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Going To Work and School After Another Tragedy

October 28, 2018

I wrote and shared an article like this almost 6 years ago after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Unfortunately, little has changed in regards to gun violence since then and we find ourselves thinking about and having to have these conversations more often. I have adapted and updated the article below to reflect the incident at Tree of Life Synagogue and the current times we are living in.

Like so many of you, I was affected by the deadly shooting at Tree Of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh this weekend. Like so many of you, I thought about all those affected by this tragedy.  And like so many of you, I started to think about my loved ones and my community.

As the weekend draws to a close, I think about my own week ahead, working at a Jewish agency, working in elementary and secondary schools and living as an openly gay man. The subject and setting of so many recent acts of violence and hate. I will think about everyone else whose identities have been the subject of hate and violence and hope that they too will be safe.  

For parents, especially those whose children attend religious or culturally based schools, there will likely be some fear and anxiety as you get your children ready for school on Monday morning.   And if your kids know about the incident this weekend, they will likely be a little anxious themselves.

Here are my 7 ½  tips for getting your kids through the door of their school on Monday morning so that parents and children feel safe.

1 Validate Their Anxieties – If they are scared or nervous to go to school, tell them that you understand and ask what you can do to help them feel more comfortable.

2 But Don’t Let Them See Yours – If you are more scared than they are, they will pick up on that and it may escalate their feelings.

3 The School Is Your Friend – If they are really nervous, call the school, explain the situation and ask them for support.

4 Don’t Bring It Up Unless They Do – Kids spend a lot of time thinking about themselves, even the sensitive and caring ones.  The morning before school is often spent thinking about the day ahead – not reflecting on the news of the weekend.

5 Monitor The Media – Like above, if you can keep it from them while they are getting ready, they are less likely to think about it.

6 Take That Extra Moment – Even if your kids don’t know why, give them a hug and a kiss, write a note and leave it in their lunch, send an extra special text message.  It will make everyone feel good.

7 Don’t Perpetuate Hate – There is so much hate and violence and divisiveness in our world. Teach your children and each other about love and acceptance and compassion. Stand up for all victims of hate and violence whether or not they look or pray like you.

7 ½. Say I Love You.

How To Deal With The Halloween Hangover

October 31, 2014

Over the last few years I have noticed an interesting trend that occurs right around this time of year.  I would like to talk about something I have been calling: The Halloween Hangover.

Halloween is the big party that has been building for the last few weeks.  We spend this time taking in all of the Halloween movies, programs, decorations, candy and parties that we can.  For Halloween there is stress over what we are going to wear.  Will my costume be good/clever/interesting enough? Will people like it?  Will I find that exact thing that I am looking for? But just like any party, Halloween has to end, and when it does, we all crash.

Throughout this article I am going to present a number of things can lead to these raised levels of anxiety and some things that can be done this week (and every week) to reduce your stress levels.

Halloween Aftermath
For a family that is conscious of their junk food intake – you now have an abundance of food that you will have a harder time limiting and controlling, for yourselves or your children.  For parents, this will lead to many more requests for junk food and when the answer is “not now” or “you’ve had enough for today” you may be facing tantrums and unhappy kids.  And for those of us that indulge, there may be feelings of guilt for allowing yourself that indulgence.

There is the effect that all of that added sugar, salt and other chemicals has on our bodies that it may not be used to.  This includes both immediate and long-term effects.  However, the most common effect is the sugar rush and the “crash” when our blood sugar drops.

Daylight Savings Time
This year, the night after Halloween is the night that we dial our clocks back.  The immediate effect of an extra hour of sleep is wonderful and something we can all appreciate.  However, the time change affects our sleep and eating patterns; while experts suggest it should only take us a night to adjust to the new time, it often takes us longer to adjust to these changes in daylight.  The major change is the limited amount of daylight that we have.  Many are negatively affected by the lack of daylight and can find it harder to function in the wintertime.

Lack of daylight.  Cold and Snow.  Shorter days.  Cold and Snow.  Longer commutes.  Cold and Snow.  Shoveling.  Cold and Snow.  Can you tell how I feel about it personally?  Winter can be stressful enough but the changing and sometimes finicky weather in Toronto can make the anticipation of winter just as bad as the winter itself.

The Holidays
Halloween is over.  Canadian Thanksgiving has passed.  The Winter Holidays are next and the family time and financial obligations that come with the holidays can be stressful.  There is also a lack of Holiday time until the end of December.  May, July, August, September and October all have long weekends.  In Canada there are none in November.  Meaning that after Halloween ends, we are in it for the long haul until the Holidays.

 Midterms, Reports and Exams
School is definitely in session.  Midterms have passed for University and College students and finals are on their way.  High School and Elementary schools are preparing their reports to go out to students.  Having to evaluate or be evaluated is stressful for anyone.

