Sibling Relationships: Think Marathon, Not Sprint


I was a fabulous older sister—well, at least most some of the time.

I can take credit for teaching my three younger sisters how to read and for keeping them entertaining in the back of a 1970s station wagon for hours at a time (provided they were prepared to play my games by my rules, of course; being the oldest sister is not without its privileges).

But, in the interests of full disclosure, I should probably own up to some of the less-than-stellar moments in my career as a sister—how I would broker unfair deals when it came to trading Halloween candy (“I’ll give you this yummy red piece of licorice if you’ll give me three of those little chocolate bars!”) and how I was more dictatorial than democratic when it came to power-sharing. (I took my role as oldest sister very seriously.)

Sibling relationships have their up and down moments, for sure (and sometimes there are considerably more downs than ups). If your kids are going through a stage where they can’t be in the same room without squabbling about something, you may be having a hard time remembering what inspired you to have more than one child.
It you’re feeling worn down by the bickering and beginning to seriously wonder if your children will ever be anything but mortal enemies, take heart. Sibling relationships are a long game: think marathon, not sprint. The two school-aged siblings who can’t stand to sit beside one another in the car could very well be best buddies and one another’s fiercest defenders by the time they hit high school or college.

I witnessed just such a sibling miracle between two of my own four children this past weekend, when one kid rolled up his sleeves to pitch in to help another kid with a highly frustrating and involved car repair. And there have been other spontaneous eruptions of sibling kindness and goodwill in recent years—enough to leave me confident that all four kids will love, nurture, and look out for one another in years to come; that they’ll benefit from the same kind of loving relationships with one another that I enjoy with my three sisters, who have turned out to be my greatest allies and strongest supporters.

What more can a parent hope for, after all?

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting, including The Mother of All Parenting Books. Her most recent book is Parenting Through the Storm -- a guide to parenting a child who is struggling with a mental health, neurodevelopmental, or behavioural challenge. 

More Proof That Kids Can Change the World

Know a young person who is passionate about social justice—who is eager to make the world a better place, starting right now? 

Let that young person know about Amnesty International Canada’s Lifesavers program: a free monthly action program for kids age 9 and up that involves writing letters on behalf of an individual or group whose human rights are in jeopardy.  

Recent Lifesaver actions have offered support to


If those monthly calls to action appear to be written in a way that resonates with kids, it’s for certainly good reason.  Amnesty International Canada has a volunteer team of three young editors (they’re each ten years old) helping to craft the messages. Their job is to ensure that each Lifesaver is written in a way that will make sense to kids and inspire kids to want to take action. 

Liam Price-Savone, one of the young editors, explains: “Kids know kids. If I don’t understand something, maybe other kids won’t either. I like helping to find ways to explain what happened so that kids like me can understand….and then maybe want to do something to help too.”

Not surprisingly, the Lifesaver program has been embraced by kids from across the country, as well as their parents and teachers. It has also been used by adults in literacy programs and by students in English-as-a-second language classes, notes Marilyn McKim, the staff member responsible for the Urgent Action Network and Lifesaver Program. 

To find out more about the Lifesavers program—how your child or your class can become involved—please contact Marilyn McKim of Amnesty International Canada’s Urgent Action Office: or (416) 363-9933 extension #325.

Who Changed Your Life for the Better?

Chances are you can think of at least a few people who changed your life for the better along the way. I can think of quite a few people.

My Grade 6 teacher.

The small-town newspaper editor who gave me my first "real" writing job, back when I was in high school.

And my Grandma Bolton, who believed in my dream of becoming a writer, right from day one.

And that's just for starters.

That's why I was excited to be invited to share one of these stories (this one) as part of Holland Bloorview's Change for Kids Campaign (a campaign that celebrates possibility).

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with Tracey Bailey, President and CEO of Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, who inspired me with her own story of possibility and change. (Bailey was a client of Holland Bloorview during her own growing up years and has been associated with Holland Bloorview for her entire life.) Bailey is looking forward to reading other people's stories so that she can hear more about all the small ways we can have a major impact on the lives of other people. "Someone in your life did this for you and you can do it for others," she explains. (To read some of these stories or to share your own story, check out the #HBYOUfie gallery.) 

The Change for Kids Campaign theme meshes beautifully with Holland Bloorview's commitment to creating "a world of possibility" for children, she notes: "It's all about breaking down barriers so that kids can lead the lives they want to live."

Need Help Managing Your Parental Emotions? There's an App for That

...or, at least, there should be soon.

