With the new school year right around the corner, we wanted to take this opportunity to talk to Cindy Thompson, a local Clinical Counsellor and Certified Executive Coach, about some things kids might be facing and how play and social connection can help them manage their emotions. Here are the highlights of our conversation.
Back in February, you were our feature presenter at a free Learning Series seminar we held about how to cultivate a resilience practice. Then this past April, you were a panelist at another free Learning Series seminar we held about how play and recreation are important for the healthy development of children and youth. Since we are in the middle of a campaign focused on raising funds to support our Child, Youth & Family programs as well as our Recreation Assistance Program, can you elaborate on why you feel that recreation is about much more than sport?
One thing that comes to mind is that when kids are active, it gives them a chance to work out excess energy and pent up emotions. Kids don’t always have the words to express what’s going on for them or if they are experiencing stress. Having physical outlets is important for kids. It doesn’t always have to be team sports – it can be individual sports like swimming or gymnastics lessons because not every kid feels comfortable in team sports – it’s just important that kids are active.
Another benefit of recreation is that it gives kids a sense of belonging outside of their family unit. And community is really important for our wellbeing. Spending time with peers and learning from other adults gives kids a chance to discover a variety of sports, gain new skills, and experience that feeling of accomplishment. Through this process they learn to manage their emotions and develop their confidence. When they practice at something they initially are not good at, they learn to stick with it and overcome challenges. These are all important life-skills that can help them learn how to do hard things when they become adults. In fact, the new mantra for kids should be “I can do hard things.”
The past few years have been challenging for everyone, especially children and youth. The pressure on the family budget these days often results in cutting extra curricular activities for kids at a time when they need social connection the most. Can you talk about what you’re seeing in your practice and how this is impacting kids today?
Kids want to be with their peers. It’s just natural. They love their families but they also want to belong outside of that, to have a sense of community. They want to know that they fit in. That’s why activities are so important, otherwise kids can become sedentary, often using screen time as a replacement for play time. So when family finances are tight, parents are often under a great deal of stress and kids feel that. Giving kids a healthy place and physical activity allows them to burn off unprocessed energy in their bodies. That’s why SOS’s free programs help make that easier for struggling parents, knowing their kids can have safe and welcoming outlets to explore and belong.
A lot of local children and youth who attend our free programs, or are able to go to summer camp because of subsidized funding, would not otherwise be able to. Can you talk about how these types of experiences benefit kids today and can help to shape their futures?
Summer camps are especially important as they help kids get out of their comfort zones. We don’t grow when we’re in our comfort zone – we grow by trying new things. So having subsidized summer camps for families who would otherwise not be able to afford them are invaluable learning experiences for children and youth.
When kids go to camp, they meet new people, often coming from different backgrounds than themselves. That opens up their awareness and helps them to learn from other kids and adults. Going to camp also teaches them to work hard even when things get tough. Working through challenges helps them to be able to draw upon past experiences and remember that they can do hard things.
Working in groups also helps kids to think about others before themselves. When they learn to work in a group or a team, they don’t feel the same need to be the star, because they know they already belong to something bigger than themselves. Those memories often carry into adulthood and can shape the way they look at the world. These skills will be building blocks in their leadership skills and serve them well in their careers – fair play, good sportsmanship, self-control, respect for others and what we call learning from “failing forward.”
Some parents are conflicted about how to help guide a highly sensitive child. What is your advice for them regarding recreation and sport?
I’ll give you an example. I had a client that was a high school student. This young girl was having a tough time with her peers at school. Because she was highly sensitive, her world had become quite small. When disconnected from this group of friends, it led her to feel alienated and anxious. She was encouraged to find an activity outside of school that would provide her with a different group of people to connect with. With a budding interest in martial arts, she joined karate and began to flourish in an activity she had never tried before. Not only did she gain new skills, but this new group of friends allowed her to feel welcome and a sense of belonging. If she only had her school peers to engage with, she would never have been able to experience the feeling of accomplishment and self-worth that helped her navigate her teenage years with grace and confidence.
When our world is too small, when something goes wrong, it feels like our whole world is falling in. But when we build more connections and engage in group activities that we feel a part of, we become more resilient when facing future challenges. And for those kids who are highly sensitive, resilience can become their super-power.
Kids will be going back to school soon which means lots of change, sometime mixed with anxiety. What advice would you have for parents to help guide their kids through this transition?
With new things starting in the fall, sometimes it can be a big adjustment all at once and sometimes parents over-program their kids. They want their kids to be good at so many things and worry they’re not doing enough for their kids. But I would say one or two things is really enough for kids who are in school full time.
What should parents be looking out for?
Watch for kids losing interest in things that they used to enjoy doing. Perhaps they’re not as energized as they once were. Are they falling asleep in class? It could be that they are feeling anxious and exhausted. Let kids ease back into school because too much change at once can be difficult for some kids, especially those who are highly sensitive. Just like adults, kids need downtime. When there is too much going on, this can manifest in stress. Most kids typically don’t know their limits, so it’s up to parents to create space for them to just be. And on a final note, I would recommend that families try and make time to come together at dinner time, around the table, giving kids an opportunity to talk about their day, rather than bottling up their worries. Connection inside the home is as important as making connections outside the home.
We appreciate the insights that Cindy shared with us on this important topic. She also suggested that our supporters and followers might be interested in listening to experts she has interviewed on her podcast, addressing resilience in children. Here are the links.
P.S. Just a heads up that plans are underway for a spring 2024 Resilience Workshop for the Business Leader that Cindy will lead. If you are a local business owner or manager and would like to be added to our email list when this event runs, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org