Wellness Tips from Sandra Espinosa, SCM Counselor and Health Care Coordinator

Dear St. Catherine’s Community,

I am writing to you on the second day of Fall and what a delight to walk outdoors and actually feel the changing of the seasons with the cool morning air that has been present the last two days. It is the perfect opportunity to encourage our children (and ourselves!) to spend more time outdoors. Wellness experts report that being outdoors is always important, but especially so after the last year, with the increased stress and screen time of the pandemic.

The myriad benefits our children receive from being outdoors is recognized by many of us, but sometimes a reminder of these benefits can motivate us and our children to build stronger connections to nature so that instinctively choosing the outdoors becomes a lifelong habit.

In addition to getting a healthy dose of Vitamin D and exercising/moving their growing bodies, research shows that spending unstructured time playing outdoors helps children to build confidence and independence, and stimulates creativity and imagination as they think freely and design their own activities. It also allows them to practice their social skills (outside of structured activities such as school and sports team) as they interact in-person with other children, negotiating, taking turns and resolving conflict.

Richard Louv, author of the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder,  discusses the many advantages that being outdoors has on our children’s health and emotional wellness.  He notes that being in nature may seem less stimulating than watching television or playing video games but “in reality it activates more senses – you can see, hear, smell and touch outdoor environments”. He goes on to say that nature creates a unique sense of wonder for kids that no other environment can provide. “The phenomena that occur naturally in backyards and parks everyday makes children stay curious, think and ask questions about the earth and the life it supports.”

Simply having contact with dirt, whether it is through gardening, digging holes, or making pies out of mud, can greatly improve a child's mood and reduce anxiety and stress. These days that is worth a lot! So let’s lace up our comfy shoes and play a game of family kickball (it sure to bring about some great fun and laughter!), visit a nearby nature center, picnic at one of the many Houston parks or spend time in our backyards grounding ourselves in the nature that surrounds us.

If you are looking for more ideas for outdoor fun click here.

Until next time, stay healthy and well,


Dear St. Catherine’s Community, 
It was such a delight to see students return to school after the long summer break, hear their stories of summer fun, and marvel at how many of them grew an inch or two!   
I would like to extend a huge warm welcome to the 40-plus families that joined our school community this year. How I wish we could gather in person, face-to-face, in community, getting to know each other’s life stories. Instead, together we will all bravely and flexibly move forward through the ongoing challenges of this pandemic. I am sure many of you, like myself, thought that by now COVID-19 would be a distant memory. But here we are again, rolling up our sleeves and persevering. I remind myself that we have been doing hard things since the beginning of this pandemic, and through it we have strengthened our resiliency muscles and gained wisdom, insight, and helpful coping skills along the way. Take a few slow, deep breaths. We’ve got this!  
In our bi-weekly newsletter I will continue to share ideas, tips, and suggestions from the experts of health and well-being on ways to best support our emotional, mental, and physical health. My hope is to provide tools we can all use to change for the better how we show up for ourselves, our children, and our families. Oftentimes if we can make a slight positive shift in our thinking or a small change in our daily habits, it can serve to make us feel lighter on our feet and get us through the tough and not-so-fun parts of life.  
This week the focus is on intention. With the feeling of a fresh start that comes with the beginning of the school year and a change of seasons (or the hope of it!), now is a great time to set our intentions for this new school year. Intention-setting is a great connecting exercise to do with the entire family. It can teach children to reflect and be mindful of what is important to them and the power that lies within to create what they wish to have more of in life. This school year, what do you want to lean towards, pay attention to, or nurture in yourself? What will be your guiding principle?  
Set aside 3-5 minutes to be still and let your mind turn toward creating an intention. Think of a word or phrase that you want to be guided by. For example, “play," "ease," "patience,” "connection," "compassion," "flexibility." or "joy."  I am leaning towards the phrase "moving in nature." After sharing your intention with each other, write or draw your word/phrase and place it in a location where you will be reminded of your intention(s) often. Check in with each other daily, weekly, or monthly to discuss how things are going with bringing forth your intention.  
Until next time, stay healthy and well, 
Dear St. Catherine’s Community,

We have reached the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

Hooray! We did it!

As we transition from the hustle and bustle of getting our kids to and from school, to the summer months where we brainstorm creative ways to keep our kids engaged or entertained, I leave you with an array of book recommendations for those long summer days when it is too rainy or hot to play outdoors. These rich picture books and/or fiction stories aim to strengthen our children’s empathy muscles, and open their curiosity to imagine walking a mile in another person’s shoes.  

Click on the following links to look through the book recommendations:
The following book recommendations were gathered from the website, The Resilient Educator.
Primary/Elementary-aged children:
Middle-grade novels:
YA novels:
Enjoy your summer! May it be filled with many moments of fun and adventure.

Dear St. Catherine’s Community,

Can you believe it is May already?  It feels like life was moving at a snail’s pace, and then in the blink of an eye I hear my son exuberantly announce this morning, “Only 18.5 more days until summer!” (More like 15.5 by the time you read this.)  Where did the time go?  After holding my breath and praying/hoping for an “as close to smooth as possible school year”, we arrived to the end of a better than expected  - or I should say a “heck of a successful”?! – school year.

As we finish up the last few weeks of this school year, I hope you will take time to pause and acknowledge and praise your efforts – big and small – for the many ways that you showed up for yourself, your family, the children in your life and the larger community in this roller-coaster-ride of a school year.  For those folks feeling tired and weighed down by the heaviness of what seems like a long year, I would like to share some micro-actions that you can take to restore yourself and your family. Micro-actions are daily shifts in mindset and habit. They are simple, science-based mind body practices you can use any time to “put the well into your being”.  You can choose from a variety – try one a day and see how it feels! They consist of short, easy to do exercises to unwind, reframe, connect and revive.

The following is an example: “Unwind and self-soothe with the Butterfly hug


  • Cross your arms over chest.
  • Hook your thumbs together and fan your fingers into “wings”;
  • Keep the tips of your middle fingers pointing up, touching just beneath the collar-bone.
  • Soften your gaze or close your eyes.
  • Alternate movement of your hands, tapping your chest with your “wings” for 1-3 minutes, breathing deeply as you tap.
  • Observe any sensations in your body.


This technique was developed by Luciana Artigas (a psycho-therapist) who worked with survivors of a 1998 hurricane in Mexico. It’s a great way to soothe your nervous system any time you feel anxious or stressed.

Note: If the butterfly doesn’t seem to work for you, keep in mind that any kind of bilateral movement, such as walking, shifting your weight from side to side, swimming, scanning your eyes back and forth across the horizon, and even drumming are helpful ways to regulate yourself”.

