Giving Children More Control

Reduce Stress By Giving Children More Control


Article by Tamara Malinoff, Psychoeducator at Openspaceclinic. 

As the new school year is upon us and our children are heading back to the classrooms amid the 4th wave of the pandemic, how are we tolerating stress? Children, regardless of age, need supportive adults in their lives to nurture and guide them through stressful circumstances and events; they also need to have a sense of control over their own lives.

Stress can be helpful or harmful.

The times when our brains are most vulnerable to stress are prenatal stress, early childhood, and adolescence, this is because brains only reach full maturity by age 25. Anxiety is most likely to develop in teens because they are more vulnerable to stress with fewer tools to cope.

Let’s look at 3 different types of stress:

Positive stress is short in duration. We may feel a slight increase in our heart rate and mild changes in the body’s stress hormones. This is normal everyday stress which serves to motivate children and adults to grow, take risks, and persevere.

Tolerable stress refers to stress responses that have the potential to negatively impact brain development. It generally occurs for short periods of time which allows for the brain to recover and reduce harmful effects. Some events may include an episode of being bullied, a serious illness, separation, divorce, or a death in the family. The presence of supportive adults is crucial to help children feel safe. Additionally, this type of stress can help build resilience.

Toxic stress refers to the frequent and prolonged activation of the body’s stress system. There is a recurrence of stressful events with little reprieve. Furthermore, there is the absence of support from caring adults who would protect and minimize a child’s exposure to harmful events that a child is not developmentally prepared to cope with. Extreme exposure can be witnessing an assault or abuse which occurs regularly. This is the most dangerous one for a child’s developing brain. Also, it damages their ability to thrive.

“A poorly controlled response to stress can be damaging to health and well-being if activated too often or for too long.”

Center on the Developing Child

Toxic stress is not healthy for us, at any age. However, certain times are worse than others and can have a great impact on healthy brain development when there is excessive or prolonged activation of the stress response systems. Moreover, if the body and brain are not given the proper time to recover, chronic stress can lead to anxiety and depression. It can also lead to problematic behaviors such as binge or restricted eating, procrastination, sleep issues, and a lack of motivation to care for oneself.

Parenting styles play a role, how?

Let’s take a moment to reflect on how this may impact the way we parent our children.

The 3 main types of parenting styles are: Authoritarian, Authoritative and Permissive. (We may fluctuate between all 3).

With over 60 years of research in support of this parenting style, an authoritative parent coaches, guides, and supports their children while maintaining healthy boundaries, which is said to be the most effective parenting style, compared to authoritarian, permissive, ambivalent or uninvolved parenting styles.

This is the one we strive to be as an authoritative parents set high expectations while nurturing, are responsive, and involved.  Children raised by authoritative parents are more likely to have greater autonomy, be socially accepted, academically successful, and are generally well-behaved.

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Benjamin Franklin

Parents can play a role in undue stress on their children when constantly battling over things like homework, expectations, and pressure to do well at school, social relationships with friends, and many extracurricular commitments. Chronic fighting is not healthy for families.

Give children more control and responsibility

Brains develop according to how it is used. When we give children opportunities to make decisions while they are young, helps the brain to develop, so that they can cope with stress as they become more resilient. Children need responsibilities now, not when we think they are old enough to handle it or when they are more mature.

Whose homework is it?

Many parents feel responsible to be on top of their children’s homework. The intentions are good as we want to see our children succeed. However, we may find ourselves doing the work or providing the answers, so there is not much learning happening, it becomes our homework.

I would like to propose a new approach to homework by handing over more control to your children so that homework becomes the child’s responsibility.

Now, this does not mean leaving them to their own devices and saying, “you’re on your own kid!”, the opposite is true. We remain present, supportive, and trust that they have what it takes. Trust begets more trust.

Practical tools to get the year off to a fresh start:

Be their coaches: Believe in your child’s ability to manage their own homework so that they can have the confidence to believe in themselves. We coach but must not force. The same principle applies to sports or other activities we want to enroll them in.

Connection over correction: Resist the temptation to say: “I told you so!” when they learn the consequences of not having done their work. Validate! Say: “I know how hard this is. If you need me, I am here for you”. Let them know that when mistakes happen, they are growth opportunities. Talk about your failures and struggles to do homework or when you would rather be out playing with friends. It is hard, we can empathize.

