Mental Health and Well-Being Snapshot: February 2023
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Healthy Relationships for Well-being
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As we have highlighted in past snapshots, when it comes to mental health and well-being, relationships matter a lot. The connections we make can benefit us positively, by, for example, providing a supportive buffer against adversity or facilitating connections with professional help. On the other hand, when relationships are unhealthy or absent, that can create or compound mental distress.

Research is showing us that all kinds of relationships matter. Youth who reported ease of communicating with their parents also reported high levels of emotional well-being in much greater numbers than their peers who found communication with parents difficult. A similar correlation was found between youth who sit down for dinner often with their families and positive emotional well-being. And relationships with peers matter too. The same study highlighted the benefits to positive emotional well-being when youth found it easy to communicate with their best friend.

The flip-side of this, as we might expect, is that when relationships are not working, as in the case of a home environment where there is conflict or abuse, or an unhealthy relationship with a peer group, these can have negative impacts on emotional well-being.

Relationships are a huge topic, and the goal of this snapshot is to scratch the surface of what we know about how healthy relationships are formed, their benefits, and some resources to support positive relationships.
What makes a relationship healthy?

Healthy vs unhealthy love

In this 10 minute TED Talk, Katie Hood acknowledges that many of us have probably inadvertently engaged in behaviour that may have been harming the people we love. She challenges us to love the people around us in better ways, and offers some advice to do so. One of the first steps, she says, is to recognize unhealthy behaviours in our relationships:

Intensity - Being overly demanding of others' time and attention is one manifestation of intensity, as is moving to another stage of the relationship faster than your partner.
Isolation - Trying to isolate our loved ones from others is not love. Loving partnerships include opportunities for independence and connection with other supports.
Extreme Jealousy - Getting angry when our loved ones spend time with others, or being possessive or mistrustful of our partner are all signs of extreme jealousy.
Belittling - Actions or words that diminish our confidence or the confidence of our partners is the opposite of how a healthy relationship should work. 
Volatility - High highs and low lows are a marker of unhealthy patterns in relationships.

As Katie Hood points out, these kinds of behaviours or patterns can crop up in all kinds of relationships, from romantic partnerships to parent-child interactions. And as she also points out, sometimes we slip into these unhealthy behaviours without awareness of the damage we are causing to others and to our relationships. Reflecting on those warning signs, changing unhealthy behaviours, or distancing ourselves from those unwilling to change, are steps we can take to look after our own well-being and that of those we love.

Navigating Friendships and Peer Pressure

The Foundry is a wonderful resource around all kinds of topics connected to mental health and well-being. Their website provides some good tips for building healthy friendships:

A good friend...

  • Accepts you for who you are
  • Listens to you
  • Shows you that they care
  • Is not judgmental
  • Sticks by you in tough times and laughs with you in fun times
  • Is honest and does not want to hurt you
  • Respects you for being you
  • Has common interests with you
  • Supports you to try new things
  • Encourages you and helps build your confidence
  • Helps you realize your mistakes

Good friends do not...

  • Judge us
  • Make fun of us about things we are sensitive about
  • Make us anxious and stressed out
  • Stop us from being ourselves around them
  • Make us do things we don’t want to do
  • Talk about us behind our backs to others
  • Talk down to us and make us feel bad about ourselves

The Foundry's site also gives some good advice about peer pressure which we've paraphrased below:

A clear "no," followed by a strong statement of values or rationale is often enough to silence the pressure.

Name it as pressure - often confronting people with their behaviour helps them realize it is not okay

Leave the situation or create boundaries with friends who consistently put unhealthy pressure on you

Play the tape forward and consider the potential consequences -your instincts should be trusted if it makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable

Surround yourself with friends who back you up - You can help set the tone for this by supporting them if they are facing pressure
Consent: An important concept at any age

Help your younger child understand consent

Understanding the concept of autonomy over their own bodies can help children make safe and comfortable choices as they grow up. As this video outlines, even young children are sometimes put in positions that don't respect their own rights to determine their own comfort zone. This short video and kid-friendly language provide a good starting point for a talk about consent.