Click here to learn more and check out the vast parenting/well-being resources in this website 

Until next time, stay healthy and well,



Dear St. Catherine’s Community,
I want to share with you one of my favorite TED talks by Shawn Achor who is a Harvard trained researcher on happiness and positive psychology, and author of "The Happiness Advantage."
I discovered his work a few years ago and any time I catch myself in a rut of complaining a lot or a pattern of seeing life through a negative or stressful lens, I go back to the daily “happiness practice” and quickly observe a positive shift. My mind begins to look for things to appreciate in my life and I also notice that my sense of abundance of love, connection, and well-being increases too.
It is not necessary to read Achor’s book and you don't even have to watch the full TED talk (although I found it quite entertaining!). Click here to watch the TED talk. You can advance to about minute 10:30 and  find the research-based formula for rewiring your brain for greater happiness. This involves five simple actions that you do for 21 days.
As Achor explains, “Happiness is not about lying to ourselves, or turning a blind eye to the negative, but about adjusting our brain so that we see the ways to rise above our circumstances.” Here are the five daily recommended happiness practices:
  1. Meditate three minutes (prayer or silence, focusing on breath, staring at the clouds, whatever works for you)
  2. Exercise (15 minutes of any body movement)
  3. Write down three unique things each day for which you are grateful (the key is to FEEL the gratitude while you do it)
  4. Write down a pleasant/happy moment from the day before in a short few sentences to cement the good memory in your mind. We have a cognitive bias for remembering the hard, scary, or negative
  5. Send a note, text, email, or phone call to someone you appreciate for something (a random act of kindness) 
Of course this is something we can engage our children in, too. For younger ones, you can have them tell you what three new things they are grateful for, and have them tell you about an experience that made them feel loved, appreciated or joyful.
As Achor states in his book, “Each tiny move towards a more positive mindset can send ripples of positivity through our organizations, our families, and our communities."
I am going to restart this morning ritual, and I invite you to join me.  Can you give it 21 days?
Happy Wednesday!
Dear St. Catherine’s Community,
I hope Spring Break gave everyone time to reconnect with family/friends in a safe, socially distanced manner and that you had many micro moments of gratitude. As I reflect on this time last year, a period of great uncertainty, confusion and loss, I feel immense gratitude for where we are today. Of course, we are not completely out of this pandemic, but I think we can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel with many folks getting vaccinated and high hopes that those numbers will increase significantly by the end of May. The last year has given us all so many valuable lessons to ponder. I’m sure all of us see the world through different eyes today than we did a year ago – I know I do.
Last spring was the beginning of a pandemic “winter” – hunkering down, and carefully limiting our everyday movements and interactions. But this spring we’ve reached the “spring” of the pandemic season, with the hope of regaining the ability to safely connect with family and friends, as the clouds of constant vigilance and worry begin to recede into the background.
As we move into spring, let’s embrace with great vigor all its symbolism: A time of renewal, growth, perfect Houston weather, more hours of daylight, daffodils, blue bonnets and azaleas in bloom! Perhaps we can  honor our varied experiences of the last year by committing to planting flowers, trees, herbs – or whatever you like! – and with the patience and care that we all developed from a year of unknowns, we can watch them blossom and grow, and dream of new beginnings.
Until next time, may you be healthy and well,
Wellness Tip: Human Connection
Dear St. Catherine’s Community,
What a whirlwind of a week it has been. I hope by the time you read this that all of you are waking up in warm homes, with an abundance of clean, running water and home repairs behind you (or at least scheduled!) I know many of us, especially our children, were eagerly anticipating the promise of that 1 rare snow day in Houston. Even better if school got canceled for a day! Surely few of us imagined we were just starting what a dear friend of mine described as “the camping trip from H***, with some silver linings.”
As we come back together, I foresee our children readily sharing their stories with each other and in doing so feeling the warmth, comfort and understanding from listening ears and hearts. The varied experiences of last week in Texas ranged from families facing mere inconveniences to sadly unexpected tragedy and loss. However I’m inspired by many of the stories that have such rich emotional components embedded in them of neighbors instinctively helping neighbors, essential workers toiling through the freezing nights to restore power and water, friends and family sharing generators, a warm shower and meal, and of course our reliable Houston proud, Mattress Mack, always willing to convert his stores as shelters for families in need.
In these challenging, tough times we are reminded again that the most precious thing we have is our relationships with one another and that at the core of each of us is the helper, the healer and the encourager. My favorite story of the human heart is that of an Austin couple who opened up their home to a delivery worker whose car got stranded due to the icy roads. This stranger stayed in their home for 5 days!  I say we spread these heart-felt stories of love and generosity so they permeate our beautiful state of Texas and inspire and remind us of the higher choice that’s almost always available: to be compassionate, and willing to love and serve others whenever there is a need.
I leave you with one of my favorite Oprah quotes on love and human connection:
“When you make loving others the story of your life, there’s never a final chapter, because the legacy continues. You lend your light to one person, and he or she shines it on another and another and another. And I know for sure that in the final analysis of our lives—when the to-do lists are no more, when the frenzy is finished, when out email inboxes are empty—the only thing that will have any lasting value is whether we’ve loved others and whether they’ve loved us.”
Until next time, stay healthy and well,
Dear St. Catherine’s Community,
Valentine’s Day is around the corner and it prompts us to pause and reflect on the love, appreciation and kindness that we hold in our hearts for our loved ones, friends and community. Equally important is connecting to oneself with kindness, love and what psychologists call “self-compassion.” It is a simple concept that entails treating yourself kindly as you would treat a friend who needs care, attention and support. For some of us, it does not always come naturally to offer ourselves patience and kind, gentle words when we have made a mistake or experience stress or a personal setback. Instead, many of us are quick to burden our minds with “shoulda, woulda, coulda’s.”
The great news is that there are numerous empirical studies that show that practicing self-compassion greatly benefits one’s emotional and physical well-being. And of course whatever benefits us as parents and teachers, and whatever we model to our children, trickles on down to them. So the next time you are dealing with difficult emotions that are leading down the path towards negative self-talk, remind yourself that you are not alone in this. Everyone struggles. In fact, there are millions of other human-beings having a similar experience. Then offer yourself words of compassion like you would your dear friend. I love the loving-kindness phrase of "May I be kind to myself. May I forgive myself. May I be strong. May I accept myself as I am."
If you would like to learn more about self-compassion or hone your self-compassion skills, you can click here and visit Dr. Kristin Neff’s website. Dr. Neff is one of the leading researchers on self-compassion. Click here to listen to a fantastic interview with her on "The Happiness Lab" podcast.
I leave you with a prayer from Maria Shriver’s weekly newsletter:
Dear God, give me the strength to fully show up for myself. Please help me care for my heart, care for my mind, and care for my overall being so I can best be there for those I love. Amen.
Until next time, stay healthy and well,

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As I write this, a sunny, cool day is dawning in Houston and it is a fittingly beautiful day to remember the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  There seems to be an urgency now for us all to reflect on his work and his powerful words of wisdom and truth, not just today but throughout this week as we transition to new beginnings with a new presidency, and throughout the year as we contemplate the past and think about the changes and internal shifts that we want to bring forward for the better of our community and nation.

Dr. King was many things, among them a Christian preacher, a political activist, a father and husband. For me one of his most powerful roles was that of messenger. His message, and vision for a better future and justice for all people, inspired millions.  His delivery, by way of non-violent protest, gave moral clarity to his message.

His message was told in a time of great unrest in this nation, with both civil rights and Vietnam War protests happening from coast to coast. Once again, our nation is going through tough and tumultuous times.  But as former president Barack Obama recently noted, MLK Day “should serve as a reminder that we have been through hard times before and emerged from them stronger. But only because we never stopped believing in our democracy. Only because we never stopped working to perfect it and only because, even in the face of intimidation, discrimination, and unimaginable suffering, we never stopped dreaming of a better day – and never stopped doing the long, hard essential work of ushering it in”.  