Offer support guidance:  Tell your child: “I love you too much to fight over your homework”. Instead of asking “what homework do you have tonight?”, ask: “Would you like my help tonight with any of the subjects you have for homework?”.

Build healthy habits: Children thrive on routines and structure. Teach them to eat healthy and to get enough sleep. Allow them to make choices to develop habits and routines that feel right for them. Lead by example in how we take care of ourselves, they are learning through observation.

Academic support: Children tend to do better when it is someone other than a parent to work with. However, there are different approaches to ensure their success. If they are struggling to master a subject, see about getting additional support from tutors or if their school has an after-school homework program with peers or older students. If they are strong students but struggle with time management, prioritizing assignments, or may have difficulties with executive functioning, then an academic coach to teach organizational and study skills.

To conclude, keep in mind that after a long day at school, coming home to many more hours of tutoring can have a negative impact. It is important to balance work and play.

Wishing all our students, parents and teachers a safe and wonderful school year.


National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2005/2014). Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain: Working Paper No. 3. Updated Edition. Retrieved from

Stixrud, W. R., & Johnson, N. (2019). The self-driven child: The science and sense of giving your kids more control over their lives. NY, NY: Penguin Books.

Reduce Stress

Children Developing a Sense of Humor

Article by Tamara Malinoff, Psychoeducator at Openspaceclinic. 

Developing a Sense of Humor

There was no shortage of pranks in our home when my children were younger. April Fools’ Day was one of their favourite days for creating chaos, but they could strike at any time. A friend once gave them a gift of practical jokes, complete with supplies and a manual. Oh, the creative things kids will do! Cream cheese on my deodorant, walking into a film of saran wrap, whoopee cushions, Vaseline on the door handles, plastic flies in my coffee…more antics than I care to remember. Yet, it is the pure innocence of their laughter that I hold in my heart.

A sense of humor is not something we are born with, but actually a learned skill that children develop. Laughing together is a way to connect, and a good sense of humor can also help children cope with challenges.

Laughter is a joyful sound and is easily understood in any language. Having a good sense of humor helps kids emotionally and socially, plus, there are many more benefits. Research has shown that people who laugh more are healthier, less likely to be depressed and may even have an increased resistance to illness.

Meet them where they are at developmentally

Similar to how children meet their developmental milestones, a child’s sense of humor develops at different ages and stages of their development.

Babies do not yet understand humor but respond to facial expressions and funny noises. They will try to imitate your joy by smiling back and connecting. Simply making a funny face can bring out those big belly laughs.

Toddlers enjoy the element of surprise and physical humor like peek-a-boo or tickles. At this stage, they may want to make their parent/caregiver laugh by pointing to the wrong answer like “where are your ears?” and they touch their nose. They may also find it funny to imitate adults by wearing your shoes and trying to walk in them.

Preschoolers 3 to 4 year’s old tend to be very silly. They are very literal at this stage so if something is not right, they will find it extremely funny – like a dog that meows or the antics of their favourite cartoon character. Also, at this stage is when potty words and sounds are a crowd pleaser for this age. Around 5-6 years, they will start using their own creative ways of expressing humor and may tell endless jokes.

As they go through the elementary school years, humor is an important way to connect with their peers by telling jokes or trying to get others to laugh. At this stage, children begin to understand non-literal humor; they may find humor in teasing and understand sarcasm around 9-11 years old.

A good sense of humor is a tool that helps children:

  • engage in play and connect socially with others
  • foster creativity and a different way of thinking
  • to be spontaneous
  • not taking themselves or things too seriously
  • see things from another perspective

Setting boundaries while developing a sense of humor

While we want to encourage their development, we also need to teach children the boundaries when it comes to humor and teasing, just as we do in so many other areas. We want to discourage jokes which are offensive and hurt others. The best way to do this is to be a good role model and avoid using humor in this way. If someone tells a hurtful or inappropriate joke, we shouldn’t laugh but rather teach them by taking the time to explain to our children why that joke isn’t funny. Likewise, we want to quickly move in when there is a lot of bathroom talk, letting them know that saying those words or making those noises belong only in the bathroom. We are teaching them about the timing of jokes and that some places, like in class, at family or religious gatherings, are not appropriate places.

