The focus of my last two posts (read here and here) has been on the importance of proactively supporting mental health in youth and how we can do this. I would like to continue on this topic with the focus of this particular post being on adult resources that I have found helpful in either promoting mental health in youth, or in supporting students with mental disorders.
Educating Kids About the Brain
In the last couple of years, since reading Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Brison’s book The Whole Brain Child, I have been working on educating my students (and my daughter) about the brain, how it works, and what is happening in their brain when they are experiencing fear, anxiety or other big emotions. Dan Siegel offers up a kid friendly explanation (the hand brain model) of how the brain works when we are dysregulated. I have been using a slightly modified version of this model with kids and have had a lot of success with it. I find that they are extremely interested in learning how their brain works, and with practice can use the related strategies we discuss afterwards, in order to self-regulate.
Here is a link to an explanation of my lesson on the hand brain model. I have used this successfully with kids as young as 5 years old.
Watch my students and daughter share what they have learned about the brain here:
In my last post I talked about the success I’ve had using children’s books to teach kids about mental health. I have equally appreciated the books available to parents and educators on the same topic. Below is a list of a few books that I have recently found helpful. They are all resources that I have used myself. Some of them I have read front to back (in some cases even more than once because they’re that good), while others I have just pulled sections from, but hope to fully read them eventually. Regardless, they have all been helpful in some form or another. I am always reading new ones, so check back every now and then (under Recommended Resources in the menu bar) to see what I have added. I have linked each title to Amazon.ca, but they should all be available on Amazon.com as well.
The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies To Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, by Daniel Siegel (mentioned above). Siegel writes without using too much jargon and offers many analogies that help to better understand a child’s brain. The book is written for parents, but is equally as useful for teachers. This book is also where I first learned about the hand brain model. There is also a workbook available separately, which I admittedly have not used but that I imagine is probably useful as well (everything by Siegel is)!
No-Drama Discipline, also by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Brison. Although, based on the title, this book may seem out of place in a list of mental health resources, it is actually very relevant. What we sometimes label as “misbehavior,” is actually often stress behaviour or anxious behaviour (and is not in fact ill-intentioned). The book offers an approach to discipline that considers brain development in kids and helps us to better understand their big emotions (and react in a more compassionate and productive way). There is also a workbook available separately, which I have not used but would be interested in seeing.
Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, by Daniel Siegel. Can you tell I’m a fan of his?! This book is not so much geared towards helping children specifically, but it has given me an even more in depth understanding of the brain and has helped me to better understand how trauma, anxiety, depression, and life experiences shape the brain and how we can effect positive change in our brains, and therefore our lives (or those of our children and students). This was a VERY powerful read on so many levels. I connected with it personally and was also able make links to my work experience with kids.
The Explosive Child, by Ross Greene. This book helps to understand children’s explosive behaviour and how to respond in a way that is non-punitive and more effective. He encourages collaborative problem solving (versus imposing adult will). This can be an effective approach when dealing with all children, but especially when dealing with strong-willed children or those with oppositional-defiant disorder or anxiety. It fosters a more positive relationship between adult and child and builds lasting problem-solving skills.
Hold on to your kids, by Gordon Neufeld. I have not yet read this book in its entirety, but what I have read (and what I have learned through hearing Neufeld speak in person) has made sense and been very powerful. His ideas have greatly changed my approach with kids. Our children are growing up in a world very different to the one we were raised in. Through social media, they are constantly connected to their peers. There is never really any down time, or time away from their peers. Children are becoming increasingly peer oriented rather than parent oriented, meaning they are looking more towards their peers for direction, rather than towards their parents. Their peers unfortunately, cannot provide them with the secure and safe base they need to develop optimally. With a focus on the importance of healthy attachments, Neufeld offers practical ideas for parents and educators alike.
Freeing Your Child From Anxiety, by Tamar Chansky. In light of the recent struggles we have experienced with our anxious 5 year old, this book has been extremely valuable and practical. It offers sample scripts and ideas for parents (some geared towards young kids, and others geared towards older kids). Like Siegel, Chansky uses a lot of analogies which make the information easier to understand and remember. This book has provided my husband and me many strategies on how to support our daughter in building her own tool kit of strategies to fight anxiety and worry. I can’t emphasize enough how helpful this book has been and I recommend it to parents and educators alike.
10 Mindful Minutes, by Goldie Hawn. This is an easy read on the topic of mindfulness. It offers easy and practical ways to introduce kids to the idea of mindfulness. I would say it is more geared towards those with little knowledge of mindfulness. Teachers and parents who want more, may want to check out the MindUp curriculum developed by the Hawn Foundation. Read more about my thoughts on 10 Mindful Minutes here.
anxietybc.com is a great site for resources on anxiety (for parents and youth).
Headspace is the Australian Youth Mental Health Foundation. It provides a ton of information on social emotional health and mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, dealing with grief and self-harming. Go to mental health under the Young people or Friends and family tabs to access this information.
ADHD lectures provides free lectures for parents on the topic of ADHD.
Supporting Minds is a more recent find. It is a resource guide developed by Ontario’s Ministry of Education. It aims to support educators in promoting students’ mental health. It offers practical strategies for different mental disorders, and it is super easy to navigate.