Halifax’s Family Magazine
Celebrating differences Everyone has a part to play in the discussion about gender and diversity
A new state of mind
Helping those with mental illness requires changing the way we all think
There are plenty of ways kids can feel more confident
Enter the We Love Our Teachers
contest! page 9
get cooking! • book reviews • face to face
Teachers who use innovative strategies clarify
the challenge they are trying to solve, search for all the modern resources they can bring to learning and explore questions such as, "I wonder what would happen if...?
Innovation is how we take learning and teaching to new levels in order to achieve greater results. It’s about imagination.
Elwin LeRoux, Superintendent of the Halifax Regional School Board, shares more details on innovation in the classroom in his column on page 28.
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9 Do you have the best teacher ever? Tell us about them and they might win a prize!
A look back at our Creative Kids event!
contest: Ready, set, read! Get your class together r new reading contest and win a party!
12 Love yourself There are plenty of ways kids can feel more confident
14 Helping to heal Together, parents and teachers can help children after incidents of sexual abuse
17 Celebrating differences Parents, teachers, and community all have a part to play in the discussion about gender and sexual diversity
20 The chef right under your nose Getting your kids in the kitchen gives you a helping hand and teaches them an important life skill
departments 07 Editor’s note 09 Contest Our annual contest honouring great teachers is back!
10 Creative kids! A look back at our signature event
22 Face to face Dr. Andrew Howlett is working to help new fathers with the transition of becoming a parent
26 Health and wellness Helping those with mental illness requires changing the way we all think
28 Superintendent’s message 30 Book reviews
Our Children | Winter 2016
On our cover Groups such as The Youth Project are a great resource for parents looking to learn more about gender and sexual diversity. Illustration: Danielle Shreenan
Publisher Patty Baxter
Senior Editor Trevor J. Adams
Editor Suzanne Rent Contributing Editor Janice Hudson Graphic Design Gwen North
Production Manager Jeffrey Webb
Printing Advocate Printing & Publishing Contributors Starr Dobson Elwin LeRoux Edie Shaw-Ewald Jenna Tarrel Richard Woodbury
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Our Children | Winter 2016
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My favourite teacher ever was Mr. Parker who taught social studies when I was in junior high. Mr. Parker was what you’d call “old school.” He was serious and walked around the classroom with one of those long rulers in hand, pointing to maps or notes on the blackboard. He wasn’t like my friends’ favourite teachers. They were often younger and my peers liked their youthful style and exuberance. But I preferred Mr. Parker’s style. In Mr. Parker’s class I felt smart and wanted to learn, which is a bit of a liability in junior high. But Mr. Parker encouraged and expected students to be smart and get the job done. I excelled in his class.
Suzanne Rent, Editor
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On Twitter: @Suzanne_Rent @OurChildrenMag
I went on to study history before studying journalism. I can credit Mr. Parker for my early love of research, history, and geography. And Mr. Parker probably doesn’t know this. That’s the thing about teachers: every day they fill young minds with knowledge not knowing how that knowledge will shape that child’s future. Beyond what he taught, Mr. Parker’s style is one I still embrace: always be smart and get the job done. A teacher’s influence leaves a lasting legacy.
In this issue, we have our annual We Love Our Teachers contest. This is a chance for kids to share stories about their favourite teachers. It’s also a chance for us to celebrate all teachers who are making a difference in our children’s lives. Each year when we offer this contest, I love the letters we receive from children talking about their favourite teacher. It’s always tough to pick a winner. I want to dedicate this issue to all the great teachers out there, including Mr. Parker. Your students will remember you for years to come. **** In our cover story on page 17, we learn about gender diversity, what it means, how it’s being taught in schools, and what parents need to know and what local resources they can access. And finally, thanks to everyone who took part in our Creative Kids event on November 7. This was the first time for the event (and we hope not the last). You can see photos from the day on page 10. As always, if you have comments or story ideas for future issues, email [email protected]
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Our Children | Winter 2016
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JANUARY 16 – MAY 8, 2016
Congratulations to Let’s get the winners of our cooking! reading contest! Congratulations to Ms. Sheila McMullen’s Grade 2 class at Basinview Drive Community School for winning our annual reading contest. To celebrate, Our Children and Nimbus Publishing hosted a pizza party for the class. Thanks to Tom Ryan of Nimbus Publishing for bringing along books for every student!
Our Children and Edie Shaw-Ewald, our dietitian, want to teach your kids to cook! We’re hosting a cooking class at the Superstore in Lower Sackville. There, Edie will teach your kids how to whip up a delicious and nutritious threecourse meal. This contest is open to children in grades Primary to 6. Submit your entry to editor Suzanne Rent at [email protected]
by February 5. Please include a line or two about why you want your children to learn how to cook. We’ll pick 12 kids to take part, and notify parents shortly after the deadline.
“Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.” —Japanese proverb
Atlantica Hotel & Marina at Oak Island will treat the winning teacher and a guest to a night’s stay, breakfast, and a spa treatment. Send an email to [email protected]
or mail us a letter at Our Children Magazine, 2882 Gottingen St., Halifax, N.S. B3K 3E2.
