Four pillars

At Healthy Child Coalition – Central Region we are, of course, familiar with the four pillars set out by Healthy Child Manitoba:

  • literacy
  • physical education and nutrition
  • parenting, and
  • building community capacity.

Until recently I had never heard of the “four pillars of excess”. Then I read an online article titled “Simplifying Childhood May Protect Against Mental Health Issues”.

What are the four pillars of excess?

  • having too much stuff
  • too many choices
  • too much information, and
  • too much speed.

The author refers to Kim John Payne’s book Simplicity Parenting. Early in his career, Payne volunteered in refugee camps where children were dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Years later when he ran a private practice in England, he realized that many affluent children were displaying the same behaviour as those refugee children had. Why?

Because, Payne says, we have overwhelmed our children with more and more toys, more and more activities, more and more information.

Children need down-time, he says, in order to increase creativity and self-directed learning.

“Our children have their whole lives to be adults and to deal with the complexities of life, but only a fleetingly short time in which they can be kids. Silly, fun loving kids.”

To read the article go to:

Has parenting collapsed?

A Pennsylvania family physician and  psychologist believes that what he calls a recent collapse of parenting is at least partly to blame for kids becoming overweight, over-medicated, anxious and disrespectful of themselves and those around them.

Leonard Sax has written four books on parenting. His most recent work “The Collapse of Parenting: How we Hurt Our Kids When we Treat them like Grown Ups” was the focus of a headlined article in the January 18, 2016 edition of Maclean’s magazine.

There was a time when you called your dad “Sir” and the minute he walked in the house, you jumped out of ‘his’ chair.

Not any more.

Nowadays we want to be emotionally available to our kids; we want them to feel heard and respected from an early age. We want children to be able to express their emotions, even if that shows itself in tantrums.

Children are treated like they are one more minority group to honour and empower, Sax says.

But as a result, many kids are actually overpowering their parents.

“We need to put parents back in the driver’s seat. Otherwise, the consequences are far-reaching.” the author says.

Sax writes that the current emphasis on academics means in effect that we are  treating our children like little hard drives.

“It actually undermines both self-confidence and fluid reasoning, or the ability to think.”

Many people are familiar with “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum. Things like:

  • Don’t take things that are not yours.
  • Share everything.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t hit people.

There was a time, the magazine article says, when kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers focused just as much on Fulghum’s Rules as they did on the alphabet and numbers. But not any more.

We know that recent EDI scores, both provincially and nationally, show that many five-year-olds score low in social and emotional categories. Does Dr. Sax make a valid point?

The entire story can be read in the January 18 edition of Maclean’s or on their website at


What children want

I first saw this commercial in 2014 and have seen it several times again this year. It’s worth sharing.

Ikea Spain invited ten families to participate in the filming of a new commercial for the Christmas season.

First of all, the children were separated from their parents and asked to write letters to the Three Kings, making their requests for Christmas gifts. In Spain, the Three Kings, not Santa, bring gifts and they bring them January 6, not on Christmas Day.

The children’s requests varied from the expected (a Wii) to the musical (a guitar and a piano) to the downright impossible (a unicorn).

Their letters were folded and put into individual envelopes;  the envelopes were then sealed and placed in a mail box for delivery to the Three Kings.

Next the children were asked to write letters to their parents. What would you like from your parents this Christmas, they were asked.

The answers?

“I’d like my parents to spend more time with me.”

“I’d like my mom to tickle me.”

“I’d like my parents to spend one whole day with me.”

“I’d like my mom to play soccer with me.”

None of these were a surprise to the parents.

What they did not know was that their children had been asked a third and final question:

If you could  send only one of those letters, which one would it be? The letter to the Three Kings? Or the letter to your parents?

If you haven’t seen the commercial already and would like to see its conclusion, go to:

But I bet you’ve already guessed which letter the children chose to send.




Let’s go play in the barnyard!

FULL DISCLOSURE:  I am a farmer’s daughter. My grandparents were also farmers. On top of that I married a farmer and in time became a farm mother. I have an intimate knowledge of farm dirt. But I have never been worried that it was bad for me or my children.

So recent headlines that farm dirt is good for us are no surprise to me. Just saying….

