Expert Advice

6 Ways to Have Fun During the Holidays on a Budget By Olha Vovk It’s official. According to a survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies, half of Canadians view 2020 as the worst year ever. It’s a small wonder since according to Statistics Canada, 12.4 per cent of local paid workers aged 15 to 64 were laid-off monthly since February. And, as we’re in the thick of the second wave of Covid-19, the situation does not seem to be getting any better. But there’s good news! You can still have a festive, fun holiday season with your teens, even if you’re on a budget. Educator and counselor, Sarah Fewson, recommends focusing on balance and positive well-being during the winter holidays. “Attempt to engage in outdoor activities, fit in exercise, and do not forget to spend a few minutes a day in mindful silence to remain connected to your thoughts and feelings.” New more ideas to spread the Christmas cheer? Cultural and developmental service worker, Diana Prokofieva offers up these tips on how you can still enjoy the festivities of the holidays on the cheap. Bring in the New Year in the Backyard If you have an adventurous nature and are not afraid of the cold, welcome New Year’s Eve outdoors. Gather your family around a bonfire in your backyard, decorate your trees and spend time roasting marshmallows, sipping hot cocoa and singing Auld Lang Side at midnight. Start a family potluck challenge Parties may be out this year, so why not try a family potluck challenge instead? Each day a new family member can prepare a dish. Zoom your extended family members, exchange recipes with your friends and post your Insta-worthy pictures of your masterpieces on the Gram. Deck Your Halls Instead of buying a Christmas tree, incorporate home plants and decorate them with decor from a dollar store or Christmas ornaments you already have at home. Before you know it, the Santa hats, twinkle lights and Christmas stockings will fill your home with festive flair. Play The “Elephant” Game The “elephant game” is another way to save money on presents. Instead of buying gifts for the whole family, consider preparing one present per person, nicely wrapped. A host puts pieces of paper with numbers into a hat and gets every participant to pull a piece from the hat to determine their order of turn. Each player then chooses whether to open a new present from the bunch or steal the

5 Tips to Help Kids Find Inner Peace During the Pandemic This school year looks like nothing we’ve seen before. Among the many challenges teenagers and young adults are facing in their life, a global pandemic is sure to add some stress! Conversations with your child about mindfulness will have immediate benefits to their mental well-being. It will not only help them navigate the unprecedented school year ahead, but it will also introduce healthy habits they can build on for a lifetime of inner peace. Of all the ancient and modern practices designed to wake us up, the simple practice of mindfulness has arrived at the forefront of our cultural sensibility. Over 30 years ago, when Jon Kabat-Zinn began sitting and adapting Zen Buddhist mindfulness practices to the healthcare arena at UMass Medical Center and writing Full Catastrophe Living, no one and certainly not he, could have predicted the Mindful Revolution. While so much is out of our control right now during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more vital than ever to focus on taking care of our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. This must begin with the personal responsibility of mindful living. Here are some proactive everyday tips to help your child maintain his/her mental health and find inner peace during times of unrest and uncertainty: Stay Balanced and Grounded through Self-Care Remember you’re not alone if you’re worried or anxious. Schedule self-care into your day and do at least one thing for yourself. Go for a walk, enjoy a quiet cup of coffee or tea, take a long shower or bath, etc. Tune into your breath and body regularly Simply bring your attention to your breath, noticing each inhale and exhale. At the same time, feel both feet grounded to the earth. Your breath becomes an anchor in the body to the present moment. Bringing our attention to the present helps relax the body and mind and lessen any worried or anxious thoughts you have. Express your feelings to close friends and family, don’t keep them inside Worries or anxious thoughts can seem more difficult if we keep them inside. It helps to share and express your feelings to someone you trust. Make human connection a priority for your mental health several times a week and you’ll feel less alone. Consider limiting time on social media and watching the news You’ve probably heard this before but make some positive choices for yourself about how much time you look at social media

