As keynote of the Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education (OAPCE) conference, broadcaster Kevin Frankish began his session with a simple question: “How are you doing?”

A loaded but important question he admitted, before introducing the virtual attendees from across the province to Spunky the Stress ball. The green smiley-faced circle took over the screen as Frankish encouraged participants to follow along as he led them in a breathing exercise. With the ball growing and shrinking with every four-second inhale and exhale, participants were able to follow along as Frankish taught how the basic discipline has the power to engage the parasympathetic nervous system in reducing the body’s stress response caused by anxiety.

Best known from his years on Breakfast Television and Citytv, Frankish is also a mental-health advocate and was transparent about his own battles with severe anxiety disorder at the conference, with its theme Parenting Positively in a Pandemic.

COVID-19 has brought with it a global mental-health crisis, and Frankish hoped to reduce the stigma around mental health by showing families struggling with anxiety they are not alone. Frankish encouraged parents to be open with the challenges impacting their emotional wellbeing.

“We have never seen a mental-health crisis like this since pretty well World War II,” said Frankish. “That was the last time the world sort of had a collective anxiety attack. The one thing about anxiety in a time like this is quite often you think you’re the only one who feels this way... We’re all experiencing trauma and when you experience trauma, depression, anxiety and stress is a by-product. So that’s why you have to be your own mental-health advocate.”

In addition to breathing exercises, Frankish advocated techniques such as journaling, meditation and cognitive behaviour therapy, all accessible methods that can make a significant impact when people make the shift to prioritize their own mental health.

Leaning on foundational principles of faith and grace, Frankish encouraged parents to be patient and kind with themselves while understanding mistakes are inevitable. Calling up the age old serenity prayer, he reminded parents to accept the things they cannot change, have the courage to change the things they can and the wisdom to know the difference. With the power of positivity through the practise of gratefulness, he said, they will make it to the other side of these crazy times.

“Some days you’re going to take two steps backwards and one forward and that’s OK,” said Frankish. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. We’re going through a horrible time right now, but you know what? The sun still rises in the morning. The birds still sing. The rain still comes when it’s needed. It still is a beautiful world and there’s so much for us to be grateful for and thankful for.”

Other speakers during the May 14-15 webinar sessions included Dr. Josephine Lombardi, who spoke on empowering parents in understanding how issues in their family of origin might be impacting their decisions and behaviour; Teresa Hartnett, director of the family ministries office for the Diocese of Hamilton, who highlighted the silver lining of COVID-19 is that it’s given parents more time to spend with their children and get to know them on a deeper level; and Wayne Jones, faculty advisor at Nipissing University in North Bay, Ont., who centred his message on equipping parents with skills for navigating their children’s unique personalities.

All virtual seminars are accessible online through the OAPCE website.

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