Defrosting

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Some wonderful people just visited us over the holidays. They came all the way from Mexico City to spend Christmas in NYC. The added bonus was that although I am close friends with Marifer, I didn’t know the other two very well. But by the time they left, I felt I had two new chosen family members that I will cherish for a lifetime. Marifer’s mother Arin and brother Toño (an amazing photographer and artist) had never visited our beautiful city before, and they arrived months after the untimely and unexpected death of Fer and Toño’s father. Little did they know that they would have a rude welcome in the form of ridiculously cold temperatures. But intrepid is their middle name and we spent 10 days exploring the many beautiful spaces and places in the five boroughs, including grocery shopping in New Jersey. To heck with the cold!

We shared our holiday ritual of attending a Christmas pageant at the Church of the Heavenly Rest on Christmas Eve, followed by a dinner with cousins at a cozy Italian Restaurant. We shopped, cooked, chatted around the kitchen table and shouldered through holiday crowds at Rockefeller Center, Herald Square, and Times Square. We tramped up and down subway steps, dove for coveted seats on the #6 train, waved at the Statue of Liberty from the ferry, ate dumpling noodle soup in Chinatown, warmed our hands and tummies with coffee stops along the way, trekked into museums, the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Station, The public library at 42nd street, the Empire State Building, Bemelman’s Bar, Trinity Church on Wall Street, and B&H Photo midtown. We took a carriage ride through Central Park, viewed the Christmas lights of Dyker Heights, and enjoyed Shake Shack burgers. They topped off the trip on their last day by treating us to scaling the Freedom Tower via the time lapsing elevator ride to the observatory.

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All in all, a pretty incredible week. There was one thing that we had to work around though – our freezer drawer froze shut in a solid block of ice due to a broken water hose connected to the ice maker. It took 12 full days to defrost, and we had to balance our adventures with checking in and emptying pans of runoff water to prevent flooding and mayhem. In what felt like the grip of an ice age, it was almost impossible to imagine that the freezer drawer would ever open again.

And then, before the drawer even opened, they left. They had the nerve to go back to the more moderate climes of Mexico.

A familiar rush of emotion rolled over me – I call it separation anxiety and there is a historical basis for it. I link the surging adrenaline and profound sadness to my early childhood experience of lengthy hospitalizations (2 months at birth and many more throughout my childhood). In those years, doctors did not allow parental presence overnight or for procedures, and my parents unwillingly left me alone for long periods of time. To this day, I weep and feel extraordinarily vunerable whenever I say goodbye to my parents and close friends. The separation anxiety sets in a few days before the parting, rearing its ugly head and tightening my chest against the inevitable pain.

But I have learned a lot over the years.

  • First: The pain always dissipates.  It feels crushing and paralyzing at  first. In those initial moments, it seems that it will never be okay again, that the emotions are permanently etched into every waking moment of my life. But this is not the truth, and the pain gets a bit less with each passing day, and in particularly good times with each passing hour.
  • Second: Even though I have a unique personal history, many other people suffer from this kind of agony. Talking to someone who really gets it normalizes the feeling, helps ameliorate the intensity, and lessens the shame and self flagellation that can accompany it.
  • Third: Your average person can feel down around any holiday, especially if they have suffered a loss.  Depression and/or anxiety can naturally follow even pleasant holiday experiences.
  • Fourth: Despite the intensity of my suffering, I would never choose to avoid it by giving up friendship, intimacy, and community. The gain is always worth what follows, and the sun always rises after. Like Florence and the Machine sing, “It’s always darkest before the dawn!
  • Fifth: For any clinician working with families, or anyone who knows someone suffering a horrible loss, we can reflect hope and faith in the return of joy even in the midst of pain. We can give permission for all emotions and refrain from enforcing an arbitary expiration date on the grieving process.

So, hail to all you hardy souls out there, who love in the face of loss and suffering, who choose to walk through life with an open heart. And for anyone who hesitates, but considers it, try taking a leap of faith in the ultimate defrosting process. The light and warmth will return, and the seasons of life will always sprinkle some joy amidst the sorrows.

 

 

Kindness as a De-stressor for the Holiday Season

 

Whether or not you are a Christian, the month of December descends upon many of us all with an overload of stress: pressing consumerism, forced merriness, and social and family expectations that can make us feel less than and despairing in so many ways. We can lose sight of the sense of hope that the season is meant to embody, the acceptance of darkness before the dawn, the preparing and waiting for the light, the igniting of that light within ourselves and others, all in the maelstrom of media messages.

Well, today, I am thankful for this calendar that I found on social media, and I want to share it with all of you, I see it as a template. It might be a wonderful activity for you to do alone, with children, or with family members. If you make your own kindness calendar, you can add to it acts of kindness that hold specific meaning for you and are within your reach to accomplish. You can place a piece of oaktag or cardboard over it and cut out little doors and windows to open each day.