 So as we move through the week and this year, and individually and collectively reflect on how we can be a part of healing our much divided nation, I’m inspired by Dr. Bernice King’s words in how we can “dig in and create a beloved community”. She writes, “you create the beloved community by rising up to be love; not the powerless, weak and anemic love. No. I’m talking about Be love and implement the demands of justice, Be Love and rise up to use your power to correct everything that stands against love. Let’s go forward in this moment and bridge the divide, let’s go forward in this hour and rise up to be love. Lets’ go forward from this place to create the beloved community.”

Until next time, stay healthy and well,


Dear St. Catherine’s Community,

It’s the start of a new year and I don’t know about you, but I have always loved this time of year.  In my mind, it is a clean slate, and a vast feeling of hope arises in me that all things are possible in the New Year.  It is also a great time to reflect on the past year on what we have learned through our many varied life experiences and what we want to let go of that is no longer serving us.

So moving forward, what do we want to call in?  In other words, what intention or quality do we want to cultivate in the coming year?  How will we choose to bring forth things that we want to feel more of in this, “one wild and precious life of ours?” (As poet Mary Oliver posed).

I received a holiday card from a friend this year, who said that more than 15 years ago she and her husband received an unusual holiday card that for them expressed the spirit of the holiday better than most cards they had received.  It’s something she pulls from the drawer and posts on the kitchen bulletin board each year.  A little research finds that it comes from Howard W. Hunt.  I offer it to you to consider as well – perhaps it offers a key to bringing forth more of what you want to experience.   This year…..

“… Mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Listen more. Try to understand. Find the time. Examine your demands on others. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love, and then speak it again and again.”

Here is to a happy, healthy and harmonious year!



Parenting tip #12:  Holiday Season Coping technique

Dear St. Catherine’s Community,

The holiday season is around the corner and it inevitably brings about a myriad of emotions and a million things that we need to cross off our “to do list”.  However, for many this year what seems to be heavy on our minds is finding creative ways to make this time memorable, joyful, and special in spite of not being able to take part in all of our favorite traditions and rituals or be with all of our loved ones. I would like to share one of the mindfulness tools that I have gathered for my “holiday season coping skills kit” that I hope is helpful to you in times when difficult emotions arise.  The 4 step technique follows the acronym R.A.I.N and was coined by meditation teacher, Michele McDonald.  It is as follows:

R: Recognize the emotions, thoughts, feelings or sensations that are arising in the moment. Listen in a kind, receptive way to your body and heart. If you can, give the emotions a name. For example, “Ugh, I’m feeling overwhelmed or angry”. Identifying the feeling can take away its power.

A: Allow the experience to be there, just as it is without resisting or fighting it. It is so easy to get caught up in our emotions and thoughts and this causes us to “react” rather than being able to choose a conscious response. In “accepting” and “acknowledging” (not necessarily liking it!) it softens and eases the intense emotion.

I: Once you recognize and allow the emotion “to be”, you can choose to investigate it.  Investigate the emotions with kindness. How does it feel in your body? Where are you feeling it most strongly? Are there events that happened ahead of the emotion that might have influenced it? Are there physiological factors (lack of quality sleep or food or not having a chance to move your body) that are affecting the emotion? What do you really need right now?  These questions serve to help us have a wiser relationship with our emotions and thoughts.

N: Nurture and Non-identification: First offer nurture and care to yourself by bringing a hand to your cheek, or place your hand over your heart, or giving yourself a calming embrace by wrapping your arms around yourself and giving a gentle squeeze. You can also speak encouraging words to yourself as a way of self-caring, e.g. “I know this is hard right now”, “you can do hard things”.  The next step is reminding ourselves that these emotions are common human experiences and there are thousands of people in this world having this exact same experience whether its sadness, grief or frustration. These emotions do not define us, but are just visiting or moving through us for now.  

Teaching our children, and ourselves, the RAIN technique can be helpful when dealing with strong emotions that may show up when feeling disappointed, overwhelmed or disconnected.

Click here  for a more elaborate description of RAIN by clinical psychologist, Tara Brach.

Until next time, stay healthy and well,



Parenting tip # 11:  The Practice of Gratitude

 “Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayers.”

- Dr. Mayo Angelou

 Dear St. Catherine’s Community,

As we approach the second week of November, I can feel the presence of Thanksgiving around the corner and pleasant memories arise for me, as I’m sure they do for many of you: The eager anticipation of celebrating with family and friends, the familiar smell of savory and sweet foods that fill us with delight and warm the home, and cooler weather that invites us to take a long walk (especially after our bellies are full and deeply content). All of this lends itself easily and organically to giving gratitude for the abundance that surrounds us. However, Thanksgiving will look and feel very different this year for many of us due to COVID-19. As we grieve the losses that are in our hearts, let us also make space to adapt to the new and unfamiliar, and take time to notice the silver linings that surround us – big and small.

Research conducted by psychologist, Dr. Robert Emmons (author of Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier) has consistently linked practicing gratitude with a wide range of benefits, including strengthening your immune system and improving sleep patterns, and experiencing more joy and pleasure. And who couldn’t use a boost of that right now?  According to Dr. Emmons, you don’t need to follow a series of specific step or create goals that might seem overwhelming, just set the intention to notice and be open to gifts in daily life.

When we share out loud our positive perspectives and feelings – even over the simple, ordinary gifts of life – it can have the ripple effect of elevating the mood and a sense of resilience in the people around us.  

In cultivating a practice of gratitude with our children, there are many creative ways we can weave this into their daily lives.  A friend of mine has a wonderful parenting blog that she authors with 3 other moms whose background are in education and children’s ministry. In their November newsletter they share numerous ideas of how to bring a gratitude practice into their family’s lives via children’s books, Bible verses and fun activities. My favorite is a book they highlighted called, Thanku: Poems of Gratitude. It consists of 32 poems, each written in a different poetic format and by a diverse group of authors. I love the idea of families reading the poems out loud and then each person writing their own poem whether it be a hyperbole, sonnet or Haiku format.  It’s a fun way of connecting and sprinkling gratitude into your day. Click here to learn more about this.

There are a number of other great book recommendations on the subject of gratitude for pre-school to young adult age through the Brightly website. You can click here to learn more.

However you spend your Thanksgiving this year, I hope it includes opportunities to genuinely connect with those you love, good food, nature walks and hearts filled by the deep sensations of gratitude.  

Until next time, stay healthy and well.



Parenting tip #10: Supporting our Immune System through Managing our Stress


Dear St. Catherine’s Community,

I invite you to take a few moments to pause and take 3 deep belly breaths with me if you feel the need.  The last several months have been tough.  An ongoing pandemic whose end date is unknown, social unrest throughout the U.S. and a contentious election with results still being counted as I type.  This, on top of the everyday challenges and hiccups that we experience can place a huge overload on our brains and emotional well-being. Although stress is part of life, when the stress becomes chronic and lives in our bodies too long, it can have negative effects on our immune system.    In previous newsletters, I shared with you, the importance of getting consistent quality sleep, moving our bodies regularly and healthy eating as ways to support and care for our immune systems.  These lifestyle habits can also help us manage the high levels of stress that we sometimes encounter.  I have also talked at great length about developing a mindfulness/meditation practice as a way of getting better acquainted with our minds and body and how, in doing so, we are more likely to be tuned in to the early warning signs of stress. This can be a gentle reminder to ourselves to slow down and move towards more self-compassion and care.  I like the idea proposed by therapist, Deborah Riegel, MSW in Psychology Today of “emotional snacking” – taking small bites on a regular basis to help build up your reserves to handle hard times”. This entails engaging in something daily that brings you a moment or two of peace, relaxation, gratitude connection or joy and can make an enormous difference in our physical and mental health.  Click here for “snack sized” habits to try.

