, grab the first convenient thing on the shelf and run back. But when we're sunlight deficient, we need to assist our bodies in other ways to maintain balance. That means lots of fruits and veggies! High fat, sugary foods will spike body rhythms and our moods (which means inevitable crashes), so try to keep to foods that will sustain us rather than enable the winter blues.

7. Gage the temperature of your group, whether it's your kids or your afterschool club. Alone time is important, especially for introverts. The power of silence can help us process daily events, life circumstances and re-fuel powered-down energy cells. However during extended periods of cold and dark, even introverts need some group time. Call everyone together and tell Shadow Puppet Stories (or something similar). When kids are lethargic, physical activity is crucial but low-key action is helpful too. Getting stuck in our lethargy is dangerous, but playing to it by having a round of Sorry or Monopoly, or using modeling clay can also regulate our systems too.

8. Keep that TV off. Don't forget!

9. Keep mental notes of who's coming out of their winter slumps and who seems to be stuck. If the weather gets better and the sun more potent with the change in season, but one of your kids still isn't his or her normal self, do consider speaking with a professional. There might be something else going on for that child other than the weather.

10. Remember: this too shall pass. God created the seasons – some places with extreme seasons – for many reasons. The Earth isn't dead; she's sleeping. And our natural tendency sometimes is to go to sleep with her. We get weary, worn down and foggy. Sometimes it's hard to remember that the snow will melt and the days will grow longer; but the green grass does poke through and that first sense of warmer sunshine in February is some of the best sunshine a human could ever feel!

To sum up: TV off, keep you and your group moving, try new things, eat healthy, stay creative, make room for quiet reflection, fresh air, learn about the seasons (and our bodies' reactions to them), and... this too shall pass.

I had Red River Hot Cereal mixed with "Choo-It" Organic blend, with a Gala apple, a glass of water & cup of panic when I realized I was almost 10 minutes late for work. :)

Published in Breakfast Club

One of my two-year-old son's favorite songs to sing recently is "Do-Re-Mi" from The Sound of Music. You know, "Doe, a deer, a female deer; Ray, a drop of golden sun; etc." He beltsit, and also gets it all mixed up. My favorite adaptation that he has made is that he will yell "Ray! A CUP of Golden Sun!"

I mean, why stop at a drop of golden sun when you can have an entire cup?!

So I've been thinking about what it means to have a cup of golden sun in your hands, and the image has been speaking powerfully to me. I imagine holding this oversized coffee mug that simply glows as the sunlight spills out from over top of it. Can you picture it? It makes me smile as I think about what makes up my cup o' sun. What actually makes life sunny to me? What makes things shine a bit brighter? What don't I want just a drop of, but a whole cup? Here's part of the list that started running through my head:

• My husband and kids
• My parents and family
• Flowers
• An unexpected breeze
• A good book
• A glass of wine
• Driving with the windows down
• The sound of real laughter
• A fountain diet coke with extra ice
• Pictures of my loved ones, especially when we're making funny faces
• The color yellow
• The big blue sky
• Indiana
• New York City
• The sound of a fiddle or a banjo

I could go on and on... honestly, the more I think about my cup of golden sun, the more I realize all that's in it. Soon it will have to be a thermos and eventually a cooler and perhaps even a truck-load. When I look for it, it's all around me. Golden sun, it turns out, expands the more attention you give it. Sure you could stop at a drop-full. A drop-full of sun is a pretty okay thing. But if you invite in a cup-full, soon it will fill every nook and cranny of your day, with things you didn't even realize or expect.

As educators I think it's important for us to remind our students of this, too. So many of them are facing circumstances that, at best, are difficult and, at worst, are beyond our imagining. So many of our schools are suffering from budget cuts and overcrowded classrooms. Through this lens, it can be very easy to have a scarcity mindset; to focus on what is missing, rather than what is present. But I believe that gratitude is the quickest path from scarcity to abundance—sometimes it just takes a little nudging.

What is in your cup of golden sun?

For breakfast I had a cup of coffee and the leftover bits of my kids' cereal bars and bowls of cereal.wel

Published in Breakfast Club
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