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Blog Post: How can parents support their child’s mental health through emotional learning? Part 1 of 3. by Dr. Hovington

How can parents support their child’s mental health through emotional learning? Part 1 of 3. 

Written by Cindy Hovington, Ph.D. Founder of Curious Neuron or @curious_neuron, Host of the Curious Neuron Podcast and Co-Founder of Wondergrade

Supporting your child’s mental health can be an overwhelming task. What contributes to my child’s mental health? Should my child express their emotions externally? What are signs my child is struggling with their mental health? How does our own mental health impact our child?

Supporting your child’s mental health will be broken down into a 3 part blog post to outline what contributes to your child’s mental health and how you can support them.

Part 1: How are emotion regulation skills linked to your child’s mental health?

Part 2: What can parents do to protect their child’s mental health?

Part 3: 3 tips you can implement to support your child’s social-emotional learning and mental health

Our conversation around mental health needs to start from birth. Understanding your child’s nervous system and how their early environment helped shape their nervous system can help us understand the current state of coping with emotions.

Our childhood creates a regulated or dysregulated nervous system:

When an infant cries, their brain is stressed and dysregulated. It is looking for someone external to help them calm down and feel safe and soothed. The book written by Dr. Dan Siegal called The Power of Showing Up describes this in great detail.

Small stressors are normal in any child’s life. Moments when a parent can’t attend to them right away or falling down and getting hurt. Stress hormones, called cortisol, can increase but as soon as the child is soothed again, everything returns to baseline, aka becomes regulated. What can become an issue is constant dysregulation. In a home with physical or emotional violence for instance, a child’s system is under constant stress of not feeling safe (even if they are not being abused).

This type of early environment can lead to an adult brain that is in constant “fight or flight” mode aka dysregulated. Research has shown that this increases the risk of anxiet and depression. There are physical health consequences as well such as higher blood pressure or increased chances of heart disease.

The good news is that this can be reversed by creating strong connections with people and communities as well as teaching a child how to have healthy coping mechanisms for their emotions. These are called emotion regulation skills.

What are emotion regulation skills?

Emotion regulation skills are how we cope with emotional situations both internally and externally. There are many ways to respond to emotionally stimulating situations. Some ways of responding use adaptive emotion regulation skills (healthy ways of responding such as communicating feelings or trying to change how strongly the situation impacts you) or maladaptive ways (such as internalizing emotions and not talking about them or losing control and yelling). Let’s say, your were to yell at you. You can either yell back and storm out of the room fuming or, you can take a slow breath and ask them to speak to you calmly.

Our childhood shapes our emotion regulation skills based on 3 important factors in our environment:

  1. How our parents model their own emotions
  2. The parenting style we are raised under (nurturing or strict)
  3. How our parents or the caregivers in our home regulate their own emotions when arguing

Similar to our nervous system, if we have not learned any emotion regulation skills during childhood, we can learn them as adults. However, if we have been implementing maladaptive emotion regulation strategies, there is a higher chance that we are also struggling with anxiety or depression as adults. Thus, this would need to be addressed as well.

How are my child’s emotions linked to their behavior: A few tips to get you started

It is important for us to make this link because way too often in my years of working with parents and children have I seen kids being labeled as “pests or bad” when in fact, they are emotionally dysregulated for various reasons.

If you are struggling with your child’s behavior, start by asking yourself a few questions:

  1.  Is my child dysregulated when they act out?
  2. Is it possible my child is dysregulated because of their childhood (did a parent struggle with mental illness, was there any abuse or neglect in the child’s life or any household dysfunction such as substance abuse or divorce?)
  3. When my child acts out, is it as a result of them expressing an emotion such as disappointment, anger, frustration, sadness, or worry?
  4. When my child expresses their emotions (any emotion) do they feel seen and soothes by myself and any primary caregiver? Or are their emotions being dismissed?
  5. Can my child name more than 7 emotions and describe what it feels like to experience this emotion (part of emotional learning)?
  6. Does my child have coping tools for their emotions? (if not, stay tuned for part 3!)
  7. How do I deal with my own emotions in front of my child (do I pretend I am fine when I am not, am I yelling a lot or am I expressing emotions and showing them how I cope with them in healthy adaptive ways)?

I hope this blog post gives you a few places to start your understanding of your child’s emotional learning journey and their mental health. In part 2, we will take a look at emotion regulation skills (mindfulness, breathing and adaptive skills) in more depth to help you teach your child these important tools.

