Ask the Doctor: ParenTalks Medical Lead Tackles Varied Topics

A mainstay of nine previous ParenTalks presentations at St. Michael's College School (SMCS), Dr. Mark Broussenko '07 is used to applying a mental health lens to a variety of topics --- both with and without a medical focus.

In the final ParenTalks event of the 2020-21 academic year, Dr. Broussenko, a family physician and hospitalist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), got granular with his trademark straight talk on several familiar and emerging themes.

SMCS ParenTalks Ask the Doctor panel with Dr. Mark Broussenko


Dr. Broussenko answered questions pertaining to wellness --- offering strategies for parents and families.

Here are some of the highlights:

On addressing wellness concerns:

"Be realistic. Meet your kids and meet the world where it is not where you want it to be. And that gets especially hard at this pace, particularly with this significant global event that's going on, where all of us wish things were different. 

If people are struggling, if you're having communication issues, if there's a breakdown in some sort of relationship, you kind of have to own that. Call a spade a spade and realize that you and your children and your partners and the rest of the world are now not functioning enough, communicating in the way that you want to be.

Call things out directly. Speak to them clearly and directly about the things that are going on. If you think that someone is sad, say so. If you think that someone's anxious, say so. There's no right or wrong way to tell someone that they're sad, and there's no right or wrong way to deal with it. But if you don't ever address it, if you don't bring it into the open and normalize it as a topic of conversation, if you're hiding behind euphemisms and sidestepping things, you're just not really going to get anywhere.

You're going to save so much time, conversationally, just being direct and honest with each other.

Those are my big themes, and they apply to everything from screen-time to anxiety to every other kind of wellness initiative that you might be looking at talking about."

Coping strategies versus root causes:

"A lot of the times people, I think, have a big mismatch. They address the coping strategies that are really the root causes of the issue and vice versa. Because some coping strategies are temporary until the root cause gets stabilized. And some root causes are unmodifiable, and so your coping strategies need to change. And realizing, can I or can I not change the root cause that's motivating and driving this behaviour makes a huge difference, because it removes a lot of options off the table."

Potentially facing a second pandemic summer:

"Imagine the things that your kids are supposed to do. There's supposed to be some amount of socialization, some amount of, learning or self-discovery or self-growth time and some amount of physical activity.

This is probably going to be a summer where you're going to try to meet some amount of your child's interpersonal, physical, and intellectual needs, and then just get through until the world gets back to normal.

The first summer, completely fine to not have had a great idea of how things are going to look. I think this one, we have a much better sense. And so it's probably going to be a lot easier to come up with a structured plan to just mitigate some of those risks. Like if you can't have your kids at home, because they drive you crazy when you're trying to work, you're going to need to come up with a childcare plan, and probably expect that to be in place for at least June and July and maybe part of August."

Addressing apathy or a lack of motivation:

"If you're constantly doing stuff, most people will continue to do those things, even in the absence of kind of external pressures, or stressors or drivers. And as the amount of things that are available to do, go down, people have tended to focus some of their activities, and it's harder to motivate them because they've gotten out of the habit of constantly doing things.

My recommendation is when you see a child is completely withdrawn from everything is to start to focus on some of the things that they'd like to do, and try to pair and stapled on with some other things that they have to do.

So, you can totally play video games in your room, but you also need to clean your room."

What to do if a medical intervention or therapy is necessary:

"The first thing that you're going to want for any kind of therapy or any kind of intervention, is the realization that you can't do therapy to people. You do therapy with people. If they don't want to do it, you will not be able to do it.

If your child doesn't accept that they have a problem that they want help with, dragging them to any number of specialists --- no one is sufficiently persuasive to convince a 16-year-old who doesn't want to do something --- that they should. It does not work.

You're going to have to talk to your son or daughter and have them tell you, I don't want to feel this way anymore. And then you tell them, okay, there's lots of things we can do, specifically. So, a lot of the strategies that we often use are strategies in terms of mindfulness and journaling, and some cognitive behavioural therapy strategies."

Dr. Broussenko also addressed:

  • Addictive behaviours
  • Family Dynamics
  • Connectedness
  • Parent self-care

Related links:

ParenTalks past presentations