Thursday, 16 May 2019

Thursday, 4 October 2018

How to be part of the Solution: Mental Health and Our Kids

I am on a mission to reduce suffering in our community due to mental health issues.  From my time as a teacher and guidance counsellor in Toronto’s Jewish day school system and as a board member of TanenbaumCHAT and Hillel Ontario, through to my practice which focusses on anxiety in school age children, I have seen first-hand how prevalent mental health issues are in our community settings.  I have also seen how knowledge about mental health issues including where to go and what to do is empowering.    It is for this reason that, together with the Koschitzky Center for Jewish Education and the support of Beth Tzedec Congregation, I have organized the second annual Mental Health Empowerment Day (MHED) which is taking place on Sunday October 28.  This will be a very important day for all of us who work with children, or have children in our lives.

The inaugural MHED in 2017 was sold out, even after moving to a larger location.  From that experience, I learned there is a hunger in our community for coping strategies, open discussion and any initiative to end the stigma of mental illness.  Mental illness is real- the Jewish community is not immune to it.  One in five of our students in a class, camp cabin, March of the Living or Birthright bus or youth group is suffering from an anxiety or other mental health issue.  We owe it to our children to help them as best we can.  MHED is intended to do just that.

We are bringing to Toronto (actually, to Canada) for the first time Dr. Torrey Creed,  a world renowned expert on cognitive behavioural therapy from the Beck Institute in Philadelphia.  In addition, Eli Brown, the CEO of Shine the Light On will share his lived experience and his current entrepreneurial initiative to help.

Importantly, we are having two separate panels. From 12.30 to 4.00 there is a platform for professionals (teachers, guidance counsellors, camp staff, youth workers, case workers, physicians, therapists and anyone else who works with children) with Dr. Creed on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Youth.  From 4.30 to 6.30 Dr. Creed will present a special platform for parents on Helpful Hints for Anxiety and ADHD.  You can purchase tickets for both, or the one that is most directly of interest to you.

There will also be many resources available in a  “marketplace” including a pop-up shop from Caversham Booksellers.

I am thrilled with the support of the Koschitzky Center, Beth Tzedec Congregation, and the many organizations in our community who have already purchased tickets to participate.  Tickets are available at and if last year’s attendance was any indication, I recommend that you purchase tickets as soon as possible.  Organizations planning to send more than ten people can contact the Koschitzky Center for group pricing information.

I know that I am not the only person in our community who cares about mental health issues.  Many do.  Let’s all come together on Mental Health Empowerment Day, parents and professionals alike, to learn, to feel empowered, and to empower one another.  This will help our kids.  There is nothing more important than that.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Who's got the Control?


Much of the anxiety that we experience on a daily basis is caused by our need for certainty. Even though we know rationally that there are very few things  in life that we can control,  we often fall into the spiral of WORRY.  The think and rethink, somehow believing that if we think about something enough, we have control over it.  This is  not true.  We have to teach this lesson and practice recognizing our thinking errors.

We cannot control other people.  
We cannot control what they do.  
We cannot control what they say. 
We cannot control how they feel. 

BUT we can control what we do. 
We can control what we say. 
We can control how others make us feel.  

The best we can do is to learn how to influence others through communication. We can learn from our interactions but can only control one half of the equation.  

Let go of trying to control and instead focus on being brave enough to NOT try to control things that you cannot.  Once you accept that you can only do your best, you are free to try new things, form new relationships and let go of hurts from your past.

Remember:  Courage always before capability. 

Monday, 7 August 2017

Recognizing Distress as the New School Year Approaches

All learning and growth occurs when we push ourselves to try new things and, even when we fail, we have to get back up and try again.  

There are certain behaviours that parents and/or teachers should watch for so that adults can recognize that a child’s behaviour may be a sign of his or her distress.  It is important to remember the importance of looking for the intensity and the duration of the child’s reaction.  If the behaviour occurs only once, the cause may be hunger, exhaustion or a just a bad mood.  But, if the behaviours are repeated or consistent to specific situations, intervention may be required to help the child learn to cope.

Three behaviours to watch for:
1. Avoidance— the hallmark of anxiety—ask not what your child is doing but rather what he or she is NOT doing.

2. Lack of flexibility— gets stuck— unable to shift focus from their own idea, feeling or      opinion.  The child gets distressed when faced with changes or transitions.

3. Rudeness or Uncooperative Behaviour — space invaders— unable to keep from touching other people or their things,  or constantly interrupting others and not understanding  social boundaries.

As the school year begins, preparation is essential to good coping skills.  Take the time NOW to show your child how they will get to school, where they will play at recess and, if you can gain access, what the school looks like inside and where the bathrooms are located.  Get all school supplies early and take the time to label them: because they are important. 

Do not be dismissive of feelings and comments regarding uncertainty.  It is normal to be nervous before starting something new.  Listen and remind your child that they are not alone.  Remind them that you believe in their ability to handle new situations. Remind them also that school is a place for learning and it is good to ask questions.  Finally, remind them that you will be there to help them navigate the new year but remind yourself to step back so that they can succeed.


