Kelty Mental Health: Healthy Living Toolkit for Families

Photo Credit: Unsplash User Jose Ibarra

Photo Credit: Unsplash User Jose Ibarra

The Healthy Living…It’s in Everyone toolkit, developed by The F.O.R.C.E. Society for Kids’ Mental Health, in partnership with BC Mental Health & Addiction Services (BCMHAS) and BC Children’s Hospital (BCCH), can be found online at

The toolkit was created for families who have a child or youth with mental health challenges, but it also has wide general application to help families live a healthier lifestyle by:

  • Looking at what they are already doing that is contributing to good health
  • Identifying goals and planning small steps that will lead to change
  • Hearing from other families about strategies they have found helpful

The authors suggest that “moving towards a healthier lifestyle may be easier if you gradually change rather than start with the ultimate goal straight away”.  They offer tips, based on SMART goal planning, to think small and simple, think about times you’ve been successful, pick your battles, build on strengths, and make it a family affair.

Module 1:  Healthy Eating

Good nutrition is important for healthy brain development and can help children and youth do better in school; feel better about themselves, their bodies, and their abilities; and cope with stress and manage their emotions better.

The module includes the following sections:

  • Key messages
  • An easy approach to using Canada’s Food Guide
  • Effects of medication on appetite and eating habits
  • Tips from families for healthy eating
  • Activities to increase healthy eating

Key messages include:

  • Families that eat together, eat better
  • Eat breakfast
  • Dieting doesn’t work.  “Children and youth who diet gain more weight than those who don’t.  Dieting has also been shown to increase the chance of developing an eating disorder.”  Instead, make small, achievable changes
  • Drink water, milk and only a small amount of 100% fruit juice and stay away from sugar sweetened beverages.
  • Roles in feeding and eating.  Unless your child is on specific medication that affects appetite, in which case individual nutrition counselling by a dietician may be required, “As a parent, try not to interfere with your child’s eating.  Your role is to provide food at appropriate times (i.e. 3 meals/day and 2-3 snacks a day).  Your child’s role is to choose what to eat from what you provide.  If they don’t eat, it’s okay, there’s always another meal or snack in 2-4 hours.”
  • Treat with love, not sweets.  “When children do something well and are rewarded with food, or hurt themselves and get a cookie to make them feel better, they link these times with food.  This link can continue with them through life.  So later, when they are sad or anxious or even happy, they’ll want to eat.  Try to find other ways to reward children that don’t involve food.” From the Tools & Resources Section: National Heart Foundation of Australia Handout with tips on how to reward without food

Module 2:  Physical Activity

This module includes the following sections:

  • Key messages
  • Types of physical activity
  • Barriers to being physically active
  • Tips from families for being physically active
  • Physical activity ideas for your family

Key messages include:

  • Physical activity can have physical, social, emotional and mental health benefits
  • Start with your child’s ideas
  • Find the starting point and build on it
  • Move beyond barriers to meet goals.  “Talk about what might be limiting your child from participating in physical activity and go from there.”  A number of barriers are discussed within the module.  “Remember that physical activity should be fun, not a punishment or a consequence.”
  • Be a role model and play.

Barriers to being physically active can include:

  • Difficulties socializing with other children
  • Other children refusing to include or teasing
  • Lack of interest in going outside/would rather play video games or watch TV
  • Lack of energy
  • Sore muscles
  • Balance and coordination problems
  • Weight gain (can make exercise more difficult)

Module 3:  Stress Management

Every child and youth experiences stressful events in their lives.  While not all stress is bad, it’s important to be able to recognize and take action when stress starts to have negative effects on your child’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviour.  Effective stress management can lead to better physical and mental health for the whole family.

This module includes:

  • Key messages
  • Helping your child recognize stress
  • Tips from families for managing stress (includes relaxation strategies, cognitive strategies, and behavioural strategies)
  • Activities for managing stress (includes reframing thoughts, using the ‘red and green thoughts’ technique; deep breathing relaxation exercise; and problem-solving techniques)

Key messages are:

  • Explore what your stressors are and how you react to stress
  • Different stress management strategies will work for different families
  • How you think changes the way stress affects you.  “When you feel stressed, try to ‘reframe’ the way you think about the situation so that you are thinking about it in a more balanced way.”
  • Stress affects the whole family

Module 4:  Sleep

Getting enough sleep is important for good physical and mental health.  Not getting enough sleep can lead to:

  • Sleepiness during the day
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty paying attention or problem solving
  • Hyperactivity
  • Mood changes (e.g. crankiness)
  • Difficulty learning things and remembering
  • Weight gain

This module includes:

  • Key messages
  • Common sleep challenges
  • Medications and sleep
  • Tips from families for getting a good night’s sleep
  • Activities for better sleep

Key messages are:

  • The amount of sleep needed is different for everyone
  • The first step to getting a good night’s sleep is having good ‘sleep hygiene’ (sleep habits)
  • Medications and some mental health conditions can impact sleep

Tools & Resources

As well as links and books, this sections includes:

  • A goal setting tool My Healthy Living Pinwheel
  • A meal planning tool and shopping list template
  • Outlines for physical activities your family can try
  • A stress management tool
  • Tools for challenging unhealthy thoughts (Red Thoughts) and promoting healthy thinking patterns (Green Thoughts)
  • Quick ways to relax
  • A problem solving tool
  • Sleep tips for kids, including:
    • Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
    • Try to avoid caffeine (e.g. in sodas and pop) – especially in the afternoon and at night
    • Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and comfortable
    • Try to avoid bright lights (this includes tv, computer, and other screen activities) after dinner
    • Exercise during the day
    • Have a bedtime routine