Last Friday, I attended a Professional Development Day in Squamish. The keynote speaker was a woman named Monique Gray Smith. Her presentation was entitled "Fostering Resiliency with Indigenous Children and Families," but what she had to share made sense for all of our children and families. She taught us about the physiological responses to stress and trauma. When the brain judges a situation to be “dangerous” it responds by releasing epinephrine, cortisol, norepinephrine, serotonin, endorphin and ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone). These chemicals are meant to help the body for a short period of time, but when the stress is prolonged, these chemicals can act against us, compromising our health and immune system.
“Resiliency is the ability of individuals and systems (families, groups, communities) to cope successfully in the face of significant adversity or risk.” All children and families, Monique reminded us, have the ability to learn new skills to become more resilient. She then described four “blankets” to “wrap” around our children: Self, Family, Community, and Culture, Language and Connection to the land. When we work in one of these four areas to build confidence and knowledge, we create a ripple effect into the other areas. Success breeds success.
Many students in our schools are stressed. This inhibits their ability to learn and remember, to imagine and create. At a recent McNeely Morning Tea and Talk, parents expressed concern and wondered how to help their children cope. At school we try many approaches to creating safe, calm learning spaces. We do this with children in circles, with morning meetings, with greetings and good byes, with lessons on self-regulation and mindfulness, and most of all, kindness.
At home, you can limit children’s and your own screen time, have dinner as a family, plan some unstructured time for children to play freely and use their imaginations. Visit the public or school library and spend time reading. Exercise together by walking, playing ball or soccer. Not every minute needs to be scheduled. Resist the temptation to add to the rush of modern life.
Monique Gray Smith encouraged us to surround ourselves with Cookie People. Cookie People who make you feel bigger than yourselves, who bring out the best in you with their care and love. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: We find delight in the beauty and happiness of children that makes the heart too big for the body.
Let’s be Cookie People for all of our children.