Monday, 12 June 2017


There are a lot of good things that come from Down Under.  There are extraordinary animals, numerous famous actors and, of course, the venerable Ugg boots.  Perhaps a lesser known Australian export is some of the incredible resources from Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health.  According to their extensive studies, 

“Anxiety disorders have a younger age of onset than most other mental health problems and approximately 50% of people with an anxiety disorder experience their first symptoms by the age of 11 years.”

Growing up is not easy and is, in fact, harder for young people today to negotiate the normal changes and transitions that come with the added pressures and decision-making that come naturally with adolescence. 

For parents, educators and anyone who works with youth,  it can be very tough to differentiate normal and expected stress responses from an anxiety disorder. What makes it even harder is that experts have found that an anxiety disorder might develop all of a sudden,  after an adverse life event,  OR  develop gradually  over time. 

Today adults must be AWARE of what they are looking for and KNOWLEDGEABLE about WHEN and HOW  to step in to help a young person.  If you have your own or work with young people read the following list and if you see or hear the signs of the line being crossed (normal anxiety to anxiety disorder) do something about it.

  • Expressing persistent worries or excessive fears
  • Expressing worry that seems excessive in relation to the situation 
  • Verbalizing that he/she is always expecting the worst to happen
  • Finding it “impossible” to stop worrying
  • Increased irritability 
  • Increased difficulty concentrating, making decisions or remembering things
  • Avoiding of situations that are anxiety-provoking (e.g. new situations)
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Appearing agitated, unable to relax
  • Appearing constantly tired or reporting trouble with their sleep
  • Reporting muscle tension, pounding heart, shortness of breath, or shaking
  • Asking frequent physical complaints or questions about health

Remember that it is often difficult for anyone to ask for help but it is easy to LISTEN and help direct an individual to the numerous resources that do exist.  There is help and there is hope.

If you are in the GTA and want access to some incredible experts and resources, check out Mental Health Empowerment Day on Facebook for more information and a quick link to tickets for  this event. 

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Going it Alone; The Early Roots of Raising Self-Sufficient Kids

According to, self-sufficient means
1. able to supply one's own or its own needs without external assistance.
2. having extreme confidence in one's own resources, powers, etc.

According to a recent Pew Research Center report, there has been a significant rise in the trend that has spawned a whole new stage of development dubbed emerging adulthood.  Young people are delaying their own emergence from the cocoon by living with their parents longer. Many books and articles have been written about this group of 20 somethings  who are not rushing to traditional adult roles.

As with most complex phenomena, there are many reasons for this trend including aging parents, economics, lack of jobs etc. but there is one that parents can do something about when there kids are young.

Teaching self-sufficiency starts when children are young. Children are programmed to be inquisitive, to explore and to try new things, but they need the latitude to do so without extreme parental anxiety limiting them.  Experts agree that raising children who can be successful on their own requires parents to “let go” and give children numerous, repeated opportunities to practice making their own decisions and face both the positive and negative consequences of their own decisions. Children need to be able to make small mistakes without the  fear of humiliation or “I told you sos.” Failure to wear a hat on a cold day or to pass a test because you did not to study, are the build blocks of ownership of your self.

The recent trend of parents “helicoptering” or micro -managing every situation may be  done with good intention (trying to save their child from discomfort or unhappiness) yet it is a futile endeavour  and is counter-productive to creating a self-sufficient child.  Constantly jumping in to rescue the child actually gives the child some counter-productive messages; 
1) You cannot do it alone. 
2) You will not be able to manage your feelings.
3) I don’t believe in you. 

These messages prevent the child from building coping skills and competency.  What is worse is that even if the child does succeed, they are denied the sense of satisfaction that that did it alone because someone “helped them.” Parenting expert Madeline St. Jaques put it well when she wrote, “if we rescue too early and too often from safe, everyday struggles, we’re denying them opportunities for growth.” 

Parents need to keep their own anxiety in check to allow for their children to spread their own wings.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Helping your Child Think about their Thoughts in Five Simple Steps

Stress  and anxiety are often an unwanted but necessary part of life.  Without the inner drive to begin and complete tasks, to flee danger and/or to prepare for the future, many of us would find ourselves in a state of inertia and doing nothing can lead you down an unhealthy path. But,  Like most things in life,  problems arise when you have too much of a good thing. Too much caffeine, video games or cake can lead you down an unhealthy path.  Too much bad stress is not welcome either.Your body is not able to detect the difference between good stress or bad stress but your mind can.  Helping children do a few simple thing, you can help them  create a barrier so that the mind actually calms the body’s negative reaction.  

1. Recognize the thoughts as anxious ones and do not be angry with yourself for having them.

2. Accept that these thoughts may be there and may come back  but remember that YOU control them and not the other way around.

3. Write down what you are worried about.  Putting the anxious thoughts on paper helps in two ways. First, you can then get them out of your mind so you can free that space up for more helpful thoughts.  Second, it gives you a chance to look at them (when you are are calmer) and check if they are in fact true and helpful. 

4. Move. Exercise releases chemicals that help you relax.

5. Socialize. Reach out virtually or in “real life” to others.  Doing something is always better than doing nothing.  Being with others or engaging is a family game night can help distract you from your worried thoughts.  

Try modelling these behaviours—  remember the kids are watching the way you manage your own stress.