We’ll draw a winner on Friday, March 25, 2016
Our Children | Winter 2016
Send us the name of a teacher who has contributed to your school experience in an exceptional way, telling us how you were affected. We want to celebrate the fantastic teachers in all of our schools, but only one can win. Make sure it’s your special teacher we hear about.
On November 7, Our Children hosted Creative Kids, an event at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. There, kids (and their parents) had a chance to expand their imaginations with hands-on crafts, experiments, and more. It was a huge success! Thanks to everyone who took part and for sharing your creative spirits.
Our Children | Winter 2016
Editor, Suzanne Rent
Our Children | Winter 2016
Love yourself! There are plenty of ways to help kids feel more confident
By Jenna Tarrel Have you ever felt scared or nervous? About eight months ago, I was trotting on a horse named Toby. Toby is a chestnut brown boy with lots of spirit and kindness. He spooked for some reason, and I felt really scared.
It is really hard to be confident after you have been scared. Here are some things my friends shared with me about confidence. Lorna says being confident means “believing in yourself without worry or stress.” Kate believes confidence is important “so that you’re not stressed and you’re calm.” Lorna agrees. “Without selfconfidence, everyone will be having a very bad life and not live happily.” My friends say that people can become more confident by telling themselves they are really special and what they like about themselves. “Look on the bright side of yourself and not on the dark side of yourself.”
Jenna Tarrel learned a lot about self-confidence after a fall from her horse, Toby.
It’s important to learn how to be confident and to help your friends be confident. When you feel nervous, try exercising and jumping jacks. Take deep breaths. Help your friends solve their problems and ask them questions to feel more confident.
Kate and Lorna share that their parents and friends also help them with confidence. Kate says, “I look up to my mom. She always helps me through times that can really hurt me.” Lorna says that “friends can witness what happened and might be able to help.”
PHOTO: WENDY TARREL
Our Children | Winter 2016
When he spooked, I fell off of him. I landed on my ribs, and it hurt. I took deep breaths and calmed myself. Then, I mustered up a lot of courage and got back on Toby and rode. I still felt a little scared.
My mom says that if you or a friend are not feeling confident, you should think about all of the great things about yourself or help a friend to do that. Also, do activities that make you feel good. She says the best thing you can do is learn to believe in yourself. “I am really good at this,” she says people should tell themselves. “I can do this. I can be better at this. I can beat this.” She says writing it down and reading it can also help. “If you don’t believe in yourself, other people won’t believe in you,” my mom says. She says it’s hard to be confident all the time and that even she is not always confident. “I think being a parent is one of the toughest jobs out there. You can’t study a book and be an A+ parent. You have to try your best and believe in yourself. Also, find the people who inspire you to be confident and let them be your role model.” I spoke to a psychologist, Nadine Maxner, about self-confidence in children. Nadine believes that confidence is extremely important. “Confidence and self-esteem allow us to make decisions and be critical thinkers so that we do the best things for ourselves.” To help our confidence, Nadine believes we should surround ourselves with friends whom we have things in common with and focus on things we enjoy. “Participate in activities that bring out your strengths. Your confidence will develop from that.” She has a fantastic piece of advice to help children be confident. “Be yourself
and always be true to yourself despite the pressures from the world,” she says. “This means being passionate about what is important to you. Do things that bring you joy. “Also, surround yourself with a support group who can help you in good times and bad.” Nadine says it is a good idea to practice the things you are not confident in. “Practice being brave and getting through scary things.” Gaining self-confidence is difficult. “Gaining self-confidence is a process,” Nadine says. “We are continually learning through our life experiences and this helps us to gain self-confidence.” I have an activity that can help you to gain confidence. This is an exercise that was taught to my class by my teacher, Mrs. Cobean, to be confident in ourselves. Every day when you are at home, look at yourself in the mirror and say something nice about yourself to yourself. It may seem hard at first, but it will get easier as you go and help you to be more confident in yourself. Here is an example that I like to tell myself. “Jenna, you are beautiful inside and out.” It was a long time until I rode Toby again and trotted on my own without a lunge line or my teacher holding onto Toby. When I finally did, I felt
happy. Now, I always feel confident about riding a horse. This took me a while, and it was tricky to get my confidence level up, but I worked hard and I did it. I know you can be confident, too. Jenna Tarrel is a Grade 4 student at Bedford South School. When Jenna is not horseback riding, she is a Sparks helper and a Girl Guide. She plays the harp and violin. She loves exploring nature and playing with her two cats, Carla and Stanley.
Our Children | Wintr 2016
My mom also had some advice about self-confidence. “Talking about things with someone helps her to feel better,” she says. “I would talk to my parents about what was bothering me. I would try my best too. Accomplishing things is one thing that helped me feel confident. I learned to believe in myself!”
Together, parents and teachers can help children after incidents of sexual abuse By Richard Woodbury Research shows as many as one in four girls and one in six boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before they reach the age of 18. Sadly, nine out of 10 cases aren’t reported to the authorities.