Similarly, Ross Gay, poet and author of the heart-felt book The Book of Delights set out every day for a year to write about the delights of life that he observed around him. He found that this practice helped develop his “delight radar”, or his “delight muscle”.  The implication is that the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study. I love this idea, and especially this week it has helped me to shift from my hard focus on the news to turning my attention to those things that spark a moment of joy or delight, no matter how small.  My recent delight was seeing a gray egret soar through the air during my  evening walk. We can share this practice with our children and encourage them to be attuned to what speaks to their senses and declare it with their finger in the air when they see it, feel it or hear it. The smell of baked cookies:  Delight! The sound of birds chirping in the early morning: Delight! The comfort of a warm jacket on a cold morning: Delight!  What delights did you encounter today?

In thinking of all that is happening at this moment in our nation, I close today with a beautiful prayer from Sister Pat Bergen, CSJ:

“Dear God, May today be Day One of a new unity in the US, with former divisions freshly healed by humility, wisdom, charity, grace and forgiveness. Healer of our every ill, breathe in among all of us who dwell on this land. Soothe our wounds, Calm our fears. Mend our divisions. Hope of all tomorrows, open our deaf ears and fill us with compassion. Tender our hearts. Inspire creative ideas to address the cries of our sisters, brothers, and Earth itself. Send forth your Spirit of Love and Unity. Transform pointed fingers of blame into hands open in reverence to receive one another. Fan into flame the gift of our founding and let us be known again as a people united for the goodness, justice and peace of all people forever”.


Until next time, stay healthy and well,


Parenting tip #9:  Supporting our immune system through healthy eating Part 2:
Dear St. Catherine’s community,
One of the many things I have greatly missed during COVID times is the delicious smell of roasted broccoli that often lingered throughout the Primary hallways mid-morning. I found it so endearing to watch the Primary children sit across from each other eating their little snacks of broccoli and fruit with such ease and delight. Even the child who was initially reluctant to eat their veggie and fruit snack seemed to develop a taste for it. This is not surprising given that the research shows that repeated exposure to a variety of new foods is the most powerful tool when it comes to helping children accept new foods.
Taste exposure works especially well for veggies. Kids usually need 8-15 tries of that roasted Brussels sprouts or baked eggplant before they accept it.  So, if you are struggling to get your children to eat more veggies, don’t give up!  There are lots of different ways to increase children’s interest in healthy eating. The following are ideas/suggestions gathered from different resources:
  • Keep a variety of veggies/fruits in plain view - Have a bowl of fresh fruit on the table. Cut up favorite vegetables and store them. Keep dried fruit in the “snack drawer.” Making fruits and veggies readily available has been shown to increase consumption. Also the more visually appealing foods are the more likely kids (and adults) are to enjoy them.
  • Have a plate of colorful raw veggies and fruits at the table for kids to munch on while you are preparing dinner.
  • Experiment with different textures and cooking methods of veggies: there is big difference in eating steamed Brussel sprouts vs. roasting them or air-frying them. The same with green beans. Some kids may prefer the crunchiness of steaming them vs. roasting them.
  • Get creative with food: use a spiralizer and make zucchini noodles in place of pasta or chop up cauliflower in the food processor to make cauliflower rice and get kids involved in the process.
  • Try new foods when they are hungry.
  • Use a healthy dip for veggies such as hummus, almond butter or tzatziki.
  • Get kids engaged in the process of selecting veggies/fruits along with an easy recipe that they can help prepare and/or cook: Developing a connection through cooking, and preparing food and eating it together, helps create healthier relationships with food.
  • Growing some of your favorite fruits, veggies and herbs at home can be a very fulfilling experience for children and studies show they are more likely to eat the foods they grow.
  • Model healthy eating habits: Role modeling is one of the best ways to get your children onboard with healthier eating. Even if we would categorize ourselves as “healthy eaters,” we all tend to gravitate toward our favorite foods. This can also limit our children’s food exposure because even healthy repetition is limiting. Head to a new grocer or even visit your local farmers market to investigate new foods together.
  • Limit the junk food to birthday parties and special occasions: Let your pantry and fridge be filled with the foods you value and want your kids to eat more of. By having fewer junk foods around, it will give space for your children to eat more veggies, fruits and whole grains.