City cousins used to come visit us on the farm every summer. The two sons in one family were asthmatic; they would come armed with an arsenal of protection and their mother would map out the areas in the yard they could and could not venture into. They never listened to her; they were having too much fun.

Back in the city afterwards they would inevitably have asthmatic attacks and I remember a summer when one of them was actually hospitalized as a result. It was the first time that my siblings and I had ever thought of  farm earth and air as potentially dangerous.

(It never stopped our cousins from wanting to come again the next summer. Fun on the farm was apparently worth the price .)

What is asthma, we wanted to know. Why does the farm make our cousins sick?

Because they’re not used to the farm, mom said. If they lived here, they would be used to dust and mold and pollen.

Last week I read in several different publications – with varying degrees of scientific complexity – the news that studies in Europe and elsewhere have shown that children raised on farms have relatively low rates of allergies and asthma. Something like 25% compared to 45% in the general population.

Boiled down to their simplest components, the findings are that exposure to the common bacteria and microbes found on farms leads to the development of a special protein in the lungs that protects against allergy development.

The scientists warn that it is not quite as simple as that, however. There are other factors at play. For example, drinking unprocessed milk also seems to ward off asthma in children and there will be more studies done about that.

But it does seem that dirt, especially farm dirt,  may play an important and positive role in the good health of our young children.

Something to think about.

FURTHER DISCLOSURE: I love it when I get to say, “I told you so.”


When is a blog not a blog?

When it is a quiz!

At the Crossing Borders: Understanding the Newcomer Experience conference hosted jointly by South East and Central Healthy Child Coalitions in mid-May, the following quiz was part of a role-play activity.

Judging by the number of copies remaining at the end of the session, not many participants took advantage of the opportunity to show how much they knew about Canadian slang.

There are many sayings and slang words that are common to all English-speaking countries, but Canada has some of its own.

So here it is. Have fun. And if there are people who request the answers, I will be happy to oblige with “When is a blog not a blog? Part 2”


Please circle all answers that apply:

1, What is pop?

a) A name for your father

b) The sound a burst balloon makes

c) What a weasel does

d) A soft drink

2,What are snowbirds?

a) White-haired Canadians who spend their winters in the United States

b) The birds in a song made famous by Anne Murray

c) Canada’s military aerobatics or air show flight demonstration team

d) Tiny little birds who make nests in a snow bank.

3, What is a cop shop?

a) A place to rent a police officer by the hour.

b) A store in which you can purchase police uniforms.

c) The local police station

d) The local Tim Hortons

4, What are dainties?

a) Women’s frilly underwear

b) Delicious treats served at Christmas and bridal showers

c) Finicky eaters

d) Breakables

5, What would I do with a toque?

a) Carry my mitts in it

b) Forget it at home

c) Put it on my head

d) Never take it off

6. What does kitty-corner mean?

a) Where two cats meet

b) Located diagonally across from

c) Two women gossiping in a corner (Meow)

d) All of the above

7. What is pogey?

a) An affectionate name for your pogo stick

b) Your dog’s name

c) Employment insurance

d) Lazy man’s perogies.

8. “He was doing 90 clicks.” What does that mean?

a) He was travelling at 90 kilometers per hour.

b) His keyboard speed is 90 words a minute.

c) He had sent out 90 text messages in the last 24 hours.

d) He scored 90 out of 100 on a video game.

9. My goodness, what a kerfluffle. What is a kerfluffle?

a) An all-natural handmade marshmallow

b) An upsetting event

c) The same thing as a kerfuffle

d) An Australian truffle tasting event

10. Am I ever bushed. What should I do?

a) Get out of the bush.

b) Get some sleep.

c).Beat the bushes to wake the birds.

d) Call for help.

11. What do you mean “nuisance grounds”?

a) The brown stuff at the bottom of your coffee cup.

b) Time out space for your children.

c) A garbage dump

d) All of the above.

12, What is hydro?

a) Electric power

b) The masculine form of hydra

c) A narcotic drug

d) A health spa


Newcomers and oldtimers

Lately I’ve been thinking about newcomers and old-timers.

A newcomer is anyone who has just moved to your community, whether they moved there from just down the road or from a country half way round the world. Old-timers have been around so long no one remembers where they came from.