Our Children | Winter 2016
In Nova Scotia, abuse and personal safety is addressed in the health education curriculum beginning in Grade Primary and until Grade 9.
Schools also use an interactive curriculum resource developed by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, which is designed to reduce child/youth victimization and sexual exploitation by teaching and practising effective personal safety strategies. “It aims to provide children and youth with the tools to help them respond to dangerous or threatening situations,” says Michelle Lucas, a spokesperson with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, in an email. Vicky Wolfe, the psychology professional practice chief at the IWK Health Centre, says classroom curriculum is important because it makes some kids realize things that have happened to them were, in fact, incidents of sexual abuse. Parents and caregivers should also talk to their kids about what sexual abuse is.
This is especially relevant because kids who have open communication with their parents about sensitive topics (such as sex and sexual abuse) are more likely to disclose if something has happened to them. Not only does early disclosure prevent the incident from happening again, it has another benefit. “For kids who disclose right away, the impact is much less than kids who hold it in and go years and years without disclosing,” Wolfe says. Parents would be wise to do some research about the topic before talking to their kids about it. Wolfe recommends parents visit the website of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, an American coalition of frontline providers, researchers, and families focused on childhood trauma. The site (nctsnet.org) has a free document called Caring for Kids: What Parents Need to Know about Sexual Abuse, which is helpful. One of the most distressing things about child sexual abuse is that all children are vulnerable. According to the NCTSN, sexual abuse is more common among children with emotional, developmental, or physical challenges. It says the most common perpetrators are male and are “known and trusted by the children they victimize.” They are usually
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family members, friends of the family, neighbours, babysitters, or older peers.
Besides talking to their kids about sexual abuse, it’s also important for parents and caregivers to pay attention to the warning signs. For school-aged kids, the biggest warning sign is a change in behaviour that can’t be easily explained. This could mean children suddenly want to sleep with their parents, they might seem standoffish, they are having more nightmares, don’t want to be left alone with a particular person, or are experiencing anxiety or depression. Unusual sexual behaviour is another warning sign and may include inappropriate touching of others or themselves, and an understanding of sexual knowledge and language that is inappropriate for the child’s age. If a parent or caregiver suspects something is wrong, they should talk to the child at a time that is comfortable for the child and free of other distractions. Wolfe says the parent could preface the discussion by saying they’ve noticed the child has been acting different lately and they are worried something is on the child’s mind or something has happened to them, while adding the parent might be able to help with this.
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Our Children | Winter 2016
Child sexual abuse is defined as “any interaction between a child and an adult (or another child) in which the child is used for the sexual stimulation of the perpetrator or an observer,” says TNCTSN. “Sexual abuse can include both touching and non-touching behaviors. Touching behaviors may involve touching of the vagina, penis, breasts or buttocks, oral-genital contact, or sexual intercourse. Non-touching behaviors can include voyeurism (trying to look at a child’s naked body), exhibitionism, or exposing the child to pornography.”
One number for
“They want to be as general as possible so they’re not leading the discussion and let the child come forward with their own information,” says Wolfe. Parents should ask openended questions, as opposed to closed-ended ones.
call DCS to explain the concern. From there, DCS will assess the situation and may potentially interview the child and caregiver. DCS and the police conduct investigations together to reduce overlap and simplify the process.
supportive caregiver,” says Christina Shaffer, the project coordinator for the Child Protection Team at the IWK Health Centre. Not only must the caregiver believe the child and support them, they must be willing to advocate for the child.
If the child does make a disclosure of sexual abuse, it is crucial the parent comfort the child, tell them they did the right thing, tell them nobody is going to think what happened was their fault, and they are brave for disclosing it. Parents should also mention that by coming forward, “they are also probably protecting other children from that happening to them,” says Wolfe.
In about 40 per cent of cases, kids will be fine with support from their family and won’t need counselling.
For some parents, there is some uncertainty as to whether the child should participate in the legal process. Wolfe is all for it. “The kids have an opportunity to have some empowerment and to ensure their disclosure leads to some protection of other kids and themselves,” she says.