How to Teach Your Teen the Art of Face-to-Face Connections   Here’s a question for you to ponder:  Are we as parents doing all we can to prepare our teens for high school, college or the workplace? Are we doing all we can to best support the next generation so they can function in the best way possible in the real world?  Are we supporting the next generation by way of offering them pivotal life skills?  What I’m talking about is developing face-to-face communication skills, in an age where it is becoming a lost art. We are all experiencing a unique time in history, no doubt about it. We are also searching to create a new sense of normalcy as well.  It’s more about physical distancing than social distancing.  We need to connect and interact socially now more than ever. And when it’s safe to connect face-to-face, that’s even better! Here are some tips on how to teach your teens the art of face-to-face interaction and become better communicators. Have mutually beneficial conversations I will make a basic assumption that we all like to be understood.  One main factor to really understanding someone is by listening.  Some quick tips on how to fully engage are to ask clarifying questions.  It is always OK to ask questions of anyone you are talking with, such as, “I really want to understand your point, would you mind saying it again for me?”  Or perhaps you can ask them to rephrase it in a different way so that you understand.  Instead of offering (pretend) nods of understanding, ask for clarity!  Don’t interrupt, listen more and talk less.  It’s easy to talk. When we talk, we are sharing what we already know, but when you truly listen, you may learn something. One quick tip I’ve used with teens to work on listening skills is creating a for-fun mock TV or radio interview.  I have my clients create a short list of three questions to ask, but I always stress one key point to them.  I emphasize for them to listen to the answers very carefully instead of thinking about the next question to ask on their list.  This small adjustment tends to bring big results.  By doing this, you truly put a focus on actively listening to someone and this small habit can be applied to real-life job interviews. How to have hard conversations Most of us, not just today’s youth, will inevitably need to

5 Tips to Help Your Teen Learn at Home The shift to remote learning has been a challenge for everyone – teachers, parents and students, alike. No one has mastered it, so don’t be too hard on yourself and expect that you should have this figured out. This might be helpful advice to share with your teen too. Here are five tips to make the transition a little easier on you and your teen: Set a routine and create a plan for success together. It’s important that you and your teen sit down and map out a schedule and goals for learning. Make sure to get their input rather than impose a schedule on them. They are likely already feeling anxious, so this is an opportunity to give them a sense of control over something. Your teen will feel empowered and motivated when they feel they have a voice in the decision-making. Be clear that the schedule can be changed in the future as you both learn more about their school’s approach to remote learning. The environment at home is very different than school, so it may be hard for your teen to get motivated. Help your teen set up a space at home to mimic the school day. Setting up a designated area for learning will help them transition into a mindset for learning. Using a timer like the bell at school can help your teen know when to move on to a different subject or assignment. If your teen struggles with attention, try setting a timer for 15-minute increments (to start) to help them focus. Teach your child how to be an independent learner. Staying focused, organized and on-task are skills that are crucial to be a successful learner remotely. Look at the assignments and schedule online (if their school has switched to distance education) and show them how to create a weekly or monthly calendar for any upcoming deadlines. Discuss how they can break each project down and plan their time accordingly. The calendar is a great guide to create daily to-do lists as well. Encourage your teen to reach out to their teacher if/when they have questions versus you doing it for them. Connect your teen with a tutor online. If the change from parent/child to teacher/student is causing any stress or frustration, sometimes it’s best to call in a third party to support your child with their