Meet Dr. Hovington

Cindy Hovington is a mom of 3 and has a doctorate degree in Neuroscience from McGill University. She is the Founder of Curious Neuron, an online science-based resource focused on emotional learning and mental health in kids of all ages. Curious Neuron has a community of over 129,000 parents on Instagram (@curious_neuron) and recently launched their YouTube channel. She is the host of the Curious Neuron Podcast, a top parenting podcast in Canada, the US and the UK. She is also the co-founder of Wondergrade, an app that helps children ages 3-8 develop healthy emotional coping skills. You can try the app free for 2 weeks here or visit wondergrade.com. Dr. Hovington is a regular parenting expert on CJAD800 and has been highlighted in Montreal Times, Today’s Parent, and the Bump. She has worked with companies such as Pampers, Airbnb and Pok Pok.

Newsletter Vol. 16

Dear Parents, 

Happy New Year! 

I hope your family enjoyed the break and that your new year has gotten off to a good start. Schools are gearing up again quickly and so much is already happening both in schools and in the educational system in Quebec. 

At the high school level, the 2nd semester is coming to an end and mid-terms are upon us. We present in this newsletter some tips to reduce exam-related anxiety. Report cards will soon be out and Parent / Teacher meetings will be available soon. However, there are always opportunities to speak to your teachers and school administration, even if there are not formal meetings being held. 

EPCA has recently stood up its new Board of Directors as a result of democratic elections flowing from the local school and school board levels. We are very excited to have many new Directors join us and are equally thrilled with those who have come back for another year to move forward many exciting and important initiatives. 

The Quebec government has also installed a new Student Ombudsman whose role is to support students and parents in the complaints process. More information can be found in the newsletter. 

Finally, we are excited to share the results of our recent survey on special needs students. We hope you find all of this information very useful! 

Take good care everyone and have a great month!

EPCA reacts to the priorities of the Minister of Education

Montreal, January 26, 2023 – The English Parents’ Committee Association (EPCA) welcomes the Minister of Education's intention to improve the school network with a particular focus on educational success and is eager to learn more about the methods that will be used to carry out these priorities. EPCA would like to remind everyone that parents are an integral component of student success and that they play an important role and must not be forgotten. 

“EPCA places a high priority in promoting parent participation with their children in the educational system in Quebec and in the governing bodies. I would like to extend an invitation to the Minister to consider these concerns while formulating the strategies that will be implemented in the upcoming months. Parents are essential members of the educational community and express a desire to play a more proactive role,” said Katherine Korakakis, President of the EPCA.

The goal to make educational programs available to students in secondary schools across the province is something the EPCA applauds. It is crucial to guarantee that all pupils, especially those with special needs or those who come from underprivileged families, get access to these inspiring initiatives to ensure that this policy is helpful to all.

Furthermore, EPCA understands that the government is trying to mitigate the consequences of the labour shortage on student success, particularly in the classroom; however, we must be mindful of the ultimate objective of student success and not prioritize institutions and filled positions over the ability to meet the needs of all students.

“Although written French is important, it is not the only subject that the ministry should be focused on addressing. The pandemic impacted all students and all academic areas, and we need a solid catch-up plan,” said Katherine Korakakis, President of the EPCA.

6 Exam Anxiety Coping Strategies for High School Students

6 Exam Anxiety Coping Strategies for High School Students

High school students encounter a variety of different sorts of exams, ranging from midterms and finals to CEGEP admission exams and ministry exams. They may perceive the stakes to be bigger, which might increase their anxiety. These suggestions may assist to alleviate your teen's exam anxiety.

1. Pay attention to your teen's anxieties about testing and the future

Many high school examinations can predict what your child will do after high school. These assessments can be extremely difficult for teenagers who have learning and mental disabilities and are concerned about their future.

Discuss your teen's feelings openly and listen to their worries. Try to be soothing while remaining realistic. "We can assist you in ensuring that you are prepared for this test. And don't be concerned about how you do on it. There are several possibilities available to you after high school, and we will help with you to locate the finest ones."

2. Assist in balancing their schedule so that they are not pressed for time

It's one thing to not devote enough time to exam preparation. It's one thing not to have enough time. Being hurried might exacerbate anxiety. Allow enough time in your child's schedule for them to comfortably prepare.

Examine your child's class and activity schedule. Then discuss the amount of time required for studying. You can think about reducing your child's activities if it would allow him or her ample time to study. Explain how maintaining a sense of balance might help to ease stress.

3. Assist them in avoiding stressful cramming

Last-minute exam cramming is likely to cause anxiety. Part of the difficulty might be organizational and time management concerns.

One method to avoid this is to assist children in creating a monthly schedule of tests. Then, assist them in developing a weekly review program for each test or quiz. Each week, review the exam calendar and make a study plan for the following week. Having a routine and sticking to it might help children feel more in control.

4. Avoid surprises by providing exam information in advance

When they don't know what to anticipate from the test, some high school students grow worried. Is it a multiple-choice or a short answer question? Is that something they struggle with?