Ways to encourage humor in the home

Be their role model by telling jokes that are age appropriate, clean, and fun or tell funny stories. It is important to be authentic and laugh out loud. Share the enjoyment, even if you do not find it as funny as your child, let them know you appreciate why you see it is funny for them. One parenting pleasure is to watch your children grow and realize they have your same crazy sense of humor.

Create an environment that is fun. Watch comedies together or have a game night. One game that is sure to make children laugh is to see who can keep a straight face the longest without laughing. Books are also fun. Younger children will enjoy funny pictures or silly rhyme books while older children enjoy joke books, cartoons, or comics.

Humor is an early childhood developmental skill that we can easily encourage and enjoy while we are doing it!

Whichever ways you choose to bring humor into your home, it will create lasting family memories and joy for years to come. Our children will remember these joyful, funny moments and cherish the silly fun we had.

Children Developing

Promoting Positive Self-Esteem in Children

Article by Tamara Malinoff, Psychoeducator at Openspaceclinic. 

Self-esteem is a term used to describe our sense of worth and value. It is about how good we feel about ourselves. Promoting healthy self-esteem is one of the most important characteristics in a child’s development. Having positive self-esteem can also a be a protective factor for emotional well-being and mental health.

As children grow and mature, they develop their self-concept  which is their opinions about themselves; and includes their abilities, intelligence, and their personalities. During the preschool years, children discover they are individuals and develop a positive self-concept. In middle childhood, the self-concept goes through changes and becomes more defined and logical as their cognitive development increases, and they become more aware of their social environment.

Self-esteem in middle childhood:

During middle childhood (6 to 11 years), children start to compare themselves to others, allowing them to learn about who they are as individuals and how they can contribute to society. As children become more self-aware, they can be encouraged with praise for their process, rather than praising their person. Same applies to any successes such as academic or sports, the emphasis is on the activity, or how they learn and relate to others and not because they are smart or popular.

Children with positive self-esteem:

  • are more confident and independent
  • form healthy and secure relationships
  • are resilient
  • can take responsibility for their actions
  • make better decisions – even in the face of peer pressure

Children with negative self-esteem:

  • are more negative towards themselves and others
  • tend to give up more easily
  • have nervous habits
  • act out more often
  • are overly sensitive to how other’s may perceive them

Positive tips for promoting healthy self-esteem in children:

Love unconditionally

Love sets the foundation in all healthy and stable relationships. Children feel safe when we show them consistent love; it fosters a sense of security and is essential to how they will view themselves. Connect with them every day and give them your undivided attention, look and smile at them when they enter the room. Show physical affection: hug them when leaving to do your day, cuddle together when reading stories or watching T.V., making sure to love as an action while also telling our children that they are loved. As they grow, they will take the love they receive and carry it towards building their own social network by making friends and being a team player.


Give children responsibilities

Everyone needs to feel like they are contributing members of society and what better way then to experience this in our own families first. Teaching responsibilities through developmentally and age-appropriate chores promotes purpose and allows children to experience a sense of accomplishment, while giving them a sense of control over their own lives. They may not do it perfectly or as well as well as we can, so it is important to encourage the process and thank them for helping out by taking care of the family and helping make things easier. We are more efficient working together and Sunday morning cleaning can turn into a fun routine that is rewarded with a beautiful brunch or fun activity.

Turn mistakes into learning opportunities

Children will make mistakes and they will fail. These life lessons teach children to accept responsibility for their actions and learn to express remorse if they hurt another person, it also teaches empathy. When they fail at something (a test, making the team) they are learning about disappointment and how to tolerate frustrations. Failure is a stepping-stone in the learning process. Allowing children to experience failure also builds resilience and perseverance to study harder and learn from their mistakes.

Positive discipline

When we see behaviors that need to change, our responsibility as parents is to guide and teach our children. Discipline methods that are severe may have the child fear a parent’s disapproval while withdrawing love and affection when they need it most. If we show conditional love to children, they will behave to show themselves worthy of parental approval, where the emphasis is now on the behavior, rather than the value of the child. It is so easy to love someone when they are loveable but love in action recognizes the person while consequences are directed towards the behaviors. Discipline means teaching, an opportunity to learn from mistakes. We want to protect a child’s self-esteem by not humiliating or shaming them, personally or publicly.