Researchers at University of California San Diego have been developing an app that is designed to suggest helpful strategies for dealing with the frustrations of parenting when you need those strategies most -- in the moment.

Initially tested on parents who have children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, the app is teamed up with a sensor that is worn on the wrist. If the sensor detects symptoms of stress in the parent, the parent is notified of suggested strategies ("Fill your lungs with air. Take three full, deep breaths" "You are your child's role model. What do you want to each?" ) via smartphone or tablet. The parents also received regular prompts encouraging them to be mindful of their overall parenting goals: for example, "Be consistent. Be predictable. Be prepared."

Parents who were involved in testing the app found the messages helpful. They particularly appreciated the "in the heat of the moment" parenting prompts. The researchers are now looking at ways to alert parents to early symptoms of stress (so that parents can take immediate action to deal with their rising emotion). They are also pursuing funding that will allow them to make the app more widely available.

So what can you do in the meantime, while you're waiting for technology to catch up with your needs as a parent?

You can develop your own game-plan for dealing with the stress that goes along with being a parent.

  • Identify your big-picture parenting goals, so that your parenting decisions are more conscious and deliberate.
  • Zero in on strategies that help you to deal with stress in the moment (for example, taking deep breaths or reminding yourself of your hopes and dreams for your child).
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle in order to bring down your overall stress level. Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and make sure you're fuelling yourself with healthy food and regular servings of fun. 

Teach Kids to Make Amends after a Friendship Fallout

Soupstock/Veer Images

Soupstock/Veer Images

Is your child feeling badly about himself because of a falling out he had with a sibling or a friend?

You can help him to feel better about himself by encouraging him to take steps to repair the relationship.

Researchers at Baylor University (who reported on their findings in The Journal of Positive Psychology) have discovered that it is easier for us to forgive ourselves for hurting other people if we look for ways to make amends.

Because children are still learning the art of relating to other people, relationship mistakes happen — and children need to know what to do to make things better for themselves and the other person. 

Instead of allowing themselves to be mired in guilt, children should be encouraged to take action to repair the relationship. Depending on the circumstances, that might involve issuing a heartfelt apology or replacing a friend or sibling’s toy if the child lost or broke it. 

Sometimes people feel so badly after they have hurt another person that they can’t let go of negative emotions like guilt. They feel that they deserve to feel badly and, as a result, they become stuck in this negative emotional state. This puts them at risk of experiencing health problems. An inability to self-forgive contribute to depression, anxiety, and a weakened immune system. Also, getting stuck in a state of guilt also does nothing to repair the relationship that has been damaged.

Relationship repair, on the other hand, paves the way to self-forgiveness, leading to much happier and healthier outcomes for all.

Talking to Kids About Death and Dying

Veer Images: Nailia Schwartz

Veer Images: Nailia Schwartz

Talking to kids about death and dying may not be easy, but it is important. These conversations help to shape our children's attitudes about what it means to have to say goodbye to someone you love. Here are some tips on getting the conversation started. Remember, this is a conversation you'll be having on an ongoing basis as your child grows and matures and he begins to ask new and different questions about death and dying.

When you're trying to decide how to answer your child's questions, keep your child's age and abilities in mind. Very young children may have simple and direct questions that warrant simple and direct answers.

Look for the teachable moments that occur as part of everyday life. If you're lucky, your child's first experience with grief and bereavement will be with a goldfish as opposed to a grandparent. 

Respect your child's feelings. It is sad when a much-loved pet like a goldfish dies. It is normal to wish that pets (and people) we love could be here with us forever.

Don't use euphemisms simply because you're uncomfortable using the d-word. The goldfish isn't sleeping. It is dead. You don't want your child to be afraid to go to bed at night for fear of never waking up. 

Tackle the tough questions ("Are you going to die, too, mommy?")  as honestly as you can while simultaneously acknowledging you don't have all the answers. You can also reassure your child that are doing everything you can to try to live a long and healthy life and promise to let your child know if the situation changes. Respectful and honest communication alleviates a lot of anxiety for children -- and parents, too.

Pinocchio Syndrome: What happens when parents lie to kids?

Veer Images: keng po leung

Veer Images: keng po leung

Children who are lied to are more likely to lie and cheat themselves. That's the word from researchers at the University of California at San Diego, who studied the effects of being lied to by an adult on a group of children, ages three through seven. They discovered that the children who were lied to by one of the researchers were more likely to lie and cheat themselves.

