“Sky’s the Limit!”: Why infant mental health matters (6 photos)

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Algoma Family Services has partnered up with Nogdawindamin, Soo Sings for Kids, the Canadian Mental Health Association, and Algoma Public Health to present the “Sky’s the Limit!” event series to promote – and celebrate – children’s mental health.

Today’s event was geared specifically to infant mental health, giving parents the opportunity to learn how they contribute to their little one’s mental wellness through comforting, playing with, and teaching children!

It consisted of a number of fun and engaging activities showing infants how to express themselves, as well as create bonding moments between parent and child, including baby yoga, painting, playing with blocks and other toys.

Sarah Boniferro, certified Early Childhood Educator and Yoga Instructor, led the baby yoga session at today’s event.

“Yoga is important to mental health because it addresses the needs of mind, body, and spirit. In regards to children, it also helps build the bond between parent and child,” Boniferro told SaultOnline prior to one of the yoga sessions offered throughout the day.

She continued, “I use cross-lateral approaches to engage both hemispheres of the brain, promoting brain development. I also always encourage parents to sing to their child, to help with literacy and language development. Sometimes parents are shy to sing, but I always tell them, ‘to your baby, you have the most beautiful voice in the world.’ It helps in so many ways.”

Boniferro offers this class through the EarlyON best start hub located at Holy Angels Learning Centre on Wednesdays from 10am-11am.

She is so pleased to be combining her two passions – children and dance – at the centre in order to help children grow.

She explained, “The class is free, it’s available to everyone, and it’s barrier free. It’s a time for children to bond with their parents in a relaxing setting.”

(Register for the class by calling 705-945-8898 ext. 255).

Algoma Family Services (AFS) has recognized children’s mental health on a yearly basis, as it is recognized on a provincial level, and a number of different events and initiatives are taking place across Ontario to celebrate and promote it.

Ali Juma, CEO of AFS, shared a little background on today’s event with SaultOnline, “These last two years, we joined with the Canadian Mental Health Association because it’s also in recognition of mental health week.

It’s really important because we want the community to know that 1 in every 4 people will struggle with mental health issues at some point, and 70% of the time, those problems will arise in adolescence.”

Juma expressed a sincere desire to create a dialogue at events like this one in order to inform parents about mental health and hopefully reduce the stigma that surrounds it.

Primarily in regards to infant mental health, studies are increasingly showing that there is more we can do to attend to it.

AFS offers programs geared specifically to young children in order to respond to that need.

Juma said, “We have programs that are geared to each age spectrum. So, our birth to 6 (years-old) program is geared specifically on how to intervene and deal with mental health issues within that population, because it can be drastically different at that age than when they are older. The birth to 6 program is one of our higher demand programs.”

In terms of progress made in eliminating the stigma that surrounds mental health and mental illness, Juma believes that, while we have a long way to go, we have made a lot of progress,

“It is a different day than 20 years ago. What is phenomenal is that over the last 5 years, we’ve had over 20% increase in demand for our services. It tells us that people are more attentive to their mental health, and they feel more comfortable getting help.”

He continued, “It also tells us a little about the unique challenges that people face when trying to get help.”

In regards to the partnership with the other agencies, Juma explained, “We (AFS) don’t have the monopoly on child and youth mental health services, nor do we want it. We know that it is bigger than what we can manage on our own, but together, with our partners, we can ensure that children in Algoma get the best help possible.”

Other events for the ‘Sky’s the Limit’ Children’s Mental Health Week can be found here.

This year will be their first partnership with Soo Sings for Kids, taking place this evening.

Their featured event is the ‘Sky’s the Limit!’ concert which takes place tomorrow, featuring young artists who have used music as an outlet. You can find out more on that show here.

The upcoming concert ties in perfectly with mental health week according to Juma, “Not everyone is comfortable in a traditional counselling or therapy session, so art, music, activity, they all play a role in good mental health and overall health in general.”

AFS also has walk-in counselling services every Tuesday from 11:30am-7:00pm –  no wait list, no wait times.

For more information on AFS and their services, click here.