Consent: It's simple as tea

Older youth are able to enter into discussions about consent and sexual relationships, but may need some help bridging the initial discomfort of the topic in a classroom or home discussion. Other youth may struggle with the perceived complexity of the topic. This video, built around the analogy of serving someone tea, is an easy inroad to the discussion and demonstrates that at its core consent is actually very simple to understand and respect.

Books to start the conversation

Books can also provide nice inroads to a topic such as consent. Another benefit of using books as a resource is that they can help children find the right language to use when they are out of their own comfort zone. 

This list of books from the Reading Middle Grade blog, provides some recommendations with helpful summaries to find the right fit for your child.
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The image above is taken from a helpful brochure about consent produced by the RCMP. Access the full PDF of the brochure here.
Revisiting boundaries

Boundaries in the digital world

We've discussed boundaries in past snapshots, but they are worth bringing up again as we discuss healthy relationships. Establishing boundaries in our interactions with others is a skill we all have to develop as we grow up, but for young people today this has become even more complicated as many of their interactions will have both online and in-person components.

This short video from Common Sense Media engages youth voices in the discussion about boundaries. Some core themes they highlight include the "always-on" climate of digital interactions, the pressure to always respond, and the ways that online interactions can overwhelm.

There are of course, a multitude of positives that can come out of online connections as well, but it is important that youth consider whether their current online habits are helpful or harmful to their overall well-being.

Click the link to the left to watch the video, or access the complete lesson at this link (free account required).

Setting compassionate boundaries with children

In this article from Heart Mind Online, they point out that boundaries are important for children to feel secure and calm, and can support healthy relationship development. While examples in the article are geared toward younger children, the advice is appropriate for children of any age. These are some of their recommendations:

Let your feelings be your guide: Feeling annoyed, resentful, or overwhelmed with a child’s behavior signals that a boundary is needed. 
Reframe needs vs wants: Differentiate between your child’s needs (such as sleep, food, drink, and a sense of safety) and wants (such as to play a specific game, eat a favourite food, or delay getting ready).
Don’t let guilt into the drivers seat: Guilt, trying to please, and fear of disappointing others are all motivations that prevent us from setting the boundaries that our children need (and we often desperately need too!). 
Be clear, confident, comfortable, and connecting: Put these four C’s of healthy boundaries into action by saying what you mean in the simplest terms possible, with conviction and enough comfort that you don’t need to raise your voice or be overly serious about it. 
Equate boundaries with seeing & loving the whole child:  “To children, our boundaries mean we see you, we love you, we care enough to make the effort, an effort that children always sense and appreciate. Never doubt that.” 
Expect & accept pushback: It is your job as the adult to set the boundary, and the child’s job to let you know how they feel about it. Sometimes, children push hard against us because they are subconsciously searching for an emotional release. In these instances, their reaction to a boundary isn’t just communication – its cathartic.
Healthy relationships at home

Building healthy connections with your teenage child

The Centre for Addictions and Mental Health provides these tips for building healthy relationships with your teenage child:
  • Accentuate the positive, even when some areas aren't smooth sailing. Highlight what your child is succeeding at or positive choices they are making.
  • Choose harm reduction instead of zero tolerance. That underlying message of care for their safety coupled with some modeling of how to think critically about choices and risk level can strengthen connection and build trust.
  • An authoritative (not authoritarian) parenting style, paired with open and honest communication can respect youth autonomy while encouraging further conversations with you about important crossroads in their lives.
  • Some monitoring of behaviour is important, as is calling out behaviours that cross a line (such as harassing or derogatory comments made online). But giving your teenager opportunities to develop independence and use their own judgement to navigate challenges along the way is important as well.
As with so much parenting advice, there is a lot in here that is "easier said than done." But what's important to remember is that positive change is often incremental, and missteps (when they happen) can often be repaired. Click the link if you're interesting in reading more on this topic.