Take care of yourself

Parenting is wonderful and can also be challenging. We tend to neglect our own needs to make sure our children receive the very best we can offer. Only, this may have the reverse effect if we neglect ourselves. The core of positive self-esteem is feeling good about oneself. If we are not feeling good, it becomes difficult to model for our children. Take at least 30 minutes each day to do something that will make you feel good: read, go for a walk, listen to music, organize a closet, or coffee with a good friend. When we are not feeling good about ourselves, we may withdraw and less present to be able to connect with our children.

Ultimately, we need to accept each child for who they are as a person, not defining them by the behaviors we would want to see changed. If your child is showing signs of low self-esteem, begin by building them up daily with unconditional love. It is the most essential ingredient to the emotional health and positive self-worth of our children.

Professional Dietetic Stagiare

Is it normal that my toddler is a fussy eater?

Article by Danielle Kasis Akal, Professional Dietetic Stagiare, McGill’s School of Human Nutrition. 

Fussy eating is a very normal childhood phase. There are all sorts of reasons why children of any age might decide they won't eat what you just offered. Although sometimes the reason behind fussy eating can be complex, most often than not, the reasons behind food fussiness are typical and not something to seriously worry about.


Why is my child a fussy eater?

You might have noticed that your child was selective in eating since weaning, or it might be that your child enthusiastically ate new food after weaning and only had developed eating problems between their first and second birthdays.

The main reason for that could be neophobia or the fear of new food. Neophobia is an evolutionary technique where babies develop a suspicion for strange food allowing their ancestors to stay away from anything poisonous. What's good about that is neophobic tendencies tend to phase out with time.

Toddlers also start to develop memories and know well that each meal is not their last. So, they quickly learn that better snacks might be around the corner and that they might be offered something nicer than what's on their plate right now. If the better snack is not at home with you, it is probably at their grandmother's house or in preschool with their toddler friends.

Through the process of refusing food, your child might also be exerting his own sense of self by making his own decision. When children are old enough to understand the joys of independence, they are so keen to put it into practice and exercise what little power they have over the adults around them.


Is my child trying to tell me something?

Occasionally, a child's refusal to eat may indicate an emotional problem. You might need to figure out if anything else is troubling them. For example, a gradual or even sudden decrease in appetite might indicate something is bothering your child. Usually, it might be related to a new life event like a new baby, new home or new school.

Some medical factors can also play a role in a low appetite or selective eating tendencies. For instance, zinc deficiency, food allergy or intolerance, constipation, nausea, anemia, or toxic metals accumulation might need to be ruled out by a health professional before making assumptions that your child is a fussy eater. To help with that, you can consult a qualified nutritionist to run the appropriate tests and make proper changes to your little one's diet.

When dealing with a fussy eater, remember those words: Exposure, Model and Avoid rewarding.



Given the impact of familiarity on children's eating patterns, regularly exposing your little one to a wide variety of meals and flavours is likely to result in healthier eating habits. Your child’s experience with different tastes can improve acceptance from an early age (even before birth!), according to a growing number of researches. In fact, exposure is specifically helpful in increasing your toddler's vegetable consumption.



According to a recent poll, the strongest predictor of children's intake of fruits and vegetables depended on their parents' consumption of those food groups. One might think that meals accessible in the house, in general, is likely the contributing factor to this. However, we tend to forget children's desire to copy the behaviour of others. Seeing what you are eating may change your toddler's preference for that food. If not, it can also increase your baby's chance to consume that food, which increases liking through taste exposure.


Avoid rewarding:

You may have tried bribing with reward foods, and you might have noticed that it often achieves the very opposite of what you intended it to do. You are right; rewarding does not work! It has been consistently shown that reward increases food fussiness, making your little one more resistant to try new food. Next time try to keep meals relaxed and reward-free as it will go a long way to help your child develop a more positive relationship with food.

Will it always be that way? 

The good news is that most children will grow out of fussy eating at some point before reaching adulthood. You will notice once your children start school, they will have a more varied diet. Their diet change will be influenced by what their peers are eating and their ability to make their own choices about food. So, a fussy eater toddler won't automatically become a picky eater adult, especially if they received the proper response from people bringing them up.