Lying to kids might seem like a convenient parenting shortcut -- a seemingly harmless way to get kids to do what you want them to do quickly and efficiently, but there are actually some hidden perils. If you think about it, you'll realize that it's actually a highly manipulative behaviour that can damage your relationship with your child (you risk having your child lose trust in you) and that can mess with your child's moral compass (that all-important inner voice that helps your child to figure out for herself what's right and what's wrong). 

A better approach (and one that will serve you better over the long run) is to be honest with your child. Sure, you may have to deal with a few more outbursts over the short-run as your child learns to work through his frustration over the issues of the day, but you'll be trading short-term pain for long-term gain. You'll be building up (rather than eroding) your relationship with your child and you'll be helping your child to develop a strong moral compass. Both you and your child will be much better off as a result. And that's no lie.

Looking for Canadian Youth to Interview for My Mental Health Book for Parents

I am writing a book for parents who have a child who is struggling with mental illness. The book will be published by HarperCollins Canada in 2014.

To make the book as helpful as possible, I would like to obtain some input from Canadian young people who are living with (or who have experienced) mental illness. I have created a questionnaire that covers such topics as diagnosis, treatment, sources of support, and advice to others.

If you or someone you know would be interested in contributing to my research, please contact me at 

Thank you.


Looking for Parents to Interview for My New Book

I am just starting work on my latest book project -- a book for parents who have children who are struggling with depression, anxiety, and other types of mental health issues including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.  I also intend to write about the struggles faced by children and youth with ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, eating disorders, and children who have experienced trauma.

The book will be published by HarperCollins Canada in Fall 2014.

I am looking to interview approximately 50 to 75 Canadian parents for this book. Specifically, I am looking to interview parents who have at least one child who has struggled with some sort of mental health issue and who are eager to offer support to and/or share what they have learned with other parents.

The interviews will be conducted between mid-April and late June via a series of eight questionnaires (consisting of approximately 10 questions each)  that will cover such topics as obtaining a diagnosis, advocating for your child (and teaching your child self-advocacy skills), parenting a child with a mental health issue, and caring for yourself and the rest of your family. The questionnaires can be completed at your own pace so that you can work them around your family's busy schedule.

Each parent who completes at least 75% of the questionnaires will be acknowledged in the book's acknowledgments (with his/her permission). He/she will also receive a signed copy of the book and be invited to book-related events when the book is launched in Fall 2014. 

This book is important to me because I have lived through much of what I will be writing about. All four of my children have dealt with one or more of the issues that fall underneath the mental health umbrella. My daughter has written about her struggles with an eating disorder and depression. My three sons struggled with ADHD during their growing up years. My youngest son has Asperger's. And I am living with -- and mostly thriving with -- Bipolar II.

If you think you might be interested in participating in this project, please get in touch. 

I am also interested in hearing from mental health researchers who would like to flag their latest child/youth mental health research for me and any Canadian mental health-related organizations who would like to have a conversation about what their organizations can bring to this project.


Ann Douglas
annmdouglas [ at ] 

Another Reason Why Babies -- and Parents -- Lose Sleep

When babies are learning new things, they may miss out on sleep. That's the conclusion of a study I write about in today's Toronto Star. I interviewed eight parents, a sleep expert, and an expert in infant development.

Unfortunately, my article was too long and some of the wisdom that the parents shared with me had to be cut from the original article. Rather than allow those bits of wisdom to be lost, I thought I'd share their experiences via this blog.

I think I'm going to start doing this more often -- sharing outtakes from some of my articles. Some really good stuff gets lost on the editing room floor. What's more, I really appreciate the time parents spend sharing their experiences with me and I don't want their contributions to be lost.

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Ambrozinio

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Ambrozinio

Anyway, here's what the parents who didn't end up being quoted in the article had to say:

“Max (8 months old) is definitely working on crawling. He’s still not sleeping through the night and his sleep seems to have gotten worse lately.”
- Michelle Williams, mother of three, St. John’s, Newfoundland

“Eli was a fairly good sleeper up until age six months. Lately, he’s been up twice, if not three or four times, each night. He just started crawling this week.”
- Laura Kohoko, mother of four, Toronto

“There definitely have been some challenges with sleep. From the time Charlotte was 8 months to about 9 ½ months, she was very fussy at night.”
- Mike Reynolds, father of two, Ottawa

“Once Erik had crawling down pat, his sleep improved for a while. Now he’s learning to walk and he’s quite obsessed about that and back to waking up more in the night.”
- Kim Winiski, mother of two, Calgary