How to be a better parent: Tips & Strategies for working with young children

Recently I had a fantastic experience attending the Vancouver Island Parents Conference. Thanks to the District Parent Advisory Council I was able to attend as the representative from my sons school. I spent a whole day listening to a collection of fantastic speakers on a variety of parenting topics.

I’ve always considered myself to be a life long learner and in the past few years have spent time reading all sorts of books, articles and blogs on hot parenting topics. However it has been a very long time since I have attended a speaker, class or in person presentation of any nature. Lets be serious, as the parent of two young children who juggles other part time jobs and responsibilities my plate is full with our daily grind!

When the opportunity presented itself to take this day to myself, to be among other parents and to soak up some valuable insight I felt compelled to make the space and time to do it. I am sure glad I did, as it was very refreshing to hear new information first hand, to just sit and absorb. As well, to be among other parents that are outside of my usual circle of friends it was somehow easier to ask questions as well as hear about their challenges and struggles. 

I came away from the conference with lots of excellent information to share with my husband, some great strategies ready to try out at home and a keen interest to learn more on a few of the topics I had sat in on. Wanting to share some of the awesome insight and resources that I came away with I've decided to blog briefly about each of the sessions I attended.

The keynote speaker for the conference was Gary Anaka, a leading researcher and speaker in the area of Brain Health and Wellness, who has received world leading training in the new field of Applied Educational Neuroscience. Not only was his keynote engaging and energetic, he provided insight on important basic skills that we can be doing regularly with our children to provide optimal brain development. Things like “brain gymnastics”, singing lullabies, nursery rhymes, hidden picture puzzles, story telling and several other activities that foster healthy development and use of our working memory. 

Later in the day I attended his workshop that focused specifically on “How to Grow a Child's Brain”. He frequently referred to the brain as our most valuable asset, which is something that I hadn't really thought about! In this session he outlined 15 Brain Boosters - activities, healthy habits or skills that we as parents should be incorporating into our daily/weekly routines, here I share them with you!


  1. Movement: get out of our seats & sedentary ways

  2. Learning something new everyday - UNPLUG

  3. Brain Foods: water, omega 3s, rainbow of fruit & veggies

  4. Sleep

  5. Safety: eliminate put downs, threats, bullying ( these things turn our brains off)

  6. Creativity: make, build, create

  7. Art: colour, sing, dance, draw, sew, write, paint

  8. Problem solving: puzzles, lego, shapes, blocks

  9. Tell stories

  10. Reading: real, in your hands books!

  11. Experiences: have a variety of them

  12. Novelty: new, engaging, age appropriate

  13. Social brain: social engagement and interactions

  14. Caring: from a variety of people/age groups

  15. Play for FUN: outside, unstructured, no rules, no competition no winners/losers


Gary also took time to talk briefly about the major “Brain Killers” that are becoming increasingly prevalent and demanding threats on our young children. These Brain Killers included digital devices (cell phones, ipads etc.) television, video games, computers and substance abuse. Want to learn more about what this amazing educator has to say about building our brains? He has two fantastic, straight forward books out, as well as lots of great info on www.braincoach.

The next session I attended was from facilitator Colleen Politano, who spoke about “Possibilities to Help Children Build Confidence, Deal with Stress and Anxiety and Manage Anger” . In this 45 min session she managed to provide incredible insight and practical activities that can assist our very young children to foster self regulation,  optimal learning and maintain well being. She shared a quote that really stuck a chord with me: “Telling someone who is fearful or anxious to “calm down” is like telling someone who is deaf to listen harder.  SHOWING someone who is angry, fearful or anxious ways that might help them be calm, has possibilities”. 

Helping children manage stressors, in our increasingly stimulus filled world can be a serious challenge. For me, the key takeaways for further follow up from Colleen’s session included:


  • Appropriate expectation on how long a child can sit and focus

  • Fidgets- fidget tools: where to get them, how to make them, how to use them.

  • & Stuart Shanker - AWSOME resources

  • Calm Spaces- create one in your home and classroom

  • Chewies- healthy alternatives like chew bands, wrist bands, wrist wraps

  • Mindfulness: Stop, Breathe, Think, Decide, Act.

  • Power Posing

  • Smiling & Laughing -as stress relievers

  • Using visuals, versus repetitive asking to build independence and confidence

  • Breathing exercises & meditation

  • Working with worry


For the final workshop of the day I sat in on a more discussion structured session titled “Relationships” facilitated by Jen Gibson, Sexual Health Educator and Brad Buie who spoke about Building Habits of Excellence. At first it seemed like a bit of a strange combination of topics however as we got into our discussion there were some common themes that emerged including, the importance of establishing a foundation of open, honest communication with our children (this starts when they are very young!), having responsibility around choices and strategies for healthy decision making. 

 I love a piece that Jen Gibson shared on an approach to teaching healthy decision making for our children. Here she spoke about using the approach of “how does this resonate with my Head, Heart and Gut?”. Here our “head” refers to logic and reasoning- what we know, thinking it through.  Our Heart incorporates things like emotions, family values, religion, cultural beliefs. Our “gut” means our instinctual response to it, how does it make us FEEL. 

At the end of the day I felt energized as a parent. It created a renewed feeling in me that I am not isolated in some of the behaviour struggles that our children are facing as they grow and develop. It was nice to be out from behind my computer screen or book and talking with other new people who are navigating the word of parenting. More than anything it made me feel like I am doing OK, that being a parent is a constant process of growth, trying new things, learning alternative strategies and not taking the burden onalone. Perhaps today I have given you some insight that will help to lessen your load and encourage you to keep moving in a positive direction! 



Kristy Martin Hale is an ongoing contributor. Along with her childhood sweetheart, their approach to raising two young children has been shaped by a love of the great outdoors, adventure and a simplified lifestyle. Working at the Matraea Centre, Kristy has developed a uniquely grounded insight on pregnancy, birth and parenting. Welcoming the concept of community and parents helping parents, she writes from the heart, with the intention of encouraging and educating. Sandy barefeet, muddy garden hands, soft snuggles and the occasional rugby game fill up her free time.