Dovey, T. M., Staples, P. A., Gibson, E. L., & Halford, J. C. (2008). Food neophobia and ‘picky/fussy’eating in children: a review. Appetite, 50(2-3), 181-193.

Levene, I. R., & Williams, A. (2018). Fifteen-minute consultation: The healthy child:“My child is a fussy eater!”. Archives of Disease in Childhood-Education and Practice, 103(2), 71-78.

Mallan, K. M., Jansen, E., Harris, H., Llewellyn, C., Fildes, A., & Daniels, L. A. (2018). Feeding a fussy eater: examining longitudinal bidirectional relationships between child fussy eating and maternal feeding practices. Journal of pediatric psychology, 43(10), 1138-1146.

Taylor, C. M., & Emmett, P. M. (2019). Picky eating in children: Causes and consequences. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 78(2), 161-169.

Westrom, S., & Hilliard, E. (2021). Picky Eating as a Degree instead of Binary Choice. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 121(9), A59.

Get in their heads - Help your kids reframe the thoughts that hold them back


Article by Jill Shein, Psychologist at Openspaceclinic. 

As parents, we know that belief in self is one of the most important qualities to nurture in our children. But sometimes, no matter how hard we try to build them up, our kids may have a different talk track in their own minds…


 The problem

 A child can bring themselves down when they tell themselves things like, 

 “I’m not smart enough”… “I’m not pretty enough”… or, “I’m just not good enough”

 And they might not always tell you exactly what they’re thinking. Sometimes, it’s because they don’t want to worry you. Other times, it may be because they feel embarrassed or ashamed by how they’re feeling about themselves. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t help.

 The silver lining of this pandemic is that we are probably more attuned to kids now than we’ve ever been, having spent more time together of late out of necessity. It’s an instinct to notice a change in your child’s mood or personality, or changes in their behavior.

 For instance, maybe you’ve noticed your child is coming home from school more tense, gloomy, or more sensitive about little things that they normally wouldn’t react to. You might have a super-studious kid who suddenly rejects their homework. Your younger child may simply withdraw, or stop engaging in activities they usually find enjoyable.


How you can help


1. Inquire

The first thing you can do is simply notice and ask them what’s up.

“Hey sweetheart, I’ve noticed you seem a little down lately… what’s on your mind?”

“We all hear our own voice inside our head- what’s yours telling you lately?”  


2. Validate

Explain to your child that having feelings of doubt from time to time is a normal part of growing up. This is a really important step that many of us forget to take. We may rush into solution mode because we want to make them feel better, and immediately try to talk them out of that negative thought. This can be counterproductive. Instead, slow down… be sure to acknowledge where they’re at first. Reflect the essence of what you hear them saying.

 “We all have moments when we feel less-than sometimes…”

“Sounds like it feels pretty awful when you tell yourself that you don’t measure up…”


3. Change the frame:

Now that they’ve articulated the problem, and they feel heard and understood, you have an opening to help them shift their perspective. Ask your child how they’d like to feel, and get them to focus on the things they like about themselves- their unique qualities, skills and talents. Every child has at least a few positive traits or capabilities that they genuinely believe about themselves.

 “How do you want to feel about yourself?”

 “Let’s try something… can you write down three things you’re most proud of when you think about yourself?”

 Or, if they’re struggling to come up with an answer,

 “Let’s pretend one of your closest friends had to make a speech about you on your birthday. What nice things would they say about you?”  

 This exercise will help boost their confidence, especially if you ask them to re-read the list daily. They will learn to focus on what they do well, rather than on their shortcomings.

 “So maybe I’m not the best basketball player… but I’m a really fast runner!”

“I might not get the best grades in math, but I’m a terrific reader and storyteller”.

“I am a really great friend and people like to be around me”.


If your child won’t open up, or if the thoughts they’re harboring seem to be crippling them academically or socially, it might be time to seek some counseling. A trained therapist can help your child challenge the negative, self-defeating thoughts they’re entertaining and help them develop new ways of thinking about themselves and their environment. 


Remember: When you change your thoughts, you change your life.

