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Westmount becomes a mental wellness platform during 'Mindful Matters' workshop

On May 7, Westmount Elementary School was host to a public evening of learning, growth, and discussion about mental health topics affecting children and youth in recognition of Mental Health Week

On May 7, Westmount Elementary School was host to a public evening of learning, growth, and discussion about mental health topics affecting children and youth in recognition of Mental Health Week that runs from May 6 – 12.

The event, “Mindful Matters,” was primarily intended for parents, caregivers, and educators of children at the elementary school level and featured keynote speaker and psychologist Krystal Hawkins.

Mindful Matters is the creation of Westmount’s pre-kindergarten teacher Amanda Harper and kindergarten teacher Erika Topp, who have once again founded a much-needed project similar to their Sept. 22, 2023 Early Years Community Connections Resource Fair at the school.

“We just noticed that there’s definitely a need for more education around emotional regulation, anxiety, and other mental health issues that are facing our kids these days,” Harper explained.

Hawkins is a part-time consultant with the Prairie South School Division (PSSD) and runs her own private psychology practice at Family Hope Counselling and Training Centre Inc.

During her presentation, Hawkins spoke on the interconnected relationship between parents and their children and warned that busy lives and “dual screens” with cellphones and televisions are reducing the opportunity for meaningful face-to-face conversations.

When someone is always distracted it’s too easy to dismiss their children. This reduces the ability to connect with them and is something she described as “a sobering thought.”

Parents and caregivers can better manage this, she advised, by building relationships through “a life-long process” that seeks to validate your child.

If a child misbehaves, Hawkins’ advice is to validate their feelings, but not the action itself. This can take place in a side-by-side discussion (rather than face-to-face which can be off-putting), and she reminded guests that your feelings about yourself are, in part, a reflection of how other people treat you.

If you’re busy and your child barges in the room with something to say, it’s best to say something like “please give me just one minute so I can give you my undivided attention.”

The goal is for children to feel seen, valued and heard. “Let’s start right here tonight,” she declared.

Following Hawkins’ presentation, guests were given a pool of eight topics to choose from in a series of breakout sessions distributed across the school. Each guest only had enough time to attend three of these sessions, but they had the option to choose any three they wanted.

Breakout sessions included Natalie Fradette and Kim Walton with the Early Years Social Skills Program on the topic of emotional literacy, Const. Regan Pawliw with the Moose Jaw Police Service who spoke about children’s online safety, and included talks on the impact of social media, balancing needs, parenting an anxious child, and others with guest speakers from six mental health-related organizations.

Mindful Matters was made possible thanks to support from River Street Promotions, who provides a mental health and wellness fund that can be utilized by both school divisions. The goal, as PSSD’s Superintendent of Learning Amanda Olson put it, is to “put as many tools in our students’ toolboxes related to mental wellness as we can.”

The Westmount School Community Council then agreed to match the grant thereby providing Topp and Harper with a suitable budget to run the educational event.

Topp’s hope is that some of the families who attended the workshop can now walk away with some helpful tips and strategies to better support their kids at home.

“I also think it was so important to hear Krystal (Hawkins) say that, even if we’re aware and trying to focus… on pouring our soul into our kids’ and our students’ mental health, that we have to come back to ourselves,” Harper said.

“If we’re not okay, it’s the ones that we’re supporting who (also will not) be okay,” she continued. “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

Following the success of the inaugural Mindful Matters workshop, Topp and Harper plan to hold the event again next spring with details to follow.

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