Just contemplating this activity makes me think of kindnesses I have witnessed in the recent and not so recent past.

A fellow teacher had a particularly bad day when a troubled student lost control, trashed the classroom and scratched the teacher’s face. My assistant teacher, Elizabeth, entered her colleague’s classroom during her lunch break to find her fellow teacher crying. Elizabeth quietly went about the room, righting chairs, picking up toys, and straightening up the chaos. Then she went to the nearby market and brought back some chocolate. These gestures spoke so much louder than words of consolation might have.

At a family gathering in the basement of a local Baptist church, where parents and children worked on arts and crafts, a family struggled with finding positive ways to respond to their preschooler. I watched as each parental admonition ratcheted up the child’s resistance and anger. For a few moments, my friend, Edna, joined the child in play, and gave him some gentle, corralling, positive feedback, helping him to self regulate and giving the parents a break.

On the city bus, a loud and hostile argument broke out between two passengers, fueled by both, but with one person definitely being more aggressive. As his voice grew louder and louder, an elderly lady finally stood up, and approached the yeller. “You need to stop,” she said. “It’s not okay to use that kind of language.” Once she spoke up, others did as well, and the situation calmed down.

A nurse responds to my tears of fear facing chemotherapy by putting down her medical implements, drawing her chair up to mine, taking my hands in hers and telling me that God will help me bear whatever I must face.

A yoga teacher guided our class in breathing with intention and awareness yesterday. He said that when we breathe for ourselves, we are breathing for all of our loved ones, and for all humanity. When we feel so overwhelmed that even breathing feels like a colossal task, it does help to know that it is enough, and that breathing can be more than a self sustaining act. Breathing can sustain others. So whether your acts of kindnesses are as simple as breathing, or a single word, a glance, a gesture, it is all within your grasp to ignite the light of loving kindness in yourself and others, one act and one day at a time.

 

 

Spotlight: Child Life Intern in Community-Based Practice

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This week, I will spotlight a Canadian career changer as a guest blogger.  Kim Zink is  currently completing her child life internship in a community-based practice with mentor, Morgan Livingstone, a CCLS based out of Toronto, Ontario. Kim left her position in the school board to focus and refine her scope of practice to assisting children and families facing challenging life events.   She sensed the need for more psychosocial supports and greater visibility of child life services in the Ottawa region. So, with the support of her husband, two children, and extended family, she is chasing her dream!

 

This internship has been the perfect fit for me.  My mentor has been working in her own practice for many years, so she has a broad network of community resources and wealth of knowledge in many areas including global health, retinoblastoma, and traumatic brain injuries. She also wrote an incredible parent guide for families affected by breast cancer (including metastatic disease).

 

My internship has been full and rich. My first rotation took place at the Shoe4Africa Children’s Hospital and the Sally Test Pediatric Centre in Eldoret, Kenya. Morgan has been developing a self-sustained child life program there for many years. It was invaluable to see the robust program which now includes a number of child life specialists, teachers, playroom monitors and child life assistants. The team endearingly refer to Morgan as  ‘ our mwalimu,’ which means teacher in Swahili. Morgan served as an example of how to be patient-centered and culturally sensitive in global healthcare, no easy task.

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While we were there, I was invited to sit in on an oncology meeting. It was deeply moving and inspiring to hear the doctors speak so highly of the child life staff to the families. The doctors spoke of being a team and that families should refer to child life with any questions about their child’s developmental, social and emotional needs. The child life team has built an advanced practice and a great interdisciplinary approach. Unfortunately, in some areas, the pain medications and ideal supplies are not available, so I had the opportunity to offer distractions through games on a tablet and meteor storm toy to bring the child’s  attention away from the burned areas and bandage changes during procedures. It was a proud moment for me when the doctor told me that the best bandage change a particular boy had ever had and that I was welcome back anytime.

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The hospital sees over 300 children every day, and sadly many of the children are not brought to the hospital until their illness has progressed to the palliative state. So we turned our focus to legacy building and adding quality to end of life.  One simple and inexpensive legacy activity that worked well was making a salt dough handprint for each family.

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During my second rotation, I relocated to Toronto to intern in Morgan’s local private practice. She sees a number of teen patients, which was a demographic I knew I needed more experience with. I discovered it’s key to listen carefully to their interests and then go home and study up on these interests to gain common ground for future conversation and show teens that you listen and care about what they have to say. So now I  know  more about the ins and outs of  making slime and the youtube channel, Simply Nailogical, than I ever thought possible. This research paved the way to building rapport and trust with one teen in particular. Showing interest in her interests was a great connector.