Suggest that your child learn about the kind of questions that will be on the test or exam. Knowing what to expect might help children prepare and feel more confident. Children who struggle with handwriting, for example, may be concerned that their science examination will require them to name a diagram. They could feel less anxious if they could rehearse ahead of time.

5. Confirm that they understand their test accommodations

Knowing that their unique requirements are being met might help lessen exam anxiety. When children have an IEP that includes testing accommodations, make sure they understand what the accommodations are and why they will be beneficial. (Kids can also request accommodations for CEGEP admission examinations.)

You may also remind your youngsters that if the instructor or substitute forgets about the accommodations, they should advocate for themselves and remind them.

6. Explain to your teen that setbacks are normal and expected

Even with solid study habits, some students with learning and cognitive disabilities may perform poorly on examinations. Because they are terrified of failure, they may begin to dread tests and feel concerned about them.

Try to overcome that anxiety by developing an action plan in the aftermath of a poor test grade.

"I know you worked hard for that math test," say to your adolescent. You now know what you worked so hard and tried your best and what that it didn't work out so well. Should we gather your IEP team? We can discuss what would work better for you the next time."

Newsletter Vol. 15

Dear Parents, 

The first report cards for this school year have been distributed and it is now time for Parent Teacher Interviews. 

EPCA has developed a number of tools to help you with your first in-person meeting with your children’s teachers in over two years! While this may be an intimidating time for both you and your child, it is a great opportunity to learn more about what they are doing every day at school and should be seen as a key moment to get involved in their educational journey. 

In other exciting news, EPCA will hold its Annual General Assembly on December 3rd.  This is the start of our new year and the time when we elect the new Executive, approve important documents, and set the stage for our activities for the next 12 months. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of the Directors from the various Parents’ Committees across Quebec who worked so hard this past year to give our parent community many needed resources and a voice. Though there have been many challenges, we have made great strides in many areas and I’m looking forward to continuing the hard work next year. 

I encourage you to sign up for our newsletter on our website (epcaquebec.org) and to follow EPCA on Facebook for the most recent news, events, and other important information. According to research, students whose families are involved in school perform better. 

Happy Parent Teacher interviews! 

Katherine Korakakis

Report Cards 2022-2023: Information for parents

This handout provides parents with the relevant information regarding the report card and Ministry exams for the 2022-2023 school year.

Blog Post – Emailing your Child’s Teacher: What to Say.

What should you say to your child's teacher in an email? Email can be an excellent way to communicate and highlight crucial issues. The most effective emails are usually brief and focused on facts rather than emotions.

Take a look at these two example email to a teacher. You can use it as a template to create your own.

Email Template #1

Dear Ms. / Mr. ____,

Hi, my name is _____________. I am ______________'s parent. I am emailing today because I am concerned with the grade on _____________'s last assignment. If you could please explain more about the assignment and how ______________ earned their grade, I would really appreciate it.

Thank you,

Your name __________________

Email Template #2

Dear Ms. / Mr. ____,

I hope all is well. My name is ______________, and I am ____________’s parent, and I am looking forward to the parent teacher meeting that is coming up on_________________. In preparation for the meeting and because I know we do not have much time, I wanted to send you ahead of time the questions I am going to ask you that evening for __________. I know that ___________ is having a hard time and I want to know what you are seeing in class and how I can better support my child at home. These are the following 3 questions I am going to ask during our time together.

1)
2)
3)

Thank you very much and I look forward to our meeting.

Your name _____________________

Blog Post: Is your youngster struggling with math?

Speaking with the teacher can help you understand what's going on and how you can help. You may speak during a parent-teacher meeting. You can also arrange another time to talk, either in person, by phone, or by email.

But how can you voice your concerns? Be direct and specific while speaking with the teacher. Pose questions and follow-ups. The goal is to figure out what's going on and what can be done to help. With parent-teacher meetings coming up, here is a list of questions you can ask.

Blog Post: Is your youngster struggling with French? 

Speaking with the teacher can help you understand what's going on and how you can help. You may speak during a parent-teacher meeting. You can also arrange another time to talk, either in person, by phone, or by email.

But how can you voice your concerns? Be direct and specific while speaking with the teacher. Pose questions and follow-ups. The goal is to figure out what's going on and what can be done to help. With parent-teacher meetings coming up, here is a list of questions you can ask.

Parent-Teacher Meeting Checklist for Math

Is your youngster struggling with math? Speaking with the teacher can help you understand what's going on and how you can help. You may speak during a parent-teacher meeting. You can also arrange another time to talk, either in person, by phone, or by email.

But how can you voice your concerns? Be direct and specific while speaking with the teacher. Pose questions and follow-ups. The goal is to figure out what's going on and what can be done to help. With parent-teacher meetings coming up, here is a list of questions you can ask.

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