Parenting Expert Alyson Schafer's Best Tips on Living with Teens During COVID-19 We’re all in this crazy COVID-19 era together and for those of us with tweens and teens, it can be especially hard. Fights over time spent on devices and arguments over the importance of social distancing can be on the daily. Our teens are staying up late and sleeping till noon and it’s driving us crazy! Take a deep breath, parents. This is a crazy time for us all —especially for tweens and teens who may not understand or appreciate the seriousness of this virus. That’s why we chatted with parenting expert, Alyson Schafer, to get her best advice on living with teens during this time of social distancing and quarantine. How can we motivate our teens to get off their devices and do something — anything! —without having to nag them all the time and start an argument? Coach don’t manage: Teens do not respond well to orders or directives.  Instead, you want to have a discussion about how they would like to see the next few weeks and months unfolding.  What makes a good day? What do they want to accomplish? How do they want to feel? What does a balanced day mean to them? These are curiosity questions that make them think.  Then you could ask them what they might do to accomplish this? Ask them if they need any help from you.  At the end of the day/week, you can review how the day went and how they felt about it. Ask what would they would like to do tomorrow to move closer to their goals? Let them know what your expectations are for them, that may include some chores to help out, their presence at mealtimes and some time spent on a family activity (bike ride/card game). Keep inviting (not nagging) your teen to join you when you are doing an activity and let them know you enjoy their company whenever they do show up and participate. Brainstorm with your teen over things they enjoyed doing on the last family holiday together. Do you have any suggestions for activities to keep tweens/teens busy throughout the day, while still social distancing? Every teen has their own unique interests; your job as a parent is to look for those interests and talents and then assist and inspire them to elevate it to the next level.  If they like cooking, can they

5 Ways to Cut Spending over the Holidays By Nadia Vommaro Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy, but for many parents — especially single moms and dads or families on very modest incomes — checking off even a tiny fraction of their kids’ wishlists this time of year can be stressful. Canadians are drowning in debt, spending an average of $705 on holiday shopping last year, according to a Retail Council of Canada survey. And, according to a poll by Rates.ca, nearly half of Canadians overspent on holiday purchases last year. As a single mom who was forced to become the sole provider for my young children after my separation, I can attest it isn’t easy to steer through the holiday season and come out financially whole on Jan 1. Luckily, my background as a wealth management professional provided some stability, but there are many easy, common sense strategies that anyone can implement to ease some of the burden of holiday spending: Make a plan and stick to it. It’s never too early to make a budget and expense forecast. Consider all your potential spending. Costs even outside of gifts can easily get out of control. Think of all those baked desserts and trips to the LCBO every time you plan a visit or host family and friends. Also, keep in mind the kids are home all day for two weeks. If they’re anything like mine, they can deplete your fridge down to a half-carton of eggs and bag of carrots in no time. Plus, there’s the added expenses of extra-curricular activities and travelling costs during this time of year. Make a list and check it twice. As part of your budget, make a list early in the year of everyone you have to purchase gifts for. Take advantage of great sales all year-long; grab those 80 per cent off clearance items as you stumble across them and stuff them in a closet until Christmas. Feel free to squirrel away a bit of money every month.  I know the penny jar is a relic, but you can also open up a separate holiday account and transfer a few bucks to it every month, year-round. Get creative and be a sentimental spender. Sit down and spend time making gifts with your kids to give to close family members. Online image book services are a big thing these days, but I actually made my boyfriend one for free by simply

How to Create Consequences with Your Teen   By Delaney Ruston, MD Originally appeared on Screenagers Tech Talk Tuesday blog In a recent blog, I wrote about how to effectively say “no” around screen time and I promised to write more about accountability and consequences when rules are broken. Enforcing rules is by far one of the hardest things we do as parents, especially with teens. There is so little written that gives example consequences and yet getting ideas is so important as a parent. So, after you read this, share what you do in the comments section below — that would be a real gift. Knowing I would write this tonight, I decided to clarify with my daughter, Tessa (who is in Screenagers — and now in 11th grade), the consequences regarding the rules (that she helped create) around screen time at night. Sunday through Thursday night, at a time we agreed upon she hands my husband or me her phone, or she or she plugs it in to charge in the corner of my bedroom. The rule includes not using her computer for socializing after that time as well — i.e. no instant messaging or Instagram on the computer. I asked her for ideas for consequences if she did not turn in the phone at the agreed upon time. Her first one was that if she breaks the rule, she would not have access to her phone for the entire following day. I responded “really?” — with a tone that implied that maybe that would be too harsh. And then, she quickly came up with something a little less harsh, “I can’t bring it to school the next day.”  We agreed that made sense. Next, we started brainstorming ways she would succeed with the rule. I asked if she thought it would help her to put an alarm on her phone for the time that she is supposed to put it in my room. She said, “Yep, that makes sense, I will set it for five minutes before to help remind me.” Setting fair consequences, that our youth help set (when possible), is a gift we give our children. It is a lot easier to “check out” and just let kids and teens sort out for themselves what, when and how long they want to use screens. But, of course, that is not the solution. Frankly, that approach would prevent many kids from reaching short- and