To notify the authorities, people should contact the Department of Community Services (DCS). Even in a situation where a person isn’t 100 per cent sure an incident has occurred,
“In the short term, it’s not unusual for a child to develop some posttraumatic stress reactions that will respond to treatment,” says TNCTSN. “Others—particularly those who have suffered multiple traumas and received little parental support—may develop post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.” How well a child recovers depends on multiple factors. “One of the most important factors is having a
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Parents, teachers, and community all have a part to play in the discussion about gender and sexual diversity
By Suzanne Rent
During his classroom sessions, Myatt, who is a community educator with The Youth Project in Halifax, creates lists of what items and activities are often associated with each gender: Boys like blue, trucks, army toys, and video games. Girls like pink, dolls, makeup, and shopping. But Myatt says those lists don’t sit well with the young children. “It’s my favourite thing to do,” Myatt says. “They are so angry about what they are told they are supposed to do. They know what they like, they know what they want to do, and they’re not happy. It’s really great to see them challenge this stuff.” For more than 20 years, The Youth Project has been a resource for young people questioning their gender identities and sexual orientations. Kate Shewan, executive director at The Youth Project, says 20 years ago, the youth looking for support ranged between the ages of 20 and 25. These days, they are between the ages
of 13 and 18. Shewan says that signals a larger acceptance by society of issues surrounding gender and sexuality. “It’s more of a snowball,” she says. “Then more people come out, there’s more visibility and more destigmatization. Then it becomes much more accepted in society.” That discussion has been taking place in schools, too, with The Youth Project serving as one of the resources used to help develop the sexual-health curriculum. In Grades Primary to 3, the discussions focus on stereotypical gender roles. For example, what activities, toys, and jobs are expected of boys and girls. “Those are easy ones for children to understand,” says Natalie Flinn, an active healthy living consultant with the department of education who worked on the curriculum. In Grades 4 to 6, the discussions revolve around gender roles in society, how those roles are presented in media and entertainment, and a better understanding that we all have of gender identity, but it doesn’t always match how we feel inside.
Our Children | Winter 2016
When Adam Myatt visits schools to talk about gender identity, the students speak their minds pretty quickly.
Cover story Council for the province of Nova Scotia, children are exposed to hundreds, if not thousands of images of gender and sexuality a day, all of which are bound to shape their larger understanding of it. Parents, she adds, often underestimate the media’s influence. “I think it’s become normal for all of us,” Syms says. For parents who worry their children are too young to be learning about gender diversity in the early elementary years, Syms says research says that even at age three, our gender is set and children have a sense of who they are. “It’s become a human right,” Syms says of gender identification. “And I don’t think children are ever too young to learn about human rights.” “We never say a child is too young to teach them about the colour of their skin,” Flinn continues. “We need to think about gender in the same terms.” Teachers play a key part in the discussion. Myatt says when he was in high school, he learned about the writing of Oscar Wilde. But he didn’t learn Wilde was gay. He says as a young person who identified as gay, that would have helped him understand there were others like him. Teachers, he says, should make gender and sexual identity a discussion in many parts of the curriculum. “I think the biggest thing a teacher can do is not just talk about this once,” Myatt says. “They only talk about LGBTQ once, in health class. First of all, it sexualizes being transgender. Who we are and who we are attracted to are two different things.”
Our Children | Winter 2016
“What’s important is, first of all, naming it, that that’s what that is and it exists, and that it’s normal and OK to feel that way and there are places you can reach out to for help,” Flinn says.
Flinn says these conversations are important during these later elementary grades because that’s when puberty begins its onset. And that can provide children who are questioning their gender with challenges. Suddenly, a young body is developing in a way that goes against how a young person feels internally or emotionally.
Teachers should be aware of the language they use in their classrooms, particularly if that language divides by gender. “It’s everything from, ‘OK guys, let’s listen,’ and it’s really about moving from that binary, male-and-female, and being more inclusive,” Syms says. Students now drive the discussion around gender diversity and acceptance. “If you say male identified and female identified, it’s OK if it doesn’t match,” Flinn says. “And if a brave young person goes into the group that doesn’t match what people know and see how they present, most of the kids (what we are finding) say, ‘That’s cool.’”
“Not because it’s not normal,” Flinn says. “But because puberty can be presented in a way that is not inclusive for everyone.”
More than 65 per cent of high schools in the province have gender-sexual alliances (GSAs). Students in junior-high schools and even elementary schools are forming GSAs as well.
How gender is portrayed in the media is especially important for parents and children to understand. According to Joanne Syms, coordinator of anti-bullying and the Youth Advisory
But parents remain a child’s first teacher on these issues. When children question their identities, it will be the little things parents do that count in terms of how a child feels
supported. Shewan says parents need to listen to their children, tell them they love them and that won’t change. “I think the important thing for parents to do is follow their kids’ leads and support their kids,” Shewan says. “In how they are identifying and in whatever they are interested in. It sounds simple, but support them in what they are telling them, instead of challenging them and telling them they are wrong.” Parents, Shewan says, have difficulty letting go of the decision-making they do often for their children. “It’s a major life decision where the parent has to take a step back and say, ‘Okay, I trust you,’” she says. “That’s a struggle for a lot of parents. Shewan says the concern is greater for parents of children who are transgender. They often believe it’s a phase their child will grow out of. “If you start talking about medical transitions, that adds a whole other dimension,” Shewan says. “There’s a lot of trust needed by parents. A lot of parents struggle with that level of trust.” And while it’s crucial for kids to understand and have support when they are questioning, they also need to learn to be a bystander.
Parents can help schools by supporting administrators who open the door for discussion on gender issues. When schools invite Myatt in for a talk, for example, Shewan says parents should tell administrators how much they appreciate the school opening the door to discussion. “I don’t think parents realize how much influence they can have on the schools,” Shewan says. “Typically, it’s parents’ [negative] reaction that administration are scared of.” When talking about gender and sexual diversity, it’s best to just start talking. “The important thing to remember is no one knows everything,” Myatt says. “But trying to have a conversation is better than not having it at all.”