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My future work in child life has also be enhanced by working with my mentor on traumatic brain injury cases. I had the opportunity to see treatment plans, do home visits, sit in on team meetings, and understand the billing process through insurance providers. During a recent conference call, a teen’s mother said, “Things started to finally turn around when Morgan was added to the rehab team and started her sessions. She [the teen] found the tools and started to cope, she really improved with Morgan’s help.”

My latest adventure in my internship included a trip to Washington, DC for the One Retinoblastoma World Conference. I had the privilege of assisting Morgan with the child life programming, which included transformative literacy, medical play, and lots of activities with special eyes. It was great to see one child move from fear to familiarization with the sedation mask. Another child displayed new skills of mastery by using the medical doll to practice cleaning and adjusting an ocular prosthesis. Still another young child spoke openly about having a special eye, as he called it, for the first time. One of the teens overheard and said: “Me too, and I like to take mine out with a suction cup.” There is nothing like these spontaneous conversations to bring about that reassurance of ‘sameness” and soothe constant feelings of being different from everyone else.

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Above all, I will finish my internship with ample understanding of what it means to be an advocate for children. Morgan is a tireless champion for her patients, working to be sure they have everything, from a great relationship with their general physician to the correct supports from their school. She moves mountains to make sure the children and teens in her care have everything they need to be happy, healthy children. We need more child life specialists doing this work in the broader community.

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PS: Navigating independent and Canadian internship possibilities has its challenges. I highly recommend the Facebook group for ‘Child Life for Canadian Students’ and http://www.cacll.org/

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How to talk to kids about the Las Vegas mass shooting

 

I have no words, so today I reach to Katie Kindelan for hers. The following is reprinted from ABC News  website

By KATIE KINDELAN

Oct 2, 2017, 2:09 PM ET

 

When Vickie Nieto digested the news this morning that at least 58 people died in a mass shooting in Las Vegas, the first thing she thought about was what she would tell her two daughters, ages 10 and 14.

“My 10 year-old heard about it on the TV before school,” Nieto, of Land O’ Lakes, Florida, told ABC News. “I didn’t want to tell her about it because I didn’t want to scare her.”

Nieto said her fifth grade daughter is “already scared about school shootings because they have to practice for them at school.”

But this morning, many people like Nieto woke up to the news of a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, where a gunman opened fire on a music festival crowd, starting just after 10 p.m. local time Sunday. At least 58 people were killed and 515 were injured.

In the wake of the shooting, the Las Vegas Police Department said authorities responded to a hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, where police said the suspected gunman, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, was dead. Police said they believe Paddock, of Mesquite, Nevada, killed himself prior to police entry.

Many parents and caregivers were faced with conversations about the mass shooting even before children left for school.

‘Parents should let their kids know that, ‘I’m here to answer any questions you may have, any worries you have we can discuss,”

For others, the conversation about the tragedy could begin when kids return from school, after they may have heard about the shooting from classmates or teachers.

“It’s important for parents to start the conversation,” said Robin Gurwitch, a psychologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. “As much as we would like to wrap our arms around our children and try to keep anything bad from getting through, it’s unrealistic that we have that ability.”

Gurwitch, also a member of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, said that the conversation parents have with children should be age-appropriate.

For children old enough to understand what happened, parents should focus on letting them know that they are not in specific danger.

“Help them understand that there was a shooting in Las Vegas and many families were out listening to music when somebody, for unknown reasons, started shooting people,” Gurwitch said. “And tell them that because the police responded so quickly [the suspected gunman] is no longer a threat.”

Dr. Lee Beers, a pediatrician at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., said a tragedy does not have to be a trauma for children if it is “buffered by good, strong and caring relationships, by the adults around the child.”

She also recommends different responses for different ages, and individualizing the approach for each child.

Preschool age: This is a time when parents have a high level of control over what their children see and hear so it does not need to be brought up unless a child hears about it first. In that case, Beers recommends making sure the child knows you are there to answer any questions.

Elementary school age: This is an age when parents should preemptively help their child know about the tragedy and share basic details and leave the door open for them to ask questions, according to Beers.

Middle and high school age: Beers advises having a more detailed conversation with children. Start by asking questions like, “Have you heard about this?” and “What do you think about this?” to find out what they know and what may be bothering them.

In the Las Vegas shooting, videos taken by onlookers and shared on social media gave a glimpse of the chaos during and after the shooting.

“So hard to raise a child in this country these days,” posted one mom on Facebook. “There doesn’t appear to be anywhere that’s safe.”

Gurwitch said the visual aspect of the shooting should give parents even more of a reason to speak with their children openly and candidly, according to their ages.