I am not a newcomer to anything except perhaps old(er) age. I live in the same community I was born in. And with the exception of the years I went away to school and the years I worked before marriage, I have lived here all my life.

I am a Canadian by birth.  I am not an immigrant, but I do have immigrant roots.

I am the fifth generation in a line that began in the Orkney Islands and the fourth generation in other lines that began in Iceland. My Scottish great-great-grandfather and my Icelandic great-grandfathers came here to escape poverty, crop failures and natural disasters.

I know that my ancestors faced some of the same challenges that today’s newcomers face. I know that children, for example, were given the strap at school for speaking their mother tongue instead of English. And that parents were told to speak only English in the home to make it easier for their children.

They were certainly different times, though. Today’s newcomers are not likely to be threatened by outbreaks of scurvy, although the harsh Manitoba winters continue to challenge all of us. My ancestors wrote letters to the home country that took months to arrive; Internet access has made communication speedier, although penmanship may never be the same.

I’ve come to realize that immigrant roots run very deep, even though we may not think about it much. The attitudes, beliefs, customs and folklore glimpsed in our words and actions can often be traced back to those who carried them as invisible luggage to this new land.

In a way, Canadians like me are a link between the old immigrant and the new.

Our ancestors came to Canada with the hope of a better life for themselves and their families. Generations later, we are that hope fulfilled.

That same hope lives in people who are newcomers to this country and it connects us each to the other in positive and life-enriching ways.















Brain games

brain game

How do you build a tower with pipe cleaners and drinking straws?

From the bottom up. Carefully.

Exactly the way a brain is developed.

Judy Cameron, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh, told participants at the Canadian Association of Family Resource Programs conference in Hamilton last month that brains are built over time and that early life stress impacts lifelong health.

Some stress is positive – getting married, for example, or having a baby. Other stress is negative, but tolerable when there are supports in place – the death of a loved one or losing your job. Negative stress for which you have no buffers becomes toxic stress; sources of toxic stress for infants include neglect, maltreatment, postpartum depression and parental substance abuse.

Cameron then led participants in what she has called the “brain architecture game”, a game that is still in the developmental stages but will soon be available for everyone.

The object of the game is to build a tower (brain) using pipe cleaners (neurons) and supports (drinking straws). Tallest structure standing at the end of the game is the winner.

If your tower collapses at any point, you are out of the game.

We started with what I can only call a kind of  genetic lottery. You throw the die to come up with the number of pipe cleaners that will form the foundation for your brain tower. Six is maximum; our table rolled four. You fasten the pipe cleaners together, remembering that once connected, the pipe cleaners cannot be taken apart later.

Another throw determines the number of supports the baby will have – strong parent-child attachment, for example, extended family nearby, economic stability.

Our table threw  a one which entitled us to one straw.

By inserting a pipe cleaner inside a straw, you made it stronger. The brain you were building had more stability.

Now that our foundation was in place, we began the task of building upwards. For each year of the child’s life, the team draws three cards. In year one of our child’s life,  the cards we drew were ‘inherited disease’, ‘childhood illness’ and ‘malnutrition.’ Toxic stresses, each and every one of them.

For years one through five, each positive stress card drawn gives you a straw to use for additional support. Each toxic stress card gives you a pipe cleaner.

When you get to ages six through eight, you can no longer earn straws. Only pipe cleaners. And each toxic stressor earns you a small weight to add to the structure.

During the course of the game, our child experienced sixteen toxic stresses, nine tolerable stresses and eight positive.

Besides the inherited health conditions and poor nutrition, we suffered through the town’s destruction in an earthquake, a parent who lost a job, exposure to chemical poisons, conflicts with peers, an unsafe home, an awful teacher, drug exposure, domestic violence and bullying at school. On the positive side,  we had a language-rich environment, good friends in the community, a clean and safe playground and popularity in school.

Our brain structure was a bit ragtag but it did not collapse. It stood tall and we were proud of ourselves.

Did we learn something? You bet.

We learned how important those first years are in the development of a child’s brain, how connections made cannot be unmade and how supports can make toxic stress into tolerable stress with positive outcomes for the child’s future.

Playing the  game also reinforced something we already knew. Still we welcomed the reminder.

Play IS learning.