    Consider incorporating a “Meatless Monday” into your meal planning. This allows you to experiment with different types of vegetables and gain the benefits of the nutrients that they provide for your health.  Fall and Winter is the perfect time to make nourishing soups and stews and an easy way to get a lot of veggies into our diets.
Here are the recipes for a few of my favorite vegetarian meals:
Until next time, stay healthy and well,
Parenting tip #8:  Supporting our immune system through healthy eating: Part 1
Dear St. Catherine’s Community,
In addition to getting plenty of quality Zzzs and moving our body on a regular basis, good nutrition is essential to maintaining a strong immune system, which may offer protection from seasonal illnesses and other health issues. The sayings, “Food is medicine” and “You are what you eat” are often touted by nutritionists as words to live by. However, for many of you who have set out to eat healthier, you know firsthand how confusing and overwhelming the stream of nutritional advice can be. One day the headlines read that we should avoid grains, drink less milk, and that eggs and butter are bad for us. Then the next day, we are given the opposite advice. This can lead many of us to throw up our hands, give up on healthy eating, and head straight to the nearest drive-thru! 
Humor aside, in my ongoing search to learn more about foods that will nourish my body best, I have tended to lean on Michael Pollan’s simple advice from his book Food Rules, An Eater’s Manual, that states, “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Pollan goes on to elaborate on each simple rule, and on those occasions when I’m determined to eat healthy and veer away from foods high in fat, salt, sugar and what is commonly termed the “Western diet”, I have kept some of his ideas in mind when grocery shopping. Here are a few:
  • Eat foods from ingredients that you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature
  • Avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients and that a 3rd grader could not pronounce
  • Buy your snacks at the farmer’s market
  • Eat only foods that will eventually rot
  • Consult your gut. Slow down and pay attention to what your body – not just your sense of sight – is telling you
  • Eat all the junk food you want – as long as you cook it yourself
  • Treat treats like treats – nothing wrong with special occasion food as long as every day is not a special occasion
If you want to learn more about Michael Pollan, click here to listen to an interview with him on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday podcast.
Lisa Leakes, author of 100 days to Real Food takes a similar approach toward educating folks about eating “real foods” but gears it more toward families and children. If you are looking for ways to teach young children how to identify healthy foods, she uses a great concept of “green light” foods (foods that make your body feel and work the best) vs. “yellow light” foods (the foods that are okay to eat occasionally) and “red light” foods (foods to try and avoid). Leakes’s website is also filled with other helpful resources on nutrition such as how to read food labels, making sense of common food ingredients, and healthy food recipes.
I hope the “food wisdom” that Pollan and Leakes share is helpful to you. At the end of the day though, eating healthy is like parenting, we try to do the best we can, and in the words of Oscar Wilde, “Everything in moderation even moderation.”
Next week, I will discuss how we can incorporate more fruits and veggies (emphasis on veggies!) into our children’s diets and share a few of my favorite “Meatless Monday” recipes with you. If you have any veggie-filled, immune supporting recipes that your family enjoys, feel free to email me at [email protected] and I will post them in my next newsletter entry.
Until next time, may you be well and healthy,
Parenting Tip of the Week #7: Supporting Our Immune Systems Through Regular Exercise
Dear St. Catherine’s Community,
I hope everyone enjoyed the beautiful weather this weekend and found ways to be physically active - whether it was taking a long walk together, biking, gardening, throwing the ball around or simply walking the dog. In last week’s newsletter I discussed the benefits that consistent good-quality sleep has on our immune system and our overall well-being. Equally important is engaging in regular physical exercise. Research makes it abundantly clear that moderate-intensity physical activity, such as a brisk walk or a leisurely bike ride, not only supports our immune system and makes us less susceptible to infections and inflammation in the body, but also can improve cognition, such as work/academic performance, mental processing, memory and executive function (concentration and attention).
Not surprisingly the research also shows that exercise helps us sleep better and improves our energy level and mood.  Although the benefits of exercise are well recognized, it is not always high on our list of priorities. If this is the case for you, then you may enjoy reading through Gretchen Rubin’s book, Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits--to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life, or getting a synopsis of the book by visiting her website where she discusses different strategies we can use to make exercise become a regular habit in our lives. Click here to learn more.
Rubin also has a list of questions you can ask yourself that helps determine the best exercise routine for you given your personality and schedule. For instance, she helped me pinpoint that the reason I was struggling with going to boot-camp was that despite it being outdoors, which I loved, I greatly disliked the loud music and the early morning schedule. Click here to learn more. In addition to all the personal benefits to exercising there is one more:  modeling a healthy lifestyle for our children that will last them a lifetime. Some of us may have had a good exercise routine going, when Covid-19 completely disrupted it and left us and our children with no Plan B and more sedentary than before.
Some of us are still reluctant to sign up our children for their favorite outdoor sports league, or go to our favorite exercise class at the local gym, which leaves us to find creative ways to exercise while maintaining social distancing and proper hygienic countermeasures.  Recently, when I was outside watching the Adolescent Community in their physical education class, I was amused observing the joyful fun they were having, while also noticing that they were getting a vigorous work out.  It reminded me that doing exercise we enjoy is the way to ensure it becomes a consistent habit.  We can also ensure the entire family gets a good work out when we carve out time in the early evenings or weekends to engage in fun, active play. It can be a Sunday morning bike ride ritual, a Saturday morning family game of kickball (this is sure to bring out the kid in you!), or a  parent(s) vs. child(ren) jump rope competition. Click here for more ideas. The encouraging news, as Ms. Rubin notes, is that “You get the biggest health boost going from no exercise to some exercise.”
Until next time, may you be healthy and well,
Parenting Tip #6: Supporting Our Immune Systems: Get Plenty of High-quality Sleep
The recent arrival of cool weather has been a nice change for those of us who are tired of the heat, and also brings forth the anticipation of all the good things that the fall season has to offer. Cooler temperatures also signal the start of cold and flu season. As it happens, we have had lots of relevant hygiene practice lately to help us prepare. Unsurprisingly, washing hands frequently, wearing a mask, covering our cough appropriately, and keeping socially distant are the most effective ways to prevent the spread of cold and flu germs.
There are also other healthy habits we can adopt and maintain that will help support and balance our immune systems as we enter the fall/winter months. In the next few newsletters, I will don my “health care coordinator cap” and share tips on what the research and experts suggest are the best ways to support our immune systems.
First on the list is sleep!
I imagine as parents we have all experienced sleepless nights at one time or another, and know first hand how it can negatively affect our overall sense of well-being. We also know the flip side of that, and how a good night’s sleep for both parents and children can find us full of energy and ready to conquer it all. The research consistently shows that good quality sleep is one of the principle ways to support a healthy immune system. It also helps our ability to think critically, retain information and manage our emotions.
However, when we don’t make sleep a priority it can take a toll on our emotional/physical health. If you or your children have a difficult time getting enough quality sleep (7-8 hours for adults; 9-12 for children) then the following are tips that I hope can help bring the sandman quicker to your side:
  • Put yourself on a schedule: go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (even on weekends). Our bodies respond well to routine.
  • Turn off electronics an hour before bedtime: Blue light — which electronic devices like cell phones and computers emit in large amounts – tricks your body into thinking it is daytime. I know this is can be a hard one, but micro changes like this can make macro differences in your quality of sleep.
  • Create a sleep friendly bedroom: dark, quiet, tidy and cool temperature bedrooms have been found to foster a better night’s rest.
  • Winding down rituals: Adopting pre-sleep rituals help prepare our minds and bodies for sleep. Here are a few to consider: Warm baths; relaxing, quiet music playing in the background as a cue for bedtime; reading a book; writing down or talking through any thoughts and worries; 4 simple, yoga stretches that both parents and children can do.
  • Yoga and deep breathing: Click here to view  yoga techniques or deep breathing techniques to calm the nervous system such as the 4-7-8 breathing method devised by Dr. Andrew Weil, MD and which is considered a “natural tranquilizer”. It entails inhaling for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8.
  • Breathing techniques for sleep: Click here to learn more. For younger children, there are a number of different ways to teach deep breathing techniques. If you would like to learn more, click here
Until next time, stay healthy and well, 

Parenting Tip #5: Finding Discipline

Dear St. Catherine's families, 

On this ongoing parenting journey there are those awesome moments when life places at your feet exactly what you needed in order to move you from a place of feeling stuck as  a parent to giving you inspiration and a deeper understanding of how to better manage your child’s behaviors and big emotions. 

This was the case for me, when I recently heard a “Mindful Mama” podcast #238 – Discipline Explained – Tina Payne Bryson (8/25/20).  It was a conversation between Hunter Clarke Fields (author of Raising Good Humans and founder of Mindful Mama Podcast) and Child Psychologist, Tina Bryson (author of The Power of Showing Up).  There are many golden nuggets throughout this talk. A few that I would like to share with you follow: 

  • Often as parents we forget that the purpose of discipline is about teaching and building skills so that our kids can do it differently the next time or over time as their development unfolds.

  • As parents, we tend to focus on responding to the behavior that we don’t find acceptable (often in a reactive way) without looking at the mind behind the behavior. We should be chasing the “whys”; peeling the layers and asking ourselves, “what skills or coping strategies do I need to help my child with?”  Their behaviors communicate the skills they need to learn.

  • If our goal is to teach, then our child(ren) needs to be in a receptive mode and regulated enough to receive the lesson. Things we do in the name of discipline are typically counter-productive (yelling, making threats) and it exacerbates their state of distress. Children regulate through us, and count on us to be that safe, steady presence.

  • We can say no to the behavior while still validating the child’s feelings.

  • In the midst of our child’s big emotions, we can get triggered. However, by placing our left hand over our heart (with a little pressure) and right hand over our belly, it grounds us, and settles our nervous system state of arousal. The act of placing our hand over our heart reminds us to take a few deep breathes before responding. 