“Parents should let their kids know that, ‘I’m here to answer any questions you may have, any worries you have we can discuss,’” she said. “Check in at the end of the day to see what their friends were talking about at school and what they saw on social media so they have an idea of where they’re starting from and how to continue the conversation.”

Seeing frightening images repeatedly can be traumatic for children, so talking about the images and limiting exposure to them can be important.

“Repeated exposure to viewings really does increase the stress and trauma in your emotions, in the way that you respond to it,” Beers said. “It’s very tempting to watch the coverage 24-7 so I think really self-limiting that is really important because that repeated exposure escalates the emotions and escalates the feelings.”

Nieto said she recognizes how upsetting the images on TV and social media can be.

“It’s terrifying for me and I’m an adult,” she said. “It’s very terrifying for kids to see it.”

“Acknowledge that there may be a little bit of extra help that is needed …

Nieto said she “always has conversations” with her daughters about tragedies like today’s, but is struggling for what to say in the wake of yet another shooting.

“This is very upsetting for them to have to hear about this again, because it happens all the time now,” she said.

Older children in particular may have concerns because the Las Vegas concert shooting happened so soon after the May 22 bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, killed 22 and left more than 100 injured.

“Parents who are up front with their kids about these kinds of things, their kids tend to do better than parents who try to hide these things,” she said. “Talk about safety issues and what we do to keep our families safe, what we do to keep each other safe and what communities do to keep us safe.”

Both Gurwitch and Beers advised parents find ways they and their children can help those affected by the shooting, like first responders.

“Little children can draw pictures and older children or teens can write letters,” Gurwitch said. “Sending these to Las Vegas Police, EMS, Fire and/or local responders to thank them for what they do every day can help children feel that they have taken a positive action and the boost to responders is priceless.”

Nieto described one reaction she had to the shooting as being scared to “go anywhere” out in public.

“It terrifies me to even go to the store, especially with my children,” she said. “Because you never know who has a gun these days.”

Gurwitch shared language parents like Nieto can use to reassure both themselves and their children that it is safe to continue life as normal, while being alert to safety issues.

She recommends parents say something like: “I also know that there are a lot of people that this is their job to keep us safe, so I’m going to continue to do the things that we like.”

If parents and caregivers notice children are overly worried or having trouble focusing at school or at home, Gurwitch said to not delay in reaching out for help, and to have patience.

“Acknowledge that there may be a little bit of extra help that is needed with homework, care and attention around bedtime, and that’s true for younger children as well as teenagers,” she said. “If you don’t know what to do or what to say, there are people you can turn to ask what you can do for your child.”

Gurwitch and Beers recommend as resources for parents, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, school counselors, family physicians and local mental health counselors.

Child Life in Private Practice: Supporting Parents and Children through Medical Encounters

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Studies show that children who are prepared for medical procedures recover faster with less emotional stress. Even routine procedures such as vaccinations can cause children undue stress and lead to treatment noncompliance and avoidance of medical care. Children require developmentally appropriate information about what they will see, feel, hear, taste and smell that will prepare them without overwhelming them. Through hands on demonstration and guided play, I can prepare you and your child for medical encounters, and coach you both in coping strategies. Calm, informed parents are the best support for their children when facing routine and unexpected medical visits and hospitalizations.

I am pleased to announce the expansion of my private practice as a Child Life Coach on the upper east side in Manhattan. Child life specialists are trained in child development, education, anatomy, health care systems, family systems, ethnocultural issues, advocacy, and bereavement. In and out of hospitals, we help children and families prepare for and adjust to medical encounters by providing education, medical play, support,  coaching and advocacy.

Here are several of the services I offer to parents & schools:

  • Coaching and Support for Parents in::
    • how to prepare their cildren for medical events, from routine wellness appointments to surgery or long term treatment.

    • how to support siblings when a child is ill

    • how to support children through a parent’s serious illness.

    • Child centered play skills to caregivers who wish to connect more with children in this digital age.

    • In home preparation for elective medical, diagnostic, and surgical procedures.

    • Workshops: Please see my listing on Cottage Class Parents As Heroes: Supporting Children Through Medical Encounters
  • Professional Development: Training and Support for Teachers
    • How to support your class (school) when a student faces illness and loss

    • Child-centered play techniques

    • Emotionally responsive teaching

    • State mandated child abuse detection and reporting

  • Video Conference Consultation and Support
    • If traveling is an issue, I am available through video chat to support parents at a distance

More information about my practice can be found on my website at  debvilas.com, and please take the time to like my FaceBook page at Pediaplay

I greatly appreciate any referrals to parents and caregivers who need this kind of support. I can be reached at debvilasconsult@gmail.com

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All the best,

Deb

Deborah Vilas, MS, CCLS, LMSW

Follow me on Twitter:  @DeborahVilas at Twitter

CLC Video with Deb Vilas Appearance: That’s Child Life!