And so, as I’ve said before, what kind of Social Worker would I be if I presented all of these issues without any solutions.  Here are my 6 ½ strategies and techniques to bust the Halloween Hangover.

1. Breathe – Do it. It will make you feel good. Long… Deep… Breaths…  In through your nose.  Out through your mouth.  Four or five times in a row.  It helps.

2. Watch your junk food intake – If we know that the junk food that we eat has a negative affect on our bodies, watching how much, and when we have it is something that can help us as we make it through.

3. Create a junk food plan with your kids – With all of the added junk food in the house, they will certainly be asking to eat more than usual. Create a plan with your kids about how much can be eaten on each day and stick to it.

4. Make Plans – Don’t just wait for the holidays. Plan to do things that you enjoy.

5. Stay Active – Humans were not built to hibernate in the wintertime. Stay active by going out, getting sun and fresh air.

6. Let The Sun Shine – Open the windows (at least the blinds). Get as much natural light as you can.  You will feel better.

6.5. Be Aware – Now you know about the Halloween Hangover, expecting it might make it easier.  If you realize that you are feeling different, your awareness will trigger these strategies.

If you or someone you know is having a particularly tough time making it through the winter or the anticipation of it, please reach out.  I am here to help.

Please share some of your balanced stress busting techniques?

To learn more about how our bodies are affected by sugar, click here.

To learn more about the effects of daylight savings time, click here.

Popcorn Panel: This Is Where I Leave You stars a family you want to spend time with

October 8, 2014

The National Post recently asked me to comment on the movie This Is Where I Leave You from a Jewish Social Work perspective.

If you have seen the movie (or read the book… which I also LOVED) I would like to hear your thoughts!

Label Yourself. It can be good for you!

September 22, 2014

So much of my work starts with identities – Who am I? How do I see myself? How am I seen by others?

It is often within the first few sessions that clients will proclaim something about themselves which is often an identity that they are trying to embrace, understand, or get rid of altogether!

Sometimes the identities that clients talk about are labels that have been given to them by professionals – Depressed.  Anxious.  ADHD. – and for some it is labels that have been given to them by people that aren’t so professional –  Crazy.  Unable to commit.  Unmotivated.   At times, clients talk about labels that reflect the way they see them self – Lost.  Scared.  Lonely. – or labels adopted in the circumstances of their lives –  Baby of the family.  Child of divorce.  Single Parent.

Labels that have been given to individuals by society may help us organize our thoughts but may harm the individual with words that limit who they are  – Gay.  Bully.  Athlete. –  whereas others are simply a definition of a life stage –  Student.  Retired.  Coming out.

When individuals arrive in the office we’ll spend time together talking about how labels can be a good thing – either something to embrace, something to accept or something that will motivate change – and, of course, the harm labels can do in limiting one’s potential and the negative effects on one’s self esteem and overall identity.

Each time I meet with a client I have an opportunity to think about labels and personal identity  – including my own professional identity – and how they affect me.  If I were to write a list I think I’d wind up with about 6 1/2 (keeping with the theme)… including:

1. THE FEELINGS GUY – Working with individuals and their families to sort out and explore their feelings

2. ADHD COACH FOR KIDS AND FAMILIES  – Working with a child, teen and family to create supports, routines and schedules to create success for those affected by ADHD

3. GAY THERAPIST – Working with individuals to accept and understand their sexual orientation while building an understanding of the world and those around them.

4. GUEST SPEAKER  – Speaking to parents, teachers, children, schools, camps or community groups on topics such as parenting, technology, camping, communication and independence.

5. SCHOOL SUPPORT – Working with students and their families who may be having a hard time in school with anxiety, self esteem, friendship, social skills or routines.

6. GPS FOR YOUNG ADULTS – Supporting young adults to make decisions, focus their lives and set a course to a new or different destination.


6 1/2. CAMP COUNSELLOR! – Supporting children, teens and their families to emotionally prepare for camp, an intensely independent and social experience.

Try and write your own 6 1/2 – not so easy, eh?

I’m here if you need me in any of these roles. And, like most, trying to find ways to challenge myself within the labels I assign myself and am assigned by the world around me.

As always, referrals and self-referrals are welcome – let’s start with identity and work from there.


Pack Your Lunch And Your Independence In The Same Bag

October 21, 2013

As a professional working with young people for the last ten years, I have come to realize something…I have a thing about school lunches. I believe that they can be one of the most important parts of your child’s day – and not just because it provides them with the nutritional value to keep them going.

I know there’s a reason that I feel this way, and my mother is going to kill me when she reads this article.  When I was younger I was a very picky eater. Every night after dinner, as we were clearing the table my mother would turn to me and say “what do you want for lunch tomorrow.”  To which I would utter my typical reply, with a shrug of the shoulders, “I don’t know.”