Our Children | Winter 2016
“Friendships are incredibly protective factors for children and youth,” Flinn says. “It’s very important to have those conversations about helping and supporting a friend who’s questioning. One of the key messages is around the responsibility of a bystander and what makes a good friend. Sometimes a friend will come to you first, or test you first to see if someone will still care for them. How we respond to that friend is very significant.”
right under your nose
By Edie Shaw-Ewald Do you sometimes wish you had help in the kitchen? Maybe a sous-chef to peel and chop veggies, sauté the onion and garlic? You may just have a sous-chef right under your nose. Never underestimate the help your children can offer in the kitchen.
Our Children | Winter 2016
Maybe you let your children help when it is a special time such as making cookies for the holidays or a cake for a birthday. But getting them to help with the everyday cooking will benefit them (and you, too).
Sure, the kitchen may end up a little messier, but the pros far outweigh the con of flour on the floor. Cooking with your children is a time to teach them a valuable and essential life skill. To learn how to prepare dinner without directions on a boxed processed meal will give your child the skill of knowing how to cook from raw, whole ingredients. This is a gift of health to them, which they can pass on to their children. Cooking can teach other lessons too, including tradition, culture, math, reading, geography, biology, teamwork, organizational skills, and motor skills.
Working together in the kitchen preparing a meal is an opportune time to connect and communicate. Working side by side can communicate much without words: respect, love, closeness, and the bonds of family. Children that help prepare meals will take some pride and ownership of the meal. This can also lead to a more mature palate and an interest in a wider variety of foods. Give them age and skill appropriate tasks: read through the recipe before you start in order to determine what your little chef can do successfully. The tasks will depend on their age, motor skills, and maturity. For three and four year olds, it may be to wash and dry lettuce leaves and tear them up for a salad. Using a plastic knife or metal butter knife, they can slice strawberries, bananas, and other soft foods. Most five to seven year olds can start measuring ingredients, peel vegetables, form meatballs or patties, grease pans, and stir ingredients in a bowl.
Every child needs to learn how to make soup from scratch. Here is one that is customizable and has tasks for everyone. INGREDIENTS: 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil 1 onion, diced 8 garlic cloves, minced 4 large carrots, diced 4 cups chicken broth 3 cups boiling water 1 can canellini beans, rinsed (or another bean) 1 cup Moroccan couscous (or another pasta such as macaroni) 1 cup frozen peas 1 cup chopped kale or spinach If you have some turnip or potato on hand, throw them in the pot! After assessing your child’s abilities with a knife and stove, you can get them to start chopping and dicing veggies and sauté and stir-fry at the stove.
PREPARATION: Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat.
Make sure to talk about hand washing, kitchen safety, and food safety to avoid injury and food-borne illness. When your kids are old enough to manage preparing a simple meal, assign them a night of the week to take over the kitchen. Let them choose the meal, preferably a meal they have assisted with in the past. It may produce a little more mess in the kitchen but cleaning up after the meal is another life skill to learn.
Add the diced onion and garlic. Saute until the onion is translucent. Add the diced carrots. Sauté for a few minutes. Add the broth and boiling water. Add the rinsed beans and the couscous. Let the soup simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the peas and chopped kale just a few minutes before serving. Season with ground pepper and salt. Recipe and photo by Edie Shaw-Ewald, RD www.dietitiansns.com Edie Shaw-Ewald is a Registered Dietitian with Atlantic Superstore. She loves to teach children how to cook from scratch—and has two sous-chefs who tower over her head at home.
Our Children | Winter 2016
Assign a small chore they can be responsible for nightly. Setting the table is a good nightly task for most children.
Face to face
transition Dr. Andrew Howlett is helping men overcome barriers to treating mental illness By Suzanne Rent Dr. Andrew Howlett was finishing his psychiatry residency in Toronto when he started hearing stories about the problematic relationships between fathers and their children. “And that was contributing to the kids and their behavioural issues,” he says. After researching, Howlett also discovered fathers found it hard to address or get treatment for their own mentalhealth issues. Rigid work schedules, medical offices that are unwelcoming to dads, as well as healthcare professionals who solely dealt with moms are just a few of the barriers Howlett noticed.
Our Children | Winter 2016
He started to look for ways to engage men in the discussion, looking at treatments for mothers suffering from post-partum depression and realizing fathers were at a crucial transition stage as well.
Howlett, who is from Lower Sackville, developed the Fathers Mental Health Research Network in Toronto. He says when a man is about to become a father he’s more connected with the health-care system than ever before. “They may not want the treatment themselves, but if they think it will have a positive effect on their child’s development and health, then they may be more inclined,” he says. Our Children recently spoke with Dr. Howlett about his work, what prevents fathers from seeking help, and what families can do together.
Are there any gender stereotypes that prevent men from seeking help?