Attachment as the core of healthy parent-child relationships

In their attachment-focused book for parents, Hold on to Your Kids, Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Maté make the case that present day societal structures get in the way of healthy parent-child attachment.

These five ways you can strengthen attachment at home are adapted from CTRI's blog which draws from the teachings of Neufeld and Maté:

Be available - Set aside time to devote 100% of your attention to your child, free from distractions like cellphones or chores

Delight in your child - Ensure that you have more than just teaching/direction conversations with your child. Being present with your child and sharing joyful moments absent of guidance is equally important.

Validate and help to manage your child's feelings - Don't shut down "negative" emotions, but acknowledge and help your child understand healthy ways to express emotions such as anger.

Learn about and get involved in what interests them - learning about and valuing their interests fosters connection and underscores that you care about them

Set limits and guidelines - Children should be given opportunities to foster age-appropriate independence, but limits should be placed on technology overuse that can create separation, and overscheduling on both the parent and child end should be avoided. 
Kindness is the foundation

Pink Shirt Day

Kind acts are often at the heart of any positive relationship. And there is no better time to remind ourselves of this than the upcoming Pink Shirt Day on February 22nd. 

The first Pink Shirt Day was recognized after a kind action some high school students took to counter an act of bullying in their school. Since then, it has grown to be recognized all across Canada as a way to choose kindness and allyship over bullying.

Click the link for more information and resources, and look for opportunities to recognize Pink Shirt Day within your school.

Books about kindness

Looking for more literature to connect to kindness this month? One of the Learning Commons teachers in the district offered these suggestions:

Invisible Boy
Little Hummingbird
Just Kidding
When we are Kind
Be Kind 
I Walk With Vanessa

Ask your school's Learning Commons teacher if you're looking for further recommendations.
Additional resources

How to address misogyny and sexual harassment among teens

Exposure to misogynistic or sexually harassing language or themes is unfortunately common in many young people's experience. Whether this occurs in their social circles, media they watch or listen to, or in games or online communities, the impact is the same: it normalizes and desensitizes youth to hurtful or threatening behaviour.

Harvard Education's Making Caring Common Project offers these tips to parents:

Clearly define sexual harassment and degradation - Many teens and young people don‘t know the range of behaviors that constitute misogyny and sexual harassment. We as parents need to explain what these violations mean and provide specific, concrete examples.

Step in and stick with it - Your willingness to question offside or derogatory comments models the kind of actions we hope our young people will take within their peer groups.

Teach your child to be a critical consumer of media and culture - This can be most easily accomplished if you comment or ask questions when instances come up in songs, news reports, or movies you are listening/watching together.

Encourage and expect upstanding - "Upstanding" is a counterforce to bystanding. Upstanding means speaking up when people are being derided or harassed. As parents, you can help your young person find the right language or strategies to intervene safely in those moments.

More online resources

There is a wealth of online resources available to support learning about healthy relationships. Here are a few examples of lessons or resources that can support this learning in your class:

PHE Healthy Relationships Lesson - In this lesson, adaptable for grades 4-9, PHE teachers use group reflection and physical activity to foster awareness of important elements of healthy relationships.

ERASE BC - Consent and gender-based violence - This website put together in partnership with the BC Ministry of Education provides key information about consent, sexual harassment, and gender-based violence. They also link to support and intervention resources.

Short video resources for secondary students:
The Relationship Spectrum - this video emphasizes that a relationship can have elements that are healthy as well as unhealthy, and that the nature of relationships can shift over time.

The Line - this video demonstrates examples of caring and loving interactions versus controlling and abusive interactions.

Parenting programs through BGC

BGC has a variety of programs to support parents in developing healthy relationships with their children and navigating challenges to those relationships. Check out the slate of programs and register here.

SD63's Mental Wellness HUB

Events, groups, and learning opportunities are collected on this hub and updated regularly. This site also hosts links to community supports and help lines.