Supporting your child’s mental well being and health
Dr. Chris Bjorndal gives insight into ‘The Umbrella Effect’, taught by Dr. Jen
My ten year old son recently experienced some setbacks at school and was being bullied by another boy in his grade.
This raised concern in me because when I was a child I had a difficult time in school. My mental health challenges started in grade 3 and I wished that I had the skills to handle the mental and emotional waves of my life. As I write about in my book, “Beyond the Label: 10 steps to Improve your Mental Health with Naturopathic Medicine” mental health is multi-factorial. We need to develop a solid foundation in all ten areas to prevent mental illness and achieve mental wellness.
This spring, I attended the Northwest Naturopathic Medicine conference, primarily because I was drawn to a lecture titled: The Umbrella Effect: Strategies to Support Pediatric Mental Well Being in Family Practice by Dr. Jen Forristal. I arrived on the Friday night to celebrate another colleague’s birthday party. By chance (or divine guidance) I ended up sitting beside Dr. Jen – who was the one person I wanted to meet given my practice focus is in mental health.
Dr. Jen Forristal BSc ND is a naturopathic doctor and children's mental health specialist located in Kitchener, Ontario.
Dr. Jen explained to me that “throughout our lives we will face many challenges and setbacks. Much like the rain, these are aspects of our life that most people experience and we have little control over. The sun doesn’t always shine in life and often, we spend a lot of time wishing the storms will pass, instead of properly protecting ourselves from the rain. What is important as parents, is to teach your children the skills that will empower them to grow in their mental and emotional health. These she refers to as “umbrella skills”. These skills are made up of emotional and cognitive skills: gratitude, resilience, mindfulness, intrinsic motivation, self-efficacy, autonomy, purpose, optimism, integrity, lifestyle, empathy, kindness, growth mindset, cognitive flexibility and grit.
The happiest and most successful people possess these skills and they are highly predictive of our future wellbeing.”
These skills are made up of emotional and cognitive skills: gratitude, resilience, mindfulness, intrinsic motivation, self-efficacy, autonomy, purpose, optimism, integrity, lifestyle, empathy, kindness, growth mindset, cognitive flexibility and grit.
As a parent, I have had to get myself out of the way and not project my childhood experiences onto my son. An example of this was when I was in Grade four, girls in my class started an “I hate Christina” club, and this devastated me. The same thing happened to my son when he was in grade two. My heart sank when he told me as I flash-backed to my horrible childhood experience. But his response highlights the difference between poor self esteem, which I had at his age and self confidence, which he has, as he said: “It’s okay mom—no one joined!”
Another example is my son sometimes can feel left out in a group of three and my reaction was “Let’s only do one on one play dates”, essentially avoiding groups of three. Seems logical right? When I consulted with Dr. Jen her solution was the exact opposite of mine. She said “you want him to experience groups of three so that he learns how to navigate this. If you don’t do this, what do you suppose will happen when he is an adult and may have to work in a group of three on a work project?” One suggestion she gave our son was that he talk to the other boys and discuss a strategy where if one of them is feeling left out that they work together to make sure everyone is included.
Umbrella skills will carry our children forward in life and support them when emotional weather gets cloudy in their life.
By using these skills we can actually strengthen our mindset and re-frame the challenges we experience; reducing what felt like a heavy downpour to a light drizzle. All of the skills are important and work best together. For example, working hard with grit is important but without a sense of purpose it becomes unfulfilling.
By developing these habits, we will develop the confidence and strength it takes to hold ourselves up and pursue life’s opportunities, despite the stormy weather.
If you would like an umbrella assessment for your child, please contact Dr. Jen Forristall at 519- 745-1600 or check out her website at: http://mydrjen.com
-Dr. Chris Bjorndal, ND
Dweck, Carol. Mindset – The New Psychology of Success. Ballantine Books, 2006
Foristall, Jennifer – Pediatric Mental Health lecture, Northwest Naturopathic Conference, April 2017.