The nightly routine would continue as she offered me everything in the fridge, from leftovers to peanut butter sandwiches (it was the early 90s) to Kraft dinner, I could have had anything, but nothing appealed to me at that time.  As my difficulty making a decision continued, my mother would finally say “everything is available to you in the fridge.  You need to pack a sandwich, a veggie, a fruit, a drink and a snack.  Make it yourself.”

And I would.  In fact, on most nights I would be standing next to my mom making my lunch as she made the lunches for my younger brothers.  This annoying routine has since become a joke in my family, but making my own lunch has had lasting, positive effects.  It helped me to become more independent.

And I know from working with parents and families over the years, this is a skill that parents hope to instil in their children.

Making lunch is one of the daily routines that I believe parents can confidently hand over to their children and I’m going to tell you how they can benefit in 6 ½ Reasons.

1.  Encourages Independent Decision Making – We want our children to be independent decision makers.  This skill starts early and with simple tasks like what to pack for lunch, or what to wear to school.  Of course, they need help with these decisions especially at a younger age.  In the story above, my mother outlined what I needed to pack for lunch – you can do this too.  Maybe a list on the fridge can serve as a reminder.  Be sure to have options available to your child that you know they will enjoy.  Even if the lunch is the same every day (as it was for me), your child is making the decision about what they want and then sticking to it.


2.  Establishes Routine – It was repetitive and annoying for me.  I can only imagine how my mother felt every time I said “I don’t know” when she asked what I wanted for lunch.  And this happened every night from grade 2 to high school.  But the routine was there, from the question “what do you want for lunch?” to us standing making lunch at night to me taking it out of the fridge the next morning.  Routine is very important to young people.  Having a solid routine helps to establish understanding, time management skills and expectations.  With our busy schedules that include homework, after-school programs, family time and getting ready for bed, if you build making lunch into this routine you (and your child) will know that this task is already completed and the stress of what to eat tomorrow is no longer there and everyone can enjoy their evening (and the rush of tomorrow morning).


3.  Develops A Sense Of Pride – Just as you feel some pride in knowing that your child is eating a lunch that you packed, your child will feel even greater pride when they pull out a lunch that they packed themselves.  It may seem like a little thing to you, but to them it is very big.  They will have accomplished a seemingly adult task, all on their own (or with some help, depending on their age), and will have done it successfully.  When they pull out their self-made sandwich and eat it among their friends and peers who have store-bought or parent-made sandwiches, they will think “look at what I can do on my own.”  This feeling is transferrable.  Your child will say “if I can make my lunch on my own…what else should I try?  What else can I do on my own?”


4.  Establishes A Sense Of Self – When your child leaves in the morning, it is important for them to know that they are “on their own” for the time that they are at school.  This doesn’t mean that they feel their parents abandoned them, it means that they are forced to problem solve on their own or use teachers and other trusted adults in the school.  When a child makes it through the full school day on their own, it tells them that their parents believe in them.  But when a parent drops off their lunch in the middle of the day, it can send a message that says “my parents don’t think I can make it a full day on my own.”  Although dropping lunch off at school is done with the best intentions, your child will benefit more from being away from you for the full day.  They will begin to believe “my parents think I can do this on my own” and that is very important validation for them.


5.  Relieves Some Pressure Off The Parent – Your job as a parent is never ending: Homework, household responsibilities, programs, carpool, meals, the list for you goes on and on.  Now, imagine being able to take one thing off that list.  That might ease your load a little bit.  No need to go home and make their lunch and then bring it back to school after you have dropped them off.  No need to spend your night stressing over what to pack for lunch.  No need to run out and buy a lunch and drop it off.  Once they are at school, the day is yours to do what you need to do.


6.  Encourages Trial And Error – Children learn best by doing things on their own.  They can learn even more when they don’t achieve on the first try.  This teaches them that it is okay to fail, that trying again is important and that skills are things that they learn.  This may mean a lot of torn up pieces of bread with cream cheese, but once they know that through trial and error they are able to make their own sandwich, they will learn that they can do that math problem, make their bed and resolve friendship issues all on their own.


6.5 .  Allows You To Surprise Them – That little note in their lunch will become such a special gift.  “Thinking of you, have a great day,” or “good luck on your test” will be so much more meaningful.  Your child will know that you took the time to write the note, open their lunch bag after they’ve already packed it and stuck the note in.

If you’re looking for some ideas for lunches, call my mom.

If you feel your child needs some help developing their own independence or you want to talk more about how to develop this in your child, please contact me at,

Bieber And A Blunt: Talking To Your Kids About Justin Bieber And Marijuana

January 9, 2013

When I arrived at work on Tuesday I was approached by two teachers, both young mothers who wanted to share a discussion they had with their kids the night before. 