  • We tend to “pathologize” negative emotions. We think something is wrong if our child is anxious, angry or sad. All emotions are part of the human experience and we help our children become resilient by giving them practice experiencing difficult feelings and having difficult circumstances, while knowing our emotional support is nearby.

  • What our child needs most to weather difficulty is for us to show up and be available to them in a connected way. That means helping them feel Safe (“I’m here and we will get through this together”, Seen (I see what you are going through”) and Soothed (support and help; How can I help you?”). When we do this “not perfectly but enough times”, then our children develop a Secure attachment which helps them build up their mental capacity and resilience, teaching them to cope and soothe themselves and others during hard times.

  • This hard work of showing up for our children requires us to show up for ourselves (self-care) and have people in our lives that show up for us and help us feel safe, seen and soothed.

Make it a great week,


Parenting Tip #4: Create Space in Your Day for Stillness and Mindfulness.

It is worth revisiting again, as I shared with you in May, the great benefits research shows a meditation and/or mindfulness practice has on one’s emotional and physical health. These are tools that when practiced consistently, even for a few minutes a day, offer the gift of positive shifts in our thinking and being. The research also shows positive effects on children’s ability to regulate their emotions and improve their focus and clarity. In a world full of distractions that cause us sometimes to “check out” or feel overwhelmed, carving out time to pause, take some deep breaths, feel what is alive in our minds and body can do wonders!  

There are lots of different ways we can weave meditation and/or mindfulness throughout the day.  For us parents, if sitting in silence for a few minutes in the early morning does not work for your schedule, you could set a timer during the middle of the day to remind you to take a pause for a minute or 2 and close your eyes, doing a quick body scan, feel your breath come in and out of your body, letting out a few deep sighs and then continue on in your day. 

In addition, there are many meditation Apps that guide you through a variety of meditations if that suits you better. A couple of popular ones are: “Calm” and “Headspace”, both of which are for parents and children.

If your schedule allows, you could also join a few of the St. Catherine’s parents via zoom on Fridays at 9:00AM for the next 5 weeks to learn about Christian meditation. Learning more about it recently definitely piqued my interest and curiosity.  Click here to view a video overview on Christian Meditation as told beautifully by Laurence Freeman OSB, director of the World Community for Christian Meditation:

For children (Kindergarten through 5th) Mindful Schools has fun and engaging online classes (15-20 minutes) that introduce them to meditation and mindfulness activities. Click here for  my favorite Episode # 5- “Sending kind thoughts”. 

Click here to read more about mindfulness activities/games that you can introduce and teach your child(ren), there is lots of good information for you to review and share.


Finally, a good read on Mindfulness is Dr. Christopher Willard’s book: Growing up Mindful: Essential practices to help children, teens and families find balance, calm and resilience.

Until next week, stay healthy and well and please reach out if you have questions, suggestions or concerns. If I don’t have the answer, I will do my best to find it! 😊 


Parenting Tip #3: Set an Intention for 2020/2021 School Year

Now that the school year is getting back into full swing, I find myself inundated with all the things I need to do!  I imagine many of you are feeling the same way.  I would invite you to step back for a moment though, and consider who you want to BE.  Said differently, what are your intentions for this new school  year?  What do you want to lean towards, pay attention to or nurture in yourself?    Intention setting is a great connecting exercise to do with the entire family.  Set aside 3-5 minutes to be still and let your mind turn toward creating an intention.  What arises in you when you think of something you would like to grow or work toward? It can be a phrase or a word to focus on this school year and one that best encompasses how you want to be.  Some intentions to consider:

  • Peacefulness
  • Understanding
  • Friendliness
  • Open-mindedness
  • Self-acceptance
  • Generosity
  • Steady, calm presence
  • Nonjudgment
  • Trust
  • Grateful
  • Grace

Once you have your word/phrase for the new school year, place it in locations where you will be reminded of your intention(s) often.   On one of those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, seeing the word “calm” or “grace” may help you remember your intention and set your positive energy in motion, so you can be mindful in your response to whatever challenge you are facing.

Stay healthy and well,


Parenting Tip # 2: Taking Care of Yourself

“Taking care of yourself is the most powerful way to begin to take care of others.” - Bryan McGill

Take a few moments in the day to pay attention and notice the things that feel nutritious to your mind and body and carve out time to do them more often.  As parents, we sometimes lose sight of the simple but wise adage that “we can’t give from an empty cup”.  When we remember to meet our own physical, emotional, spiritual and mental health needs then it fuels us with the patience, clarity and calm that support us as parents, especially in these strange and challenging times.  In addition, the quality of life is better when we are feeling centered, light and having a little fun.  As psychologist and parenting coach, Dr. Laura Markham notes in her Aha! Parenting blog, “For today, just notice your internal barometer. 1 is depleted, 10 is a full cup. How are you doing?”

Click here if you would like to read more about Dr. Markham and her parenting ideas.


Parenting Tip # 1: Create a Morning Ritual

Dear St. Catherine’s Community,

Welcome back and congratulations on making it through the summer! I hope you were able to unplug a little from the noise of the news, and the heaviness of these uncertain times, and enjoy some peaceful and fun moments with family. As we go through life, we can get caught up in the day to day grind, so I will be providing weekly wellness tips to remind us of simple ways to create connection and improve daily life.  

Tip of the week: Create a morning ritual.

Our brain loves predictability and as we move toward the total unpredictability of what will happen with school throughout the year, we can lessen the anxiety children may feel by creating a morning ritual that starts their day on a bright note. Consider creating a playlist of music that children can listen to as they move into the morning and prepare for school whether it be virtually or in person. Our brain associates music with being relaxed and enjoying ourselves, and it is a great way to lift everyone’s mood and carry us through the day.  

This tip derives from a talk given by Dr. Tina Payne Bryson (author of “The Power of Showing Up” and coauthor of the “Whole Brain Child). If you would like to learn more tips on easing children’s anxiety about school, you can click here to listen to the entire talk (it's only 8 minutes long!).

Wishing you well!




