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The Healthy Mind Platter with Aspen's In-Home Family Support Team

First off, we want to let all children, youth and families know that we miss you, we are thinking about you and we will continue to find new ways to support you in at world that seems to be changing day by day.

There has been an overwhelming amount of information shared in the past couple weeks and we understand the toll that can take on a family; we feel it too! While we know that in times of uncertainty our mental health becomes more important than ever, we also want to acknowledge that with kids cooped up at home, figuratively and literally climbing the walls, taking time to focus on “self-care” might not be the highest priority or even a possibility for everyone.

That is why the In-Home Family Support team has decided to focus our blog series on Dr. Dan Siegel’s “Healthy Mind Platter.” The platter can provide daily structure to those craving it, while remaining extremely flexible for those families who find their needs changing just as quickly as Calgary’s right now.

According to Dr. Siegel, there are seven essential activities that everyone should partake in throughout the course of a day to promote brain development and mental health. When we focus our mind on different things and in different ways throughout the day, we give the brain lots of opportunities to develop in new ways.

Let’s take a look at each section and think about how we engage -or don’t engage- in activities that would add to our platters.

1. Sleep Time

We cannot stress enough the importance of this section. Sleep gives our brain time to rest and the ability to recover from the stress of the day. Now more than ever, we need sleep!
Try sticking to weekday/weekend bedtimes if you find you or your children are struggling in this area.
Limit social media and news towards the end of the day if you find yourself struggling with stress or anxiety.

2. Physical Time

Moving our bodies strengthens the brain in many ways. If you find a particular time of the day difficult, put whatever activity you’re doing on hold and have a “body break”. Put a favourite song on and dance; is a great website for quick and fun ways to get the kids (and even you) moving and laughing.
If you’re physically able to, remember that outside is not cancelled. Going for a walk, even if its just around the block can do wonders for resetting the energy in the house. Just be sure to practice social distancing if you do go outside.

3. Focus Time

This means focusing on a task with a goal in mind. When we do this we create deeper connections in our brain. “School” time for kids is a great way for them to create these deeper connections. If your teachers have not reached out with resources, Scholastic is offering free online educational resources organized by grade level
For parents this could look like cooking a new meal, engaging in hobbies or even cleaning. The point is to set an attainable goal for this time.

4. Connecting Time

People are naturally social beings. When we take the time to connect with others, in person or virtually, we activate and reinforce important brain circuitry.
This could look like checking in with your family over breakfast. What did they dream about? What is one thing they want to do today/this week?
Call a family member or friends you can’t visit right now. When possible use video chat, as seeing facial expressions and reactions will strengthen that feeling of connection.

5. Play Time

This is the fun one! Each day, let yourself be spontaneous, creative and silly. When we playfully enjoy new experiences, we help make new connections in the brain. This can be hard in times of stress and for parents who are required to work from a home full of people. That does not mean it is any less important.
Join your kids in their play, go on a neighborhood scavenger hunt, break out the deck of cards. Do what you need to, to remember that life can still be fun if we take time to enjoy it.

6. Down Time

This is different from Focus Time in that we are not focusing with a goal in mind. This is time spent letting your mind wander or simply relaxing. When we do this, we recharge the mind. This is your time to unwind. Do you read books? Watch that mindless reality TV show? Listen to music? This is a guilt free time that helps us recharge.

7. Time In

This is all about checking-in with ourselves. Spend time each day reflecting on your own thoughts, feelings and sensations that were experienced throughout the day. Doing this is important because it allows us to connect all the different sections of the platter.
Journaling is a great way to check in and track how we’ve been feeling and reacting to different situations. For those that don’t feel like writing, simply making a point to mentally check in with yourself while you drink your coffee, those precious moments alone to shower or when you climb into bed are other ways that you can fit this essential activity into your day.

Finding Balance

    The key is finding a balance of the seven essential activities that promote mental health and wellness. The balance will be unique to each person and family. If we think about it like the food guide, there are tons of different combinations that look very different but add up to a healthy, well balanced diet. Just like we know eating pizza for every meal – as delicious and awesome as that sounds sometimes – is not the best thing to do for our bodies, spending all of your time alone or not getting enough sleep is not the best thing to do for our minds.

    Take some time to think about your family’s platter, even drawing them out if that helps you to really explore what’s important to each of you. Don’t stress if there is a section that dominates the platter or even if one is totally missing. This is the point of the activity, to reflect on our needs and to see if our actions support them. Remember that there are no time requirements for any of the sections and that each person’s platter will look different.

    What We Want You To Remember

    Making sure parents and caregivers have a full Healthy Mind Platter, is just as important as helping your children with theirs. Continuing to show up for and support our families takes a lot of strength in the best of times. To maintain that strength right now we need to check in with ourselves and reach out to our communities, whatever that looks like for each one of us. Know that you are not alone and that there is absolutely no shame in turning on another episode of Paw Patrol or giving that extra hour of screen time to make sure that your platter is full!

    If you want to check out more information on Dr. Dan Siegel and “The Healthy Mind Platter” in the mean time, you can go to his website:

    Next week we will start to explore each of the 7 essential activities in depth and include a more extensive list of resources to help you incorporate the ones that work for your individual family and their unique needs. 

    — Your Dedicated In-Home Family Support Team!