Child Life & Art Therapy in Disaster Shelters: The Humanity Factor

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During these recent days of hurricanes, tornados, fires and violence, it is hard to know in which direction to turn – what to focus on – where to put our energies. Fred Rogers taught us all to “look for the helpers”, and I always find that calming and inspiring, so I have decided to republish a piece that I cowrote with Tara Lynch Horan after we coordinated services at a shelter in NYC following Hurricane Sandy in 2012. It gives a taste of what child life specialists and art therapists can do to ease the suffering of children in times of upheaval.

In addition, tapping into our ability to BE the helpers can also assist us in making sense of tragedy. In this vain, I attended a training this past weekend given by  Children’s Disaster Services  in coordination with the Child Life Disaster Relief organization. It was empowering, and I highly recommend the training to anyone who wishes to volunteer to provide safe play opportunities for children following disasters. You can do this locally or be deployed to other states in the USA. And if you can’t lend a hand, donations to organizations like these can still make a difference and impact quality of life for children.

Here is the article reprinted from Vilas, D. & Lynch Horan, T. (2013). Trees, Houses and Sidewalk Cities: Child Life and Creative Arts Interventions at a Post-Sandy Shelter.  New York Association for Play Therapy Newsletter, January 2013, 16 (2).

“A phone call from a Naval Commander stationed at a shelter in  NYC sparked the —-  Shelter Creative Arts Therapy / Child Life Initiative Mission. Commander Moira McGuire headed up a mental health team at the shelter serving many families. As a behavioral health nurse, she saw the need for therapeutic activities for the approximately 50 children facing displacement and uncertainty. In response to her outreach, a consortium of Creative Arts Therapists and Child Life Specialists quickly assembled. Our goal was to provide therapeutic creative arts opportunities to children and families post Hurricane Sandy. We hoped to facilitate psychosocial coping and adjustment to the stress and potential trauma of the Hurricane experience and to the stressors of the shelter environment. The first team of volunteers that responded within 24 hours numbered 14 and included 11 child life specialists who were colleagues, alumni or current students from the Bank Street College of Education, along with two art therapists and one dance and movement therapist.

We would like to share some of the techniques that we employed successfully during the two weeks that the shelter was in operation. Leyla Akca, an art therapist, brought paper shopping bags in on that first day. She led children in an activity that explored the “stuff “we carry with us daily, and the invisible stuff we carry on the inside no matter where we are. It was a powerful metaphor, and the children took to it eagerly, decorating their bags with many open-ended materials. Leyla had previously participated in disaster relief in Turkey following earthquakes there. She had a lot of wisdom to share with us all, and her activity gave us focus and purpose.

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Maryanne Verzosa, a child life specialist from St. Lukes Roosevelt Hospital, supplied found objects from nature, which included sticks and twigs. As she gathered children in a circle sitting on the floor of the shelter, the children spontaneously created three-dimensional houses out of the materials. One child presented his stick house to his uncle, saying, “This is for you because you lost your house.” Commander McGuire had asked us to bring sidewalk chalk with us, as the children had access to an outdoor patio. Her instincts were perfect. A six year-old boy spent all afternoon creating a chalk city of roads, “for the children”, and buildings. We provided the child with miniature buildings and figures for his chalk city, and the play continued and drew other children into its circle.

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One of the final activities took place during the last day when families were moving out of the shelter, many of them to hotels. Tara Lynch Horan, a child life specialist, worked with several art therapists on a community project of building a mural tree and decorating it with leaves representing what families leaned on during Sandy‟s aftermath. The art therapists worked with the children creating the tree, while Tara went from cot to cot, engaging parents in depicting their resiliency factors on precut leaves made from construction paper.

The collaboration of Child Life and Creative Arts Therapists brought about many therapeutic moments for these children and families. The activities employed a variety of directive and open-ended techniques. As we would expect, the children and parents created their own meaning and healing. All they needed was the time, space, materials and gentle encouragement from trained therapeutic agents. Humanity at its best.”

Why Aren’t We Preparing Kids for Disaster

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Beal_Photo_sm Guest Blogger Heather Beal is a military veteran with 23 years of crisis management and operational planning experience that she draws upon daily in her battle to raise two well-prepared, happy, curious, and intelligent children. As a trained emergency manager and parent, she saw the need to provide age-appropriate disaster preparedness information to young children in a way that empowered rather than frightened them. She is currently writing additional books to cover a greater spectrum of potential disasters children may face.

“Generally speaking, we do not prepare our children for disaster. We make them hold our hand in the parking lot and talk about the dangers of getting burned by the stove, but we stop short of this really big “disaster” word. When I think about it, I can come up with a few excuses we call reasons as to why we don’t give this topic the attention that we should.