Dear St. Catherine’s Community,

The time has finally arrived, the end of the school year! Pat yourself on the back, give yourself a hug. You did it!! It was hard many times, but you survived!! I know for myself after home schooling my son these past 2 ½ months, I have newfound admiration for teachers/guides. And of course,  we can’t forget the other heroes of the virtual learning challenge: our children, who had to adjust and adapt to a myriad of changes while their whole world turned upside down with rules they’ve never known and struggled to understand. Sending every single one of them a virtual embrace and letting them know, I see your bright light. 😊
The hot weather this weekend was a reminder that summer is around the corner and it’s time to roll up our sleeves and prepare for the next challenge – keeping our kids productively engaged (or at least heading off that dreaded phrase, “I’m bored, what can I do?”) So, in that spirit, I offer some thoughts of fun, safe, summer activities which will let us get our kids involved in the process and allow them to feel more empowered and control of their summer. 
Scavenger Hunts in Nature – On an early morning or evening walk around the neighborhood, engage in a family scavenger hunt for such items as a bird nest, bikers/joggers, or mailbox. You can see other ideas and print a copy of the family scavenger hunt printable on the following link: https://childhood101.com/neighborhood-scavenger-hunt-printable/.  
You can also just have the kids go in the backyard and have them be on the look-out for things in nature such as the following: 
Consider taking it a step further and have the children take pictures of things that they find beautiful, or that bring them joy during their walks, and creating a memory scrapbook of their photos and even writing a story behind each picture.
Family History – I found these novel ideas I thought I’d share. The first was to call a grandparent or older relative and ask them to teach your child the words to a song or record a story from their childhood days. Or alternatively, have children create and fly a full-size flag that tells the world about themselves. These came from https://www.weareteachers.com/things-to-do-during-covid/ and there are other ideas there as well. The wonderful news is that there is an abundance of ideas out there and it is just a matter of exploring what resonates for your child and their developmental needs.
Helping Others – Exploring ways to help our community and our world is a guaranteed feel-good experience and is at the heart of what Montessori teaches. Kids for Peace shares a number of ideas of ways children can sprinkle kindness and compassion on others as well as encouraging them to learn about other countries and customs. One idea is sending letters of hope to the elderly living in nursing homes. Another is leaving thank you notes or drawings to our delivery drivers or hard-working yard service folks. Click on the following links for more ideas: https://kidsforpeaceglobal.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Kind-Creative-Connected-In-The-Age-Of-COVID-19.pdf
Audible Books and Podcasts – If you are on the road this summer and want to limit screen time and instead have children exercise their auditory skills or in other words strengthen their pay attention skills, you can download some stories for all ages on audible for free at https://stories.audible.com/discovery 
Or if you need 15-20 minutes of quiet time, have your children listen to these kid-friendly podcasts. My favorites are But Why, a kid-led Science podcasts for kids to discover things like why lions roar and crickets chirp. The Good Words Podcast takes you for a deep dive into words and their meaning.
The following links all have kid’s podcasts:
In those moments when your children have earned screen time and you are looking for something that is at least educational here are a few recommendations:
As a family, we can all challenge ourselves to do one new thing today and then discuss how that experience was for each person. It can be learning a new game like chess, a new exercise, cooking a new meal, trying a new hobby, or calling a person you have not reached out to in a while. So many ideas to choose from. During this quarantined time, I’m proud to say that I power washed my driveway for the first time and I enjoyed the experience so much that I now want to power wash everything! What is one new thing you will you try this summer? I look forward to hearing about it.
On a final note, I leave you with some questions to consider that I learned in one of the counseling webinars that I attended.  Consider posting them in a place where all family members can read them daily as we continue navigating this quarantine time: What am I grateful for today?; Who am I checking in on or connecting with today?; What expectations of “normal” am I letting go of today?; How am I getting outside today?; How am I moving my body today; and my favorite, what beauty am I either creating, cultivating, or inviting in today? 
May you enjoy all that the summer has to offer you,
Take care, 😊