Parenting a child with ADHD

A wise friend once told me “What’s in a diagnosis?”…words that I held on to over the years and use in my practice when working with families. We do not need a diagnosis to learn new strategies to adjust undesirable behaviors or teach a child to improve self-regulation. A diagnosis helps us to understand the child and meet them where they are at; however, it does not define the child.


When should a child be assessed?

A psychoeducational assessment can provide helpful strategies to manage the behaviors at home and school. Diagnosing young children for ADHD is still considered controversial before the ages of 6 or 7. The reason for this and largely overlooked, it is developmentally appropriate for young children to be impulsive. Evaluating them when they are older provides greater insight to assess their ability to concentrate and multi-task once they are in elementary school or even later.

Parents may feel overwhelmed and therefore seek the diagnosis early on for support. Regardless of a diagnosis or not, there are many strategies for parents to implement at home to make things easier on the child as well as for the whole family; strategies that help manage the behaviors especially for the child who may feel like they just cannot help themselves and often feel bad for their actions.

Here are some tools that are proven to help a child succeed:

𝑪𝒓𝒆𝒂𝒕𝒆 𝒂 “𝒔𝒂𝒇𝒆 𝒔𝒑𝒂𝒄𝒆” 𝒂𝒕 𝒉𝒐𝒎𝒆 🤗:

Children experiencing behavioral difficulties may experience exclusion or misunderstandings outside their home so it is vital to provide a safe space at home where they can simply ‘be’ who they are. If possible, create a special place in your home where your child can take a break from siblings or relatives. Decorate it with soft pillows and soothing colors, especially if the child becomes overwhelmed easily.

𝑴𝒂𝒌𝒆 𝒄𝒉𝒂𝒏𝒈𝒆𝒔 𝒕𝒐 𝒄𝒍𝒂𝒔𝒔𝒓𝒐𝒐𝒎 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒔𝒐𝒄𝒊𝒂𝒍 𝒔𝒆𝒕𝒕𝒊𝒏𝒈𝒔 🙌 :

If the child goes to daycare or you are looking for one, try to find a setting with smaller class sizes. This will allow for less distractions and movement in the classroom. A Montessori school or approach can also help foster the child’s creative development rather than make them adhere to formal classroom norms. When choosing social activities, try to find ones that involve fewer children such as swimming, karate or art classes. This will set the child up for more success with fewer distractions.

𝑷𝒓𝒐𝒗𝒊𝒅𝒆 𝒇𝒓𝒆𝒒𝒖𝒆𝒏𝒕 𝒃𝒓𝒆𝒂𝒌𝒔 😴 :

Throughout the day, children should be allowed and encouraged to take breaks from their activities and to have quieter spaces with fewer distractions. Breaks are essential to help target symptoms of distractibility and hyperactivity. At home or in school, a quiet corner can be set up with calming activities (picture books, headphones to listen to calming music, sensory or tactile toys, a mat to stretch out on), in a space with less traffic and distractions.

𝑮𝒊𝒗𝒆 𝒔𝒊𝒎𝒑𝒍𝒆 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒄𝒍𝒆𝒂𝒓 𝒊𝒏𝒔𝒕𝒓𝒖𝒄𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏𝒔 🧠:

To help children as they grow and know their routines, we ask questions to stimulate language development and teach children how to become independent thinkers. In young children, we often give verbal instructions, older children can have them written out for them. In both cases, for a child with ADHD or symptoms of, be sure to break down the instructions into small steps by using clear and simple language. The instructions must be clear and concrete. Rather than a vague command such as: “Get ready for bed” we can say: “It is time to get ready for bed, first brush your teeth, then put on your pyjamas”.

𝑷𝒂𝒓𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒔𝒖𝒑𝒑𝒐𝒓𝒕 ❤️ :

Encouragement and support are essential to all parents. Let’s face it, parenting can be a tough job, but the rewards are truly great. Parenting a child with behavior difficulties often feels overwhelming for parents and they seek professional help as a last resort. We all can learn new strategies as our children grow. Parents of children with difficulties need to form a strong support network of professionals, educators, as well as other parents experiencing similar challenges. This will help parents feel less overwhelmed and more grounded to face the struggles with support and confidence so as not to feel alone. This is so important, always have hope. 🌈💙