First, like our children, (but usually without donning the superhero capes and masks), we believe that we are invincible. It (the disaster) can’t happen to ‘us,’ it only happens to ‘others.’ Folks – look at Hurricane Harvey, Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean Tsunami, and any other number of disasters. With that many people affected – the ‘us’ and the ‘others’ are the same people. We need to look at disaster as a probability, not a possibility.

Second, we think talking about disaster will be too scary. I get it. No one wants to tell children anything bad could happen. We all know our children could get terribly hurt running if hit by a car in the parking lot, but we don’t get into explicit details about injury and death. We do however, talk to them about being safe, making good choices, and not doing things that could more likely result in their getting hurt.

We should approach talking about disaster in the same way we approach other learning topics or the consequences of actions or inaction. We don’t need to focus on the destruction a tornado can cause, how their lives could be uprooted, or what other things could dramatically change. We can however, talk about what children need to do to stay as safe as possible.

There are no guarantees in life for anything. We can’t guarantee that a car in the parking lot won’t do something stupid, just as we can’t guarantee the tornado will miss a child’s house, school, or childcare. But we, as parents, as childcare providers, as educators, as caregivers, as emergency managers, and as community members, can arm our children with the tools to succeed. We owe them that.

Sounds good – but how would I know, right? Fair question. A few years ago I tried to explain to my then 4-year old daughter that she and her brother might be woken up in the middle of the night to go into the basement if there was a tornado warning. Of course, it was already dark and stormy (thunder and lightning and everything). Needless to say, I did a very poor job, ultimately scaring her and beating myself up about my failed attempt to mitigate later fear through a botched explanation. Never again I vowed.

That was when I discovered that almost no one was having the conversation with young kids (toddler, preschool, or kindergarten) about disaster. At the same time, I realized that disaster was not going to sit by patiently and wait until my children could calmly and rationally discuss everything at a grown up level. I decided I could develop a way to talk with them in a way that didn’t scare them, but instead empowered them by teaching them what to do and giving them back a little control in a typically uncontrollable situation. They might not be able to stop the disaster, but they could do something to increase their safety within it.

I started Train 4 Safety Press to develop picture books that would teach children what to do “if.” As I conducted research, I discovered a few books out there on the science of disaster, but almost none that taught young children what to do when the disaster was happening. Our first book Elephant Wind tackles what to do during a tornado. Tummy Rumble Quake teaches children about the Great ShakeOut™ and earthquake safety.

Children have a great capacity for building their own resilience. Teaching them how to protect themselves can have an exponential effect. Children could not only help themselves, they could help their classmates, their teachers, their family and their community. Isn’t anything that increases the odds we bring our children home after a disaster worth it? Can we afford not to talk about it?”

And here is a great resource: National Child Traumatic Stress Network

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Child Life & Nursing: Practicing pediatric psychosocial support in Novy Jicin

 

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My recent visit to the Czech Republic, sponsored by the Klicek Foundation, included a return to the Mendelova Nursing School in Novy Jicin. This time, Maria Fernanda Busqueta Mendoza joined us from Mexico, and 50 students participated in our seminar, making it a great opportunity for global learning and a multicultural exchange of ideas. As you can see from the first photograph, the students were a lively bunch, and they eagerly participated in the highly interactive time we spent together. Jiri Kralovec served as our interpreter and his son, Jiri, touted  by Foto Video Magazine as this year’s hottest photographer on Instagram, documented our learning. Most of the photos below are his work.

Jiri and his wife, Marketa, started us off by sharing information about  the importance of play for hospitalized children and the history of their efforts to bring hospital play to the Czech Republic.  It has been a slow, uphill battle to change the hierarchal and disempowering bureaucracy of their medical system.  I followed with an introduction to the field of Child Life, the role of child life specialists in hospitals, and the possibilities for collaboration with nurses. I spoke about the role of play and community in the healing process, before moving on to some illustrative activities.

Sharing our own memories of play is one way to deepen our appreciation for the role of play in our lives and in the lives of children. I asked the class to think about their own childhood memories, using their five senses — what do they remember about their play environment? Did play occur inside or outdoors, or both? Were they playing alone, or with others? Did they play with toys, loose parts, or their imaginations? Are there sounds, smells, tastes or textures associated with their memories? What feelings are evoked in sharing them? The students paired up and took turns both sharing and listening to one another.