The discussion topic?  Justin Bieber and marijuana.

Like many pop-stars and cultural phenomena who have come before The Biebs, his personal decision has been blown up in the media.  It can be hard for any young person when their celebrity idols say or do things that goes against the image that has been created.  This has happened before…and it will happen again.

And while there are many opinions of what it means for an 18 year old to be using marijuana – millions of Beliebers are left with many questions…and their parents forced to have conversations about drugs much earlier than they expected.

If you’re planning on talking about this with your kids…here are 6½ things to keep in mind.

1. Remind your child that Justin is a person too.  No matter how invincible he may seem, he is going to make mistakes.  After all, he is human, just like the rest of us. 


2. Just because Justin does it, it does not mean that they have to.  Fans like to dress, dance, sing and sometimes behave like their pop culture idols.  This is a great opportunity to teach your children about making their own choices. 


3. There is nothing they can do to make Justin stop.  He can only stop if he wants to.  There have been articles, twitter posts and pictures stating that young people are harming themselves to get Justin to stop smoking marijuana.  Not only is this unrealistic, but it is not going to change one person’s choice.  I’ll say that again.  HURTING YOURSELF WILL NOT GET JUSTIN TO STOP USING MARIJUANA.  Do not hurt yourself.


4. Remind your child what attracted them to Justin in the first place?  It was probably his music…and his hair.  Well, his hair has changed, but his music has gotten better over time.  They can still sing and dance along to his songs.  Their original reason for liking him has not changed.


5. But he was doing something illegal!  Yes, he was.  And doing things that are illegal is not okay.  Just because Justin did something illegal does not mean that your child has to do something that is illegal.  And liking someone that does something illegal does not make your child bad.


6. Focus on the good.  Justin is in the spotlight for this right now, but talk with your child about Justin’s charity work, the attention he pays to terminally ill children and how he treats his fans.


6½.  Marijuana is a drug.  Yes, and it has several negative affects on your brain and your body.  This is a good opportunity to teach your child about the negative effects of drugs, peer pressure, reputation, being a positive leader and being themselves.

To talk about this, or any other difficult discussions with your children, please contact Michael.  He will be happy to help!

18 Rules To Keep My iPhone? No Thanks.

January 3, 2013

I woke up this morning to many posts about Janell Hoffman, the mom who gave her son an iPhone for Christmas which was accompanied by a list of 18 rules that he has to follow if he going to be allowed to keep “his” phone.  I commend Janell for taking responsibility as a parent and laying out some expectations for her son.

In fact, most of the rules are pretty reasonable and cover a lot of the mistakes that young people make these days with such powerful communication devices.

However, I question some of the rules.  So many of them seem to be about controlling her son and his behaviour I suspect that they are going to work against Janell’s goal of teaching her son to be “a well rounded, healthy young man who can function in the world and coexist with technology.”

Rule 1: Who owns the phone…mom or her son?  She says “you are the proud owner of a new iPhone” and then in Rule 1 she says “it is my phone.”  I hope that not all gifts are given that way.  Her son needs to learn to take care of and take pride in himself and his things.  He won’t be able to do this if everything is on loan from mom.

Rule 4: Turn the phone off at night?  Don’t communicate with your friends by phone if you would not call them?  The way that teens communicate has changed.  It always has and it always will.

Rule 5:  It seems to me that you are trying to teach your son a little about self-regulation.  That’s going to be tough when you are regulating every moment that he is able to use his new phone.  What better place to learn that self-regulation than at school.  There are rules at school, about when a student can and cannot use a cell phone.  If it gets taken away by a teacher…he will have learned his lesson.

Rule 9:  Allow your son to have realistic conversations with his friends.  You have set out a great guideline…but it should be just that, a guideline.

Rule 10: I’m glad that you have created a healthy open environment for your son.  There are things that he is going to search for online.  That is okay.  He will have questions and things that he will want to discuss with his friends.  That is okay.  Thirteen may be too young for pornography…but he should have some privacy with his internet time.

Rule 15: This may be a better suggestion than a rule.  I hope you don’t tell your son what clothes to wear, what movies to watch.  Don’t tell him what music to download.

Rules 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 17:  All wonderful.  So many parents are afraid to say things out loud.  Stating these things lets your son know that you know what happens when young people use these devices.

In the end, I believe that you and your son are better off.  It is better to have received his iPhone with a list of expectation than to not have had any discussion about it at all.  But please…give your son a little more freedom and allow him to make mistakes.  His mistakes and the lessons that follow will be the greatest way for him to learn right from wrong and how to navigate the social world that he (and his phone) are now a part of.

Michael is a social worker and therapist in Toronto.  He specializes in working with teens and their families.

Michael will be presenting a workshop Talk To Me, Not Your iPhone in February 2013. Please contact Michael for more information.