“Strong and silent” is the term I use ... [An unwillingness] to be emotional or vulnerable, to talk about our feelings. I would say one of the other kinds of big stereotypes is that we see men cope with stress by behavioural issues such as drinking alcohol or being aggressive. But one of the things I say men do is when they are feeling stressed or depressed is isolate themselves and they socially withdraw. And I see that as a significant tactic that is often overlooked. There is a considerable withdrawal from the family, disengaging as a partner and parent, but also social isolation from friends and certainly an absence of looking for help. How can mothers and families support fathers struggling with mental illness?
I think one is being aware this transition is as tough a time for dads as it is for moms. I think dads often want to ensure the baby is looked after, the mom is looked after, but they too also have their own needs, emotional needs, they often neglect. But they inevitably come out in ways of feeling anger or resentment, that kind of thing. I think it’s great if partners and family members can come and check in, even with dads and see how they are doing. It’s really important from the beginning to encourage dads to feel comfortable and confident in their roles as parents. I think that happens by involving dads, enquiring how they’d like to do things, giving them alone time with the child. Trying to encourage them to talk about their experience with other new dads, ideally friends within their social network. That can be challenging at times if dad is around a lot of bachelor friends. Moms get a lot of support on what’s expected from them,
Besides pregnancy, are there other family transitions that might be triggers for mental health issues for dads?
A pregnancy loss is a risk factor for a dad to develop postpartum depression in a subsequent pregnancy. I don’t know much on the literature around dealing with a child with a medical illness or an intellectual disability, but certainly when there is stress on the child’s health, I know there is difficulty for the moms and dads, to some degree. Things like separation and divorce certainly can be triggers. Why did you want to start your program?
I saw a real, unique opportunity to provide service to men and particularly fathers to create something that will invite and engage men. I also wanted to take the opportunity to provide education around the importance of a father’s role in a child’s life. I think it’s underappreciated overall, the unique and positive impact dads can play on their kids’ lives. There is certainly more opportunity to begin to explore that and begin to engage dads in that. Are the treatments different for men than they are for women?
The treatment can be pretty standard. What’s unique about it is this is an opportunity to provide access to services. I think it’s important to appreciate the relationship the dad is in and how that is affecting their depression. IPT, interpersonal psychotherapy, is therapy designed for depression and now it’s the gold standard in post-partum depression for women. I think that can be equally adopted for depression in dads. Its focus is on role transition such as becoming a father, or interpersonal conflict such as difficulties with the relationships. That is something that will become more tailored over time seeing IPT as a therapy for dads. How can parents together be aware of these issues before the baby comes along?
I do think that preparation is key. I think there are some ways to become more informed. One is attending any pre-natal or parenting classes together. I would talk openly about the transition of becoming parents and how that will affect their current lifestyle and how they will manage that first year. I would reflect on the fact that the parents together have a whole new relationship. It’s sort of a coparenting relationship to their child. Ideally, a disruption in the relationship won’t disrupt the co-parenting relationship, but it’s important to be mindful and separate the two. Often the partnership feels like it gets lost as the focus becomes
co-parenting and that can be disruptive for both most men and women. Where can people find more information?
The Canadian Father Involvement Initiative, that’s a national fatherhood association that’s kind of designed to make organizations and community associations more father friendly. That is one place that is helping to educate and bring forward information about the role of dads. Birthing centres all have programs tailored to moms, but would welcome dads’ participation without question. I think people can reach out to their family doctor and sort of identify themselves as someone who is going to become a dad and look at ways to optimize both their [physical] health and their mental health. I would invite dads to participate in all their child’s care, including immunizations and some checkups and become informed that way. Do you think practitioners are becoming more aware of a father’s mental health?
Slowly. There are times when I’ve made presentations and people say, “Wow, the entire time we are thinking about mom and not looking at how this is affecting dad.” So I think there is still a lot of capacity building to be done. I think dads could identify themselves and have a family doctor appointment. But it would be great for family doctors to screen dads. There are forms where mom could fill out the depression screen on behalf of her husband as well. What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned?
One, that being isolated as a new dad, feeling unsupported by your partner, and not having anyone to go to is a common theme. I also recognized when there is a new family, if you asked about their upbringing you appreciate the family narrative repeats itself from one generation to the next. Also, that most surprisingly the fathers I’ve worked with have followed through with the program and have attended the follow-up appointments and have been really engaged in the psychotherapy and the treatment plan. I’ve been very impressed by the response to the service and feel generally quite more hopeful with each family I work with. Learn more about Dr. Howlett and his work at the Fathers Mental Health Network: fathersmentalhealth.com. For more information on the Canadian Father Involvement Initiative, visit www.candads.ca.
Our Children | Winter 2016
socially and from family. Many of them have these mommy groups. Many of the blogs and books are written as if the mom is the primary reader. And if that is the case; moms are more likely to go to the books and read the blogs. It’s more difficult to find material that will be of interest and a take up for dads.
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A new state of mind Helping those with mental illness requires changing the way we all think By Starr Dobson From the newsroom to the Nova Scotia Hospital: it might sound like a newspaper headline, but it’s actually the title of a presentation I’ve been delivering to organizations across the province for the last two years. After making the move from co-host and producer of the CTV News at 5 for more than a decade, the number one question I still get asked is, “Why did you leave TV?” My most popular answer is, “It had absolutely nothing to do with the charming Bruce Frisko!” My most truthful answer is, “It had everything to do with wanting to help change the way people think.”