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Armed wth a deeper awareness of the value of play, the students were now ready to learn a bit about how to make procedures less frightening for children. I have always wanted to use role play as a way to demonstrate all the things that can go wrong during a procedure, and how minor changes can make things easier for medical staff, children, and caregivers. I took this opportunity and asked for volunteers. One young man played the patient. We instructed him to lie down and asked three others to pin him down to the table, much like medical personnel are likely to do when a child receives an IV. We demonstrated how the very act of being forced into a prone position increases one’s sense of vulnerability and loss of control.

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Add to that several adults talking at once, loudly over any protests you might make, telling you to stay still, not to cry, to be a big boy, not to look…. and you get the picture. Chaos, stress and shame accumulate to make for a disastrous experience for all.

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But there are some simple things that nurses can do, either alone or in partnership with play specialists, to change the outcomes of such procedures. It doesn’t mean that the child won’t cry, but it is more likely that the child won’t suffer emotional trauma, will return to baseline quicker, and the nurses can feel more successful and less like they are causing the child undue suffering.

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With these tips in mind, the students enacted a better case scenario, where the parent has a supportive role in positioning the child for comfort. The child is upright and held in a calming hug, rather than being restrained on the table. The child is given some choices, such as which hand to try first for the IV (the non dominant hand is preferable), and whether to watch the procedure or use a toy or book for distraction.

  • Electing one person to be the voice in the room,
  • encouraging the child to breathe deeply and slowly,
  • narrating each step of what the child will feel,
  • explaining how a tiny plastic catheter, not the IV needle, remains in the child’s hand to deliver medicine,
  • staying away from comparative or shaming statements,
  • and showing empathy

are all ways to provide psychosocial support, making the experience less traumatizing and painful for the child.  Accumulated painful and traumatic medical experiences can make children phobic and avoidant of medical care.

img_0106_34278333913_o                                                                                                                    (photo by Jiri Kralovec)

 

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We also spoke about non-pharmacological pain prevention and reduction. The interactive component of our lecture surely made our important information memorable. The action and laughter surely made more of an impression than a power point! We all reflected together about  how even adult patients can benefit from choices, information and empathy.

Back to the topic of play, we explored ways for the nurses to instill playful interactions into their communication with pediatric patients. Rapport building and distraction through the use of hand games is one way that they can put a child at ease. I demonstrated several hand games, and asked them to show me some of theirs as well.

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Our time with these wonderful students ended all too soon. We posed outside of the school for a photo with some of the Klicek Foundation hospital play specialists before heading to the historic square down the street. Around every corner of this country is a beautiful scene, no matter where you are!

img_0208_34701662250_o                                                                                                                       (photo by Jiri Kralovec)

 

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Restoring my Soul: Recipe for Self Care in The Czech Republic

 

 

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We all need time to restore our energy and feed our spirits. It is not an easy task during the workaday world of most of our lives. For anyone in the service professions, self care is a necessity, not an option. As a professor teaching Child Life graduate students, my calendar revolves around the academic year, and by the time the end of May rolls around, I am usually quite exhausted and spent. An invitation to teach in the Czech Republic came at a very good moment for me  – after graduation and at a beautiful time of year.

Recipe Ingredients:

Knowing what to expect

The recipe for filling my well was a simple one, but I could not have done it without the friendship and nurturing of the Kralovec family. Marketa graciously and painstakingly created a hand written and illustrated book telling the tale of all we would be doing together in the next two weeks. The guide was especially helpful in letting me know what to expect, as we traversed the country and visited Poland and Austria.

A Warm Welcome

But the whirlwind began with a gentle, warm welcome back to Malejovice, the home of the Kralovec family and the Klicek Foundation Hospice. My third excursion from New York City to the Czech Republic felt like returning to the home of my soul. Marketka, their daughter and a highly skilled artist, documented my arrival by depicting the short emotional distance between our two homes. What’s an ocean anyway when like minds and hearts connect?

Bright and cozy bed linens and wild flowers from their garden greeted me in the guest room. The sounds of the birds sifted in with a gentle breeze through the open window.

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Wonderful Home Cooked Meals

Each meal was prepared from local ingredients and cooked with love. The eggs from their chickens (rescued from terrible conditions in a chicken mill), fresh herbs from their garden, homemade soup, duck with dumplings and sauerkraut, fresh bread and danishes, black tea and local beer…….. my palate fairly exploded from the goodness of it all. The family would not allow me to wash a plate or rise for a napkin. The nurturing wasn’t just about the food, but the care with which they served it.

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Four Legged and Winged Friends

Animals are therapy, and a wide variety of animals inhabit the pastures surrounding the 100 year old schoolhouse. Each morning began with a chorus of birds at about 4 AM, followed by the harsh and comical braying of Donkey (his name is Donkey) at 7 AM. The sheep served as the snooze alarm, sounding off a few moments after Donkey. Mollie the dog was the night time alarm system,  and the chickens cooed and clucked whenever we approached them. The cats draped themselves over windowsills and plant boxes and moseyed up and down the driveway throughout the day.