5 Ways To Get Your Teen More Active This Summer It may be called the lazy days of summer, but Health Canada recommends that teens engage in at least 60 minutes of exercise daily. Not only does regular physical activity help maintain good health but it’s a great way to boost body image and confidence. While the end of the school year signals the end of gym classes and school sports, it doesn’t have to mean that physical activity comes to a stop. To keep your teen active all summer, here are five ways to encourage them to keep moving. By Rhiannon Ness Sign them up at Planet Fitness. The gym is offering teens aged 15-18 the chance to work out for freeat one of its 30+ locations across Canada until September as a part of its Teen Summer Challenge. They will be offering fitness classes with a certified trainer that are designed specifically for teenagers once a day, Monday through Friday. The gym is also sharing an important message about body positivity. “Planet Fitness is a judgement-free zone,” says Becky Zirlen, senior public relations manager at Planet Fitness. “So, this is the perfect opportunity for teens to try a gym!” Try cycling! Cycling is a great way to stay active, and it could be an important way of bonding with your teen. On top of that, it is a way that could keep the whole family active! In 2018, ParticipACTION released its Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth and found that only 35 per cent of Canadian kids and teens aged 5-17 are meeting the national physical activity guidelines of 60 minutes of heart-pumping physical activity per day. Get the whole family on their bikes after dinner for an early evening ride! Enroll them in sports camp! Many community centres and schools like UCC Summer Camps and Camp UofT offer themed sports and fitness camps for teens. These camps are a great way to stay active while also giving them the opportunity to meet other teens with the same interest in sports and fitness. Find a program in your area—check schools, parks, community centres—for the perfect fit for your teen! Have fun. Encourage your teen to try different things until they find something they love that doesn’t feel like work. Toronto-based personal training specialist Leo Stafford suggests “that people do whatever grabs their attention.” This could be a sport that they

3 Tips on Managing Your Teen's Mood Swings   Is your tween or teen experiencing the symptoms of what I call the ‘Emotional Armageddon Syndrome' or EAS? Let me give you an example of how EAS might look like. This is a real story. Picture my 13-year-old daughter bombarding me with hugs, telling me how much she loves me. A split of a millisecond later, her smile magically transforms into the meanest frown simply because I said: “Honey, don’t forget to clean your room before you go to bed.” Does this sound familiar? The truth is most kids become a different child when they reach the tween or teen years. As they enter the pre-adolescent years, they begin to experience physical, emotional and social changes. Frankly, many have a hard time facing their puberty and don’t know what to do with it. If you remember, our bodies were totally wacked and out of control when we became teens. Between the menstrual cycle, wild hormones, physical development, voice cracking, new desires and curiosity, puberty can be quite challenging. Then, you have the teenager who tends to over-react as her world is seemingly crashing down. “I hate school. All my teachers hate me. No one wants to be my friend. Everyone is trashing me on social media. My life is a disaster!” Maybe you’re noticing these unpredictable and intense mood swings yet finding yourself unprepared to deal with these changes properly. The good news is that, according to research, mood swings during adolescence are actually normal, aren’t necessarily a reason to worry and they shall pass. I wonder if these researchers have tweens and teens at home? Anyhow, the key here is to help you and your tween/teen manage these swings in a healthier way. In this post, I’m sharing three tips to help you guide and support your child during this intense journey so that they learn to face mood swings in a healthier way while keeping your sanity along the way. Does this sound like a plan? All right, let’s get started! Tip 1. Stay Calm One thing that worked well for our 17-year-old son and seems to be working well for our 13-year-old daughter is focusing on how we’re going to react to their mood swings before we correct the behaviour. An effective way to address your children’s mood swings is to remain calm, in control and exercise patience as you interact with your moody tween or teen. In other words, don’t take