Dear St. Catherine’s Community,
I hope you all had a nice weekend and got a chance to enjoy the beautiful weather and do something that brings you joy.
As we approach the end of the school year and move towards the summer, I’m thinking about all the traditional summer activities and family rituals we typically participate in and the uncertainty that exists around them this year. For example, will our favorite summer camps be available? Will we be able to gather with friends on the 4th of July? And what about the yearly family trips? Alongside this, I’m thinking of our children as they are faced with these potentially new set of losses and the challenge that we have as parents to hold space for them as they grieve these losses.
Grief expert, David Kessler and author of Finding Meaning, The Fifth Stage of Grief, defines grief as being the emotion we feel about “the death of something”. This can be the loss of physical connection/touch, the loss of our ability to be outside comfortably, the loss of gathering for meals with friends, and other losses we are encountering right now. They are all valid and legitimate. For middle schoolers, who are experiencing deep peer relationships for the first time, the sudden loss of that connection may be experienced with the same impact as an adult might feel in losing their job. As I shared with you last week, validating our children’s feelings or in other words, listening to understand, is a skill that we get to practice over and over as our children (and other loved ones) grapple with the losses that are meaningful to them. Kessler noted that when we witness our children’s grief, name the feelings (feelings wheel), and acknowledge the vast emotions they are experiencing, then they are able to move towards healing their grief and coping better.
We as adults know that negative emotions such as sadness, fear, anger, and disappointment do not feel good in our bodies and often when we resist and fight these feelings, they intensify. However, when we lean into them and hold our pain with love, we discover that these emotions give us energy for resilience as much as the “positive” emotions of joy and love. We are also then in a better place to “problem solve” and to look at the things that we do have control over vice those that are out of our control. One helpful technique with children may be sitting together and drawing a circle like the one shown below. Write down what we do have control over inside the circle, and what we don’t have control over outside the circle. This exercise can be helpful and empowering.
You can read more about David Kessler’s ideas on grief here: https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief
The following link is a podcast of an interview Brene Brown did with him:
Creating a “Coping Skills Kit” together with children can also empower them to manage their emotions in a productive way. The trick is to create the coping skills kit when they are calm, and then explore together what items they want to include. The items will change over time as they tune into what resonates best with them. It can include sensory tools – tactile objects that help younger kids calm down or regain focus – or other items such as doodle-pad, word search, a list of favorite songs to listen to, or yoga cards (below are a couple of my favorite that you can download and print):
Sometimes as parents we are at a loss for words when our children are in the midst of their struggle and could benefit from having an effective phrase we can include in our parenting tool-box. Below is a link to phrases you can utilize to help kids identify, accept, and work through moments of grief or anxiety. My new favorites are: “You’re not alone in how you feel”, and “This feeling will go away. Let’s get comfortable until it does.” https://gozen.com/49-phrases-to-calm-an-anxious-child/.
I also like what Dr. Crystal Collier, suggest when children express disappointment like when their favorite summer camp gets cancelled. She noted, “Sometimes just giving our kids what we can’t give them, in a wish, helps: For example, ‘Oh yes my love, I really wish your swim team camp was not cancelled either’. It doesn’t fix anything, but ‘it takes the sting away’ and sends the message that ‘you get it’.
For teens, I love this 20 minute yoga video that they can include in their coping skills kit https://yogawithadriene.com/yoga-for-teens/  as well as the vast number of tips and suggestions that Gina Biegel, LMFT, who specializes in mind-fulness based work with adolescents includes in her website https://www.stressedteens.com/covid-19-tool-kit
If you are looking for a good read on understanding your teenager, you can download the book How to Help Teens Deal with Stress by Dr. Christine Carter for free at: https://www.christinecarter.com/resources/
Parents, I hope you too are creating or dipping into your own coping tool kit daily and including things that genuinely feed your mind, body, and soul. May it include lots of self-compassion, and in those instances when we are not our best self, remember that each new moment presents as an opportunity to begin again. If you would like to learn more about self-compassion via guided meditations by Kristen Neff who pioneered the term, you can click on the link: https://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/
Wishing you well,
Dear St. Catherine’s Community,
I hope your weekend was filled with moments of family connectedness, relaxation and a deep knowing that your efforts – even the smallest ones – are moving things forward for the better. As we enter the second week of May, two months into the world of virtual home-schooling, many of you have found a rhythm that works best for you and your family (or at least one that you have deemed, “good enough”!) Others may be continually challenged by the complicated juggling act of working from home while keeping kids engaged in their school work, keeping them entertained, or preventing the fifth meltdown of the day. I’m taking some deep belly breaths for you in spirit, and for any parent who is struggling to cope with the challenges of increased family time at home. This is not easy, and for many it can feel like the movie Groundhog Day – being stuck in the same scenario day after day.
Perusing through the vast amount of child psychology and mental health literature available in these abnormal times on how best to cope and care for our children, I have come across principals or strategies that are familiar to me from the different parenting books that I have read throughout the years. But now I am seeing them with fresh eyes, and the message has a new poignancy. For example, one of my favorite experts on the subject of managing challenging behaviors, Dr. Becky Bailey, wrote an article recently about the importance of focusing on safety and connection and how the brain functions best when it feels both safe and connected. Being together under the same roof day after day, minute by minute, may feel like we have done our part in being with our children. However, genuine connection occurs best when we have eye contact, touch, presence and a playfulness within our interaction no matter how brief that moment is. Dr. Bailey suggests making small moments of connection throughout the day, such as a morning ritual, setting your intentions for the day together, or coming together in the middle of the work/school day to take a 5-10 minute brain breaks by doing 10 jumping jacks or dancing to a fun, lively song. Meta moments of connection can also look like simply noticing and praising our child’s successes, efforts and kind acts, however small. As Dr. Bailey notes, “Connection isn’t just good for your mood, it builds neural connections in your child’s brain and increases cooperation (and who couldn’t use a little of that right now?)”.
If you would like to learn more about Dr. Becky Bailey, click on the following link: https://consciousdiscipline.com/covid-19-five-helpful-responses-for-families/
Acknowledging and validating what our children are going through is an important strategy that many of us are familiar with, but as we experience our own host of complicated emotions alongside them, we can sometimes unintentionally dismiss, minimize or misinterpret our children’s big feelings.  I love the idea proposed by Dr. Marc Brackett, Ph.D of being an “emotion scientist” – the curious explorer of our child’s emotions. Feelings and emotions are energy that offer us information about what is happening within the individual. When we are in a state of curiosity vs. judgment then we are in a better position to provide our children with the support they need. Using open-ended questions can help children process their emotions. Consider the phrase “tell me more about that?” which as Bracket points out is, “simple, gentle and indicates non-judgmental curiosity”.
If you would like to learn more about Dr. Marc Brackett click on the following link: https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/55708/when-a-childs-emotions-spike-how-can-a-parent-find-their-best-selfor
Or if you want to hear Brene Brown interview him click on this link: https://brenebrown.com/podcast/dr-marc-brackett-and-brene-on-permission-to-feel/
Similarly, Dr. Crystal Collier (Ph.D), who many of you were fortunate to hear speak at St. Catherine’s a few months ago, was recently on a webinar where she discussed the importance of validating and holding space for our children to express and feel the big emotions instead of thinking that it is our responsibility to “soothe all the feelings away”. She noted that a direct response when our kids are upset such as, “Yes, it stinks that you are not able to see your friends. I know how much they mean to you; tell me more about how you feel” allows them to feel heard and understood as they experience difficulty. She further notes that we may need to have that same conversation every day, until we don’t. As we move through this uncertain period of time, sleep is essential, and Dr. Collier encourages adults and children to take power naps and allow our bodies to sleep 25-30% more than usual. She also shares a “grounding exercise” which helps to reorient us to the present moment in times of stress. We can introduce it to our children when they are calm and then utilize it when needed. It basically involves having children sit up with their feet planted on the floor. Then have them take a deep breath and name 5 things they see. Then another deep breath before naming 4 thing things they hear. Continue in this manner with 3 things they smell, 2 things they can touch, 1 thing they can taste.
If you want to learn more about other grounding techniques for children click on this link:  
I hope this information was helpful. May you be well and healthy and have many moments of joy and awe! If you have any questions or concerns during this time, please feel free to contact me at [email protected].
Have a wonderful week!
Dear St. Catherine’s Community,
I have had you on my mind and happy to have a chance to connect and share ideas to support our emotional and mental well-being during this unique and challenging time that we are experiencing collectively.  I know there are vastly different needs in our community, and my hope is that through the tips/suggestions and/or summary of articles that I share weekly,  I can provide fresh ideas, or a positive shift in our thinking or just a gentle reminder of how to care for ourselves and our families during this time.  
Tools for Self-Care:
Now more than ever as parents, we need to care for our individual selves so that we are more emotionally equipped to handle stress, care for our loved ones, and have a clearer mind moving through the day.  It does not have to be time-consuming and can be something you squeeze in in the early morning or evening – for example, taking 3-5 minutes to move and stretch our bodies the way that is best for our particular physical needs. In doing this, we release any stress or deep emotions out of our body and create more space for calm.
Deep Breathing: We have all heard how useful it is to take deep breaths when we are upset or stressed, but sometimes in the midst of chaos and stress we undermine this powerful tool we possess and that it is accessible to us any time we need. A simple act of sitting up straight, placing one hand over our heart and the other on our belly with our eyes closed and breathing in slowly through the nose and count to two. Then purse your lips and exhale through your mouth for a count of four. Do this 5 times and see the positive impact it has on calming your nervous system or simply preparing us for the day. Dr. Andrew Weil teaches a little more elaborate breathing technique that he calls the 4-7-8 technique and which he says reduces anxiety and helps with sleep issues. If you want to learn more about another form of breath work. Click on this link: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324417
When we see the positive difference that daily breathing techniques can have on our well-being then we will be more likely to teach this to our children. Doing so can serve to ease their worries and help them build healthy coping skills. If you are interested in learning kid-friendly breathing techniques, click on this fabulous link: https://copingskillsforkids.com/deep-breathing-exercises-for-kids  
Prayer: Strengthening our quiet time with God is another self-care practice that can help bring comfort, courage and inner peace. Sit quietly for 1-3 minutes and read your favorite passage from the Bible or close your eyes and imagine the words you want God to whisper in your ear in that moment of unease or worry. I have been reading Maria Shriver’s Sunday paper/blog and I’m always filled with inspiration and hope as I read her weekly Sunday message and prayer.  In one of her recent messages she shared this prayer that I have been utilizing in my quiet time: Dear God, as I stay at home, please help me also use this time to work on my internal home. May I grow more loving, more compassionate, more empathetic. May I strengthen my fortitude and my ability to seek calm and stay calm. May I find the patience to see my way through this. Amen.
If you are interested in reading her weekly Sunday paper, click on this link: https://mariashriver.com/category/the-sunday-paper/
Mindfulness: According to psychologist, David Anderson, Mindfulness is “anything that helps everyone take a moment to slow down, stay present and come together” or simply put, mindfulness is paying attention on purpose.  This can take the form of doing a daily gratitude list and not just noting 1-5 things your grateful for, but writing down why you’re grateful for those things. It can also be noticing something new you see outside in nature, blowing bubbles with your children and noticing the shapes, textures and colors, or listening to music together specifically to the voice or instruments present in the piece of music.  If you want to learn more about mindfulness and children and the benefits, you can click on the following links:
Meditation: As the saying goes, “the quieter we become, the more we can hear.” There is now a preponderance of research that shows how beneficial a daily practice of meditation can be for our physical and mental health. Initiating a meditation practice is the hardest part but if you can make it super easy on yourself and do 1 minute of meditation a day, it is more likely you will succeed in increasing your meditation time down the road.  If you are interested in learning more about guided meditation, there are a number of Meditation APPs that are providing free meditation at this time for children, teens and adults:
Stay well and healthy and please feel free to contact me at [email protected] if you have questions or concerns during this time. If I don’t have the answer, I will do my best to find it! 😊 
 Click to view a list of Mental Health Resources