Our Children | Winter 2016
As the president and CEO of the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, my main mission is to make a difference in the lives of Nova Scotians by supporting mental-health initiatives in our communities.
Our team raises both funds and awareness in hopes of ending stigma and creating positive change. Simply put, our Foundation works every day to help ensure Nova Scotians with mental illness are thriving in our communities. It’s a lofty vision, but I believe it is attainable. So how did my 23 years as a journalist prepare me for this new chapter? It provided me with confidence, contacts, and public profile. But there’s another part of my life that prepared me even more. Being a parent has been, by far, my most empowering experience. Today my son is 21 and my daughter is 12. They’re fantastic children who make my life better just by being in it. Like most parents, I have a strong desire to protect them, guide them and see them succeed. So when all that was challenged nine years ago I wasn’t quite sure what to do.
When my son was in Grade 6 he started to receive threats from other kids. They told him they were going to hurt him when he made the move from elementary to junior high. I tried to shrug it off as threatening talk that would never amount to much. I was wrong. The bullies made life miserable for him. His first few months of junior high were practically unbearable. He stopped wanting to go to school and changed from being a child who enjoyed socializing to being a child who would rather just stay in his room. He became angry, frustrated, and anxious. The full family effects of his situation took hold almost immediately. Our home went from being a place of comfort to a place of upheaval. Yes, my son was the one being bullied, but every single one of us suffered the consequences. I remember not being able to sleep through the night, feeling helpless and battling a 24-hour fog. I tried to solve the problems on my own. We arranged an out-of-area school transfer. We encouraged new friendships. We tried to pretend we were all OK. It didn’t work. Here I was, the person on television interviewing the experts, reporting on how to identify the signs of bullying and telling people not to be scared to ask for help. Yet I was living in my own personal world of denial. I’m not sure exactly what it was that finally made me realize I couldn’t fix the situation on my own, but I vividly recall what I did. I finally summoned the courage to walk upstairs to my HR department at CTV. I asked my co-worker and friend for the phone number to our EFAP (Employee and Family Assistance
family struggling to get through a difficult experience. We continue to use these skills every day. When people ask me what they can do to help make a difference for others living with mental illness or mental health concerns, my answer now is simple: talk about it.
Starr Dobson, president and CEO of the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, wants to change how people think about mental health issues, including those affecting children and families.
Program) provider. She discreetly wrote it down for me and I quickly made my way to a private phone. I remember holding my breath while I dialed the number, scared someone would discover what I was doing. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I didn’t have the skills to take care of this problem on my own. Now, almost 10 years later, the only thing I’m embarrassed and ashamed about is how long it took me to leave my desk in the newsroom and walk up those stairs.
Don’t try to hide it or pretend it doesn’t exist. Whether it’s diagnosed depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, escalated stress, panic attacks, an inability to sleep, or constant irritability and worry, talk about it. The statistics tell us one in five Nova Scotians will experience a mental-health concern or addiction this year. Not in their lifetime, but this year. When you take time to consider those numbers it’s pretty evident we all know and love someone who is affected. Whether it’s a close family member, a co-worker, a person at your child’s school, a sports coach, a bus driver, a TV journalist, or a president and CEO. No one is immune and everyone’s struggles are unique. Our motto here at the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia is “changing the way people think.”
I hope this new column will allow me to work at doing just that. Thank you to Our Children magazine and editor, Suzanne Rent, for this amazing opportunity. I’m very much looking forward to using my transition from the newsroom to my office at the Nova Scotia Hospital as a way to get people talking about mental illness and mental health concerns. There’s simply no denying these critical conversations need to move from our hospitals and doctor’s offices to our schools, recreation centres, workplaces, and homes. It will work. Starr Dobson is the president and CEO of the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. She’s an acclaimed journalist, best-selling children’s author, and volunteer. She won the Rising Star Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Nova Scotia Chapter in 2015 and the Dr. Elizabeth A. Chard Award from Special Olympics Nova Scotia in 2014.
The counseling helped our family stop dwelling on the past. It taught us important coping skills and helped us to focus on our future. It opened our lines of communication and allowed us to realize we weren’t the only
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Our Children | Winter 2016
Within a few days of making the call I received professional counseling. Within a few minutes of making the call I received the ability to take a deep breath again. It was like a giant weight had been lifted off my chest. I had a problem, I asked for help, and thankfully, I found it.
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Finding a better way Innovation in the classroom is changing the way our students are learning
By Elwin LeRoux, Superintendent
Innovation is often what we see in response to a question that begins with “I wonder what...?”