 

Nature

Nature is what grounds us and reminds us of the cycle of life, our smallness, and the beauty of creation. The surrounding forests of Malejovice, the wild flowers and rolling hills and pastures, the lush ponds and hidden villages of the country………  all served to quiet my gerbil wheel mind.

Solitude

I get plenty of time alone teaching online from my apartment, but there is something different about being alone with nature in wide open space. Nothing to distract me from the sun, breeze, scents and light.

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Wonderful People

Solitude is always best when you return from your walk to a household filled with joy, love, laughter, and music. The time spent with these people, and all the people we met on our travels, energized me and acted as a balm to my tired soul. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you – and these words will never be enough to convey my gratitude.

Instructions:

Repeat whenever able.

 

Child Life United: Practicums & Missions Abroad

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Ever since I first stepped off a plane in New Zealand over three years ago, I have become fascinated by what my profession looks like in other countries. Whether you call it Child Life, Hospital Play or Pediatric Psychosocial Healthcare, I have learned that there are many ways to ease the stress of medical treatment for children across the globe. I was in conversation recently with a mover and shaker in the Child Life world, Courtney Moreland, founder of Child Life United. Courtney has been busy creating practicums in partnership with child life programs on the international front, in addition to coordinating child life volunteer positions in her mission work.

Courtney noticed an increasing level of competition for a sparse number of practicums in the United States. Tapping into a growing interest within our field in international work, she came up with the idea of partnering with child life professionals abroad to create more practicum opportunities for budding child life specialists.

First stop — the Middle East! Courtney teamed up with Bank Street College alum, Rachel Werner, a child life specialist pioneer working for Save a Child’s Heart in Israel. Courtney supplied supervision for practicum students, while the students shadowed Rachel in her day to day work. This way, students benefited from Rachel’s modeling, and Courtney shouldered the responsibilities of supervision and training. Courtney provides a curriculum and leads the students in reflective practice. This unique set up means that the students get 100% of Courtney’s attention, energy and expertise, while Rachel can concentrate on her clinical duties. Anyone who has ever supervised or precepted a student knows that this is a win win for everyone. The pilot rolled out this Spring with three students as a one month, full time practicum. They were from America, Canada, and an expat now living in Israel.

Rachel reflects: “I loved the novel idea from the beginning and Courtney’s initiative to bring child life specialists around the world to learn, even to places like Israel where Child Life is not a known field. Although Save a Child’s Heart is an alternative setting, we agreed that it could be a one-of-a-kind learning experience for students seeking an international practicum. In the end I know a lot was learned, and the children will remember the three wonderful women (four including Courtney) when they think back of their time in Israel.”

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Courtney and Rachel – A fabulous partnership!
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Playing doctor

All Child Life United Practicums will follow the Recommended Standards as set forth by the Association of Child Life Professionals – ACLP (formally the Child Life Council)

Child Life Practicum

The child life practicum is designed as an introductory experience for individuals interested in pursuing a career in child life. Through experiential learning and observation of Certified Child Life Specialists, child life practicum students begin to increase their knowledge of basic child life skills related to play, developmental assessment, and integration of child life theory into interventions with infants, children, youth and families. Child life practicum students will increase their comfort level by interacting with infants, children, youth, and families in stressful situations, health care settings and/or in programs designed for special needs populations.  Through these experiences, child life practicum students will enhance their knowledge of the child life profession and investigate the process of applying child life and developmental theory to practice.  

The next practicum will be held in Sydney, Australia this summer. You can find details in the  Student Information Packet – Australia Practicum. Courtney seeks applicants who have completed 100 hours of volunteer work in a child life department. It is a plus if you have at least one child life course under your belt, but it is not required.

Applications are DUE June 1st, 2017

The application is also located on the Child Life United website www.childlifeunited.org

Mission Work

This summer Courtney is also happy to announce the exciting opportunity to serve as a Child Life Specialist on a medical mission trip. Missions are typically a week long.

In August, she will be supervising Child Life students on a mission to Mexico as Child Life United brings Child Life services to Florence Nightingale Global Health Missions .

This trip requires a fundraising effort to collect the teaching supplies and toys needed to meet the needs of the kids and their families. All trips provide medical care in grossly under served areas of the world. Please consider supporting this effort. Every sticker, ball and mask masks a difference.

She has created a Wish List on Amazon of supplies needed.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/307DPAFB2HQZG/ref=nav_wishlist_lists_2

If you are looking for a child life adventure abroad that will further your learning and expand your horizons, all in the service of easing the healthcare experiences of children, please contact Courtney at Child Life United to apply.

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We can’t wait to hear where she will be partnering next!

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