At Michael Wallace Elementary, many students in Grades 4, 5, and 6 are choosing to spend their lunch breaks inside the old portable classroom turned Makerspace. Every lunch hour, you can find kids imagining, creating, coding, building, problem solving, collaborating, connecting circuits, and even making pigs fly! Most importantly, they’re learning while innovating by simply having fun dabbling in engineering, programming, and physics. See for yourself: youtu.be/_fOm6cYuVak
It’s about stretching our minds and stepping outside of tradition in order to discover something new and promising! Innovation is the path forward when our current strategies have not yet resulted in success for all of our students. It could be an approach, a strategy, a tool, or a resource. Innovation is not necessarily technology, albeit most technology is founded on an innovation or a new way to solve a problem. Innovation is not simply about replacing a paper novel with a digital one. It’s wondering what a digital novel allows students to do that a paper one does not.
Our Children | Winter 2016
Innovation is happening throughout the Halifax Regional School Board. And it doesn’t necessarily happen by accident. Innovative instructional strategies are intentionally and thoughtfully designed to achieve greater success for students.
Teachers who use innovative strategies clarify the challenge they are trying to solve, search for all the modern resources they can bring to the learning, and explore questions such as, “I wonder what would happen if…?” Innovation is how we take learning, and teaching, to new levels in order to achieve greater results. It’s about imagination. There are countless examples of how teachers are using innovative strategies to engage students in their learning. No two strategies are alike, but they all consider interesting approaches that are connected to the real world and make learning fun!
Green Screens, Ozobots, and Osmo Technology is an integral, engaging, and extremely fun part of Erica Phillips’ Grade 3/4 classroom at John W. McLeod-Fleming Tower School. See how students use green screens, Ozobots, and Osmo to innovate, create, and enhance their learning: youtu.be/x_-goYpaHag
iPad Kiosks This started as a project to encourage students at Basinview Drive Community School to develop a deeper love for reading. Grade 2 teacher Sheila McMullen came up with an idea to have students create book reviews on video using iPads. The reviews are available to the entire school to access on a set of iPad kiosks in the library. Not only has the project engaged Ms. McMullen’s students in reading, writing, and technical skills,
Assistive Technology Every student comes to us with different strengths and challenges. It’s up to us to find ways to ensure we are providing a high quality education for every one of those students, every single day. Assistive technology is one of the tools our Student Services team uses to provide the right learning opportunities for students with special needs. Discovering what it might look like takes innovation and collaboration with a student’s family, his or her health teams, and our partners. Here’s an example of an innovative use of technology that is allowing T’onia, a Grade 2 student at George
Bissett Elementary School, to engage in the curriculum and interact with her peers in ways she couldn’t otherwise: youtu.be/G6gDBRA3no4 Thomas Edison once said, “There’s a better way to do it. Find it.” At the Halifax Regional School Board, we are committed to finding the best ways to ensure we are providing a high quality education to every student, every day.
Elwin LeRoux is the superintendent of the Halifax Regional School Board. You can follow him on Twitter @Elwin_LeRoux.
Our Children | Winter 2016
it has also allowed for students in the school whose first language is not English to access books in their mother tongue, thanks to family and community member involvement. Learn more: youtu.be/ssC2XnOQtV4
a s i r e t n i W r o f e m i t great ! G N I D A RE
book reviews By Trevor J. Adams
Mayann’s Train Ride
By Mayann Francis, illustrations by Tamara Thiebaux Heikalo Nimbus Publishing Ages 6 to 10
By Anne Renaud Whitecap Ages 9 to 12
When nine-year-old Mayann takes a summer train ride from Nova Scotia to New York City, she discovers a bustling new urban world, and learns valuable lessons along the way. Former Nova Scotia LieutenantGovernor Mayann Francis wrote this old-fashioned children’s story. And “old-fashioned” is in no way a putdown. Mayann’s Train Ride is a warm and gentle tale, rich with childlike excitement. Tamara Thiebaux Heikalo’s illustrations complement the tale perfectly. Clean and classic, they effortlessly convey the exuberance of a brave young girl discovering an exciting new world.
Today, Pier 21 on the Halifax waterfront is Canada’s National Immigration Museum. But for decades, the National Historic Site was Canada’s East Coast gateway. This is the spot where more than a million immigrants first made landfall in Canada, and some 500,000 military personnel set sail for Europe during the world wars. Dense with historical photos and stories, Anne Renaud’s book offers a fascinating look at this revolving door of Canadian history. Accessible and informative, Pier 21 never feels like a history book. It’s the perfect follow-up gift after a visit to the musuem.
Our Children | Winter 2016
Story and illustrations by Alan Syliboy Nimbus Publishing Ages 6 to 10 Acclaimed artist Alan Syliboy finds inspiration in Nova Scotia’s traditional Mi’kmaw petroglyphs. His illustrations bring them to life in dreamy, ethereal scenes. In his accompanying story, the boy-god Little Thunder learns about the responsibility of making thunder for his people. As he grows, his mother and father share traditional stories, teaching him about his Mi’kmaw identity. Finally he’s ready to become the eponymous Thundermaker, pairing with the mischievous Wolverine on a fairytale quest. An engaging fantasy, Thundermaker is sure to captivate imaginative young readers but many adults will also want it on their bookshelves; it’s a beautiful piece of art in its own right.